Cathedral of Saint John the Divine – Tourist Attractions in New York City
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
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Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, officially the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in the City and Diocese of New York, is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the seat of its Bishop.
The Cathedral is also known as “Cathedral Parkway”, and 113 Street) in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, the cathedral, a popular tourist attraction, is, though unfinished, the largest cathedral in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World’s Records (neither St Peter’s in Rome nor Notre-Dame de la Paix in Yamoussoukro-both significantly larger than St. John the Divine-is a cathedral).
An unbroken piece of property of 11.5 acres (47,000 m²), on which the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum had stood, was purchased for the cathedral in 1887, and after an open competition a design by the New York firm of George Lewis Heins and John LaFarge in a Byzantine-Romanesque style was accepted the next year. Construction on the cathedral was begun with the laying of the corner-stone on December 27, 1892, St. John’s Day. The foundations were completed at enormous expense, largely because bedrock was not struck until the excavation had reached 72 feet. The architect Heins’ premature death in 1907 left the Trustees unsure of how to proceed with the artist Lafarge alone. Construction continues in various phases and levels of productivity to this day, and in 1979, Mayor Ed Koch quipped during a dedication ceremony, “I am told that some of the great cathedrals took over five hundred years to build. But I would like to remind you that we are only in our first hundred years.” The building as it appears today conforms primarily to a second design campaign from the prolific Gothic Revival architect Ralph Adams Cram of the Boston firm Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson.
Without slavishly copying any one historical model, and without compromising its authentic stone-on-stone construction by using modern steel girders, Saint John the Divine is a refined exercise in the 13th century High Gothic style of northern France. The Cathedral is almost exactly two football fields in length (601 feet or 186 meters) and the nave ceiling reaches 124 feet (37.7 meters) high. It is the longest Gothic nave in the world, at 230 feet. Seven chapels radiating from the ambulatory behind the choir are each in a distinctive nationalistic style, some of them borrowing from outside the gothic vocabulary. Known as the “Chapels of the Tongues” (Ansgar, Boniface, Columba, Savior, Martin, Ambrose and James), their designs are meant to represent each of the seven most prominent ethnic groups to first immigrate to New York City upon the opening of Ellis Island in 1892 (the same year the Cathedral began construction). On the grounds of the Cathedral, toward the south, is a work of public art known as the Peace Fountain, which has been both strongly praised and strongly criticized.
The first services (in the crypt, under the crossing) were held in 1899. In 1911, the choir and the crossing (which was to be surmounted by a vast crowning spire that has yet to be built) were opened. The crossing is sealed with a “temporary” dome of Guastavino tile finished in 1905.
The first stone of the nave was laid and the west front was undertaken in 1925. The first services in the nave were held the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Subsequently construction on the cathedral was halted, because the then-bishop felt that the church’s funds would better be spent on works of charity, and because America’s subsequent involvement with the Second World War greatly limited available manpower. The Very Rev. James Parks Morton, who became Dean of the Cathedral in 1972, encouraged a revival in the construction of the Cathedral, and in 1979 the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr., then Bishop, decided that construction should be continued, in part to preserve the crafts of stonemasonry by training neighborhood youths, thus providing them with a valuable skill. Construction on the towers continued until the early 1990s, when the national economic recession forced its abandonment. Under master stone carvers Simon Verity and Jean Claude Marchionni, work on the statuary of the central portal of the Cathedral’s western façade was completed in 1997. The Cathedral has since seen no further construction, and the new generation of trained stonecarvers has since gone on to other projects.
The night of December 18, 2001, a fire swept through the unfinished north transept, destroying the gift shop and for a time threatening the sanctuary of the cathedral itself. It temporarily silenced the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. Although the organ was not damaged, its pipe chambers had to be removed and laboriously cleaned, to prevent damage from the fire’s accumulated soot. In 2003, the Cathedral was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. In January, 2005, the Cathedral began a massive restoration that will remain in progress until the Fall of 2007. A state-of-the-art chemical-based cleaning system is being utilized, primarily to remove smoke damage resulting from the 2001 fire.
The Cathedral houses one of the nation’s premiere textile conservation laboratories to conserve the Cathedral’s textiles, including works designed by Raphael. The Laboratory also conserves tapestries, needlepoint, upholstery, costumes, and other textiles for its clients.
In early November 2006, vandals beheaded a statue of George Washington near the high altar of the Cathedral and left a dollar bill on what was left of the neck.
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10025.
#1 train to the 110th Street and Broadway
#M 4 to Amsterdam and 110th Street #M 104 and #M60 to Broadway and 112th Street #11 to Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street.
From the George Washington Bridge and Westchester: Take the Henry Hudson Parkway south. Exit at 125th St. (turn left onto 125th St.) At third light, make a right on Amsterdam Ave.
Monday – Saturday, from 7 AM to 6 PM,
Sunday 7 AM – 7 PM