Sanctuary & Symbols

Someone once said of Old Pine, “If these walls could speak, what stories they would tell of courage, devotion, and of a people’s love and service to God.”

The walls of Old Pine’s sanctuary do speak if we will but listen.


They speak of a journey of faith from the remote past through the present into eternity. Beginning in the rear,¬†hand painted stencils tell the story of faith as they guide us through time to focus on the means of grace: the Word, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the water of the Sacrament of Baptism.


The hand-stenciled symbols gracing the walls and ceiling of the sanctuary reflect the rich religious heritage of Old Pine Street Church. The congregation at Old Pine Street draws upon that heritage as we bear witness to Jesus Christ today.




Our Official name is Third, Scots and Mariners Presbyterian Church. The large thistle and wave motifs relate specifically to Scots and Mariners Churches and have contextual overlays that reach back to the beginnings of our faith (see, for example, Genesis 4:18 and Psalm 107:23-32). The waves also remind us of the waters of baptism.


These symbols were developed in cooperation by architect David Slovic and the Church’s Construction Control Committee, chaired by Thomas S. Rittenhouse. The skillful painting was accomplished by the firm of Adolph Frel & Son who employed the same stenciling technique as that used in the 1886 decoration that may be seen through “The Window into History” in the northeast corner of the room.


The intent of the symbols is to lead people on a journey of faith from the remote past into the present and on into eternity. The symbolic progression begins on the rear walls and moves forward to focus on the liturgical center of the sanctuary, the Word and Sacrament.


The four back wall symbols are derived from the Old Testament and witness to our ancient Jewish past. Then beginning on the rear west wall, there is a set of three symbols representative of the Life of Christ as recorded in the New Testament. Across the room on the rear east wall are symbols of early Christianity, including the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. Moving again to the west wall, the central symbols mark the great Protestant Reformation. Their counterparts on the central east wall highlight aspects of Christian development in America through the Civil War. The single front most symbols on the east and west walls represent specifically Old Pine Street Church. On the front wall are symbols for the sacraments that admit believers into eternal life with Christ.


Each medallion symbol is repeated on the main floor and above in the gallery. In the guilloches, the interlaced curvilinear motifs that ride just above the waves, the entire progression of symbols appears randomly again.


The following are brief notes on each of the twenty symbols. The notes are intended to serve merely as helps or centering points for the symbols to which each person is invited to bring individual interpretation while pausing to reflect on the journey of faith.

NOAH’S ARK Genesis 6:14-16
Because the people had turned their hearts away from their Creator, God swore to destroy them along with all the animals. But God’s continued compassion for a rebellious people was extended to Noah and his family. And out of the flood a covenant between God and the people was born.


Moses became aware of the presence of Yahweh on Mount Horeb through a fire which burned in a thorn bush but which did not consume the bush. After that initial recognition, Moses was able to converse with Yahweh directly.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS Exodus 24:12; 32:19; 34:1

The Lord first presented Moses with the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone on Mount Sinai. Infuriated by the idolatry of the Israelites, Moses subsequently flung the tablets to the ground and shattered them. Again, the Lord instructed Moses to cut two stone tablets and to write on them his covenant with the Israelites.


From the Hebrew Mogen David, literally Shield of David. This traditional symbol is formed by two (here interlaced) equilateral triangles. It is used here to represent the founding of the nation of Israel.

THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM Matthew 2:2, 9-10

The Epiphany Star is traditionally five pointed. In the wall medallions here it is doubled, and it is further embellished in the large corner ceiling motifs. It represents the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles in the form of the Wise Men.


Having been proclaimed a king, Jesus was guilty of treason or rebellion under Roman law. When he had been sentenced to death, the soldiers ridiculed his claim by pressing a crown made of thorns into his head.

THE CROSS Matthew 37:32; Mark 15:21

The cross on which Christ was crucified is here as the Celtic Cross, the cross of Iona, Scotland. The present symbol, with a circle representing eternity, was developed in the early Christian church of Ireland and introduced to Scotland by a missionary in the 6th century.

SCROLLS Luke 4:16-21

Ancient manuscripts were often written on lengths of leather or papyrus and rolled up to form books. The discovery in modern times of the Dead Sea Scrolls, hidden in the late A.D. 60’s presents us with some of the earliest known copies of the parts of the Old Testament. One of the best preserved of the Dead Sea Scroll is an Isaiah Scroll, such as Christ read from in the synagogue at Nazareth.


The crown depicted here represents the Triple Crown used for centuries in the coronation of the Pope, the head of the Roman Catholic Church.


The Greek word ichthus, meaning “fish” forms an acrostic for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”. This was used as a secret password by early Christians in times of persecution as was the simplified fish figure represented here. The figure could be quickly drawn in the sand and erased. The fish also appears in the art of the oldest Christian catacombs.


The beginning of the Protestant Reformation can be dated from October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed a list of ninety-five theses to the door of the palace chapel at Wittenberg. Luther’s protest was instigated by his anger at abuses connected with the sale of indulgences for the remission of sin, particularly during a campaign to raise money for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s.


The open Bible represents the direct availability of the Word that became possible with translation into the language of common people. 16th Century reformers taught that everyone could understand the Word without the assistance of the Church. In turn, this created a popular demand for reading and interpreting the Bible in worship and brought to the pulpit into the front center of the church.


John Calvin, the organizer if modern Presbyterianism, was invited to return to the religious leadership of Geneva two years after he had been banished from the city. Out of a sense of Christian duty, but against his own personal desire, he made the painful decision to accept the invitation. He wrote to a friend “When I remember that I am not my own, I offer up my heart, presented as a sacrifice to the Lord.”


As in ancient days, the Lord promised the Israelites “a land that floweth with milk and honey,” so America became a “promised land” for much of its early European settlement. The cornucopia, overflowing with vegetables and fruit symbolizes the abundance envisioned in the promise.


Of the many references that may be attributed to the anchor, it represents specifically here Mariners Church, founded in the early 1800’s. More broadly, the anchor, as a means of safety for sailors on stormy seas, represents the cross of Christ as the hope of the world.

THE BROKEN CHAIN Jeremiah 40:41

Chains, as a symbol of bondage and oppression, figure throughout our history. The Lord loosed the Babylonian chains from Jeremiah and Herod’s chains from Peter. So too, by the Civil War, the chains of American slavery were broken.


Pine and Fir were generic terms for coniferous trees in the Old Testament writings; probably the Aleppo pine furnished the lumber for the floors and doors of Solomon’s Temple. In Philadelphia, Pine was one of the original streets laid out by William Penn in his “greene countrie town”. When Third Presbyterian Church was situated here (on the outermost edge of the city) it quickly became known as “The Pine Street Church”.


William Pindar, a former pastor, put words to this original design by Lotus Yu with the benediction; “We are called out to be in touching relationships to the glory of God.” The design represents the spirit of regrowth of this church in our own time.

THE SCALLOP SHELL 1 Peter 3:20-21

The two sacraments of the Presbyterian Church are figured on the front walls of the sanctuary on each side of the chancel. A scallop shell with three drops of water represents the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism by water has been the regular means of initiation into the Christian community since the day of Pentecost.

WHEAT John 12:24

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is represented by three sheaves of wheat. Wheat has been figuratively used to symbolize bountifulness, thanksgiving, Christians and Christ’s death and resurrection. In the wheaten bread of the Lord’s Supper, God offers believers continued spiritual nourishment.

Text and historical research: Harold A. Bair Symbol Concepts: Harold A. Bair, William H. Pinder Original Medallion Symbol Graphics: Lotus Yu, Hillary Largas