Hidden Gem: Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting and Their Turrell Skyspace

For someone who has lived in Pennsylvania, United States for two years, the only Philly-authentic thing I’ve familiarized myself with is their Philly Cheesesteaks and Wawa, our beloved local minimart chain. The one thing I have been curious about ever since I saw Penn’s mascot, the Quaker, is exactly that: Philly’s Quaker community.

Quakerism emerged from the English Civil War in the mid 1600s as a sect of Christianity and, ever since the 1800s, Philadelphia has become a home for many Quakers and their Religious Society of Friends. For Quakers, their core belief is that a piece of God is present in every person and that that “Inner Light” can speak to them directly.

One historic meeting place, the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, is located twenty minutes outside of Philadelphia. Once a week on Sunday mornings, the members of this community come together for one hour of silent worship in a meditative and beautifully designed space.

Although it might not look like your typical cathedral, the design of the space is impeccably well thought out. The interior is a serene palette of white walls, wooden floors and furniture, and aquamarine accents.

The generous sprinkle of windows that line the room allow natural light to flood the space and not only that, it welcomes the chirp of the cicadas and the children’s laughter to echo the room.

A gentle breeze occasionally enters, and the space is decidedly the perfect meditation haven. The coolest part yet is the “skyspace” located on the ceiling:

After asking what inspired the beautiful light piece, I was told that it was in fact done by the renowned contemporary artist, James Turrell (whose work you might recognize from Drake’s Hotline Bling music video, but trust me, he’s much more important than just that). The small square of light is projected unto a false ceiling, which opens up to the sky.

The Skyspace actually welcomes visitors, and you can sign up for a tour of it online. It’s on my bucket list to go back there at least once to really enjoy it in its full glory.

I could go on for a long time about its architecture. Did I mention its beautiful local Philadelphia field stone-covered facade?

On that note, I should probably also mention that I’m an Architecture student, hence the geeky perception towards the building’s smallest details. Having been a student in Philadelphia for over two years now, though, I’ve always been curious about the state’s Quaker roots. I’m really glad that I’ve finally cracked that mystery and can now appreciate a new way to pursue religion.

Can I offer you a friendly tip? If you’re curious about something, bring a friend along and explore – you’ll never know unless you try it.

Special thanks to Sarah for being the absolute best guide, and Vian and Nelson!

– Gaby

 

The address to Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting is: 20 E Mermaid Ln, Philadelphia, PA 19118. They hold worships every Sunday at 10:30 – 11:30AM.

About Us

Hi there!

Our names are Ellie and Gaby. We’re two Penn students who study Art History and Architecture. As fate would have it, we met in an Architectural Art History class.  Two years later, we’ve become best travel buddies through our shared appreciation of food, photography, and getting lost in alien places.

Our philosophy of travel is simple: traveling doesn’t need to take you far across the oceans or into another continent. Traveling is simply the curious and adventurous mindset of experiencing a place in a new way, be it through its cuisine, culture, traditions, history, fashion, or otherwise.

For our Young Traveling Scholarship, we’ve chosen to travel across North America, namely: Philadelphia and New York in the United States and Quebec and Montreal in Canada. We’ve decided to title our blog “Gems and Hidden Gems,” because some of the best experiences hide out in plain sight!

Philadelphia has been our hometown for over two years, but we decided to challenge ourselves to become tourists in our own city and dig for unique experiences that regular city-hopping tourists might miss. New York, the concrete jungle where dreams are made of (thank you, Jay-Z), is absolutely bustling with life and therefore hidden gems. Finally, Quebec is the crown jewel that neither of us have been to before – a fairytale town awaiting our arrival. Stay tuned to experience these three cities through our eyes!

Signed,
Ellie & Gaby