Gloria Del Church
National Historic Site
Pennsylvania
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Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Episcopal Church in South Philadelphia is the oldest church building in Pennsylvania, and among the oldest in the country. The attractive building, constructed of Flemish bond, and black header brick, was built between the years 1698 and 1700 for Swedish settlers. After serving as the Swedish Lutheran Church for almost 150 years, Gloria Dei became a part of the Episcopal Church in 1845. Because of its unique historical significance, Gloria Dei Church was designated as a National Historic Site in 1942, six years before Independence Hall. The Gloria Dei congregation owns and maintains the church and the related buildings, its ministry, and the grounds. The National Park Service has provided the church with additional land to create an appropriate setting against the encroaching urban environment.

New Sweden

Swedish colonists arrived in America in 1638, settling first in present day Wilmington, Delaware. In 1643, a second group arrived upon the ships Fogel Grip, and Kalmar Nyckel, and settled in the area between Trenton, New Jersey, and the Delaware Bay. Their leader, Governor Johan Printz, established the area as New Sweden. The colonists were unique in that they kept good relations with the Native Americans who were already settled in the area by showing an exceptional friendliness and respect for their neighbors. The Swedes were not able to retain power in this area; eventually the colony was brought under Dutch, and then British, control. New Sweden did not flourish, but the Swedish churches survived.

As the Swedish settled along the Delaware from Tinicum to Wicaco (a Native American name meaning "peaceful place" for the area now known as South Philadelphia) a site was needed for a permanent place of worship. The first church was a modified log house (owned by Sven Svenson) which was completed in 1677. To satisfy the Swedish colonists who settled along the Schuylkill, as well as those living on the Delaware, the church moved to the site where Gloria Dei was built in 1698. Under the 1701 Charter of Privileges the Swedish Church continued to thrive in Penn's colony where religious tolerance was law.

Nils Collin During the American Revolution

Nils Collin, the Swedish pastor who served Gloria Dei from 1784 to 1831, was a close friend of the eminent Benjamin Franklin. In fact, the remains of an early lightening rod (which is visible on the church's exterior) are reputedly a result of this friendship. Collin seemed to remain neutral during the Revolutionary War, although he was accused by both the Americans and the British of siding with the enemy. Collin, however, insisted that his loyalties remained with the King of Sweden, The extensive writings of this interesting figure are a part of Gloria Dei's archives, and Nils Collin is buried under the floor of the church.

Gloria Dei in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

In 1845, Gloria Dei joined the Diocese of Pennsylvania of the Episcopal Church, and has so remained to the present day. Prior to this the Sexton's house, and the present rectory were constructed. After 1845, the interior was extensively renovated, and balconies were added to accommodate larger crowds. Dr. John Craig Roak, Gloria Dei's rector from 1933 to 1972, helped to ensure the preservation of the church. Largely because of his efforts Gloria Dei Church was, indeed, established as a National Historic Site in 1942.

Things To Look For During Your Visit

The interior of the church includes models of the ships Fogel Grip, and Kalmar Nyckel, which are suspended from the ceiling. There are a few items which remain from the log church in Tinicum, including the Baptismal Font, the golden sprays on the lectern and pulpit, and the Cherubim below the organ. The organ itself was purchased in 1902 from the renowned Hook & Hastings firm of Boston (Gloria Dei was perhaps the first church in America where an organ was used, as early as 1703). A fine carving of the angel Gabriel (reflecting what is commonly found in Swedish churches) can also be seen inside Gloria Dei.

The bronze church bell was cast in 1806; its clapper is the one which was used inside the old bell that pealed at the log church over three hundred years ago. Many flags adorn the front of the building — the Episcopal Church's flag, the Swedish and American flags, and one reportedly designed by Benjamin Franklin prior to the Revolutionary War. Buried in the cemetery are numerous members of George Washington's army, as well as the famous naturalist Alexander Wilson (the "Father of American Ornithology"). A black granite memorial honoring John Hanson (who served as the first elected President of the Continental Congress under the ratified Articles of Confederation in 1782-1783) can also be found in the cemetery.

Directions to Gloria Dei

Located along the Delaware River between the Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges, approximately 1/2 mile south of Penn's Landing.

Northbound I-95: Exit at Columbus Boulevard/Washington Avenue (#16) and turn left.

Southbound I-95: Exit at Columbus Boulevard/Washington Boulevard (#16) and turn right to the first light on Christian Street.

Parking: LOOK CAREFULLY! The Church is surrounded by a high brick wall. Enter the parking lot from Christian Street between Columbus Boulevard & I-95 (I-95 is elevated). Parking is also available along Water Street (which runs parallel to I-95) between Christian Street and Washington Avenue.

Gloria Dei is an active religious congregation, and home to the parish minister.

Source: NPS Brochure (2009)


Establishment

Gloria Del Church National Historic Site — November 17, 1942


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Foundation Document Overview, Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site, Pennsylvania (January 2017)



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Last Updated: 01-May-2021