Re-pitching the Tent in Philadelphia:
The Transformation of a Cathedral

By Richard Giles


Although the oldest Episcopal diocese in the United States (established 1784), Philadelphia has one of the newest cathedrals. In 1992 the diocese designated the Church of Our Savior (originally built in 1898 and on the National Register of Historic Places) as its cathedral and set about reordering the ornate Italianate interior to reflect the life and theology of the people of the diocese today. In 1999 Richard Giles, an English priest and author of Re-pitching the Tent: Re-ordering the Church Building for Mission and Worship, was appointed dean of the cathedral with a mandate to completely rethink the liturgical space.Working with architect George Yu, Giles completed a comprehensive renovation of the cathedral’s interior in 2002. Giles’s vision for re-ordered churches, influenced by the Cistercians (a religious order founded in France by Bernard of Clairvaux), favors a clean, austere space with architecturally strong lines. Furniture is spare and movable to allow for various seating configurations. Much thought is given to light, both the natural light available through clear windows and illumination for evening use. In contrast to St. Gregory’s abundant, almost riotous, variety in texture, color, and iconography, which speaks powerfully of the rich diversity of God’s creation, Giles works to achieve a single focus—one crucifix, one icon. This focus is in keeping with his insistence on one table, one ambo (reading desk), one baptismal font, and one cathedra, or bishop’s chair. Giles has created a space that comes most fully to life only with the addition of the real church: the gathered assembly. The text on these pages is excerpted from Re-pitching the Tent.

The entire congregation gathers around the altar table during the Eucharistic prayer.

When it comes to the environment of worship, we should never underestimate the influence of our building upon the way we think about God, about each other, and about the relative importance of the activity we have come together to engage in. Our buildings need to speak clearly to us of what we are about as the people of God.

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