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Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the seat of its Bishop. It is located in the neighborhood of Morningside Heights in Manhattan, on Amsterdam Avenue and between West 110th Street and West 113th Street. The cathedral is enormous and measures 601 feet in length and 232 feet in height. The height of the ceiling inside is 124 feet. It is often claimed to be the largest Anglican cathedral in the world; the Cathedral of St. John the Divine competes for this title with Liverpool Cathedral. Overall, there is no question that it is one of the largest Christian churches on the planet.
The building’s official name is much longer: Cathedral Church of Saint John, The Great Divine in the City and Diocese of New York. It is a fairly young church. Construction started at the end of the 19th century and is actually still ongoing. This has led to the nickname ‘St. John the Unfinished’.
HistoryThe history of the cathedral begins in 1828 when Bishop John Henry Hobart met with New York City Mayor Philip Hone to talk about building a new cathedral in the city. This new Episcopal cathedral would be built to rival the Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. Financial support was obtained in 1887 by the new Bishop, Henry Codman Potter. In 1891, a 13-acre site was purchased for the cathedral on top of the Morningside Heights plateau. That same year the winners of a design competition were announced as well. The winning design features the new cathedral as an eclectic mix of Gothic, Romanesque, and Byzantine architecture.
The cornerstone is laid in on St. John’s Day, December 27, 1892 by the Bishop. The foundations of the enormous building were incredibly expensive, mainly because bedrock wasn't found until a depth of more than 70 feet. The first masses were held in a chapel of the Crypt in 1899.
In 1903, eight massive granite columns, each weighing 130 tons, were transported to the site from Maine. They are said to be the largest columns on the planet and support the cathedral’s east end. The roof of the Great Choir was completed in 1908 and the dome of the Crossing in 1909. That dome is one of the world’s biggest free-standing domes.
Although not finished, the cathedral was opened end-to-end in 1941. A fire devastated parts of the building in 2001 and up until now, renovations and construction are still ongoing.
Visiting the Cathedral of St. John the DivineThe cathedral’s architecture is inspired by tradition and symbolism. It is built on top of a hill and has entrance stairs and more stairways inside, elevating the Great Choir and the chapels. It’s also shaped as a cross with the High Altar in the eastern end of the building, closest to where the sun rises.
On the inside, you can see a series of fourteen superb, stained-glass windows, each one dedicated to another form of human endeavor, such as sports, arts, medicine, education, and labor. Other windows depict biblical figures and saints. The three aisles that run from west to east have bronze floor medallions, showing the names of important pilgrimage destinations and significant places in Anglican history.
Interestingly, the number seven, the holiest of numbers, is found everywhere in the building’s architecture. The reason for this is that the symbol of St. John is the seven stars or seven candles. The numbers of the cathedral’s length and height, 601 and 124 feet, add up to seven. The Great Rose Window, the largest rose window in the United States, has a circumference of 124 feet, the numbers of which add up to seven. The cathedral’s center is surrounded by 16 angels, also adding up to seven. There are seven chapels and seven north and south side bays. Additionally, the ratio between the columns of the Nave and the distance to one another is 7:1.
You will find many more of these hidden geometric features and symbolic numbers and shapes all over the cathedral.
Other highlights are the Keith Haring Triptych, the History in Stone which features the sculptures of one prominent person in each Christian century (examples are St. Paul, William Shakespeare, George Washington, and Einstein), and the views from the cathedral’s roof.
The cathedral is open to the public every day from 7.30PM until 6PM.
How to Get ThereBeing located in Manhattan, the cathedral is easily reached by subway or bus. The 1, B , nd C trains stop at the 110th Street/Cathedral Parkway station.
Similar LandmarksThe other major cathedral in the city is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Elsewhere in the world, you may want to visit the Notre-Dame de Paris, Christ Church Cathedral, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral, and the Milan Cathedral.
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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Feb 25, 2015