By John T. Gillespie

Special to The CS&T

MANAYUNK – Photo essayist Bruce Kravetz has lovingly rendered St. John the Baptist Church in Manayunk with a spectacular show of wall-size-panoramic photographs that capture the interior beauty of this 19th century neo-gothic marvel.

The month-long exhibit that opens to the public Nov. 21 at the Artesano Gallery in Manayunk conveys the feeling of being inside a church without actually being there. The secret lies in the giant images – with as many as 18 high-resolution photographs on canvas stitched together to create crystal-clear seamless panoramas.

Adding to the drama are the 250-foot high partite ceilings, the huge stained glass windows, pointed gothic arches, statues by church sculptor Joseph Sibbel, the magnificently carved marble and onyx main altar and the historic pipe organ. The famed Gothic cathedrals of Chartres and Reims may have been photographed in greater detail but never to greater advantage.

Kravetz, a Manayunk resident with an abiding interest in the visual arts, happened on his labor of love almost by accident. Long intrigued by the exterior of the church that overlooks Pretzel Square at Cresson and Rector Streets, Kravetz stepped inside one day eight months ago and said he felt like “being alone in the Louvre.”

“I was in awe of its splendor. Everywhere I looked, even the floor I stood on, was magnificent. Everything was laid out to perfection and the light coming through the stained glass window enhanced the overall effect,” he said.

After obtaining permission from the parish’s pastor, Father James A. Lyons, Kravetz spent the next several months recording every facet of the interior. Using a Canon camera with a 50-millimeter lens and existing light, he was able to capture the soaring heights, architectural details and splendor of the interior. He did so, moreover, while avoiding the distortions of wide-angle photography, thanks to the photo-merge process.

The current St. John the Baptist Church was dedicated in 1894. Its architect, Patrick Charles Keely, was one of the most sought after neo-gothic church architects of the 19th century. The church is being completely restored, including the 1906 pipe organ. Kravetz plans to donate the proceeds from the sale of his photographs to the restoration.

The owners of the Artesano Gallery, 4446 Cresson St., have decided to dedicate the entire 4,500 square feet of space to Kravetz’s photos. The exhibit runs from Nov. 21 through Dec. 19. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

John Gillespie is a member of St. Bridget Parish and former reporter for the Philadelphia Evening & Sunday Bulletin.