St. Michael's Shrine of the True Cross in Torresdale, Pennsylvania

Browsing through a 1934 issue of Liturgical Arts Quarterly (LAQ), I recently came across an article on the subject of St. Michael's Chapel in Torresdale, Pennsylvania. The architecture immediately caught my attention as a project of interest both to me and likely to our readers more generally. The exterior of the structure, made of brick, was designed in the classic Roman basilica form.

This paleo-Christian feeling continues as much on the inside as it does the outside with its high altar covered by a ciborium magnum, sitting above a crypt found beneath, reminiscent of the confessio that is found in so many Roman churches. The author of the LAQ article, William Page Harbeson, describes some of the key aspects of the interior accordingly:

Everything is simple. But simple without bareness. God's plenty of variety is here -- the fantastic capitals would themselves cause delight. It is, as you would say, a pure basilica with all the features of the old basilica... the roof is of simple open beams ... The eye is led naturally to the sanctuary divided laterally in two stages: the earlier one on almost the same level as the nave and separated from it by a beautiful low screen and a pair of cunningly wrought gates; the farther one raised high above, as in North Italian churches, so that the symbol of placing the Most Holy Place above the rest of the world is echoed by the purely architectural merit of setting the Tabernacle where it can be easily seen. A flight of steps just below the high altar gives into a vaulted crypt, the burial place for the donors. On either side of the stairway a little sienna marble altar, with tall panel-like reredos, seems to tie together the upper and lower levels... Access to the high altar is achieved by stairs at the sides... the altar is of blood red Numidian marble... Over the altar, again according to early usage, is a magnificent baldachino supported by Romanesque columns; and the vaulting or dome underneath its canopy is enriched with precious Venetian mosaics.

Regrettably only black and white photos of this seem to exist, but here is a view all the same: 

A slightly closer look at the high altar also shows the magnificent windows, covered over and patterned by lead tracery, as well as some of intricate carvings found throughout the church. 

Detail of the High altar with its Ciborium

The baptistery of the church included a beautiful covered baptismal font whose covering depicts the first baptism.

The Baptistery and Baptismal Font

Finally, two more details that provide a further sense of the overall architecture.

Looking toward the narthex with confessionals to either side

The employment of fine metalwork in churches is something that one often sees throughout Europe of course, but it is less seen in North America, so it is good to see its use here:

Wrought Iron Grille in the Crypt

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