Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church is an inner city church blessed with the beauty and charm of a garden-like setting. This lovely church, surrounded by historic buildings, spacious grounds, and ample parking has attracted many members of the congregation.
Founding The Swedish colonists were Christians, and a pastor came with them, as did decorations (the carved cherubim holding the open bible) and a church bell. The Swedish colonists founded six congregations. Remarkably and unusually, they treated the Native American people with respect and kindness, acknowledging them as the rightful lords of the land. Sweden itself underwent an abrupt decline in power by the middle 1600's, and there were few resources to aid the colony. When the English overwhelmed the Dutch in the 1655, the Swedes governed themselves as the Upland Court and Swedish was the major European language spoken until 1680 when English settlers out-numbered them.
In 1646, a church was dedicated at Tinicum. This was the first Christian church built in the Delaware Valley and is the direct ancestor of Gloria Dei.
The site of the Gloria Dei Church, known by the Native American name, Wicaco (meaning 'a peaceful place'), was given to the Swedish church by Sven Svenson. In 1666 a blockhouse had been built on this site, and in 1677 the blockhouse was modified to become the first church. When the time came to construct a more permanent place of worship, the choice of location was made difficult by the fact that Swedes were living as far south as Tinicum as well as along the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.
After much debate, not all of it peaceful, the names of the two possible sites were written on slips of paper and a drawing held, with Wicaco the winning site. Construction of the present day church began in 1698 and under the Charter of Privileges the Swedish Church continued to thrive in Penn's colony where religious tolerance was law.