The seafaring symbols on a Turtle Bay church’s stained glass window

Walk down East 52nd Street between Second and Third Avenues on a bright day, and you’ll probably miss it.

But some nights when the interior lights are on, the spectacular stained glass window in the middle of this five-story church on East 52nd Street illuminates the street below with startling color and beauty.

The window is the visual centerpiece of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church—two former brownstones joined together on a mostly residential block offering Norwegian sailors, students, ex-pats, and visitors from all backgrounds a place of worship as well as a cultural center and coffee spot.

The church has been at the site since 1992, hidden amid a row of low-rise walkups. But its roots go back to the 1870s, when the first Norwegian Seamen’s Church opened on Pioneer Street in Red Hook. Fifty years later, the church moved to Clinton Street and First Place in Carroll Gardens, closer to the Norwegian community in Bay Ridge.

As the community dispersed later in the 20th century, the church made another move, this time to Manhattan.

The details painted on the compass-like window are a visual delight, and I’ll try my hand at interpreting these symbols. In the center is a seagull, flying high over the earth’s horizon approaching the heavens, which are marked by a cross.

In 2018, a church pastor told the Turtle Bay Association website that the seagull, “follows ships at sea, so this is appropriate because Norwegians love to travel and wander around cities like New York.”

On the left is a lamb with a staff and halo—the lamb of God. A Viking ship is painted on the bottom, and on the right, it looks like another bird, perhaps signifying the Holy Spirit. The image at the top is hard to make out, but it looks like it symbolizes the power of God.

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8 Responses to “The seafaring symbols on a Turtle Bay church’s stained glass window”

  1. ForceTubeAvenue Says:

    Hi, that’s a beautiful window; I’ll have to see it someday. I think the symbol on the right is actually an anchor, both a sailor’s tool, and a symbol of hope, along with faith and charity, as mentioned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

  2. Ricky Says:

    My co-op building has held several shareholders meetings in this church. Inside is a lovely high ceiled room where services are held. I think they are a very forgiving church because one year we were kicked out because during the meeting tempers flared and some language inappropriate to a church setting was used; very loudly. But after a year or so we were allowed to come back.

  3. Catherine Says:

    Love all the things I have learned from the Ephemeral New York e-mails that you send..
    NYC is such an amazing place with great History!
    So Happy to be a New York Native!!!

  4. Joan Garner Says:

    My niece had her wedding there circa 2006. She married a man who had moved here from Sweden. Very few people at the wedding lived in New York City. I think they thought it was a halfway point between where they lived in Texas and Sweden. It was a beautiful fall weekend in New York for everyone to enjoy.

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