Via Media

Via Media

Oh, that whole Philadelphia thing

We didn’t get to spend as much time in town as I liked. We spent a bit more time at CMN this morning – it was pretty empty when we were there because Santorum was speaking to the crowd elsewhere. Folks eventually filtered in from his talk, and we wandered around a bit, ending up at the broadcast table of a local Catholic radio station. I also spoke to Thom Price of EWTN radio, but he was only broadcasting in the late afternoon, at which point we would be long gone.

So then it was off to do just a bit of downtown. We had been here, sans Katie, who was elsewhere, and sans MJ, who was just a glint in someone’s eye, a few years ago, on our way back from Atlantic City, where I’d spoken at the NCEA (worst, weirdest NCEA vibe ever – having it in a gambling mecca. Bingo jokes aside…it was very strange). I have a photo somewhere of little Jospeh leaning against the step preserved at the St. John Neumann Shrine, the step where the bishop fell and died, but I don’t think I have it online anywhere.


But none of that today. We just did a very brief Independence Hall jaunt – and not even inside – the tickets we could get were for 3, at which point we needed to be at the hotel, not in downtown Philly. So all we could do was see the Liberty Bell and walk around outside, mostly for Katie’s sake, so she could say that she’d seen it. There weren’t that many people there – when we were there 3 years ago, the line to see the Liberty Bell went down the block – this time there was no line at all.

I had weird feelings reading the display plaques in the Liberty Bell exhibit, mostly because the language spoke of sacrality and relics. It was odd. I felt the way that some probably feel looking at saints’ body parts. "It’s a bell,people. A bell."

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Fred K

posted August 5, 2005 at 8:52 am

Personification of bells is well-established in and beyond Catholicism: each bell has a tongue, a voice, and a distinct personality. Big Ben, for example, is the name of the bell rather than the tower in London.
Church bells
describes typical exorcisms, blessings, and annointings given to bells
Stories about some of the 34 bells in the Mexico City cathedral.

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Paul Smith

posted August 5, 2005 at 9:17 am

I went to Liberty Bell this past weekend for the first time since I was a kid. (I’ve made three trips into Philly since Saturday, having made maybe 3 non-Phillies related trips since I was very young.) Normally, I don’t go for stuff like that (art bores me, for example), but it was really cool seeing the Bell. I know it probably didn’t actually ring for the Declaration, but just all the symbolism and patriotism wrapped around it really got to me.
(I’ve never seen a saint’s body, but the whole thing seems creepy to me.)

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posted August 5, 2005 at 9:17 am

“Personification of bells is well-established in and beyond Catholicism: each bell has a tongue, a voice, and a distinct personality.”
Like the eponymous Nine Tailors of Dororthy Sayers’s novel.

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posted August 5, 2005 at 9:34 am

Amy – very much enjoyed meeting you in Philadelphia, as well as Susan P. and her daughter. Hope you come back again soon for a longer look (when the weather is cooler!) at the city and its surrounding area. There’s lots to see and enjoy.

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Der Tommissar

posted August 5, 2005 at 11:24 am

We don’t have a downtown in Philadelphia. We have Center City and Olde City. It’s ok that you didn’t know that, though, being a foreigner and all.
Yo visited the shrine? Congratulations on having your entire family get out of that neighborhood alive!

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James Kabala

posted August 5, 2005 at 3:18 pm

If you want to see a shrine that tops even the Liberty Bell in pointless grandeur, go to Plymout Rock.
Remarkably, I was myself in Philadelphia just two weeks ago. The guides were pretty honest about the bell’s lack of a genuine place in history.

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James Kabala

posted August 5, 2005 at 3:19 pm

Or Plymouth Rock, for those of us who can spell.

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posted August 5, 2005 at 3:47 pm

Amy: Next time, go to Independence Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm – no tickets, no waiting, no cost.
Here’s a photo of the Left Coast’s Liberty Bell:

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posted August 5, 2005 at 9:15 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head when you felt that odd sense when reading the Liberty Bell plaques. Among certain folks, there is a kind of veneration for anything to do with the Founding Fathers that borders on the religious. Saints’ relics indeed. Not to get too corny about this, but I remember an old 1930s Warner Bros. cartoon that had Uncle Sam appearing to Porky Pig in a dream, showing him various famous scenes from the founding of our country. But the cartoon had a certain strange tone to it that always creeped me out, even though I could never put my finger on why. I guess even as a kid, I had an inherent Catholic sense that told me “This doesn’t pass the smell test.”

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posted August 5, 2005 at 10:42 pm

Next time you’re in Philly, check out the International Institute for Culture ( They’re serious about putting the “Catholic” back into culture.

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posted August 6, 2005 at 11:17 am

Wow, I’m surprised at the number of Philly people visiting this blog.
Anyway, aside from the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, there are lots of other Catholic places one might visit in or about the city: the Shrine of St. Rita in South Philadelphia, the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in North Philadelphia, the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, and of course the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on the Parkway. (The building of the Cathedral was begun by St. John Neumann at the height of the nativist riots in Philadelphia — its windows are so high to avoid being broken by men throwing rocks.) Also, the Art Museum at the other end of the Parkway has a great collection of Catholic art.
I remember the last time I took my kids to St. John Neumann’s Shrine — there’s a small museum inside — I had a hard time explaining to them what he used his discipline and his cilice for. 😉

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