Building a baroque Catholicism: the Philadelphia churches of Edwin Forrest Durang
University of Delaware
Edwin Forrest Durang emerged after the Civil War as the single-most prolific architect of Roman Catholic buildings in Philadelphia. Between 1866 and 1902 Durang designed twenty Roman Catholic churches and renovated or rebuilt at least ten others in Philadelphia; with seventy-two parishes established in Philadelphia by 1900 the number is significant Despite this astonishingly active architectural practice Durang has not figured prominently in the architectural history of the city. While this is due in part to the lack of surviving drawings and business papers and to Durang’s absence from professional organizations such as the ALA. it is also a symptom of the general lack of scholarship on the material culture of Roman Catholics in America. ☐ During the first half of the 19th century the transformation of industry and the development of transportation in cities such as Philadelphia attracted immigrants in search of opportunity. Many Catholics, mostly Irish and German, settled in Philadlephia because of an already prominent Catholic presence. Philadelphia had been unique in British North America for fostering the first permanent public place of Catholic worship and continued to attract Catholic immigrants through the 19th century. The Irish had come to Philadelphia as early as the 1830s and were later joined by German, Italian, and Eastern European Catholics. Most churches built for newly established parishes were humble structures but as parish membership grew churches were rebuilt on more ambitious plans drawn up by architects such as Durang. ☐ The following essay places Durang and his churches in the context of Catholic history in Philadelphia while delineating changes in Catholic devotional practice that would have specific architectural implications. The Counter-Reformation revival that began to take place during the first quarter of the 19th century catalyzed a dramatic shift in Catholic piety. A return to a rigorous outward devotionalism, or so-called baroque Catholicism, would influence the way in which church buildings were imagined. Thus, while the lack of surviving business papers and drawings places certain limitations on understanding Durang the architect, his churches reveal much about the nature of 19th century American Catholicism. A chronology of Durang’s Philadelphia churches has been included.