WASHINGTON, June 17, 2013 — Americans have been celebrating the nation’s birth in Philadelphia for more than two centuries. July 4 merrymaking and summer history learning for the whole family has never been more interactive and interesting than it is today.
Independence Hall, where it all happened, is no longer just a building with chairs, desks and walls that hold plenty of rhetoric. Benjamin Franklin and other signers are on hand for after hours tours to engage visitors and relate a history that is anything but dry and dull.
Liberty 360 3D Show technology dazzles everyone with stories of our national symbols: the State of Liberty, the bald eagle and the Liberty Bell. Adult visitors can toast 1776 with spirits in colonial and contemporary watering holes visited during guided pub-crawls.
Actually, Philly is a bottomless reservoir of culture that goes far beyond national history. Those who venture beyond Independence National Historical Park have plenty to discover in the city’s historic houses of worship, museums and neighborhoods.
Many sites surround the religious diversity of the city. Quakers and Baptists were not the only groups to leave legacies inside the City of Brotherly Love. William Penn made religious freedom a cornerstone of the colony he founded Many moved their domiciles across oceans to Pennsylvania to embrace his concept.
Christ Church and Burial Ground – This colonial era house of worship is known as “The Nation’s Church,” because revolutionary leaders, George Washington, Betsy Ross, Benjamin Franklin and others, worshipped there. Ben Franklin’s grave is in the burial ground, which is one of our nation’s most historical resting places.
Mikveh Israel – The congregation began in the 1740s, and had a strong relationship with Christ Church. When the synagogue burned in the 1870s, Christ Church contributed funds to construct a new build. The congregations share dinner together once a year.
Seaman’s Church Institute of Philadelphia & South Jersey – From 1849 to 1859, this 75 foot-high, 600-seat floating church served as a worship site for merchant seafarers on the Delaware River. After much relocation, the non-profit ecumenical, non-denominational facility now provides much more than worship in its new Chapel of the Redeemer that is open to the public. Visiting mariners also enjoy recreation facilities, a computerized communication center, clothing bank, and television lounge.
Mother Bethel AME Church – This Mother Church of the nation’s first black denomination was founded in 1794. The church rests on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans and honors Bishop Richard Allen, founding pastor and first bishop.
Baptist Temple – When this church opened in 1891, it was the largest U.S. Protestant church. Martin Luther King, Helen Keller, and presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower have delivered speeches there. Now, following a $29 million restoration of the building’s Romanesque grandeur, it is a multipurpose event and performance center accented with preserved and restored stained glass windows and owned by Temple University.
Arch Street Meeting House – This is the largest Quaker meetinghouse in the U.S., and reflects Quaker ideals of simplicity and equality in its construction. It also symbolizes William Penn’s Holy Experiment: religious freedom, rule of law, pluralism and diversity, respect for human rights and personal liberty. Here visitors can also learn about the Quaker influence on Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others in the young American nation.
Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter & Paul – This is the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It contains many mosaics, medallions, and Italian marble columns.
National Museum of American Jewish History – This new, five-story museum has hands-on exhibits and 25,000 items in its collection, all to illustrate the trials and triumphs of American Jews.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s Contemporary Christian Travel columns in the Washington Times Communities.
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