Thursday, February 03, 2011

Two churches, many churches in New York City

A few days ago while visiting friends and doing errands in Manhattan, I chanced to walk by the back of St. Patricks Old Cathedral as I was strolling up Mulberry through Nolita. Having heard of it but never visited I was intrigued and the fact that I had just eaten too much good pizza at new place called Rubirosa a few blocks down made sitting restfully seem like a nice option. The entrance on Mott Street was unassuming as the exterior of the building seems not to be the point.

The Basilica of St. Patricks Old Cathedral was begun in 1809 and completed in 1815. There was a significant fire in 1866 that led to substantial rebuild of parts of the structure that was completed in 1868. The Cathedral was the spiritual center and home of the bishops of the Catholic Diocese of New York until 1879 when it was supplanted by the "new" St. Patricks at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street.

Upon entering it's clear that this is an important church. The beautiful high vaulted ceiling and arrangement of the altar forward and the rose window back are like a modest replica of the great cathedrals of Europe. The huge stained glass windows along the side are bright, relatively simple, but powerful in this setting. The windows behind the altar are more complex, more interesting, equally impressive. Taking it all in while resting for a few minutes I wondered why I had not visited this part of New York history and architecture before.

I then continued my walk, destination unclear although ultimately Penn Station, walked through the east part of Greenwich Village and up Broadway. It was a second chance sighting at Broadway and 9th that led to my second church of the day. Grace Church, it's Episcopal but they seem so sure of their place that there is no mention of the denomination on its signage, is really an awe inspiring sight if it can be sorted out of the New York City landscape and seen on its own. It was completed in the 1840's and its spires and decorative style are a "gothic revival masterpiece" says Wikipedia. How could I disagree.

The interior is in the design of a cathedral in every respect. What is incredible are the stained glass windows, on the sides, the rose window, and especially the array behind the altar. The feeling at first was comparable to actually being in a European cathedral several centuries older than Grace's vintage of 1843. What a sight.

It occurred to me that in going to various cities in Europe we see the museums and the major churches on the sightseeing path. In New York I frequently see the museums but more or less ignore the religious buildings, which are scattered all over each borough of the city, with many built in the 1800's by European craftmen, immigrants recreating their homeland. I've got some catching up to do, not just walking past them but going in whenever I see one of some obvious significance.


Anonymous Jane said...

When walking in New York City there are always surprises for those who pay attention - people, buildings, interactions, snacks, stores - exercising the mind and body - camera recommended - appetite recommended - and oh, patience recommended.

2:57 PM  

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