Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cathedral of St. Philip: A Beacon on the Hill

The Nave
The Nave
St. Philip's has been around for more than 150 years. Established as the Episcopal Church of St. Philip in 1846, its first building was constructed in 1848 in downtown Atlanta.

A few buildings later, the church became the Cathedral of the Diocese of Georgia in 1904. The church moved to its current location on Peachtree Road in 1933 where they had built "the little gray church."

The new building, the one we know as the "Cathedral of St. Philip" was dedicated in 1962 and was later consecrated (after the retirement of debt) in 1980.

The Cathedral of St. Philip is a landmark in Atlanta and it turns out that they give tours!

The Tour

Nave Windows
Nave Windows
I attended a Christmas concert at the Cathedral of St. Philip in December and was neck-bending fascinated with its majestic architecture and then was very excited to see a sign at the entrance of the nave indicating that tours are offered on the first Sunday of the month.

I've been in cathedrals in Chicago, New York City, and the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., but this was the first time I'd had the opportunity for a guided tour of a cathedral.

And a friend who has previously attended St. Philip's was able to join me for the tour. His generous sharing of his wealth of information about the Episcopal faith and the ceremony of its services were brilliant and very much appreciated by me.

Cathedral of St. Philip
We arrived early. The tour was scheduled to commence following the 11:15 a.m. service (there's an earlier tour, too). I made the erroneous assumption that the service would finish at 12:00 p.m., like so many other Southern churches.

As it turns out, looking at the program, there was still quite a bit of the service remaining, so my friend explained the program and invited me to join him in the cathedral. We sat in the back for the remainder of the beautiful service, he took communion and I quietly observed.

Cathedral of St. Philip
The service concluded at approximately 12:30 p.m. and we joined the other congregants in the cathedral lobby during a fellowship period and waited for our tour guide to identify him or herself. We'd asked an usher earlier where the tour would begin and he advised that it would be in the lobby near the tour sign that I mentioned earlier.

When the last few of the remaining people started to leave, who had been deep in conversation, I asked if they knew anything about the tour that was scheduled that morning (pointing to the sign that was still there). They offered possible reasons for the absence of a tour guide and then one gentleman offered to give us an impromptu tour…very kind of him, I thought.

Cathedral of St. Philip
While not usually a tour guide, he was able to share quite a few interesting tidbits about the Cathedral that we would not have picked up on a self-guided tour.

There were two other tour seekers at the front pews of the Cathedral (where the website says to meet for tours), so we joined them.

Our tour was restricted primarily to the nave (completed in 1962)…and a majestic nave it is. Based on the detail and size I assume there's a plethora of information to be shared during a regular tour.

We were fortunate to have a sunny day, so the stained glass windows, created mostly of blues with a fair amount of red, as well as many other colors, were illuminated in an ethereal brightness. The windows were the highlight for this particular tourist.

The stained glass windows throughout the cathedral, created by Willet Hauser Architectural Glass, are truly amazing. Varying in size and shape (I really like the larger of the lancet windows), they all have stories to tell. We were told that there is a pamphlet that provides details of the windows, but evidently there were none available on this particular visit.

Willet Hauser also completed a restoration project on 15 of the windows in 2004.

The Rose Window, Cathedral of St. Philip
The Rose Window
The most impressive window, and the closest I've ever been to a stained glass window of its size, is the Rose Window located in the balcony at the north end of the nave. This Rose Window has a unique story.

In the same year as the completion of the Cathedral, 1962, a group of Atlanta's arts community leaders had been traveling in Europe on a month-long mission to broaden the city's arts endeavors.

On the last leg of the trip, aboard a chartered plane leaving Orley Airport, just outside Paris, the plane crashed killing all 132 passengers, save two crew members. Following a period of city-wide mourning, the Woodruff Arts Center was born and today is one of the largest multi-discipline Arts complexes in the world.

Several members of the Atlanta arts delegation aboard the plane were members of the Cathedral of St. Philip. The Rose Window is dedicated to their memory, as well as those of all who were killed in the crash. A plaque just under the window bears the names of all those remembered.

Cross of Nails
Cross of Nails
The Cross of Nails, a symbol of reconciliation and peace, is recognized worldwide. The Cathedral of St. Philips is home of a Centre of the Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN), one of only 15 in the United States. A Cross of Nails hangs at the front of the Cathedral. There are 160 Centres located in nearly 30 countries around the world.

The organ of St. Philip's is amazing and something of a rarity. The sound is phenomenal, at least to one who is not so musically inclined. And the church has a sense of humor. There's a sign near the organ that instructs those nearby, presumably the organist and the choir, to "Please Fasten Seat Belts."

The Cathedral of St. Philip is located in the posh Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead. On a hill where Peachtree Road bears right (if heading North), the church is immediately in front of you…thus St. Philip’s being "a beacon on the hill."

Cathedral of St. Philip
Cathedral of St. Philip
This intersection, home of some other churches, is often referred to as "Jesus Junction." To my knowledge, this reference is not at all derogatory, but merely a landmark reference.

It turns out that many in the congregation of the Cathedral of St. Philip are fellow tourists. Some of the groups within the church plan regular outings, including education programs that sometimes include tours. The 20s30s group will be touring a Hindu temple soon as part of their world religions study program.

I find this absolutely fascinating (and, truth be told, I'm a bit little jealous). We never had a program like this at any of the churches I attended. Kudos to the church leaders for expanding minds!

The Return

Will I return to the Cathedral of St. Philip for a formal tour? I probably will not, but only because there's so much more to see! But I highly recommend it for those interested in architecture…churches or stained glass in particular. You might want to call ahead, just so the designated tour guide has a heads up that guests are coming that day. It's a beautiful church that I think you'll enjoy touring.

Touring the Cathedral of St. Philip

Date Toured: Sunday, February 6, 2011
Location: 2744 Peachtree Road, NW (directions and map)
Parking: Free onsite parking
Hours: First Sundays following the 8:45 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. services (meet at the front pews)

Cathedral of St. Philip
Rose Window in the Nave


Terry said...

Thanks so much for the tour. Also called "Amen Corner." St. Luke's has frequent Stained Glass tours by Bobby Mays. There are others too. Churches are the best collection of buildings in the city.

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