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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The "Holy Trinity Lutheran: Another Lancaster Church Rich In History" Story

The bell tower and steeple with weathervane
can be seen from all over the city. Notice

the statues at the top of the brick part.
It was an ordinary day.  Standing on the 4th floor of the Mifflin Street Parking Garage in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania taking a photo of Holy Trinity's magnificent church steeple.  For over 60 years I have been a member of St. James Episcopal Church on the corner of North Duke and East Orange Streets, but I have never ventured the block and a half to the corner of South Duke and East Mifflin until today.  Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity, with a street address of 32 S. Duke is Lancaster's only surviving house of worship erected during the colonial period.  It was in 1730 that sermons were read from books brought from Germany in peoples' homes in the town known as Hickory Town and thus, Holy Trinity was formally organized.  It was also in 1730 that missionary John Caspar Stoever began to baptize infants and three years later recorded their baptisms in the Holy Trinity's first record book.  
The front door on Mifflin Street.
At the time, about two thirds of the residents of Lancaster were German-speaking with many of them being members of Holy Trinity.  Most of the services and records of Holy Trinity were therefore in German until about 1825.  It was in 1734 that Lancaster, part of Penn's Woods Charter of William Penn, was laid out by James Hamilton.  It was incorporated as a borough in 1742 and as a city in 1818.  The congregation of Holy Trinity began to worship in a small stone church on the corner of what was known as the Duke of Cumberland Street; on the south side of Mifflin Street.  The church had a steeple and a bell, a raised pulpit with a sand clock to time sermons and a stone altar behind a walnut railing.  John Caspar Stoever was called to be the first pastor in 1736.  
Historical marker tells the history of
The Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.
Eventually, in 1761 a new brick church at that location was started.  It was finally dedicated in 1766 with Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America, officiating.  The 195 foot tall church tower and steeple that I took a photograph of today was begun in 1785.  It's foundation is seven feet thick and seventeen feet deep.  The tower features statues of the four apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, on the corners.  The original statues were made of wood, but were replaced with a more permanent material in 1948 and the original statues were placed inside the front door of the church.  By 1794 the steeple was completed and held a beautiful weathervane which incorporated the first commercial use of ball bearings in America.  In 1853 a chime of eight bells was added.  
The bells can be seen through the openings
in the brick windows.  On the corners of
the platform above the bricks are the
four apostles on the corners.
At the time the steeple was the second tallest structure in the United States.  The front door was originally on Duke Street, but was moved to the Mifflin Street side in 1853.  Well, I pushed open the Mifflin Street door and walked into a deserted church.  As I closed the door behind me, I wondered who might have have placed their hand on  that same doorknob in the past.  The soft lighting coming through the stained glass windows mixed with the ambient lighting created by the interior lights of the church and gave the church a mystical or spiritual feeling.  Totally quiet!  As I walked toward the altar and pulpit, listening to my own footsteps on the brick passageway, I passed row after row of enclosed wooden pews, much like those in my home church of St. James.  Each pew bore a number which at one time were rented to parishioners.  
The interior door knob is a lesson
in history all to itself.  Would love
to know the names of some who have
turned it as they left the church.
I found my way to the stained glass window that features "The Return from the Cross" which was made in 1913 by Louis C. Tiffany.  I stood in front of the pulpit which has a winding staircase around it that leads up into the apse.  As I turned around I was greeted by the unbelievable  view of the original Tannenberg organ case on the second level.  It was built in 1774 by the most accomplished organ builder in colonial America in the German baroque style.  The case now holds a four-manual Moller organ.  My visit today to one of the oldest churches in Lancaster was long overdue, but at least I can now say I had the chance to see the remarkable Holy Trinity Church.  And, now you too have had the chance see a part of history from America's storied past.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - click on photographs to enlarge them.

The original entrance that was changed in 1853. 
The case that held the original Tannenberg Organ.
Another view from the balcony.
A mystical entrance into the church.
The altar and apse as seen from the organ area.
The pews bear the original numbers from the 1700s when the pews were rented to the churchgoers.
This is the wooden sculpture that at one time was on the corner of the bell tower along with the other three wooden sculptures that represent the four apostles.  This is St. Luke the Evangelist.  It now stands inside the front door.
The 1913 Tiffany stained glass window titled "The Return from the Cross."


  1. Sharon Beach, duke7547@gmail.comFebruary 12, 2019 at 11:14 AM

    Thank you so very much for this story. My two sisters and I are writing our family narrative and come to find out that we are related to the Rev. Henry Muhlenberg by way of his wife Anna Weiser. Our 3x great-grandparents, Abraham and Anna Eshleman Westhafer were married in this church by Rev. Gotthilf Muhlenberg. Strangely enough, Abraham was a Moravian; Anna was a Mennonite; but they joined the Lutheran Church. Living in FL does not allow me an inside look into this beautiful old church, so thank you for this opportunity.

  2. I'm glad you were able to find the story. The church is beautiful just as many others in the city of Lancaster. The history of one of the oldest inland cities in the United States is so amazing. Every day I find something new that I can write about. LDub