For Beisert, it’s the archetypal forms and details Watson chose that matter.
The classic Renaissance proportions and geometry, the rosy quoining (in brick, not paint or granite) would have been comfortingly familiar to the Italian immigrants who formed the first congregation of the Protestant Episcopal Mission of the Emmanuel (or L’Emmanuelo), a taste of home in a strange new world.
The faded image, torn from an old calendar page, showed a church that bore an uncanny resemblance to the South Philly sanctuary. Johann in the Dolomites, Trentino-Alto Adige” read the handwritten legend in the top corner. The calendar image showed the Italian church’s campanile capped with an onion dome. Still, “the visual affinity is striking,” said Beisert.
Although he understood the gift of the image as a “gesture of lamentation,” the affinity between two churches, one clearly loved and celebrated, the other about to be unceremoniously discarded, only intensified Beisert’s pain of losing the nomination.
Like many Philadelphians, I am still grieving the summer’s senseless demolition of Christian Street Baptist Church.
So a few weeks ago I made a mountain pilgrimage in early October to see its doppelganger.
About an hour before sunset, pros and amateurs alike crowd an elevated platform built into the pasture’s fence to accommodate them, propping their camera lenses on built-in flat shelves and aiming like hunters in a blind as they await the magic hour.
The sun drops low and turns the majestic mountain range (called Geisler in German, Odle in Italian) pink, the lush pasture emerald, and the little church bright white.
Last spring the Philadelphia Historical Commission overturned by a single vote a previous decision that had placed Christian Street Baptist Church on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.
Oscar Beisert, who had researched, written, and valiantly fought for the church’s nomination, was wordlessly handed a picture. Johann sat alone in a green meadow, backing onto an autumnal landscape of golden larches, birches, and evergreens, crowned by soaring mountain spires–a far cry from the dense brick rows of Christian Street.