Beyond Broadway at 61st: St. Thomas Fifth Avenue

Every week, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

The very first congregation of St. Thomas Episcopal Church gathered in a room at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway in 1823.  That is a far cry from the neo-Gothic structure on Fifth Avenue, across the street from Fendi, just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  The current church is the parish’s fourth, consecrated in 1916 and designed by Ralph Adams Cram.  It is a staggeringly beautiful building that is well worth a walk-through in between food, sightseeing, and shopping breaks in Midtown.

A visitor will at first be drawn inside by the jamb figures lining the western portal, reminiscent of medieval times, a stark contrast to the atmosphere on the street.  Once side, there is much for the eyes to feast upon, but the instant draw is the massive choir screen behind the altar.  Festooned with saints huddled vertically around a gold cross, it is by far the most commanding thing in the room, but it not the only piece of artwork worth noting, as one of St. Thomas’s tour guides will tell you.  The stained-glass windows, like the small aisle window that depicts the Annunciation, add deep hues to the shadowy space, and the rendering of St. Michael fighting Satan, depicted as a dragon, over one of the archways, is an understated but impressive work.  St. Thomas gives off a Gothic glamour that should be seen by locals and tourists alike.

St. Thomas is located on Fifth Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets.

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Beyond Broadway at 61st: Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua

Every week, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

Right on Houston Street, on the dividing line between a few Downtown New York City neighborhoods, stands the Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua, a gathering place for the community.  Founded in 1866 as a ministry that catered to Italian immigrants, the church is to this day run by Franciscan Friars, an order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209 devoted to ministering to the poor.  The church operates as a parish, as a shrine to St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), popular patron saint of Padua to whom believers pray when they’ve lost something. The site is also the setting for St. Anthony’s Market (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 AM to 8 PM) where one can fine various wares including clothes, jewelry, and flowers.

The church’s richly decorated  interior attests to its historic ministry to an Italian Catholic congregation.   The large, brightly colored stained glass windows are devoted solely to St. Anthony and his personal patron, St. Francis of Assisi,.  The main altar holds painted statues of St. Anthony bowing before the Virgin Mary.  In the choir loft, nearly hidden from view, is a monumental, life-size sculpture of the Trinity – God, depicted as an older man, talking with Jesus, with the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering above them.

This historic parish, a fixture in the neighborhood for more than 100 years , the calls out to the neighborhood with an eye-catching message of “PEACE ON EARTH” written on a large sign on the side of the church that faces the ever-busy Houston Street. 

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St. Anthony of Padua is located at 154 Sullivan Street.

– T.C. for MOBIA

Beyond Broadway at 61st: Trinity Wall Street

Every Wednesday, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

Wall Street, known for towering skyscrapers and fast-paced street traffic, also offers a surprising haven from the bustle of Downtown.  Trinity Wall Street, a historic Episcopal church, is a comforting sight with its façade of brown stone, its soaring, 250-foot spire, serene tympanum, and adjacent cemetery (the exterior is currently under construction, blocking the overall view for the time being).  The centuries-old headstones, brightened by carefully cultivated rows of flowers, are worth the walk around the property.  Inside, the highlight is the All Saints’ Chapel, set apart from the main sanctuary, undisturbed and beautiful like a true relic from the Gothic past.  You may not find hidden treasure under the church like Nicolas Cage did in the 2004 movie National Treasure, but it is considered a treasure to the New York City community.

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Beyond Broadway at 61st: Temple Emanu-El

Every Wednesday, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

If you find yourself strolling though Central Park in need of an architectural destination, make your way to the 65th Street crossing and follow it to the East Side where Temple Emanu-El awaits.  Stunning both inside and out, Temple Emanu-El is the largest synagogue in the world. Built in a pastiche of gothic revival/Moorish/Romanesque revival style expressly for its Reformed Congregation and consecrated in 1929, the west facade features a monumental wheel window. The bimah, located in the synagogue’s east end, is eight stories of shimmering mosaic, designed and executed by one of America’s finest decorative artists, Hildreth Meiere (1892-1961).

Meiere took as her inspiration the fifth and sixth century mosaics found in many of Ravenna, Italy’s early Christian buildings, transforming them into Judaic symbols for the bimah’s monumental arch. Beginning with the lower left symbol and moving up the arch the symbols are: the date palm/Tree of Life; the tallit or prayer shawl; the menorah; the eternal light; the Magen David; a pair of shofars; the Torah Ark; the Table of the Shewbread; a Huppa; and a pair of Shabbath candles.

The most striking example of use and adaption is the depiction of  the open Torah Ark, which Meiere must have based on the Gospel cabinet from the Oratory of Galla Placidia, dating to c. 425, itself an adaptation based on the Torah Ark form used since Antiquity:

Galla Placidia, c. 425
Hildreth Meiere
Temple Emanu-El

The temple’s sheer size fails to shake a permeating feeling of peacefulness within the sanctuary, which is amplified by the stained-glass windows, the glittering mosaics, and the colored marble columns, among countless other beautiful objects.  3,000 New York City families call this temple home, and it is easy to see why.  Temple Emanu-El is gem not to be missed.

Also, check out the Herbert and Eileen Museum of Judaica, which features special exhibitions as well as fine permanent display of Temple Emanu-El’s treasures. A dynamic program of tours and lectures is offered by the Skirball Center, including one to be offered at MOBIA in October for our upcoming Louis C. Tiffany exhibition.

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Beyond Broadway at 61st: St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Every Wednesday, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a heavily visited attraction in New York City, is located directly across the street from Rockefeller Center.  This formidable, historic church is a Midtown landmark and an ever-popular sight in spite of the construction inhibiting a full view of the exterior.  Modeled on a medieval pilgrimage church, this basilica with its ample side aisles and ambulatory permits cultural and pious pilgrims alike to make their journey through the church simultaneously.  A trip to St. Patrick’s feels much like a visit to a museum, but the beautiful objects stationed around the premises are not just for show; at all hours, you will find believers venerating these works of art as part of their private devotions, together with camera-toting tourists and security guards.  While everything inside is eye-catching, from the white marble statues affixed in the side aisle chapels, to the towering western doors, to the magnificent rose window (the circular stained-glass window above the choir loft, a typical feature of Gothic cathedrals), the church itself is the most impressive aspect.  In a city full of architecturally striking structures, St. Patrick’s stands apart as a definite must-see for anyone seeking aesthetic inspiration.

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Beyond Broadway at 61st: St. Vincent Ferrer

Every week, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

If you happen to find yourself walking around the Upper East Side, across the island from MOBIA, you should definitely stop inside The Church of St. Vincent Ferrer.  Within walking distance of last week’s feature, Central Presbyterian Church, just a few blocks from major attractions such as Bloomingdale’s and Central Park, this Catholic church is a sweet sight amid the shops, apartments, and restaurants on Lexington Avenue.  The little garden outside its adjacent rectory features a statue of the Virgin Mary that catches the eye and stills the feet of some passersby, but only hints at the stare-worthy art behind the church’s doors.

Built by and still run by Dominican Brothers, the church’s design program reflects a turn-of-the-century love of saints and need for various expressions of devotion, the likes of which are harder and harder to come by in modern worship spaces.  No two side chapels are alike, nor are any two statues (of which there are many).  Paintings, stained glass windows, neo-Gothic archways swathed in shadows produced by consistently lit votive candles… this church has it all, a veritable playground for the imagination.  The highlight of this illustrious building might just be the baptistery.  Though spare in comparison to the main sanctuary, from which it is archiecturally distinct, the baptistery provides a calm respite in an otherwise beautifully riotous interior.

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St. Vincent Ferrer is located on Lexington Ave. at E 66th St.

- T.C. for MOBIA

Beyond Broadway at 61st: Central Presbyterian Church

Every week, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

Just across the park from MOBIA, amid the stunning townhomes and high-end stores of the Upper East Side, the Central Presbyterian Church is a true New York City sanctuary.  The decoration of this historic church is minimal but exquisitely rendered, from the subtle, symbolic designs on the doors and windows, to the candelabra hanging among the columns, to the understated but beautiful gold cross on the wall behind the altar.  The unexpected highlight of the design program is the series of small stained glass windows featuring the prophet Samuel, King David, St. Paul, and Jesus, who, as a figure, is inconspicuous, simple, and youthful.  The architecture and the interior design combine beautifully to create a truly peaceful space worthy of a walk-through.

Central Presbyterian Church is located on Park Avenue at 64th Street.

- T.C. for MOBIA