Michael Parker Doppelganger Essay

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Determining whether Frank Watson, architect of Philadelphia’s Protestant Episcopal Church of the Emanuel (Christian Street Baptist’s original name) was inspired directly by the little church in the Dolomites would take some dedicated historical detective work.

The image could well have been iconic and widely circulated in Watson’s time.

But I’m intrigued by the possibility that Watson was attempting something even more nuanced and sophisticated.

When L’Emmanuelo was built in 1891, the Sud Tyrol was part of Austria, not Italy.

As we drove up, we passed a local band, men dressed in lederhosen, feathered caps, and red and white checked shirts.

The women were clad in stiff dirndls and petticoats, instruments poised to serenade a pair of newlyweds.

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.

Left: Christian Street Baptist Church (aka Protestant Episcopal Mission of the Emmanuel) in South Philadelphia was built in 1891 to serve America’s first wave of Italian immigrants into the country. The churches are also both, architecturally speaking, “gems,” a term that encompasses such famous small-scale masterpieces as Bramante’s Tempietto in Rome or Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel in Florence.

Both Christian Street Baptist Church and San Giovanni in Ranui display exquisite proportions that give them a striking presence despite their unpresuming size.


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