Posts Tagged ‘New York City churches’

The ruins of an 1848 church on East 12th Street

April 8, 2019

You can see it from Fourth Avenue as you approach East 12th Street: a weathered gray stone facade with enormous arched stained glass windows topped by a tower.

It all feels right out of the Middle Ages. But when you get closer, something’s amiss—the rest of the church is missing.

Instead, there’s a 26-story dorm built by New York University, with a couple of benches on the other side of the thin facade, where the sanctuary of the church should be.

The story of this shell of a church on a tidy East Village block begins in 1848, when the original church, the Twelfth Street Baptist Church, was constructed, according to David W. Dunlop’s 2004 book, From Abyssinian to Zion.

The church changed hands quickly. By 1854 it was Temple Emanu-El, which soon moved uptown. In the 1860s, it became the new home of St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church.

Congregants at St. Ann’s razed the original church building except for the facade and tower. They commissioned architect Napoleon Le Brun to construct a Gothic church sanctuary stretching all the way to 11th Street, which was dedicated in 1871, wrote Dunlop.

For decades, St. Ann’s remained a Roman Catholic church and school. (At left, in 1914; Below, in 1975)

But the parish began dwindling in the second half of the 20th century. In 1983, St. Ann’s became St. Ann’s Armenian Catholic Cathedral.

Twenty years later, the Archdiocese of New York announced that St. Ann’s was closing for good. A developer then bought the building with plans to bulldoze it and put up a dorm.

Despite an outcry from preservationists and neighborhood residents who didn’t want to see the lovely church turned into a pile of rocks, St. Ann’s was torn down in 2005 (along with an 1840s rectory building next door).

In something of a victory for the city, the developer left the slender 1848 facade and tower.

They stand disembodied from their sanctuary and strangely unconnected to the dorm behind it…and the street they’ve called home for 171 years.

[Fourth photo: MCNY X2010.11.5283; Fifth Photo: MCNY 2013.3.2.1560]

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.

Stbrigidsceiling

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.

Stbrigidsceiling2

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.

Progress made building the “great cathedral”

January 5, 2011

“The great cathedral on Morningside Heights is nearing completion faster than most of us imagine,” states the opening sentence of this New York Times article from November 28, 1909.

Well, not exactly—the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is still unfinished more than a century later.

The cornerstone was laid in 1892, and workers instantly encountered problems.

First, geological snags had to be fixed before the foundation could be poured.

In 1905, controversy erupted when it was discovered that sculptor Gutzon Borglam had created female angels in one of the chapels. Four years later, the Byzantine-Romanesque design was shelved in favor of a Gothic look.

Some of the seven planned chapels were completed, as was the crypt and nave, by the 1930s. Then World War II halted construction, postwar efforts to get things going occurred in fits and starts, and a fire in 2001 destroyed part of the northern end.

But even at only three-fifths complete, it’s still breathtaking and beautiful.

The Little Church Around the Corner

June 23, 2009

Officially known as the Church of the Transfiguration since its founding in 1848, the lilliputian Episcopal parish at 29th Street off Fifth Avenue got its nickname because it welcomed actors during a time when acting was considered a disreputable profession.

In 1870, when another church nearby at 28th and Madison refused to host an actor’s funeral, the Church of the Transfiguration stepped in. “God bless that little church ’round the corner,” a friend of the dead actor supposedly said. And the name stuck.

Littlechurchpostcard

The Little Church also hosted the 1893 funeral of actor (and brother of a presidential assassin) Edwin Booth. It was and still is a popular places to get married in the city.

Set back from the street (which, needless to say, no longer looks as pristine as it does in the 1910 postcard above) with pretty gardens and an ornate entryway, it’s a captivating spot to break away from the rush of city life.