Month: May 2016

A Day in the Countryside


Before the automobile age, how did people in the neighbourhood take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life?

In 1891, de Sales parishioners who wanted to enjoy a quiet Sunday afternoon in the countryside just stepped out the door of our first combination chapel/school building (today’s auditorium) and crossed forty-seventh street!

At that time, most of the 4700 block of Windsor/Warrington was an open field; while the 4700 block of Warrington/Baltimore, belonging to Mary R. Wilson, was occupied by a stone farmhouse, a barn, and fruit trees. More fields stretched out beyond, to 50th street. On the other side of Baltimore Ave., the grounds of the Twaddell Estate, with 1640s mansion, spring house, antique rose bushes, and fruit trees, sat in the middle of a swathe of property stretching from from 44th to 48th Street; Baltimore Avenue to Lombard (today Larchwood), with other farms beyond it.

The area grew quickly. By 1911, when our church was completed, only part of the Wilson farm remained on this side of Baltimore Ave. Its former 48th Street edge was accessorized with an eyebrow-like row of new houses – including two at the end that were moved around the corner onto Baltimore Avenue in 1905 to make room for a the new Calvary M.E. Church! Neat lines of tract housing quickly filled in  the rest of the neighbourhood. Even the 275-year-old Twaddell mansion – which had survived both the Revolution and the Civil War – would be demolished in 1921, for new construction.

Our parish bought the remains of the Wilson farm in 1920, and third grade and commercial classes (business skills for those not attending high school) were held in the 3-storey stone farmhouse for a few years as the school continued to expand. The parish also held several Lawn Fetes and Carnivals on the grounds. A 1925 event featured the Philadelphia Firemen’s Band and the SFDS Boys Battalion Band. The prize for a lottery drawing was “a Chest of Linen Service.”

The parish had planned to build a new school building on the Wilson land, but in 1926, Bishop Crane changed his mind, and bought and demolished several houses on Farragut Terrace  to make room for  a new wing added to the original school building. The Wilson farm property was sold to  Brown & Sons developers, who, by 1927, advertised a newly-built Automobile Showroom at 4730 Baltimore Ave.; with a theatre (the Byrd), apartment building, and 17 stores in the planning.




Altar Steps


altar steps

A few weeks ago, Father George wondered why one of the steps leading up to the old back-facing  altar was wider than the others. SFDS Alum Ted Deady  “won the T-shirt” for explaining an old tradition. His brother John recaps:

Before Vatican II, “seminarians were ordained as subdeacons  at the end of third year theology (spring) and deacons at the beginning of fourth year theology (fall) before ordination to the priesthood…” In a strongly hierarchical age, these titles reflected the end of a long progression of ranks towards Holy Orders: from tonsured cleric to the minor orders of porter, lector, exorcist, then acolyte; then, finally, the major orders of subdeacon (who assisted the deacon), deacon (who assisted the priest), priest, and later, possibly, bishop.

John notes that in the strictly-choreographed Solemn Mass of the old Latin Rite,  these distinctions were significant: “the deacon would stand on that (wide) step during the Mass and the subdeacon was relegated  to the floor to wait his turn until he could move on up. At De Sales I think we had a Solemn Mass every Sunday at 11:00 when the choir also performed and we certainly didn’t spare the incense. Most funerals were also Solemn High Masses”

Why were sanctuary steps important? First, the raised sanctuary floor separated the holier part of the church from the congregation. Then, a symbolic number of additional steps — three; five, as in our church; or seven — led up to the holiest place, the platform called the predella, on which stood the altar and Tabernacle. Why was it raised? Think of a holy mountain: Moses on Mount Sinai; the Sacrifice of Abraham; the Transfiguration; and Calvary.

The arrangement of the steps was echoed outdoors. At the front of our church, from the sidewalk, which was open to everyone, several steps led up to a wide platform – like the floor of the sanctuary –  where the faithful could gather, before ascending more steps (all equal width this time) to the doors they would enter to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. The doors were configured like the altars inside: a big wide entrance in the middle, with a smaller one on each side. Art Historian Richard Stemp notes: “The doors to a church are not just a physical entrance; they also function spiritually as part of the path towards redemption…” — a good argument for finishing the restoration!