As part of my summer Religious Worlds of New York we visited the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Although not as famous as its Roman Catholic counterpart, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. John’s still provides the serene quiet in an elaborate Neo-Gothic style that is quiet rare in the hustle and bustle of the city.
The exterior is flanked by 32 cared figures of Old and New Testament figures culminating in two huge bronze doors, part of the church’s “Portal of Paradise” (very much like the Paradise doors of the Florentine baptistery). By the way you can probably tell from the first photo that this church is still unfinished…I think they like it that way.
This place is HUGE!!! In fact, it is considered the largest cathedral in the world and the 4th largest church. The nave is 124 feet high and 601 feet long! But it honestly didn’t feel this large in person. It was like an optical illusion as you kept walking closer and closer to the altar. Look at the gorgeous space interior below:
In addition to the cool and cavernous interior, the church grounds are also worth a stroll. The Green, aka the giant lawn flanking the cathedral, is home to three peacocks (a gift from the Philadelphia and Bronx Zoos…we didn’t see them) and the Biblical Garden out back is a lush landscape made to evoke the legendary Garden of Eden.
We spent the afternoon exploring St. John the Divine as part of our curriculum on the diversity of Christianity in America and I am struck by the similarities of this cathedral to the gorgeous churches of Europe, especially Cologne. But I didn’t feel the same sense of holiness here as I have in other Gothic churches, I think perhaps it was the secular art gallery going on at the same time. Nevertheless, it is worth a visit if you in the Harlem area.
Information for this post comes from the program of Religious Worlds of New York & National Geographic’s Secret Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems.