There are five national park sites in Philadelphia, the most famous of which, of course, is Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. A lesser known site in the city is the Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site, an old Swedish church that is the oldest church building in the state of Pennsylvania. The church functioned as a Lutheran church from its founding around 1700 until 1845, when it became an Episcopal church. A visit to the historic site doesn’t take long, but it is well worth it. There is an old cemetery surrounding the church that visitors can walk through. The cemetery is rather peaceful and bucolic, and some of the gravestones are from the 1700s, including members of George Washington’s continental army.
The church itself is a beautiful, well-preserved dark brick structure with a large colonial style steeple. The interior is also colonial style architecture with lots of white painted wood in the pews and on the walls. The interior is sparsely decorated, with only a few stained glass windows, a wooden statue of Gabriel hanging from the ceiling (a common decoration in Swedish churches), two model ships, and a beautiful organ. The church is dimly lit, quiet, and tranquil; we were all alone in the church, and we felt as though we had entered another world in the church.
A visit to Gloria Dei Church won’t take long, but it’s a nice place to go in Philadelphia to experience some of the rich history and culture of the city.