Dec 152015
 
WOW! Can you tell this is one of the largest churches in the world?

WOW! Can you tell this is one of the largest churches in the world?

How had I never before heard of the massive New York City church nicknamed Saint John the Unfinished??? As a Bostonian, I travel to New York several times a year, and tend to get arrogant, assuming I know most of the major sights.

How foolish I felt — a tiny ant on the floor of the biggest church I’ve seen in my life — wondering how I’d missed this mammoth edifice in my 34 years of NYC visits!

The dramatic exterior of St. John the Unfinished.

The dramatic exterior of St. John the Unfinished.

The story of the church is just as heart-pounding as its architecture. Construction began on St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in 1892 — over 120 YEARS AGO. As of now, the building is complete enough to be fabulous to visit, but according to the New York Times, fully finishing it would cost between 20 and 40 MILLION dollars. In other words, it’s unlikely to ever be done, hence its nickname: St. John the Unfinished.

It's no wonder the church was never finished. It's so intricate!

It’s no wonder the church was never finished. It’s so intricate!

The church’s stats and secrets astound. First, by most calculations, it is the fourth largest church in the world, and the #1 largest in all of North America! At over 120,000 square feet, the cathedral makes even this towering, six-foot tall woman feel puny. And I thought Turkey’s Hagia Sophia dwarfed me!

The stained glass windows are beautiful.

The stained glass windows are beautiful.

Second, famed writer Madeline L’Engle is buried in the church! Besides writing “A Wrinkle in Time” (a beloved read from my childhood, and perhaps yours), L’Engle was highly involved with her Episcopalian faith and the church up to her 2007 passing.

Can you believe this giant ceiling?

Can you believe this giant ceiling?

Third, the “Biblical Garden” outside is full of plants that are mentioned in the Bible… along with peacocks and over 15,000 bees!

Right as I left, a wedding was coming in the church!

Right as I left, a wedding was coming in the church.

Fourth, Saint John the Divine possesses the largest rose window in the United States: a beauty crafted out of more than 10,000 pieces of stained glass. Since the church is so tall, it’s hard to fully grasp the size of the window, but the photo below shows my view looking up at it.

Ah, stained glass glory.

The largest stained glass rose window in the United States.

Fifth, though we often think of churches featuring only old-fashioned images, St. John the Unfinished contains a number of modern touches in its decor, partly because its ongoing construction means that some of the decoration took place quite recently. For example, there are images of the Titanic and a television on one of the stained glass windows, and statues of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Susan B. Anthony stand on the stone parapet. Keith Haring famously contributed the Triptych.

I love the swoop of the architectural lines in this church.

I love the swoop of the architectural lines in this church.

Sixth, as the official website of the cathedral explains, once a year you can bring your animals or your bikes to be blessed! I love the idea of a blessed bicycle or guinea pig.

Want one of these windows in your house?

Want one of these windows in your house?

Seventh and finally, it is super easy and inexpensive to visit the cathedral. Numerous transportation options will carry you to its location at Amsterdam Ave. between West 110 and 113 Street, and to get in, the only fee is a “suggested donation” of $10. Now that is a worthwhile tourist attraction on a whole bunch of levels! Don’t miss it. I’m so thankful that my travel blogging mentor suggested we go!

Saint John the Divine in NYC has surprising importance that not many know!

Saint John the Divine in NYC has surprising importance that not many know!

So what do YOU think? Had you heard of St. John the Unfinished before? Have you visited? Would you like to stride around this towering edifice, yourself? Do share!

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  18 Responses to “Have You Heard of This Astounding NYC Church Building?”

  1. I travel to New York several time but i never known that kind of church I hope the next time I around I can visit visit to this church.

  2. It really is an incredible space!

  3. Although the building is outstanding……………..I wonder just how much money was spent on this shrine? And what that money could have done to say…stop human trafficking in this country……..you think it only happens in other countries? You are wrong, Being a Woman’s advocate the statistics are staggering. Wouldn’t something like that be a better shrine? Let’s not even speak about how many children are actually starving in this country….I wonder what the huge amount of money could have accomplished there.Wouldn’t that be a glowing shrine?
    Just a thought of priorities,not a judgement.
    Lille thank you for the wonderful photography.
    Warmly
    Toni J

    • Toni, you make such a good point, and that is actually a reason cited by the leadership of the church for why they are NOT going to finish it. The money could be better used elsewhere!

  4. I grew up in NYC and was raised Episcopal, but I’ve never heard of St. John the Divine. Thanks for sharing this church’s fascinating history.

  5. Oh wow, what an absolutely beautiful building! Stained-glass windows have always caught my eye, and these ones are breathtakingly gorgeous.

  6. I don’t visit NYC often but oddly enough I’ve been to this church!! So many fun facts about it I didn’t know before. Which parts of the church are unfinished??

  7. I used to live on 96th St and would walk past this church all the time on the way up to grad school, it’s a great part of NYC architecture for sure. There is also a small Episcopal church named Grace Church on around 12th St. and Broadway that is a lovely, quiet respite from the noise of the city. I wrote about it a few years ago after TBEX was in NYC. More than a few years ago by now, I guess!

  8. For several years my mother lived not far from St.John’s and when I’d travel to visit her we’d always stop by. She told me once that the work on it (it was far more unfinished then) was also a way people were able to take training in stonemasonry, not a common opportunity… I’ve not been to St. John’s in a good while, lovely to see it again through your photos and words, brings back good memories. Glad you liked it!

  9. This looks so beautiful. I love the stained glass windows!

  10. It really is an incredible space! My grad school graduation was there, and it was a pretty inspiring setting. And the Haring triptych is worth the donation alone.

  11. I am absolutely amazed, astounded by the fact I never knew about this church until this very moment. I went to school for a year in NYC, wrote my college paper on Manhattan architecture and St. John’s still eluded! Thank you so much for opening my eyes to yet another new wonder, discovery in one of our world’s greatest cities!

  12. I love how the stained glass windows are so modern – that’s a great touch!

  13. Unfinished churches fascinate me. Many in Spain, apart from the Sagrada Familia, have seen their plans changed because of budget or time, leading to dwarfed or arodillada bell towers. The major cathedral where I studied abroad has uneven towers. It’s almost like an architectural wink!

  14. I actually knew which church this was about before I read the article. 🙂 I’ve heard about St John the Divine since forever and have long been told to visit. Most New Yorkers have heard about it, you can see it from the West Side Highway. But it is higher up and most tourists don’t head up that way. Will eventually visit though I had no idea L’Engle was buried there (but then I didn’t really know she had died).

    • Interesting that most New Yorkers know about it and that it can be seen from the highway! I think you’re right that its location is part of what keeps tourist from stumbling across it.

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