Tucked away down the street from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia sits an unassuming brown Romanesque church. This church is the parish of St. Clement’s, a small community of Anglo-Catholics who are dedicated to the beauty and fullness of the Western liturgy, all with the help of a massive choral endowment and the needleworkers in the parish. I worshipped there for three years in college before converting to Catholicism, and the magnificence of their choir kept me from swimming the Tiber for a few months. I will never forget the clouds of incense, the rich brocade of the vestments, the deep reverence of Holy Week services, the slew of processions, and the way that the opening chords of Victoria’s “Asperges” could send the soul to repentant heights at the beginning of the mass. St. Clement’s is not perfect; no church is. But it stands in my mind as a clear proof of the old Christian principle that beauty elevates the soul to the contemplation of God.
Many churchgoers do not have access to this kind of splendor on a regular basis. Happily for us, however, many of the beauties of St. Clement’s can be found on their website. The photos provide lots of eye candy for those who don’t see enough lace albs, dalmatics, and maniples. There are now even videos of the high mass from Corpus Christi.
Best of all, however, is the audio library . The members of the choir are all professionals whose voices shine and blend under the direction of Peter Conte. Their recordings of Mozart, Byrd, Tallis, Palestrina, and Howells (to name but a few) are outstanding and cost nothing to download. The recent rendition of Victoria’s ‘Missa Vidi Speciosam’ from the mass for the Immaculate Conception is especially glorious. Lovers of fine church music and beautiful liturgy would enjoy paying the website a visit, or stopping by 2013 Appletree St. the next time they are in Philadelphia.