Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
The last 4 decades of the 19 century constituted a period of mass immigration into the United States. Most of it into the port of New York. Much was made of the slogan that America was the "melting pot" of the world. On the basis of this ideology, all of the progenitors of the new Cathedral insisted that it be built as a "house of prayer for all nations."It was a magnificent concept at the time. And it is even more significant today. The location in New York of the United Nations, in 1946, underscored the importance of the idea.


The Heins & Lafarge Plan for the Cathedral
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine - NeoPopRealism Journal

In 1888, the Board of Trustees initiated a contest for the Cathedral's design. The firm of Heins & Lafarge won the contract with a Romanesque, Byzantine design. Their plan called for a cathedral 520 feet in length crowned at the crossing by a towering conical spire. It would be built in the customary cathedral shape -- that of a cross.
The next challenge was finding a site for this extraordinary house of worship. In 1887, a devoted layman, George Macculoch Miller, glanced west on 111th Street while walking up 5th Avenue.Within a few days, Mr. Miller had shown the site to Bishop Henry Codman Potter. Both of them perceived the heights rising above Morningside Ave. as a potential acropolis. The thirteen heavily wooded acres were the site of the Leake & Watts Orphan Asylum. The property was purchased for $850,000.
On December 27, 1892, St. John's Day, Bishop Potter laid the corner stone of the Cathedral.Bishop Potter struck the massive stone three times with a large wooden mallet, "Other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid which is Jesus Christ."

Digging the Cathedral's foundation
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine - NeoPopRealism Journal

Construction immediately ran into foundation problems, but Bishop Potter refused to change locations. J.P. Morgan, the financier, who was a trustee of the Cathedral, gave $500,000 "to get us out of the hole."
By 1911, the choir & the crossing with its 4 immense arches were completed . The renowned mason Rafael Guastavino built a dome of tile, 162 feet high at the apex, to cover the crossing. The original plans called for the dome to be replaced by a spire, but the Guastavino dome is still there today.Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine - NeoPopRealism Journal

November 2003 The New York City Council has voted to overturn the Landmark Preservation Commission’s designation of The Cathedral as an official landmark.
The Commission’s June 2003 decision to landmark the Cathedral would exclude 2 underutilized parcels on the Close, on the north side & the southeast corner, which would allow for development within volume & footprint constraints proposed by The Cathedral.The Cathedral has been engaged in discussions with Columbia University with respect to this prospect.
Further, Landmarks said it would continue to "calendar" other buildings (consider them for future landmark status) on the 11.3 acre Close. The Council’s decision overturns just the landmark designation.
"We are disappointed by the action of the City Council," said Henry L. King, president of The Cathedral’s Board of Trustees. "Although it does not prohibit development, we must reflect on the Council’s decision while we pursue the means to make The Cathedral financially stronger, enable it to meet historic preservation needs, & also position it to continue to serve the community for generations to come."
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York & the Seat of its Bishop. In the spirit of Christ, it is chartered as a house of prayer for all people & a unifying center of intellectual light & leadership. The Cathedral serves the many diverse people of our City, Nation & World through an array of liturgical, cultural & civic events; pastoral, educational and community outreach activities; and the preservation of the great architectural & historic site that is its legacy. Our theology supports the values of community, hospitality, witness, stewardship which undergird this mission.

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