The Church Building

Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church

The Church building at Gloria Dei 'Old Swedes' has been in use since 1700, making it the oldest church building in Pennsylvania and the second oldest in the United States. Although those directing the building of the church at Wicaco (the present Gloria Dei Church) had emigrated from Sweden, they did not import builders with Swedish building traditions, but chose instead Philadelphia builders trained in the English craft guild tradition. When the church building was completed, it was hailed as "a great edifice...nothing was equal to it as a public building in the city." (ref. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia)

As originally built, the church was a simple rectangle, 30 feet by 60 feet. The plan provided for a tower, but the tower was not completed until 1703. Although the walls were quite thick, they began to bow in 1704 under the weight of the steep sloping roof. To arrest this process and preserve the building, a sacristy was built onto the north side of the church and a vestibule was built onto the south side. These acted as buttresses and gave the building a cruciform footprint. By the 1840's the congregation had grown so large as to require a more worship space and the possibility of building a new structure was investigated (estimated at a cost of $12,000). The decision was made to renovate the existing building, resulting in the raising of the floor and the addition of balconies, a center pulpit and the stained glass window (final cost $500). The building was restored in 1999 but remains essentially unchanged since 1846.