Saint Peter's Church


By the middle of the 1750's, people living in the section of Philadelphia south of Locust Street found themselves inconvenienced by traveling  the muddy streets to the overcrowded sanctuary of Christ Church.  The community persuaded the family of William Penn to donate land to construct a "chapel of ease" as Saint Peters was then referred to.  The church opened its doors for worship in September 1761.  George Washington and other luminaries of the day worshiped at Saint Peter's Church.  The structure has changed little since the doors were first open.  One unique feature of Saint Peter's is that the Pulpit is located on the West side of the church and the altar is located on the East, necessitating an about face at the appropriate moment during the worship service.   To read more about this remarkable Philadelphia parish, click here.

The most notable change to the fabric of Saint Peter's Church was the addition of the the six story spire in 1842 to house the gift of eight change ringing bells given the parish by Benjamin Chew Wilcocks.  The bells (tenor 15-1-25 cast by Thomas Mears II in Whitechapel, England) were hung in the tower in 1842 and were not rung for a full year in order to give the mortar ample time to dry and cure.

In 1843 the church hired Thomas Le Sage to lead the church bell ringers.  In 1847, the ringers requested that they be paid for ringing on public holidays.  The vestrymen refused this request and the band all resigned in protest.  At Christ Church even when the ringers are not mentioned for decades at a time, occasional references appear in the minutes of the vestry with requests for money to buy ropes and stays or pay ringers.  This proved that there was an active ringing group there ringing the bells throughout the nineteenth century.  At Saint Peter's there is no further mention made of the bell ringers in any of the church vestry minutes after 1848. It has been assumed that there was no ringing at Saint Peter's after 1847, but there is not proof to say that there was not ringing occurring either.


One of Saint Peter's Bells. (No, that isn't a crack. It is a steel cable attached to the cannons and to the bell frame to keep the bell from swinging.)

Saint Peter's bells are still in the original frame with much of the original hardware in place.

At some point during the 20th century the clappers of the bells were tied with steel cables. Ropes and pulleys were installed connecting to a chime stand.   An inspection of the tower by an architect found that the brick and mortar would not likely stand up to the dynamic forces of full circle ringing.  So steel cables were attached to each bell to keep them from swinging.

Chime Stand

If you look against the wall you can see where a wheel has been cut to make room for a steel support beam.

What is the future for Saint Peter's Bells?  There again there are rumors. If there is any movement towards change ringing, we'll be the first to let you know.  There is a group of chimers who ring on Sunday mornings.  Saint Peter's is a large and active congregation. The Philadelphia Guild of Change Ringers will be keeping in touch with the ringers at Saint Peter's and hopefully with time the congregation will follow the lead of  Saint Mark's church and restore both their beautiful ring of bells and the spectacular spire that houses them.

To see some more pictures of Saint Peter's bells, click here.

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