Memory Stream

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cu1history01. Southeast View of Old Swedes' Church, watercolor by William L. Breton (1828). Credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Episcopal Church in South Philadelphia is the oldest church in Pennsylvania and among the oldest in the country.

 

Swedish colonists held their first Christian worship in 1677 in a log blockhouse along the Delaware River. Land owner Sven Svenson donated ground to the Swedish Lutheran church for a permanent structure, and, in 1698, laid the foundation for Gloria Dei. Gloria Dei served as a Lutheran church for 150 years until it became part of the Episcopal Church.

The church at Christian Street and Columbus Boulevard is a living monument to Philadelphia's oldest neighborhood and earliest European settlers.

The first Swedish colonists came to the New World in 1638 as a business venture and settled around what is now Wilmington. A second group established a settlement at what would become Philadelphia in 1642, under Gov. John Printz. But this prime riverfront land was not uninhabited when the Swedish colonists arrived. The people who came to be called Delaware Indians, along with other native groups, had been living, hunting, and fishing in the Delaware and Ohio River valleys for more than 10,000 years. The Delawares in South Philadelphia called this area Weccacoe (peaceful place).

Gloria Dei was the first church in colonial America to have an organ played, and it has had several organs since. The church currently uses a Hook & Hastings of Boston organ, which has served it for more than 100 years. In 1999, Gloria Dei completed an almost-total restoration of the building in time for its 300th anniversary. The church, its buildings, and historic burial grounds are open to the public for tours.

 

Content and images provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. For more stories, visit www.hsp.org.