A Brief Tour of Saint Mark's Building & Grounds
Saint Mark's Church was founded in 1847 and actually built between 1848 and 1849 according to designs by John Notman, the architect who later designed nearby Saint Clement's Church and the Church of the Holy Trinity.
Saint Mark's Church was specifically founded to reflect the theology of the Oxford Movement, a movement within the Anglican Church to reclaim its catholic heritage. The architect's designs were approved in advance by the Ecclesiological Society in London. The building's architecture is in the Decorated Gothic style of the late 13th and 14th centuries, and it is regarded as one of the best examples of this Gothic Revival style.
In the latter part of the 19th century what had been the rather plain interior of the church became more highly decorated as the ritual movement within the catholic branch of the Anglican Church began to exert more influence. Much of the embellishment that you see as you look around stems from the period between about 1890 and 1923.
Main Entrance (Fiske Doors)
The main entrance to the church is through the Fiske Doors, which give many passers-by a memorable impression of Saint Mark's Church. The doors are a brilliant red and may have been the first red church doors in Philadelphia - they certainly seemed scandalous when they were installed according to contemporary newspaper articles. The polychromed figures set into the stained glass tympanum depict Christ in Majesty with the legend "Come unto me all that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The portal was designed by architects Zanzinger, Borie & Medary in 1923 and was created by the Philadelphia studios of Samuel Yellin and Nicola d'Ascenzo.
Just inside the entrance to the church we find the Baptistery. The present font was installed in 1880 and is of inlaid Italian marbles in the style of the ecclesiastical architect William Butterfield. The central panel of the smaller of the windows beyond the font depicts the Crucifixion and dates from 1592. It was originally in a convent in Switzerland and was given to Saint Mark's in 1885. The upper and lower panels were made in 1886 in Munich to complement the earlier panel. The window was restored, in part, with funds from the Andy Warhol Foundation.
As you pass along the back of the church, you will see on your left a Columbarium for the repose of urns containing ashes and above it the gallery organ. Over the beautifully carved doors ahead, which lead into an ambulatory called the Cloister, notice the polychromed figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary accompanied by the Archangels Gabriel and Michael. These were designed by C. E. Kempe and carved in Oberammergau (home of the famous Passion Plays) by Zwink.
Stations of the Cross
As you turn to the right and proceed up the north aisle, notice the Stations of the Cross along the wall on your left - they are richly colored Limoges panels made in 1926 in the style of the 16th century.
Altar of Saint John the Evangelist
The Altar of Saint John the Evangelist was originally that of the Lady Chapel, and was given by Rodman Wanamaker, the son of John Wanamaker. When his wife Fernanda Henry died in 1900, he built the Lady Chapel as a memorial and she is buried in the crypt beneath it. The original furnishings of the chapel were of alabaster and carved wood, deigned by C. E. Kempe.
When Mr. Wanamaker subsequently decided to re-furnish the chapel in it present style, the altar and reredos were placed at the head of the north aisle. This altar, which is of carved alabaster, was rededicated to Saint John - now the arrangement of altars echoes the traditional grouping around the foot of the Cross with Jesus in the center and his Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple on the sides. The reredos is of black oak carved in Oberammergau in 1903 and then polychromed in England. It contains figures representing David, Isaiah and other Prophets of the Incarnation, as well as great theologians of the Church: Saints Ambrose, Augustine, and Anselm on the left and Saints Gregory the Great, Jerome and Bernard on the right. The carved figures of the Annunciation that are now in the Baptistery were originally in the center panels of this polyprych.
To the right of St. John's Altar is the elaborately carved Pulpit. The principal figures represent three of the greatest of Christian preachers - Saint Paul, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint John Chrysostom. On the railing of the steps are the four mythical beasts representing the four Evangelists - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Pulpit and the adjoining Choir Rail were designed by Ralph Adams Cram. As you pause in the Crossing notice his Choir Gates, made by Tiffany Studios, depicting angels kneeling in adoration, then look up to the beautifully carved Rood Beam.
The Rood Beam
This is the memorial to Isaac Lea Nicholson, the fifth Rector, who left in 1891 to become the Bishop of Milwaukee. The Rood Beam depicts the crucifixion of Jesus, with the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John at the foot of the cross. They are flanked by figures of Saint Mark and Saint Barnabas, Mark's cousin. The rood beam was designed by Henry Vaughan, as were the Choir Stalls and Organ Case of carved oak, the design of the stalls suggested by those of a cathedral in Brittany. On the left side of the Chancel is the Organ Loft where the console of an important Aeolian-Skinner organ is located. Most of the 122 ranks of organ pipes are located near it, except for the string organ in the ceiling of the Chancel, a small division on the screen on the right side of the Chancel to provide music for services in the Lady Chapel and the gallery organ at the west end.
The Eagle Lectern
Proceeding across the front of the nave past the Eagle Lectern - one of the few examples in which the eagle is crowned - you approach a Nave Altar. An AIDS Memorial frontal adorns this altar throughout most of the liturgical year.
To the left of the Nave Altar are the gates to the Lady Chapel. As you pass through them you move from the earlier style of the church to the Late Decorated Gothic style. The ceiling is the first known example of a stone vault in America. This chapel and all of its furnishings were the donation of Rodman Wanamaker in memory of his wife Fernanda Henry, after her death in 1900.
First the chapel itself was built adjoining the Choir with its entrance through the wrought iron gates at the head of the south aisle. The chapel was then completely furnished by Mr. Wanamaker according to the designs of Charles Eamer Kempe, including what is now Saint John's Altar and most of the Polychromed figures now located throughout the church. It was subsequently decided to change the interior embellishment of the Lady Chapel, and Mr. Wanamaker proceeded to underwrite the design and creation of the present contents of this exquisite space.
Most noticeable is the altar itself, which is made of marble on a wooden frame entirely encased by a permanent silver covering. This intricately sculpted design consists of twelve panels depicting events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary; a central niche holds an image of Our Lady on the field of lapis lazuli enamelwork; and 144 individually sculpted figures of saints - each identifiable by his or her traditional symbols. Over this remarkable piece of sculpture is a silver triptych depicting the spring festivals of the Church - the Resurrection, the Ascension and, in the center, Pentecost.
The Lady Chapel also contains large sculptures of Saints Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Ursula, and Catherine of Alexandria. These and all of the silver fittings were designed and executed by Barkentin & Krall of London. The extraordinary windows, designed by Kempe, depict many aspects and prophecies of the Incarnation. Overlooking all of this is the figure of the reigning Christ on a Rood Beam, and opposite it the carved and gilded organ case designed by the chapel architects Cope & Stewardson of Philadelphia.
The High Altar
At the rear of the Lady Chapel in the east corner, is a narrow door that leads back to the High Altar. On either side, high up on the wall, are poly chromed alabaster statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Mark, patron saint of the parish. The great east window depicting the Ascension of Christ is by Meyer & Company of London and Munich. At the opposite end of the church is the great west window by Lavers, Barraud and Westlake of London. Most of the windows in the nave were from the same studio.
Over the Altar hangs a large lamp, which burns perpetually in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in an aumbry to the left of the Altar. The Sanctuary Lamp was given by Harriet Etting Brown, and made by Hollingsworth Pearce, a local silversmith with studios in nearby Sixteenth Street. In front of the Sanctuary Lamp hang seven smaller lamps in the Renaissance style. Barkentin & Krall copied them from lamps hanging in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and they symbolize the seven lamps that burn before the throne of God as described in the book of Revelation.
If you leave the Chancel by the Musician's Door, also by Vaughan and given in honor of an early choirmaster of the church, you will pass through the outer Sacristy and turn left to enter the Cloister, an ambulatory that connects the sacristy with the parish house.
Saint Mark's Gardens
It is a great blessing that the church is surrounded on three sides by gardens. The main garden is outside the west doors of the church and links all of the Parish buildings which open onto it. Along the south wall of the church is a garden whose principle feature is two large tulip magnolia trees that explode with pink and white blossoms in early Spring. At the east end of the church another garden provides a buffer between the church and our taller neighbors. This garden is planted with a number of species of hydrangea, including large oakleaf hydrangea that bloom in early summer.
The Community of Saint Mark's
We all know that churches are more than buildings. The true life of Saint Mark's is the community which gathers here through the year. We welcome you to our parish, and we encourage you to contact the clergy if you would like to learn more about this lively and loving community of faith. We invite you to pray with us and we thank you for praying for us, that God will continue to bless us in our witness to Christ and our service to others in his name.