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