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 Р11:30AM.