Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

Right Angle Club 2009
The 2009 proceedings of the Right Angle Club of Philadelphia, beginning with the farewell address of the outgoing president, John W. Nixon, and sadly concluding with memorials to two departed members, Fred Etherington and Harry Bishop.

Little Town of Bethlehem

{Reverend Phillips Brooks}
Reverend Phillips Brooks

The Reverend Alan Neale and his attractive wife recently addressed the Right Angle Club about the historic church on Rittenhouse Square, its famous Rector Phillips Brooks, and his famous Christmas Carol Alan comes from England by way of Brookings, South Dakota, and we certainly hope he will make Philadelphia his permanent home.

>Holy Trinity is built of brownstone, which thus reflects the character but the not invariable appearance of Episcopal Churches in America and for a long time fit right in with the brownstone houses of that part of Philadelphia. Since ample supplies of brownstone were available from the region of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania during the Nineteenth century, it was then a local fashion. Holy Trinity also has the first American carillon. Although carillon is very popular in the low countries of Europe, they only came to America in the early Twentieth century, the very first being the one in Holy Trinity. The most modern versions are run by electric controls, but the traditional ones require pounding a heavy wooden frame to ring the various bells. Carillon players in that tradition tend to resemble blacksmiths and have a similar directness of speech.

{Holy Trinity Church 1904 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103}
Holy Trinity Church

Phillips Brooks spent eight years as Rector of Holy Trinity during the Civil War, where his fame as a preacher spread far and wide, eventually resulting in his being called away to be Bishop of Boston. Before the days of amplifying systems, his physical stature was of considerable use in swaying large audiences. He was 6' 4" tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds. Holy Trinity is quite a large church, but Brooks would fill it to capacity three times every Sunday. He was an enthusiast for Abraham Lincoln and strongly anti-slavery in a city that still harbored a great deal of sympathy for the South. He travelled to Gettysburg to minister to the wounded, and after Lincoln was assassinated, preached a notable funeral oration as the funeral train paused on its way through Philadelphia to Springfield, Illinois.

Brooks was an energetic foreign traveler, often gathering travelog material for his sermons. He felt that spending Christmas Eve on the hills overlooking Bethlehem was the inspiration for composing a poem, Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem which was set to music by the church organist Lewis Redner, and has become one Christmas Carol whose words just about everyone knows by heart.

Originally published: Thursday, June 25, 2009; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 23, 2019

The carol inspired me to go to the little town of Bethlehem for Christmas 2007.

Getting into Bethlehem from Jerusalem these days involves running a gauntlet of unsympathetic Israeli soldiers and passing through a gate in a 20-foot-high concrete wall ... Bethlehem is now part of the Occupied West Bank; the hills overlooking the city are no longer an inspiration for hymns.
Posted by: G4   |   Jun 25, 2009 7:40 PM