Background of the Building
An anchor in largely African-American North Philadelphia, the first Episcopal Church in the world to ordain women, the George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate is a landmark in the religious, social and architectural history of the United States. Built as a memorial to the merchant and civil leader George W. South, the church was the centerpiece of a sprawling complex including a chapel, parish house, curacy and rectory. Once intended to serve as the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia, The Church of the Advocate is one of the best American examples of Gothic Revival style and the only major one of its period based systematically on French sources.
No other church in America has been built in such a grand scale specifically for the working class. Also, none offers such a comprehensive repertoire of the Gothic Revival architecture: complete programs of lavish architectural sculpture; stained glass windows by Clayton & Bell, one of the leading English firms of the period; a full apparatus of flying buttresses and an orientation to the true East. The church demonstrates the Ruskinian doctrine of involving workmen in the design process, echoing the socially progressive programs that are part of the Advocate’s history and in contrast to the industrial, mechanized age in which it was created.
The Church’s Architect
The Church’s Architect, Charles Burns, is recognized as one of the most prominent church architects in the late 19th and early 20th century. His work includes over 50 churches some of which are the Church of the Savior, now the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia; Church of The Redeemer, Bryn Mawr; Christ Church Cathedral, Salina, Kansas; and Calvary Church, Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the Union League of Philadelphia’s prominent clubhouse in Center City Philadelphia.