History of The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

Photo: By Simon.Absonditus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue is officially called the Cathedral Church of St. John: The City’s Great Divine and the Diocese of New York. It is the ordained Cathedral of New York’s Episcopal Diocese. The Cathedral is on Amsterdam Avenue between 113th Street and West 110th Street in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights.

The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is one of the most easily overlooked structures in New York City. In a city filled with towering structures like the new World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, and The Chrysler Building, you would be forgiven not to notice the magnificent Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. However, The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is not a small building. The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine inner annals are monstrous enough to earn it the fourth spot on the world’s largest cathedrals list. One of the Cathedral’s most beautiful attributes is the beautifully engraved facades facing 1047 Amsterdam Avenue. The Cathedral has a settling history in its name as well.

Brief History of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

In 1887, Henry Codman Potter – the Bishop of New York’s Episcopal Diocese – called for a new cathedral to rival Saint Patrick’s Cathedral of Manhattan. Consequently, a Byzantine-Romanesque style brought to the table by Christopher Grant LaFarge and George Lewis Heins was accepted in 1889. Work on the Cathedral was delayed until 1909, when it commenced with an entirely different Gothic Revival style. The immense granite columns used to erect the walls were so enormous that it took them a year to be shipped on a unique barge from Vinalhaven, Maine, to New York with equally huge expenses.

In 1923, Bishop William Manning embarked on a fundraiser drive to raise six million dollars to complete the Cathedral. Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigned for the fundraiser, and the target was reached. As a result, construction went on unabated well through the Great Depression.

“On November 30th, 1941, one week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Cathedral opened its doors to the public for the first time.” Construction had to stop at that moment because of financial hardship and the ethical question of spending money on the church during the war. So, most of the cathedral’s funds went to charity. Construction resumed in the 1980s.

On the morning of December 18th, 2001, fire razed the unfinished northern transept of the Cathedral, destroying a gift shop with critical supporting columns and putting its sanctuary status into question. A significant restoration drive began in January 2005. As a result, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine has never been completed in its entire history and is often referred to as Saint John the Unfinished.

Concerts, events, and activities

The immense size of the interior of The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine provides natural acoustics with an impressive organic brilliance of tones. It is a major center for New York concert musical performances. Paul Winter has had more than one concert in the Cathedral.

The shaky landmark status

The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine enjoyed a brief stint on New York’s remarkable landmarks list when the New York Landmark Preservation Commission added it to the list in 2003. However, the New York City Council overturned the idea almost immediately due to a complex disagreement on whether the cathedral would be open to controlled development by the council if its landmark status were to be withheld.

At 120 years old and unfinished, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is the world’s largest cathedral and a global landmark.

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