Posts Tagged ‘Dry Dock District’

The East Village’s loveliest 19th century bell

September 14, 2013

StbrigidschurchAfter St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church underwent an expensive (and very beautiful) renovation from 2008 to 2012, church leaders reportedly didn’t have enough funds left over to put the church bell back in the tower.

So now the bell sits in front of the church on Avenue B and Eighth Street, quietly greeting passersby.

It’s a wonderful piece of East Village history dating to 1858—just 10 years after St. Brigid’s was built.

That’s when it was known as the “famine church,” as it was constructed by Irish immigrants who lived in the 19th century Dry Dock District (bas reliefs of some of their haunting faces decorate the beams inside).

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This is a church bell with a rebel streak. In 1991, during the Tompkins Square Park riots, it played a key role warning protestors that police were heading into the park.

“Local activists, planning a response to the melee, were surprised when the bells of St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B tolled early on June 3 to signal the arrival of hundreds of police officers at the park,” recalled The New York  Times in a 2011 article.

The upside-down ship’s hull in St. Brigid’s Church

February 16, 2013

After a four-year restoration set in motion by community groups and an anonymous $20 million donation, St. Brigid’s Church, built in 1848 on Avenue B and Eighth Street, has reopened.

EV Grieve done a great job chronicling the process and progress.

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It’s a magnificent restoration, and the most inspiring part might be the vaulted ceiling above the nave, which suggests “an inverted ship’s hull—no accident, since it was built by shipwrights, who are remembered in sculpted faces in the roof-supporting corbels,” as this Bloomberg article explains.

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These shipwrights were Irish immigrants who came to New York in coffin ships fleeing the Irish Potato Famine.

Stbrigidsnypl1928They settled in today’s far East Village, once the Dry Dock district, laboring in shipyards on the East River from Houston Street to East 12th Street.

St. Brigid is a fitting name for a house of worship called the “famine church”—she’s the patron saint of boatmen.

Too bad the original steeples couldn’t be restored, seen here in a 1928 NYPL photo.


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