Interesting facts about the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Cathedral of St John the Divine

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

Its official name is the Cathedral Church of Saint John: The Great Divine in the City and Diocese of New York.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue between West 110th Street and 113th Street in New York City.

The cathedral had its genesis in 1828, when the Episcopal bishop of New York, John Henry Hobart, discussed the feasibility of building a church with city Mayor Philip Hone.

The project would be decades in the making, with a site for the nascent cathedral selected only in 1887, when Bishop Henry Codman Potter of the Episcopal Diocese called for a cathedral that would rival the Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in size and in grandeur.

An 4.7-hectare (11.5-acre) property, on which the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum had stood, was purchased (for $850,000) by deed for the cathedral in 1891.

Cathedral of St John the Divine aerial

After an open competition, a design by the New York firm of George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge in a Byzantine-Romanesque style was accepted the next year.

Construction on the cathedral was begun with the laying of the corner-stone on December 27, 1892, St. John’s Day.

The first services were held in 1899, as work on the site continued.

Originally designed in the Byzantine Revival-Romanesque Revival styles, the plan was changed after
1909 to a Gothic Revival design.

Construction was stopped during both world wars, but has otherwise continued.

Nicknamed “St. John the Unfinished,” there is scaffolding and evidence of work in progress.

Cathedral of St John the Divine constuction

Like the great Medieval cathedrals and churches of the world, St. John the Divine will continue to be constructed over many decades.

There is a dispute about whether this cathedral or Liverpool Cathedral is the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is also the fifth largest Christian church in the world.

On the Amsterdam Avenue side, wide steps lead up to five portals arching over the entrance doors. The central “Portal of Paradise” depicts St. John witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus, and 32 biblical characters, all intricately carved in stone.

Cathedral of St John the Divine facade

The great west doors below Portal of Paradise were designed between 1927 and 1931 by the designer
Henry Wilson. The bronze doors (unveiled as the “Golden Doors”) were installed in 1936. The sequence of 48 relief panels presents scenes from the Old and New Testaments and the Apocalypse.

Cathedral of St John the Divine doors

The interior covers 11,200 square meters (121,000 square feet), spanning a length of 183.2 meters (601 feet) and height 70.7 meters (232 feet). It holds some 5,000 worshippers.

Cathedral of St John the Divine interior

The interior height of the nave is 37.8 meters (124 feet). It is the longest Gothic nave in the United
States, at 70 meters (230 feet).

The renowned mason Rafael Guastavino built a dome of tile, 49 meters (162 feet) high at the apex, to
cover the crossing.

In the center, just beyond the crossing, is the large, raised high altar, behind which is a wrought iron enclosure containing the Gothic style tomb of the man who originally conceived and founded the cathedral, the Right Reverend Horatio Potter, Bishop of New York.

Cathedral of St John-the Divine high altar

On permanent loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 15th-century German choir stalls separate the Narthex from the Nave, demarcating the entrance from the body of the Cathedral with their warm, wooden hues and elegantly carved details.

Cathedral of St John the Divine choir

Seven chapels radiate from the ambulatory behind the choir: Ansgar, Boniface, Columba, Savior, Martin, Ambrose and James. These chapels are known as the “Chapels of the Tongues.” The designs of the chapels are meant to represent each of the seven most prominent ethnic groups to first immigrate to New York City upon the opening of Ellis Island in 1892, the same year the cathedral was begun. [Photo below: Chapel of St. Martin of Tours, patron of the French]

Cathedral of-St John the Divine chapel of St Martin of Tours

At the west end of the nave, installed by stained glass artist Charles Connick and constructed out of 10,000 pieces of glass, is the largest rose window in the U.S.

Cathedral of St John the Divine rose window

Meredith Bergmann’s monumental bronze sculpture, Memorial to September 11 (2012), was specially commissioned by the Cathedral as a larger version of her earlier, tabletop-sized work, created shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The glass case below the larger-than-life female figure contains debris salvaged from the WTC site, uncannily shaped like a heart.

Cathedral of St John the Divine Memorial to September 11

The Life of Christ (1990), a bronze and white-gold triptych altarpiece, is among the last works of
noted New York City artist Keith Haring (1958-1990), completed just weeks before his death from AIDS.
True to Haring’s inimitable and exuberant style, the altarpiece is crowded with angels and human
figures, whose outstretched limbs lead the eye to the central figure of Christ. The altarpiece is a
gift of the Estate of Keith Haring.

Cathedral of St John the Divine Keith Haring

In 2014, cathedral housed one of the biggest pieces of sculpture ever displayed in the United States,
Phoenix, by Chinese artist Xu Bing

Cathedral of St John the Divine phoenix

The size of the cathedral’s interior, presents a level of natural acoustics that confer a reverberation time in excess of eight seconds and an organic brilliance of tone. Music of many genres, including chant, choral music, organ music, and hymnody adapted for large cathedrals is therefore important for the worship regularly celebrated in its nave.

The cathedral houses one of the nation’s premier textile conservation laboratories to conserve the cathedral’s textiles, including the Barberini tapestries to cartoons by Raphael. The laboratory also conserves tapestries, needlepoint, upholstery, costumes, and other textiles for its clients.

In December 2001, a six-alarm fire destroyed the Cathedral’s gift shop, then located in the unfinished
North Transept, and caused severe smoke damage to the Crossing, Nave, and nearby chapels. After a
multi-year process of cleaning and restoration, during which fire-damaged portions of the Cathedral
were closed to the public, the Cathedral reopened in full splendor in November 2008.

The Cathedral and the Cathedral Close were landmarked by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in February 2017.

The St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals occurs on the first Sunday of October. The Blessing of the
Bikes occurs on a Saturday in mid- to late April, at the start of the cycling season.

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