Saturday, May 8, 2010

St. John the Divine

Since the name of this blog is Building the Wonder City  I thought it would be fun to take out my trusty (cheap) digital camera and shoot some structural works in progress.

The perfect place to start is St. John the Divine Cathedral on 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Not only is it the base of operations for our heroine, Velma Graydon,  it's also New York's longest ongoing building project. Its charter was drawn up in 1873 but a turbulent economic climate put the venture on hold until 1892 when the first cornerstone was finally laid. From that point on it was a roller coaster of financial woes and untimely key player deaths that made completion of the cathedral a near 125 year work in process.

The plaque near the main entrance says it nicely (like Sarah Vowell, I'm a sucker for a good plaque):

Because architects were replaced mid-stream, the nave was started in a Romanesque style whereas the choir, crossing, and apse were later constructed in the Gothic tradition making it an architectural patchwork of form. To this day, many New Yorkers refer to cathedral as St. John the Unfinished.

In 2001 a fire severely damaged the nave and north transept. It also left the organ unusable. After seven years of restoration the cathedral reopened the area in 2008 and the result is truly awe inspiring. Also after an extensive scrubbing the organ is now fully operational.

A little known fact: Madeleine L'Engle, author of the beloved classic A Wrinkle in Time was a volunteer librarian at St. John the Divine and then the cathedral's writer-in-resident. She was laid to rest there after her passing in 2007.

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