Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Moves Towards Landmark Status

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 2012. Credit: Frano Folini/FlickrCathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 2012. Credit: Frano Folini/Flickr

The largest cathedral in the world is in Manhattan, but is not a city landmark. That could soon change. On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to calendar a public hearing on the designation of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

Officially the “Cathedral Church of Saint John: The Great Divine in the City and Diocese of New York,” it is located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue and serves Episcopalians.

Work on the main church began in 1888 and remains unfinished to this day. The initial design was by George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge, but the project was eventually taken over by Ralph Adams Cram.

Vaulted tile master Rafael Guastavino constructed a tile dome for the Crossing, intended as a temporary roof, in 1909. The dome still covers the Crossing and is one of the largest free-standing domes in the world.

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 2011. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/litetra/5883079317/in/photolist-9XSjw2-9Ywxdy-4hv9nj-a6QKP-qWBCnF-9qhy3q-8LXWxc-w8d14-8EuSWY-qWtWtu-bWX5aK-9Agyw7-mJ1W1h-89vvnv-8TD48T-8ErKRM-8uAHwd-GL3trk-ouTKbs-cjET5-qWsLUE-8EwFDC-9DgJjB-8EwBbf-97jb5b-afg5R-9qeydg-8ErNiH-re3EZr-8EttVR-pYoqnf-qWzSm8-8Ewkef-pFV7Ph-9Agz4Y-8TGa8s-89vzTZ-8Ewich-pFTnT6-9qhHdL-aF89Gb-rdX3ab-qWzNbK-pW9ZP9-cW5vau-9KDEf2-p2t2Uw-aF86zf-8EwsmJ-aF4iAr">Bobby Bradley/Flickr</a>

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 2011. Credit: Bobby Bradley/Flickr

The full length of the cathedral, measuring a whopping 601 feet, was first opened on November 30, 1941, only a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor. That attack and the war ahead took precedence over construction at the church.

The south bell tower and carvings around the center portal were actually made by stonemasons trained at the cathedral’s own stoneyard, which opened in 1979.

The Portal of Paradise, as the Cathedral’s central portal is called, was completed by stonecarver Simon Verity between 1988 and 1997.

A fire in 2001 led to closures until 2008.

Today, the complex includes seven buildings, the oldest being a former orphan asylum that dates back to between 1838 and 1842. The cathedral also boasts a colorful artist in residence – wire-walker Philippe Petit, who crossed between the tops of the Twin Towers in 1974.

Designation of the complex would represent something unusual for the commission, as a building must be 30-years-old to be eligible for designation. St. John the Divine is something different, as it is eternally unfinished.

About its calendaring, LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said, “The moment is now!” The commission will hold a public hearing on the matter in November or December.

TFC Horizon
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8 Comments on "Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Moves Towards Landmark Status"

  1. An outside very old but inside beautiful with feeling to calm down under dome.

  2. Jeffrey LeFrancois | July 20, 2016 at 10:25 am |

    Note: St. John the Divine is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, not the largest cathedral. That honor belongs to St. Peter’s Basilica.

    • St. Peter’s Basilica is not a cathedral. A Roman Catholic cathedral contains the seat of the Archbishop or Bishop of the Diocese – the Cathedral for the Diocese of Rome is St. John’s Lateran. Basilica refers either to the building type, or for Roman Catholics its an honorary title bestowed by the Pope on a church or cathedral. A cathedral can be a basilica, but a basilica is not necessarily a cathedral. For example, New York City has 4 Roman Catholic basilicas (3 in Brooklyn, 1 in Manhattan), only 1 of which is also a Cathedral (St. James in Brooklyn).

  3. anonny mouse | July 20, 2016 at 10:26 am |

    they held off till practically every square inch of available land around the cathedral’s buildings was desecrated by two big ugly intrusive modern buildings — so that the formerly whole block integrated compound cannot now be designated! yecch!

  4. actually Seville Cathedral is the largest gothic cathedral in the world. … St. John is 4th largest in the world…

  5. Agreed with annoy mouse! Now that they have bastardized the location with three rental buildings, landmarking will move forward?? Why bother?? Having erected some of the ugliest buildings on the UWS with no oversight from LPC, this will now allow them to transfer remaining development rights to other parcels.

  6. paul lewis | July 21, 2016 at 2:40 am |

    That new apartment building to the left of the cathedral is a fu**ing travesty!! No doubt they needed the money but could have come up with something far more appropriate for the site. What the hell goes on in these tiny minds! Not much it seems.

  7. Delmar Barentine | August 22, 2016 at 9:27 am |

    One architect who worked for Cram and Ferguson as a young man, John Thomas Doran, eventually became a full partner.

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