Situated on the banks of the Delaware River, Philadelphia’s historic Gloria Dei (Glory of God) Church is one of the few remaining architectural relics of the city’s Swedish past. Established in 1700 by a congregation of Swedish Lutherans, it’s also known as the Old Swedes’ Church. Gloria Dei holds the dual distinction of being the oldest church building in Pennsylvania still in use, and the second oldest Swedish church in the United States.
In the 17th century, as Sweden was emerging as a political force to be reckoned with, it sought to extend its influence to the New World. As such, New Sweden, the Swedish colony in America, was founded in 1638. Its geographical boundaries spanned what are now the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. Its existence though was brief, lasting only 17 years. In 1655, the Swedes ceded the colony to the Dutch, who in turn were also conquered by the English nine years later.
The number of Swedish settlers, however, continued to grow. In 1697, construction began on the Gloria Dei Church in Wicaco (“a peaceful place”), the present-day neighborhood of Southwark, Philadelphia. The church was a simple rectangular structure with a tower that was added at a later date.
Formerly a Lutheran church, today Gloria Dei is Episcopalian in its denomination and has been so since 1845. The design of the church is a confluence of medieval, Gothic, and Georgian styles of architecture, the latter of which is featured in several historic Philadelphia buildings. The sharply sloping roof resembles that of Swedish churches.
The adjoining churchyard is a leafy, tranquil space. One of the oldest burial grounds in the city also exists on the church’s property. It has been continuously used since the establishment of the church. The cemetery also happens to be the final resting place of Amandus Johnson, the Swedish-American chronicler of the history of New Sweden.
Know Before You Go
The church is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on Mondays.