St. Augustine's Burial Ground - Philadelphia, PA
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member Math Teacher
N 39° 57.322 W 075° 08.781
18S E 487499 N 4422813
Quick Description: When you visit the St. Augustine Catholic Church, climb the stairs to the second level and you will see the most unique churchyard cemetery and NOT a single speck of dirt to be found anywhere......
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
Date Posted: 11/4/2011 8:12:54 PM
Waymark Code: WMD14D
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member silverquill
Views: 6

Long Description:
** To view the complete 17-photo gallery of this church, please visit HERE. **

The church has the strangest cemetery I have ever seen and the first encountered without a speck of dirt anywhere. There are 7 rows and 5 columns of graves, 35 total. This 'cemetery' is one level above the street, about 20 feet off of the ground. It looks like the entire floor is made of marble only broken by the huge stone, grave cover on top of each family crypt. I guess they are burial chambers. Each of these crypts has up to 6 people in them, presumably stacked one on top of the other. When walking about, there is not much room and you may find yourself on your tippy-toes trying not to trip on the interred. I remember reading when a violent storm of '92 hit town, the steeple fell over and smashed some of these chamber covers. I saw no damage on my visit. I guess they were fixed.

The original St. Augustine's (before the fire) was the first permanent establishment of the Augustinian Order in the United States. Such notables as President George Washington, Commodore John Barry and merchant Stephen Girard contributed to the building funds of the original church on this site. St. Augustine Catholic Church, also called Olde St. Augustine's, is still a historic Catholic church in Philadelphia after its rebuilding. (Re)Consecrated in 1848, the Palladian-style church was designed by Napoleon LeBrun. On June 15, 1976 St. Augustine's Church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The church was built to replace the Old St. Augustine Church which was completed in 1801. The first Order of Hermits of St. Augustine church founded in the United States, the original St Augustine housed the Liberty Bell's "Sister Bell". The church was burned down in the anti-Catholic Philadelphia Nativist Riots on May 8, 1844. (More on this fire in the AGS entry below) The church sued the city of Philadelphia for not providing it with adequate protection. The money awarded to the church went to rebuilding the current church, which broke ground on May 27, 1847. Construction on the new church began on May 27, 1847 and was completed in December 1848. The church was consecrated by Bishop Francis Kenrick and Archbishop John Hughes presided over High Mass on November 5, 1848. Organizations founded by the church led to the creation of both Villanova University and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

I think the clock tower is my favorite part. I have been looking at it since the 60s from when I first remember crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. It is this huge white thing with a gigantic clock, all kinds of ornamentation and the tallest thing around. For me it has been a landmark. I only discovered this church because of the clock tower/bell tower. The round clock face has Roman numerals and is on four sides, thus, four faces. The clock rests on an octagonal bell tower, with louvered windows. This white, beautiful monstrosity is topped off by a rather famous steeple, which fell on the bridge in 1992 and was rebuilt a short time later. The tower has such detail as pediment, dentils and cornice all around. I was fortunate to have visited at the 2 o'clock hour on September 5, 2011 and made a video of the bells a gonging. That video can be found HERE.

There is a decorative date stone 10 feet above the entrance pediment. It is very ornamental, white, probably made of limestone or some other workable stone. It succinctly records the history of the church and reads:

Founded 1798
Destroyed 1844
Rebuilt 1847
Consecrated 1848

And what better way to accentuate a waymark about an old site than with multiple American Guide Series entries:

Although troops under Gen. George Cadwalader attempted to quell the rioters, another mob that same evening attacked the Catholic Church of St. Augustine, Fourth Street, below Vine, setting fire to the church building and adjoining rectory. --- Philadelphia: A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, 1937; page 62

In 1793 there arose a demand for a church in the northern section of the city. Opportunely, the Augustinians were seeking to establish their order in the United States, and to them was entrusted the project of erecting a new church. St. Augustine's was dedicated in 1801. The present structure, rebuilt in 1847, stands on the original site, on Fourth Street between Race and Vine. --- Philadelphia: A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, 1937; page 166

On the right, near Race Street, is ST. AUGUSTINE'S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (13), which was erected on the site of the original edifice, built in 1796 by the Hermits of St. Augustine. The building was destroyed by fire in 1844 and rebuilt in 1847.

The present building was designed after the manner of the churches of Sir Christopher Wren. Constructed of red brick with limestone doorway and trim, the building shows strength and character in the tall tower with its heavy quoins centering on the facade. The interior, heavily ornamented, is Corinthian in design. --- Philadelphia: A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, 1937; page 390

The Church Today

To the modern tourist, it's the church's interior which proves stunning. The ceiling frescoes depict scenes from "St. Augustine in Glory." Philip Costaggini, who painted part of the frieze on the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., painted it. Light from two tiers of stained-glass windows flows softly throughout the church. Each of the upper windows is dedicated to a saint. Most compelling is the marble sanctuary. The approach to the main altar is framed by an arch supported by brown Corinthian columns flanked by flying angels. The arched altar consists of carved white marble with shafts of Mexican onyx alongside and above the tabernacle. Overhead a dome skylight illuminates the scene. Behind the altar is a Crucifixion tableau painted by Hans Hansen in 1926. And crowning it all are the words, "The Lord Seeth." SOURCE

By 1988 the congregation of St. Augustine had shrunk to a fewer than a dozen. The 1990s saw the congregation grow with Filipino Catholics from Philadelphia and the city's suburbs. In December 1992 an exact replica of Santo Niño de Cebú was dedicated, and Filipinos have held a special mass and festivals for Santo Niño. Also in December 1992, a severe storm severely damaged the church's steeple. Debris from the steeple fell onto the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which had to be closed for three days. The damage was severe enough that the steeple had to be disassembled and removed. From a damaged roof, the church and art inside suffered water damage. A new steeple was erected on October 18, 1995. The steeple was replicated by Campbellsville Industries, "The Steeple People", located in Campbellsville, Kentucky. SOURCE

Name of church or churchyard: St. Augustine Burial Ground

Approximate Size: Large (100+)

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