Over the weekend it was announced during Masses held at Saint Matthew Parish in Conshohocken that SS. Cosmas and Damian Church on West 5th Avenue would no longer serve as a worship site as of March 16, 2016. Officially this is referred to as “relegated to profane, but not sordid use”. A final Mass will be held at the church on Sunday, March 13th at 3:00 p.m.
This is the second of the three parishes that were merged into Saint Matthew Parish as of July 1, 2014 to be relegated. Saint Gertrude Church was relegated as of January 1, 2016. Saint Mary Church continues to serve as a worship center.
The announcement from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia about the regulation of SS. Cosmas and Damian acknowledges that the Coptic Church is interested in purchasing the property and has been using it.
One item that we found odd within the announcement was point five. This states that the church does not have any noteworthy artistic significance. The ceiling of the church is covered in 70 paintings by Lafayette Hill’s Emmanuel Utti. From the church’s website:
The history of SS. Cosmas and Damian Church’s ceiling is interesting and unique. A few years after the church was built, the white ceiling started showing rust from the nails. Father Strumia, then the pastor, requested parishioner Emmanuel Utti to paint some canvases. He liked them so much that he commissioned Mr. Utti to fill the whole ceiling with saints. Some of the paintings include Saints from the Roman Canon of the Mass, Lucy, Agatha, and Cecilia. Our church is one of few churches to have a painted ceiling a la the Sistine Chapel in Rome. In 2002 the paintings were restored by the artist Mr. Utti and his son who are still parishioners.
The church is also known for its stained glass. In 2012, tours were given to showcase the ceiling and the windows. From an article in the Times Herald about the tours:
The luminous windows that line SS. Cosmas and Damian’s sanctuary were created by the woman some art historians call the first lady of stained glass in the Philadelphia area. Himmelsbach Balano was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1877, and died in Philadelphia in 1967. In between, she maintained ateliers in the latter’s Spring Garden and Germantown sections — working independently and under her own name — and is credited with crafting original glass panels for numerous churches in this area. She is also considered the first U.S.-based female artist to oversee her projects from start to finish — design through fabrication and installation.
We would be curious to know if the art stays with the church under the care of the Coptic Church or if it will be removed when sold.