Cathedral of Saint John the Divine – Beauty that’s never complete

Even those who aren’t religious understand the beauty of architecture and design that the many churches, synagogues, and mosques give to the city of New York.  Beyond just ascetics, these buildings provide a historical roadmap of the city as where buildings and people come and go, for hundreds of years these buildings have stood tall. Saint Patricks Cathedral is known throughout the world for its gothic beauty and is featured in more Hollywood movies than you can count.  Trinity Church is another historic church that might not be as well known but is home to the grave of Alexander Hamilton in its surrounding cemetery.  All of these places are worth a trip for any tourist but one place of worship should be first on your list. In the Upper East Side is a church that might rival them all in beauty even if it is not as well known.  The Cathedral of the Saint John the Divine is a masterfully built and beautiful landmark that needs to be seen by anyone looking to see a truly unique and historically relevant part of New York City.

Having started construction of the church in 1892, the church has been a fixture of the upper west side and fact that it is the fourth largest christian church in the world has only helped it become a staple in the community.  Saint John’s also is and always has been under construction and in a state of constant change.  This unique feature of the cathedral has given it the nickname Saint John the Unfinished which is an apt nickname for a place under construction for over 100 years.  The fact that is has never been considered complete has allowed it to grow and change with the time period and the ever evolving community around it.  It also means that the style of the church has drastically changed over the years, going from Roman/Byzantine to a gothic style can make for a very unique piece of architecture.

When visiting the church, there are some certain highlights that you need to be sure not to miss.  Walk around the grounds, bring a book and a cup of coffee and enjoy some time away from the noise of the city.  Check out the massive organ which is one of the biggest and most powerful in the entire world (it is considered a treasure and has an estimated worth of between $8-$10 million dollars).  Examine the massive front doors made of bronze which have panels that contain scenes from the Old and New Testaments.  There is so much to see that just making sure to walk around and wander is enough to take up most of an afternoon.

Currently running through 2014 is a unique art instillation designed by contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing. The instillation is of two giant phoenix birds that hang from the churches enormous rafters.  These birds together weigh over 12 tons and are 90-100 feet in length.  Hanging from the ceiling these birds pose a intimidating presence as the sheer size of them overwhelm those who look up from the ground.  Yet the massive size of the cathedral does something one would consider impossible, which is make these massive sculptures look small.

New Yorker Tip: The church grounds contain several intimate gardens that are a great place to enjoy an afternoon.  They are also home to two live peacocks, which is something that you won’t find anywhere else in New York City.