St John the Divine Cathedral

St John the Divine Cathedral (130)

This Cathedral is enormous in all senses of the word. With its length of over 180 metres, its dome of more than 50 metres in height, its capacity to seat a congregation of more than 5000 and its gates weighing more than 3 tons, St John the Divine is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. In fact, the Statue of Liberty itself could fit comfortably inside.

This imposing cathedral is located close to the place where the famous Battle of Harlem Heights took place in 1776, in which the British defeated the troops of George Washington. In the late 19th century the Episcopal Diocese of New York acquired 6 hectares of land and, in 1888, held a competition to design a cathedral that would impress the world. The winners of the tender were the architects Heins and La Farge, who presented an impressive Romanesque Revival design. The first stone was laid in 1892 and construction soon began on the dome arches and the choir gallery. However, following the deaths of the architects in the early 20thcentury the project was abandoned and subsequent construction was carried out according to the Gothic Revival design of Cram & Ferguson. In fact, construction of the nave did not begin until the 1920s and the first religious services did not take place until 1939. With the advent of World War II construction was once again discontinued and was not resumed until 1979. As you can see, there is still work to be done. It is very interesting to observe the mixture of styles of the different parts of the cathedral.

At the Amsterdam Avenue entrance you will see five portals. The most central of these is the Portal of Paradise, which features stone carvings of St. John and the transfiguration of Jesus in addition to other biblical characters. As a curiosity, the pedestal of one of the statues on this portal depicts the skyline of Manhattan.

Another highlight of the façade is the rose window. It is the largest in the United States and contains no less than 10,000 pieces of glass. The bronze doors you see here feature scenes from the Old and New Testaments and are so heavy (nearly 3 tons) that they are only opened twice a year: at Easter and on the day of St. Francis of Assisi, the 4th of October. If you happen to be in New York on that date and visit the cathedral, you will see many animals lining up to enter the cathedral to be blessed - elephants, camels, dogs, cats ... St. Francis of Assisi is, of course, the patron saint of animals.

The interior is impressive, and not just for its dimensions - more than 180 metres in length. To give you a better idea, that's more than enough space to house two Boeing 747s, or Jumbo Jets. In the baptistery located to the left of the altar there is an exquisite octagonal chapel that features a 5-metre-high baptismal font and a frieze in polychrome relief that pays homage to New York's Dutch origins.

Among the chapels are some dedicated to subjects as unusual as they are contemporary -  sports, communications, AIDS, etc. -  and behind the altar there are even 7 chapels dedicated to the different nationalities or ethnic groups that worked on the cathedral, known as The Chapels of the Seven Tongues. From left to right are St Ansgar, dedicated to the Scandinavian countries, St Boniface, to the Germans, St Columba, the Scots and Irish, St Saviour, the Eastern immigrants, St Martin, the French, St Ambrose, the Italians and St James, dedicated to the Spanish. Of these we would highlight Saint Saviour, in the centre, which features a bronze altar covered with gold leaf and was decorated by the famous artist Keith Haring. You will love it. Unfortunately this was his final work before he succumbed to AIDS in 1990.

Just behind the cathedral you will find Cathedral Close, which is also well worth visiting. This is a spectacular corner that is home to the Biblical Garden, which features plants, shrubs and a beautiful pergola. Next to Amsterdam Avenue you will find the Peace Fountain, which depicts the struggle between good and evil, between the Archangel Gabriel and Satan himself. As is the case throughout the cathedral, it is curious to observe the balance between the artistic techniques of former times and the contemporary details. For example, a large crab representing the origin of life and a double helix chain representing the genetic code, DNA. The fountain is decorated with countless small bronze animals carved from pieces made by children as part of a competition. This is a reference to the fact that this imposing cathedral was built on the site of a former orphanage.

As you have seen, St John the Divine is a majestic cathedral and, while it is still unfinished, in time it will no doubt compete with the beauty and grandeur of the great cathedrals of Europe. We suggest you take as much time as you can to enjoy its colossal proportions, contemporary details and wonderful garden.

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