Abyssinian Baptist Church 132 West 138th Street (between Lenox & 7th Avenues)

The Abyssian Baptist Church was first founded in 1808, when visiting Ethiopian merchants teamed up with black former members of the First Baptist Church of New York City, who refused to accept segregated seating in God’s house, and named their church in honor of the ancient name for Ethiopia, Abyssia. 

Founded on Anthony Street (later known as Worth Street), the congregation grew dramatically during the administration of Rev. William Spellman, and new churches were built on Waverly Place, and then 40th Street, but by 1920, then minister Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., was preaching about and promoting the need for a model church in Harlem.  A tithe program was set up in which 10% of each parishioner’s income was given to a fund for the new church, and by April 1922 the current Gothic and Tudor church was finished thanks to 95% of its 3,000 members being loyal to the tithe.  When all debts were paid off, Rev. Powell stated, “Not a ticket or a dish of ice cream was sold to pay for the erection of Abyssian Baptist Church and Community House.  Every dollar of the money was brought in through tithes and offerings, and God fulfilled His promise by pouring out a blessing upon us that our souls were not able to contain.”  As the congregation grew to 7,000 throughout the 1920s, the church was able to depend on tithes to open up a home for the elderly on St. Nicholas Avenue and a mission to Africa.  Throughout the 20th Century, the church was committed to worldwide missions, such as the Suen Industrial School in West Africa, as well as taking part in picketing and boycotting demonstrations to eliminate racial discrimination in New York City, and better healthcare and broader opportunities for black people. 

The current minister, Rev. Calvin O. Butts, has been committed to cleaning up Central Harlem and other neighborhoods in the city by campaigning to whitewash negative or offensive billboards, and against vulgar and negative lyrics in music, particularly rap, and is committed to ecumenicalism, such as when the church choir sang at the Vatican Art Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Abyssinian played an important role in religious music during the Harlem Renaissance, and remains at the center of the Harlem Gospel tradition.  Jazz musician Fats Waller’s father was once a minister at the church.  Nat King Cole married his second wife, Maria Hawkins Ellington here on Easter Sunday, 1948, just six days after his divorce from his first wife became final.

St. Andrew’s Church 20 Cardinal Hayes Place (near Pearl Street)
The sister church of the massive St. Jean Baptiste Church on Seventy-sixth Street and Lexington Avenue, it serves “the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament”, an order founded by the French St. Peter Julien Eymard, who state in their constitution that they wish to “respond to the hungers of the human family with the riches of God’s love manifested through the Eucharist”.  The original structure, called Carroll Hall, was built in 1842, but was replaced by what we see today in 1939. 

Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, when the City Hall area became the center of the printing and newspaper industry, the church received a special dispensation to say a mass at 2:30AM, a “Printer’s Mass”, for printers and newsmen working the night shift.  It later became the first parish church to offer mass at noon, for the growing number of businessmen in the area. 

Now surrounded by Federal, State, County, and City courts, and in the shadow of the Municipal Building, it can be recognized by its X-shaped crosses carved on the front side (the shape of cross St. Andrew chose to be crucified on because he didn’t feel worthy of being crucified in the same manner as Jesus) and the Latin phrase on the frieze, “Beati qui ambulant in lege domini”, that translates to, “Blessed are those who walk in the Law of the Lord.” 


St. Anthony of Padua Church  154 Sullivan Street (corner of West Houston Street)

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church was the first church built by and for Italian immigrants, and only the second in the country (the first being a parish in Philadelphia, made defunct in 2000). 

Founded in 1859, its sole purpose was to cater to the spiritual needs of the growing Italian immigrant population in New York City.  While New York’s Catholic cathedral was founded and run by the Irish, and named for Patrick, their patron saint, the Italian community wanted a church that honored one of their own. 

Led by Franciscan Friars, the parish was originally located at the recently purchased Sullivan Street Methodist Episcopal Church.  The current Italian Renaissance church, designed by Arthur Crooks, was built from 1886-1888 with three entrances surmounted by a statue of St. Anthony.  In the 1930s, Houston Street was greatly widened to make room for the IND subway line, and tenements next store were torn down, revealing the left wall, which is now used for an annual nativity scene.  If you walk south on Macdougal Street, you will come across Father Fagan Park, named for 27-year-old Father Richard Fagan, an associate pastor of the church who in 1938 escaped a raging fire in the rectory, but returned twice to save two of his fellow priests, and died five days later at nearby Columbus Hospital due to complications.  St. Frances Xavier Cabrini once taught in the church’s religious education program. 

The church is featured prominently in The Godfather Part II, when members of the Corleone family conspire in front of the church as well as during the Feast of St. Rocco.  St. Anthony’s can also be seen in Moonstruck with Cher, Fatso with Dom Deluise, The Pope of Greenwhich Village, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and when the bug goes on a rampage in Men In Black.

Church of the Ascension
 36–38 Fifth Avenue (corner of 10th Street)

The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, designed by renowned Trinity Church architect Richard Upjohn and consecrated in November 1841, was the first church of many that would eventually be built on Fifth Avenue, when the street was still just an unpaved trackway, terminating at a board fence on 23rd Street, and the city’s population was still centered much further south. 

In the church’s early years, it became an uncharacteristic center of concern and philanthropy for social issues.  The church played a vital role in establishing the Five Points Day School, which helped to feed, clothe, and educate the children of the Five Points District, one of the most crime-ridden, poverty-stricken area’s of the city, and in 1888 the women of the parish set up the St. Agnes Nursery, the first daytime nursery in New York City, providing shelter and protection for the children of working mothers. 

In 1889, the Rev. E. Winchester Donald, who was friends with many of the artists who lived in Greenwhich Village, and believed firmly in the idea that beauty lifted the human spirit, was able, through a generous gift from wealthy parishioners Julia and Serena Rhinelander, to hire John LaFarge, Stanford White, Louis St. Gaudens, and David Maitland Armstrong to turn the chancel into an extensively more decorative space, surmounted by LaFarge’s mural, “The Ascension of Our Lord”. 

In November 1929, barely a week after the stock market crashed, the pastor at the time, Rev. Donald B. Aldrich, proposed that the front doors of the church be kept open at all hours of the day and night, and Ascension became the first church in New York City to be opened 24 hours a day. During the Depression, it was common to see the homeless sleeping in its pews at night.  The doors were not locked again until October 1966, when heightened crime in the city had made this an impossible rule to uphold. 

In June 1844, then U.S. President John Tyler secretly married Julia Gardiner here -- the First Lady was thirty years his junior.  The funeral of globetrotting journalist Nellie Bly was held here in 1922.  Such prominent New Yorkers as August Belmont, William B. Astor, Frederick de Peyster, and William C. Rhinelander were parishioners.

St. Bartholomew’s Church

St. Bartholomew’s Church  109 East 50th Street (east side of Park Ave. between 50th and 51st St)

This Episcopal parish was founded in January 1835, in the Bowery on Great Jones Street and Lafayette Place.  With the growth of the congregation, a larger structure designed by James Renwick was able to be built on the southwest corner of Madison and 44th in 1872.  Much of Renwick’s original structure was then moved to its current location in 1917. In the summer, tables and umbrellas are placed outside, and, along with the neighboring dining room, it becomes Café St. Bart’s.  After the original plan to build a giant spire atop the church was abandoned, a much-debated-about Hispano-Moresque dome was built in its place, and the church was completed in 1930. 

St. Bart’s boasts one of the ten largest pipe organs in the world and the largest in New York City, and its music ministry has been directed by such noted conductors as Leopold Stokowski, David McK. Williams, William Trafka and James Litton. 

The church is home to the Center for Religious Inquiry (CRI), headed by Rabbi Leonard A. Schoolman, an organization meant to provide a place for people to study their own and other religious traditions in a non-judgmental environment. 

The church became a historic landmark in 1967, and in 1981 became the center of a much publicized and long drawn out Supreme Court case between the highly competitive city real-estate market and historical preservation societies.  When a real estate developer wanted to build an office tower on the site of the adjacent community house, with the promise of an endowment to the church and mission, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission refused, even though the parish hierarchy wanted it.  In the end, the preservation society won over the parish, stemming the debate over whether or not religious institutions should be declared historical landmarks.

St. Brigid's Church

St. Brigid’s Church 
119 Avenue B (corner of 8th Street)

St. Brigid’s, also called Famine Church, was built in 1850, as swarms of Irish immigrants settled in the city during the Great Irish Famine, and it’s name is a reminder that Alphabet City was long ago an Irish neighborhood. 

Through the years, as ethnic groups changed, the church remained a safe-haven for Germans, Hispanics, and anyone else that landed on its doorsteps, most notably in the 1970s and ‘80s, when the neighborhood became notoriously dangerous due to its crime and drug presence, and Tompkins Square across the street a virtual homeless encampment. 

The second pastor of this Famine-era Catholic church, with its boat-shaped ceiling created by the dock-workers who built it, Reverend Thomas Mooney, also served as pastor to the nearby 69th New York State Militia, the first regiment of the Union’s “Irish Brigade”. Upon its formation in 1851 it was called the 2nd Regiment of Irish Volunteers, a citizen-militia made up of Irish-Catholic Diaspora from the famine. In 1860, Col. Michael Corcoran of the 69th refused to parade them past the Prince of Wales to protest Britain’s response to the famine.  Rev. Thomas Mooney traveled with the 69th to Virginia and was beloved by the men for his spirit and sagacious counsel. Father Mooney held daily Masses and served as confessor for the largely Catholic regiment.  Capt. Maxwell O’Sullivan, formerly the choirmaster at the church, headed the regiment’s choir. Mooney was lauded for his establishment of a temperance society and for encouraging many wayward souls to return to the Faith, but was recalled by New York Archbishop John "Dagger" Hughes in response to his baptism of a 64 lb. Columbiad cannon. Archbishop Hughes later suggested that, rather, Mooney was actually recalled after climbing the flagstaff of Fort Corcoran. He was in the process of straightening an American flag that became stuck during a flag raising ceremony.  Mooney's early return to New York was very unpopular among the men of the regiment, but he was warmly welcomed on his return to the city by 4,000 parishioners assembled in Tompkins Square across the street. When the 69th returned to New York following the Bull Run Campaign, Mooney marched at the head of the regiment. On August 14th, 1861 a Requiem Mass was held for the men of the 69th New York State Militia who had been killed in action. The St. Brigid's choir sang Mozart's Requiem during the service. Rev. Mooney was conspicuously present at all future Irish Brigade functions and was much beloved by the men that survived to remember him. 

The churches large spires were removed in the 1960s, but it remained a beloved parish and sight of social protest.  During the Tompkins Square riot of August 6, 1988, then Rev. Joseph Kuhn allowed protesters and the homeless to assemble inside. 

In the early 2000s, it became the source of much debate.  When the Archdiocese planned to demolish the church and sell the property to NYU, claiming the old structure was unsavable, many members of the now largely Puerto Rican congregation protested. 

The church remained in limbo for years. It was finally saved by an anonymous ten million dollar donation and is set to reopen soon.  Unfortunately, though, not before the wrecking ball destroyed some one-hundred-fifty-plus-year-old stained glass windows, bearing names of church donors and victims of the Irish Famine.

Central Synagogue
Central Synagogue 652 Lexington Avenue (corner of 55th Street)

Constructed from 1870 – 1872, Central Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the city that is in continuous use. 

The building was designed by Henry Fernbach, a German immigrant and the first prominent Jewish architect in the United States, and built by two congregations, Shaar Hashomayim, founded in 1839, and Ahawath Chesed, founded in 1846, both German Reform Congregations, that met on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side.  It was built in the Moorish Revival style in homage to the Jewish presence in Moorish Spain, and is largely a copy of Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary. 

The dramatic and ornate style of the building was the subject of much debate among the congregation, as some felt its excess would inspire envy and hamper assimilation in the city.  At its dedication in 1872, Rabbi Adolph Heubsch described the synagogue as a “house of worship in evidence of the high degree of development only possible under a condition of freedom.”
The building became a New York City Landmark in 1966, and a National Historic Landmark in 1975.  In August of 1998, a fire was accidently ignited as workers were concluding a three-year renovation of the building, completely destroying the choir loft and organ, and virtually destroying the sanctuary.  The prayer books were also severely damaged and were buried in the synagogue’s cemetery the following week.
During that time the congregation relied on the generosity of other New York City houses of worship and the National Guard Armory on Sixty-sixth Street and Park Avenue to conduct services, and the reconstruction of the building and reestablishment of the congregation was strongly supported by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Governor George Pataki, Cardinals John O’Connor and Edward Egan, local clergy, and Jewish community leaders. 

The synagogue was also visited by the President of Israel and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The building was reconsecrated on September 9, 2001, with new intricate stencil work and stained glass, using close to seventy colors, that is reminiscent of the original decoration of the synagogue and of synagogues common in Hungary.  Although most of the interior is now very different from the 1870 design, upsetting some traditionalist Jews, the reformed congregation believes in responding to “contemporary Jewish life and religious practice”.

Grace Church
802 Broadway (corner of 10th Street)

Grace Episcopal Church, commissioned in 1843 and finished in 1846, was the first church designed by James Renwick, Jr., who won a contest and was hired by his uncle Henry Broovert at age 23, and would go on to prominence in 19th-century New York City by designing the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Nicholas of Myra Church on 10th and A, the Smithsonian Institute castle, and St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn.  Like Trinity Church downtown, recently rebuilt and consecrated in the same year, Grace Church was built in the gothic revival style, with stone workers provided by the Sing Sing State Prison. The east window over the high alter was created by the English firm Clayton and Bell, one of the most prominent 19th-century stained-glass manufacturers, and dominates the whole church.  It is a “Te Deum” window, showing prophets, apostles, and martyrs looking up toward Christ in the top center.  Renwick also designed the reredos and alter, which depicts the writers of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, gazing up at the risen Christ who is giving the great commission, “Go into all the world and make disciples …”.  The chancel was lengthened and the choir furniture added in 1903.  The designers of the 1829 grid-system made an exception here, as 11th Street does not pass through Broadway, and Broadway bends at 10th Street, so as to save Henry Brevoort’s orchard garden which was originally on the property.  After it’s 1846 consecration, it remained at the center of high society and fashionable New York for the next twenty-plus years, with its location near the posh shopping district “Ladies’ Mile”. 

In 1869, Matthew Hale Smith wrote, “For many years Grace has been the center of fashionable New York.  To be married or buried within its walls has been ever considered the height of felicity.”  The churchyard used to be the Fleishman’s Vienna Model Bakery, whose daily donations of unsold bread gave rise to the term “breadline”.

In 1863, at age 25, 3-foot tall Tom Thumb was married here to fellow circus act, 20 year-old Lavinia Warren after touring around the world with P.T. Barnum.  As thousands gathered outside, Vanderbilt’s and Astors witnessed within.  Barnum milked the event as best he could, selling tickets to the reception at $75 dollars-a-head, displaying Warren’s hand-made miniature wedding dress in a department store window, and selling souvenirs.  Celebrated civil-war photographer Matthew Brady, who had a studio nearby, was the wedding’s photographer.  Newspapers ran headlines about the “loving lilliputians” and their “fairy wedding”.  They remained together until 1883, when Thumb died of a stroke, and had no children, much to Barnum’s chagrin. 

Newland Archer was married here in the novel The Age of Innocence, and in 1885, the funeral of navy Commander Henry Honeychurh Gorridge, who became a celebrity for transporting Cleopatra’s Needle to New York, was held here. 

In 1997, David Duchovny married Tea Leoni in the backyard.

Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church 3 West 65th Street (corner of Central Park West)

Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in 1868 by a group which split from St. James Lutheran Church in Brooklyn. At the time, the majority of Lutherans in New York City were German, but Holy Trinity was one of the very few English-speaking Lutheran congregations.

The present Gothic Revival church was built between 1902-04, as designed by Schickel & Ditmars, offering the Lutheran Mass with an emphasis on music and outreach.  Holy Trinity is widely known for its Bach Vespers series, begun in 1968 by then-organist John Weaver, the first instance in America where the cantatas of Bach could be heard on their appointed day (designated by Bach himself in the sixteenth century) in the context of the liturgical calendar. Cantatas, as well as other appropriate music, are performed by the professional Bach Choir and Bach Players from Reformation Sunday in late fall through Easter. 

In 1990, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission made Holy Trinity Church part of the "Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District". 

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man steps on this church during his rampage of the Columbus Circle area in 1984’s “Ghostbusters”. The apartment building next door, 55 Central Park West, also played an important role in the movie.

St. James Church  32 James Street (near Madison Street)

St. James Catholic Church was dedicated in 1836.  It has a Greek Revival edifice, is the second-oldest Catholic church building in Manhattan.  Although now gone, the fieldstone building had a domed cupola above the roof, with an inscription along the façade that read, “D.O.M.S. JACOBO DEO OPTIMO MAXIMO” – “TO GOD, THE BEST AND GREATEST”. 

In 1836, the year the church opened, the American branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in its basement, in response to much anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment in the city, including a nearby church called St. Mary’s on Grand Street being burnt to the ground.  In 1983, the A.O.H. funded the restoration of the building after city officials ordered it closed down due to fear of the roof collapsing, and saved it from being demolished by 1986.  Alfred E. Smith, former Governor of New York State and the first Catholic to run for President, was an altar boy here as a child.  In the 1880s, he described the church as the “leading Catholic parish in New York, not excepting the cathedral itself.”  In 2007, work began to be done to restore the 1889 organ.  Although much work was done, preservation needed to be halted and will resume once funding becomes available.  In 2008, the Organ Historical Society awarded it a Historical Citation in recognition of it as an outstanding example of organ building and worthy of preservation.  It was declared a New York City Landmark in 1966.

St. Malachy’s Church
239 West 49th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenue)

St. Malachy’s Catholic Church, also called “The Actor’s Chapel” was built in neo-Gothic style in 1902, and although it has seen drastic changes in the surrounding area over the years, it has remained an important part of the Theatre District, and committed to serving the spiritual needs of Catholic actors, dancers, musicians, craftsmen and tourists on Broadway.

By 1920, the Theatre District moved in, and a rather ordinary parish rearranged its masses, confessions, and missions to accommodate the unusual late night schedules of the theatre and nightclub scene, constructed an “Actor’s Chapel” underneath the main church, and on opening nights, many performers would often stop by to light candles for the success of their shows.
As late as 1968, over 16,000 people visited the church monthly, but into the 1970s, the neighborhood began to take a turn for the worse.  Madison Square Garden moved to its new location, and nightclubs closed.  Massage parlors, porn shops, x-rated theatres, prostitution and drugs moved in.  The neighborhood became dangerous, and theatre people and tourists feared lingering in the area.  Much of the congregation moved away, and most who stayed were elderly and poor.  Many were held virtually under siege in single-room occupancy hotels and tenements with tubs in kitchens and shared bathrooms in hallways.  The church and its people were suffering, and vandalism and theft were weekly occurrences.

In 1976, Fr. George W. Moore was made pastor of the church, and created a pastoral team, made up of priests, nuns, and caring people of different faiths who set out to return St. Malachy’s to its original mission of ministering to people of the neighborhood and finding the answers to their needs.  Members participated in a number of local and community organizations, including Community Boards 4 and 5, the Mayor’s Midtown Citizens Committee, the Broadway Association, the League of American Theatres and Producers, the Theatre Development Fund, Actor’s Equity, 42nd Street Civic Association, 42nd Street Redevelopment Association, and the Clinton Planning Council.
In 1977, the parish created Encore Community Services to serve the needs of senior citizens in the Times Square, Clinton, and Midtown areas, by providing healthy meals, shopping escorts, and social events. 

St. Malachy’s has become well known on the national level for its history and advocacy.  Over the decades, Bob and Delores Hope, George M. Cohan, Spencer Tracy, Perry Como, Rosalind Russell, Danny Thomas, Ricardo Montalban, Gregory Peck, Irene Dunne, Hildegarde, Florence Henderson, Elaine Stritch, and Lawrence Luckenbill all worshipped here regularly.  Fred Allen, Don Ameche, Cyril Ritchard, Pat O’Brien and Jimmy Durante often served as ushers at mass.  In 1926, 100,000 mourners gathered along West 49th Street as the funeral of Rudolph Valentino was held inside.  Durante married Jeanne Olsen here in 1921, Allen married Portland Hoffa here in 1927, Douglas Fairbanks married Joan Crawford here in 1929, Herb Shriner’s children were baptized here, and comedian Chris Farley, a devout Catholic despite his demons, spoke here a number of times in the ‘90s.  Both pairs of the author’s paternal great-grandparents were married here in 1910.

Park East Synagogue
163 E. 67th Street, bet. 2nd & 3rd  Avenues

Congregation Zichron Ephraim, as it was originally called, was built in 1889 for Jews of the Orthodox tradition when Reformed Judaism was more popular on the Upper East Side.  It was designed by the firm Schneider and Herter, who had designed many tenements in the Lower East Side and Hell’s Kitchen, in the Moorish Revival style with a prominent rose window, which was common among synagogues at the time.  Although bulbous domes were removed from the unusual asymmetrical towers, it remains one of fewer than a hundred surviving 19th century synagogues.  Over the doorway engraved in granite, in Hebrew, is a verse from Psalm 100, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.”  Its first rabbi, Bernard Drachman, served until his death in 1945.  He was succeeded by Rabbi Zev Zahavy, who became a dynamic spokesman for Orthodox Judaism, with more than 200 of his sermons being discussed in the New York Times.  He and his wife Edith, a noted educator, founded the Park East Day School.  The current rabbi, Arthur Schneier, has been in charge since 1962.  Born in Vienna, he lived under Nazi occupation in Budapest and came to the United States in 1947.  On March 16, 1957, Robert Briscoe, the Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin visited and prayed at the synagogue.  In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI visited Park East, the first time a pope to visit a synagogue in the United States.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
460 Madison Ave.
(east side of 5th Ave. between 50th & 51st Streets)

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the see of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and symbolized the rise of the Catholic community in the city as it moved uptown from more humble origins on Mulberry Street.  It was designed by renowned Gothic-style architect James Renwick, Jr., and the cornerstone was laid in 1858, when the Diocese of New York became an archdiocese, and the first Archbishop, John Hughes, from County Tyrone, Ireland, proposed a new gothic cathedral in a mainly wilderness area uptown.  Although most thought it would be a bad location because it was too far away from the majority of New Yorkers, the Archbishop predicted that it would someday be the heart of the city.  Although construction was halted during the Civil War, it resumed afterward and doors were first opened in 1878.  Since then, it has been gradually added onto to produce what we see today.  The spires were completed in 1888, the Lady Chapel in the back was added in 1906, and the large Kilgen organs up above were added in 1929.  The land, purchased on March 6, 1810, was originally the New York Literary Institution, a short-lived Jesuit school for young men, but by 1814 was sold to French abbot Augustin LeStrange and his Trappist monks, who were fleeing persecution after the revolution.  Across the street, they ran a school for thirty-three orphans.  When Napoleon was overthrown in 1815, the Trappist monks returned to France, and the orphanage was looked after by the archdiocese well into the late 1800s. 

The cathedral’s crypt entombs the eight past Archbishops of New York, as well as Pierre Toussaint and television and radio show host Bishop Fulton Sheen. 

In April 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald wedded Zelda Sayre in the Cardinal’s residence on Madison Avenue (they couldn’t have the ceremony at the altar because the marriage was mixed). 

Pope Paul VI said mass here in October 1966, on the occasion of the first time a Pope visited the United States, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI would follow suit in the years to come. 

The funerals of William Tecumseh Sherman, Al Smith, Babe Ruth, Arturo Tuscanini, Billy Martin, Vince Lombardi, Celia Cruz, Robert F. Kennedy, and Wellington Marra were held here, and special memorial masses were held here upon the deaths of Andy Warhol, Joe DiMaggio, and William F. Buckley, Jr.

Front of Old St. Patrick's

Back of
Old St. Patrick's
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
260-264 Mulberry (between Prince & Houston Streets)
This church, built from 1809-1815, was the original see of the Archdiocese of New York, designed by Joseph Mangin, the architect of City Hall, and although St. Patrick’s has a more ecclesiastical Gothic design, similarities can be seen between the two buildings.

When it was dedicated, the New York Gazette described it as “a grand and beautiful church, which may justly be considered one of the greatest ornaments of our city,” but the church’s early history reflects the high degree of anti-Catholic sentiment in New York City at the time.  It was built behind high walls, and the stained-glass windows were placed to be more than rock-throwing distance from the sidewalk. 

In 1835, New York’s first bishop, John “Dagger” Hughes, was forced to assemble the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other members of the parish in front of the building against anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant vigilante mobs who, while chanting derogative slurs such as “Paddys of the Pope” threatened to “burn her to the ground”.   Mob-violence toward the cathedral was a common occurrence, as groups like the No Nothing Party assembled Protestants to march on the cathedral, prompting Bishop Hughes to write to Mayor James Harper, “Should one Catholic come to harm, or should one Catholic business be molested, we shall turn this city into a second Moscow.”

During the Civil War, President Lincoln asked Bishop Hughes to be his envoy to France, Spain and England, to dissuade those nations from aiding and abetting the South.  In 1866, a fire gutted the building, and although construction of a new cathedral uptown was already underway, restoration was undertaken by architect Henry Engelbert and the cathedral was reopened in 1868.  In 1875, New York Archbishop John McCloskey was made the first American cardinal here, in a ceremony attended by future President Chester A. Arthur, Mayor William H. Wickham, and other prominent leaders. 

On May 25, 1879, with the completion of the new cathedral on Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street, old St. Patrick’s was downgraded to a parish church, which it remains to this day, with masses in English, Spanish, and Chinese. 

The church’s walled off graveyard can be seen in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.  The baptism scene from The Godfather was filmed in the church (see link below) as well as the scene from The Godfather, Part III, in which Michael Corleone receives a Papal knighthood.  The funeral of John F. Kennedy, Jr., was held here in June of 1999.

St. Peter’s Church 16 Barclay Street (corner of Church Street)
Founded in 1785, St. Peter’s is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in New York State.  The parish was founded almost as soon as the American Revolution was won, for before Catholic worship was forbade under Dutch and British rule, and the parish founded the first Catholic school in 1800. 

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a former Episcopalian, widow and mother of five, founder of the Sisters of Charity, and the first American to be made a saint in 1975, converted to Catholicism here in 1805.  She often prayed before Mexican artist Jose Vallejo’s painting The Crucifixion, located above the main alter, a gift from the Archbishop of Mexico City in 1789. 

Pierre Toussaint, a black man born into slavery in present-day Haiti, was brought to the city as a slave and educated by the wealthy Berard family, who eventually gave him his freedom.  He was a well-known parishioner for sixty-six years, who went on to become a prominent hairdresser, businessman, and devout Catholic who was known for his great generosity to the poor.  In 1990, John Cardinal O’Connor, New York’s Catholic Archbishop, took up his cause for sainthood, and moved his remains to the crypt under the high altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Along with radio and television host Bishop Fulton Sheen, he is one of only two people who were not Archbishop of New York to be buried there. 

On September 13, 1841, Father Edward F. Sorin and six brothers from the Congregation of the Holy Cross arrived in America from France and celebrated mass at this church the next day.  Soon after they migrated to South Bend, Indiana and founded the University of Notre Dame. 

On September 11, 2001, the church suffered some minor damage from the terrorist attacks of that morning, including a landing gear from one of the planes hitting the roof, but was able to resume full service soon, and like St. Paul’s Chapel, became a center of rescue activities in the months to follow.  FDNY Chaplain Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan Friar, well known as the first recorded death on 9/11, was removed from the rubble and reverently carried here and laid before the altar by firefighters after dying in the North Tower.  He laid here for a few hours before two of his fellow Franciscans came to bring him back to the fire station across the street from his friary.

St John the Divine Cathedral
St. John the Divine Cathedral  1047 Amsterdam Ave. (between West 110th and West 113th St)
The see of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, it is nicknamed “St. John the Unfinished” because it is continuously added onto, and claims to have by now surpassed St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as the largest Christian church in the world. 

Proposed in 1888 to tend to the growing immigrant population, the cornerstone was laid on St. John’s Day, December 27, 1892, on the heavily wooded property that used to be occupied the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum, after an open design competition.  When it was first built, the cathedral immediately ran into problems with the foundation, but New York Bishop Henry Potter refused to change locations, and financier J.P. Morgan, one of the cathedral’s trustees, donated $500,000 to fix any structural problems. 

The choir and crossing with four immense arches were completed in 1911, and architect Rafael Guastavino constructed a 162-foot-high tile dome to cover it.  Although it was meant to be temporary until a spire was built, the dome still remains there to this day. 

Throughout World War I and the Great Depression, construction continued.  By 1918, the seven “Chapels of the Tongues”, dedicated to seven different immigrant groups, were completed to represent the city’s diversity.  The nave was virtually completed in less than ten years in Gothic style, and the vaulting of the choir and the sanctuary were reconstructed in the same manner to match.

On November 30, 1941, a service was finally held for the opening of the cathedral, and worshipers could view the 601-foot length down the aisle, or as the saying went, “Two football fields, end to end, with room left for the football.”  Unfortunately, exactly one week later, on December 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, brining the United States into World War II, and further construction was completely halted.  In one area of the cathedral, one can see the “Pearl Harbor Arch”, which shows incomplete masonry where a stonecarver never returned to work.  Work on the cathedral would not be started up again for another thirty-two years.  Despite the city being virtually bankrupt by the 1970s, the dean at the time, James Parks Morton, felt that the cathedral and the city would benefit from the Stoneworks Program, in which the cathedral would hire the unemployed and underemployed and, by importing experts from England, train them in the art of stonecraft.  Through this program, which is still in place, both the north and south towers progressed upward, and gothic-style sculpture continues to be added to this day.  A stoneyard was dedicated on June 21, 1979, and one September 29, 1982, aerielist Phillipe Petit crossed Amsterdam Avenue on a 150-foot wire to deliver a silver trowel to Bishop Paul Moore. 

The cathedral is a major venue for music concerts, and saxophonist Paul Winter and the members of the Paul Winter Consort are the artists-in-residence.  It is also famous for “The Blessing of the Animals”, when animals of all shapes and sizes are brought to the cathedral to be blessed on October 4th, the feast of Francis of Assisi, their patron saint.  The cathedral’s bronze doors were cast by Berbedienne, who also cast the Statue of Liberty, and there is a “Biblical Garden” on the cathedral’s grounds in which flowers and herbs mentioned in the Bible are grown.  Side chapels include such unconventional icons as drawings by Keith Haring, a memorial to the FDNY, and a “Poet’s Corner”, paying homage to great authors in American history.

St. Nicholas of Myra Church 
288 E. 10th Street (corner of Avenue A)
The same way St. Paul’s was built as the missionary chapel to Trinity Church downtown, this neo-Gothic structure was built from 1882 – 1883 as the missionary chapel of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery on Tenth Street and Second Avenue.  

Rutherford Stuyvesant, a direct descendant of Petrus, who originally owned the land occupied by St. Mark’s, commissioned the chapel in honor of his recently deceased wife, Mary Pierrepont Rutherford Stuyvesant.

The building was designed by James Renwick, Jr., one of New York City’s most renowned architects in the nineteenth century, and acted as an Episcopal chapel until 1909.  It was then rented out to the Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church until 1911. The original Russian Orthodox congregation, a group of immigrants from the Rusyn region of Slovakia, started renting the chapel out to the Episcopal Diocese of New York in 1925, and finally bought it in 1937, changing the name to St. Nicholas Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, or simply St. Nicholas of Myra Church, in honor of the original Santa Claus. 

The building is unique in that the Gothic-arch-headed entrance is asymmetrically placed in front of the church along Tenth Street.  Many Russian Orthodox crosses were added after the purchase, but some old motifs still remain, such as a lion on the north side (the traditional symbol of St. Mark), and on the north and east side are faces made of leaves, or foliate masks, common in Romanesque architecture and believed to be a pagan holdover representing the Green Man, a vegetation god.

St. Sava’s Cathedral  20 West 26 Street (between Broadway & 6th Avenue)

This Serbian Orthodox cathedral began as an uptown satellite chapel to Trinity Church on Wall Street, designed by Richard Upjohn in 1851.  Some of the exquisite stained glass windows are in perilous condition, but they remain along with intricately carved interior fretwork, and the beautifully designed inlaid tile floor.  Unusual examples of polychrome decorative painting surround the altar area, and an impressive, hand-carved wooden pulpit with superb religious carvings can also be seen.

As the neighborhood changed, people moved to more fashionable areas, and as uptown became more populated, the parish went into decline.  There was a noble effort to revitalize it, but by the 1940s the decision was made to sell the building.

In 1943 the small Serbian Orthodox community won out, and in June of 1944 the name was changed from Trinity Chapel to the Cathedral of St. Sava, the first Serbian Orthodox church on the East Coast, and the spiritual center of the Serbian people and other Orthodox Christians.  In keeping with Orthodox church architectural tradition, a large altar screen carved at the Monostary of St. Naum in Yugoslavia containing forty icons was installed.  Outside one can see a round mosaic of St. Sava, first archbishop of Serbia and its patron saint, above the center doors, adding a Byzantine note to the imposing Gothic façade, and completing the combination of two great traditions. 

Boss Tweed’s daughter was married here in 1871, and received an estimated $700,000 in wedding gifts.  Some say the display of excess led to his downfall.  Author Edith Wharton unhappily married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton here in 1885, and immortalized the chapel in her novel about New York Victorian life, The Age of Innocence.  Yugoslavia’s King Peter II regularly attended mass here in the 1940s, shortly after he was exiled.

St. Thomas Church 1 West 53rd Street (corner of 5th Avenue)

Due to a few fires, this building is actually the fourth to serve the congregation of St. Thomas Episcopal Church.  Founded in 1824 on Broadway and Houston Street, it burned down in 1851 and was quickly rebuilt by 1852.  A beautiful 1837 painting by George Harvey entitled Nightfall, St. Thomas Church, Broadway, New York, depicts the original church, and is on display at the Museum of the City of New York.  Throughout the 1850s and ‘60s, the congregation felt the neighborhood had, to put it in one parishioner’s words, “degenerated into anchorage for cheap dance halls and ‘concert salloons’”, and a new building was begun uptown at the current location, completed in 1870, and designed by Richard Upjohn.  The new church featured reredos by Augustus St.-Gaudens and murals by John LaFarge.   Surrounded by mansions of the city’s upper class, St. Thomas’ was the scene of many high-society weddings and funerals, including Consuelo Vanderbuilt to the Duke of Marlborough – Winston Churchill’s cousin – in 1895. After his first wife died, former President Benjamin Harrison, married Mary Scott Lord Dimmick here in 1896, his first wife’s niece and 25 years his junior.  Most of the church was burnt down by fire in 1905, leaving only its prominent tower remaining.  In 1906, the architectural firm Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson won a contest to redesign the church, beating out other prominent architects such as George Brown Post and Robert W. Gibson, and it was completed in 1913.  The magnificence of the present structure is the result of a great deal of charity from many different people.  The devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake so troubled the church’s rector, Rev. Ernest Stires, that he gave all the money in the rebuilding fund to aid the stricken city.  The public from New York and beyond were so moved and impressed by his generosity that plentiful donations were made that more than replenished the fund.  The wedding of later New York State Governor Thomas Dewey to Francess Hutt was held in the current structure in 1928.  After the September 11th attacks, the parish invoked its Anglican roots by reaching out to the British community, who had also lost more people on that day than in any other terrorist attack in its history.  An interfaith service was held here on September 20, 2001, in which then-Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke, and was broadcast throughout the United Kingdom.  The church is home to the St. Thomas Choir, an English-style choral ensemble made up of men and boys which performs music of the Anglican tradition at worship services, and offers a full concert series during the course of the year.  While the men are professional singers, the boys are enrolled at the Saint Thomas Choir School, the only church-affiliated boarding choir school in the United States.

Riverside Church
Riverside Church  400 Riverside Drive (Riverside Drive and Claremont Ave., and 120th to 122nd St.)
From the outset, the mission of this church was to be an interdenominational house of worship and center for social justice and political debate.  During the early twentieth century, many modernist Christians began to debate the direction their faith should take, with some fundamentalists believing in a strict interpretation of the Bible, and other Christian leaders believing in following the example of Jesus as a social revolutionary.  In 1922, with the major financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and modernist Baptist Minister Harry Emerson Fosdick, a new Gothic-style church dedicated to these values was under way.
Fosdick and Rockefeller, the latter of whom felt St. John the Divine was taking to long to build, advocated three main principles: an interdenominational setting (it serves the American Baptist Church and the United Church of Christ), a large church in an important New York City neighborhood, and open to anyone who professes a faith in Christ.  Unlike St. John the Divine, which is built completely of stone in the traditional gothic style, Riverside has an underlying steel structure, which allowed it to be built much quicker. 

Begun in 1927, and despite a major fire, it was open to the public three years later.  The church was designed by the architectural firm Allen, Pelton, and Collens, who were commissioned by Rockefeller to travel across Spain and France for inspiration, and is mainly modeled after Chartres Cathedral in France.  It is the tallest church in the United States and the twenty-sixth tallest in the world.  The massive single bell tower that dwarfs the rest of the church is based on one of the towers of the Church of Laon, France, and its carillon is the largest in the world, with a total of seventy-four bells, including the twenty-ton bourdon, the largest cast and tuned bell in existence.  In addition, its organ is the fourteenth-largest in the world. 

In the spirit of social consciousness, the church has had many notable speakers at the pulpit, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke here in opposition to the Vietnam War, Nelson Mandela during his first trip to the United States after being released from prison, Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan after the 9/11 attacks, and Fidel Castro during one of his rare visits to the United States in 1999. 

The flying buttresses on the outside are purely decorative, as the church is supported by its steel frame.  The main entrance, at the base of the tower, is based on the Porte Royale of Chartres, with the seated figure of Christ in the tympanum, flanked by evangelists.  The figures sculpted in the concentric arches of the doorway represent leading personalities of religion and philosophy, joined by great scientists. 


Trinity Church 79 Broadway (at Wall Street)
This is a prime example of how churches used to dominate the skyline in New York, and seemed to reach to the heavens, but are now dwarfed by skyscrapers.  Designed by Richard Upjohn, when it was dedicated on May 1, 1846, Trinity Church was by far the tallest building in Lower Manhattan, and served as a welcoming beacon for ships coming into New York Harbor for decades, as can be seen in pictures of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge being built in the 1880s. 

The large bronze front doors were an 1890s memorial to John Jacob Astor, III.  In 1696, New York Governor Benjamin Fletcher approved the land in lower Manhattan for a new Anglican Church, with a rent of sixty bushels of wheat a year.  When Queen Elizabeth II visited New York in the bicentennial year of 1976, she was presented with a “back rent” of 279 peppercorns. 

The church also owns the only cemetery still in use in Manhattan, which includes many graves-of-note, including that of Alexander Hamilton, William Bradford, Robert Fulton, Captain James Lawrence, and Albert Gallatin.  Since 1969, Trinity Church has conducted its Concerts at One series, which provides professional classical and contemporary music for the Wall Street community.  Tours are held every day at two, and a museum dedicated to the church’s history is also on the premises.  A 1705 grant by Queen Anne gave the church ownership of all land west of Broadway from Fulton Street to what is now Christopher Street, as well as the rights to all shipwrecks and beached whales.  Until 1908, the ball dropped here on New Years Eve. 

The church also presides over the Trinity Churchyard and Mausoleum on Riverside Drive and 155th Street, formally the location of John James Audubon’s estate, in which are interned Audubon, Alfred Tennyson Dickens, John Jacob Astor, and Clement Clarke Moore.  Additionally, it presides over the very old churchyard of its chapel originally built for those living further north, St. Paul’s.  One of the largest land-owners in the city, its claim was contested in the courts for much of the first two hundred years of its existence, mainly by those descended from a Dutch woman who claimed original title to the land, Anneke Jans Bogardus.


St. Paul’s Chapel 209 Broadway (Church Street to Broadway, and Fulton Street to Vesey Street)

A chapel of the Parish of Trinity Church, St. Paul's was built on land granted by Queen Anne, and Andrew Gautier served as the master craftsman. Upon completion in 1766, it stood in a field some distance from the growing port city to the south. It was built as a "chapel-of-ease" for parishioners who lived far from the Mother Church. 

It is arguably most famous for holding a thanksgiving service for George Washington on his Inauguration Day, April 30, 1789, and for being his regular house of worship throughout the two years New York City was the nation’s capital.  To this day, one can retrace Washington’s steps from the Federal Building where a statue of him marks the spot of his inauguration, up north to the chapel. 

Built of Manhattan mica-schist with brownstone quoins, St. Paul's has the classical portico, boxy proportions and domestic details that are characteristic of Georgian churches such as James Gibbs' London church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, after which it was modeled. Its octagonal tower rises from a square base and is topped by a replica of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates (c. 335 BC).  Inside, the chapel's simple elegant hall has the pale colors, flat ceiling and cut glass chandeliers reminiscent of contemporary domestic interiors. In contrast to the awe-inspiring interior of Trinity Church, this hall and its ample gallery were endowed with a cozy and comfortable character in order to encourage attendance. 

On the Broadway side of the chapel's exterior is an oak statue of the church's namesake, St. Paul, carved in the American Primitive style. Below the east window is a monument to Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, who died at the Battle of Quebec in 1775 during the American Revolution.

In the spire, the first bell is inscribed "Mears London, Fecit [Made] 1797." The second bell, made in 1866, was added in celebration of the chapel's 100th anniversary. 

The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, in part because it is the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City. The chapel survived the Great New York City Fire of 1776 when a quarter of New York City (then the area around Wall Street) burned following the British capture of the city in the Battle of Long Island in the American Revolution. 

The Hearts of Oak, a militia unit organized early in the American Revolutionary War, and comprised in part of King's College (later, Columbia University) students, would drill in the Chapel's yard before classes nearby.  Alexander Hamilton was an officer of this unit.  Above Washington's pew is an 18th-century oil painting of the Great Seal of the United States; adopted in 1782. 

The chapel contains several monuments and memorials that attest to its elevated status in early New York: a monument to Richard Montgomery (hero of the battle of Quebec) sculpted by Jean-Jacque Cafieri (1777), George Washington's original pew and a neo-Baroque sculpture called "Glory" designed by Pierre L’Effant, the designer of Washington, D.C. The pulpit is surmounted by a coronet and six feathers, and fourteen original cut-glass chandeliers hang in the nave and the galleries. 

With the Twin Towers located across the street, it was considered almost miraculous that the church was untouched by the damage of September 11th.  After the attacks, the chapel became a hospital and shelter for victims and relief-workers, and later a memorial to those affected by the events of that day, which it remains presently.


St. Mark’s on the Bowery 131 East 10th Street (intersection of Stuyvesant Street and 2nd Ave.)
In 1651 Petrus Stuyvesant, Governor of New Amsterdam, purchased land for a bowery, or farm, from the Dutch West India Company, and by 1660 built a family chapel at the present day site of St. Marks Church.

Stuyvesant died in 1678 and was interred in a vault under the chapel, and his great-grandson, Petrus, donated the chapel property to the Episcopal Church in 1793, stipulating that a new chapel be erected, and in 1795 the cornerstone of the present day St. Mark's Church was laid.

The church was completed and consecrated in 1799.  Alexander Hamilton provided legal aid in incorporating St. Mark's Church as the first Episcopal Parish independent of Trinity Church in the United States.  In 1828, the church steeple, designed by Martin E. Thomson and Ithiel Towne was erected.  Soon after the two-story fieldstone Sunday school was completed. 

In 1838, St. Mark's Church established the Parish Infant School for poor children. Later, in 1861, the church commissioned a brick addition, designed and supervised by architect James Renwick, Jr., most famous for St. Patrick’s Cathedral of Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street.  The St. Mark's Hospital Association was organized by members of the congregation, and, at the start of the 20th century, leading architect Ernest Flagg designed the rectory. 

While the 19th century saw St Mark's Church grow through its many construction projects, the 20th century was marked by community service and cultural expansion. Several Dutch dignitaries made stops by the church on their visit to the States. In 1952, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands visited the church and laid a wreath given by her mother, Queen Wilhelmina, at the bust of Petrus Stuyvesant.  Later, in 1981 and 1982, Princess Margriet and Queen Beatrix, both of the Netherlands visited. 

On July 27, 1978, a fire nearly destroyed St. Mark's Church, and The Citizens to Save St Mark's was founded to raise funds for its reconstruction.  The Preservation Youth Project undertook the reconstruction, supervised by architects Harold Edleman, and craftspeople were provided by preservation contractor I. Maas & Sons. Restoration was finally finished in 1986.  The Landmark Fund emerged from the Citizens to Save St Mark's and continues to exist to help maintain and preserve this historic Dutch landmark for future generations.