About the Cathedral

Mission

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, the mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the Seat of its Bishop, is chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership. It serves the many diverse people of our Diocese, City, Nation and World through an array of liturgical, cultural and civic events; pastoral, educational and community outreach activities; and maintains the preservation of the great architectural and historic site that is its legacy.

People from many faiths and communities worship together in services held more than 30 times a week; the soup kitchen serves roughly 25,000 meals annually; social service outreach has an increasingly varied roster of programs; the distinguished Cathedral School prepares young students to be future leaders; Adults and Children in Trust, the renowned preschool, afterschool and summer program, offers diverse educational and nurturing experiences; the outstanding Textile Conservation Lab preserves world treasures; concerts, exhibitions, performances and civic gatherings allow conversation, celebration, reflection and remembrance—such is the joyfully busy life of this beloved and venerated Cathedral.

FAQs

What kind of church is this?
St. John the Divine is an Episcopal church. It is the Cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

Is the Cathedral the largest church in the world?
St. John is the largest Cathedral in the world, meaning a church that is also the seat of a Bishop. Measured by length or internal volume, it is one of the five largest church buildings in the world.

How old is the Cathedral?
Construction of the Cathedral began in 1892, making it over 120 years old.

Why is the Cathedral unfinished? When will it be completed?
Like the great Medieval cathedrals and churches of the world, St. John the Divine will continue to be constructed over many centuries. Currently, funding is directed to prioritize serving the community through our programming and social initiatives, and to maintaining the architectural integrity of the Cathedral.

Is the Cathedral landmarked?
The Cathedral and the Cathedral Close were landmarked by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in February 2017. The Cathedral’s Madeleine L’Engle Library, located in Diocesan House, was designated a Literary Landmark by the American Library Association in 2012.

Does the Cathedral have stained glass by Tiffany & Co.?
The Cathedral no longer holds any Tiffany & Co. glass. During the first stage of the Cathedral’s construction, services were held in the crypt, which was furnished with a marble and glass chapel designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The chapel was reacquired by Tiffany after 1916. It is currently on display at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Florida.

When/where was the fire?
In December 2001, a six-alarm fire destroyed the Cathedral’s gift shop, then located in the unfinished North Transept, and caused severe smoke damage to the Crossing, Nave, and nearby chapels. After a multi-year process of cleaning and restoration, during which fire-damaged portions of the Cathedral were closed to the public, the Cathedral reopened in full splendor in November 2008.

Are services held at the Cathedral? When are services?
Monday through Saturday services are held at 8 am, 12:15 pm, and 5 pm. Sunday services are held at 8 am, 9 am, and 11 am, with Choral Evensong at 4 pm. More information, including a sermons archive, is available on our website.

When is the Blessing of the Animals? Blessing of the Bikes?
The St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals occurs on the first Sunday of October. The Blessing of the Bikes occurs on a Saturday in mid- to late April, at the start of the cycling season. Please see the Calendar for the confirmed date.

How large is the congregation?
While Cathedrals traditionally do not have their own congregations, St. John the Divine is home to the Congregation of Saint Saviour, which operates independently from the Cathedral. The congregation has approximately 400 members.

Can I be married/baptized/buried here?
Marriages, baptisms, and burials are performed regularly at the Cathedral. Cathedral clergy officiate at all marriage ceremonies, including interfaith and same-sex marriages. Individuals may be interred in the Columbarium regardless of religious affiliation. More information is available on our website.

Can I visit on my own or do you require a tour to visit?
Self-guided visits are welcome, and tours are not required. Information brochures are available in multiple languages. Visitors interested in exploring the upper levels of the Cathedral may register for one of the regularly offered guided Vertical Tours. Please contact the Department of Public Education and Visitor Services at (212) 932-7347 or education@stjohndivine.org for additional information.

Can I schedule a private tour?
Yes. Private tours may be scheduled by contacting the Department of Public Education and Visitor Services at (212) 932-7347 or education@stjohndivine.org.

Is the Cathedral wheelchair accessible?
Yes. The ground floor of the Cathedral is accessible via a ramp located north of the main of the main doors, with lift access to the apsidal chapels, Great Choir, and High Altar. Due to the nature of the building, the Vertical Tour, Within the Walls, and Crypt Crawl tour spaces are not wheelchair accessible.

What is the cost of entry?
All those who would like to attend worship services and anyone seeking a place for prayer or meditation will be welcomed without charge. For sightseeing, visit our admissions page to learn more.

Is there a gift shop?
Yes, our shop is located in the south tower, immediately to the right as you enter the front doors. The shop specializes in unique items from local artisans, small producers, and fair trade certified sellers. Every purchase supports economic, social, and environmental causes in our community and across the globe. Each of our products is chosen with care and with the highest regard to fair labor practices and sustainability. Stop by the Visitor Center if you’d like to learn more!

Is luggage or coat check available?
There is no luggage or coat check available.

Are there restaurants near the Cathedral?
Morningside Heights is packed with cafes and restaurants. In immediate proximity to the Cathedral are the Hungarian Pastry Shop and V&T Pizzeria, both between 110th and 111th streets on Amsterdam Avenue, facing the Close. Within five blocks of the Cathedral along Amsterdam or Broadway are French, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, American, Thai, and Indian restaurants.

Where are the Gospel singers?
While Gospel singers are heard on occasions such as the Winter Solstice concert, the Cathedral’s regular choir is not a Gospel choir, and performs a wide variety of pieces for large masses and other Cathedral events.

History

1828
Bishop John Henry Hobart consults with Mayor Philip Hone about the feasibility of building an Episcopal Cathedral in New York City.

1854
Rt. Reverend Horatio Potter succeeds Hobart as Bishop of New York.

1873
New York State legislature grants a Charter for The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Economic depression delays selection of a site for the Cathedral.

1887
Horatio Potter dies and is succeeded by his nephew, Henry Codman Potter, who begins to solicit financial support for construction of the Cathedral. A 13-acre site is acquired for the Cathedral atop the plateau known as Morningside Heights.

1891
A three-year design competition of over sixty proposals is won by George Heins & Christopher Grant LaFarge. Their eclectic design for the Cathedral features Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic elements.

1892
Bishop Potter lays the cornerstone on St. John’s Day, December 27.

1893
Excavation begins for the foundation of the Apse.

1899
The first services are held in a chapel of the Crypt.

1901
The Cathedral School is founded.

1903
The eight massive granite columns to support the Cathedral’s East End are transported from a quarry in Maine and hoisted into place.

1907
George Heins dies, thus breaking his firm’s design contract with the Cathedral.

1908
The roof for the Great Choir is completed.
Bishop Potter dies and is succeeded by David Greer, 8th Bishop of New York

1909
Rafael Guastavino constructs a tile dome for the Crossing, intended as a temporary roof. The dome covers the Crossing to the present day and is one of the largest free-standing domes in the world.

1910
Ernst Skinner begins building the Great Organ.

1911
Consecration of the Chapel of St. Columba, the Great Choir and the Crossing. Ralph Adams Cram is hired to complete the Cathedral.
William Mercer Grosvenor is named the Cathedral’s first Dean.

1914
Consecration of the Chapel of St. Ambrose.

1916
Consecration of the Chapels of St. James and St. Boniface.
Work begins on the foundation for the Nave, but is suspended due to shortage of funds.

1917
Howard Chandler Robbins is named Dean of the Cathedral.

1918
Consecration of the Chapels of St. Ansgar and St. Martin.

1919
Bishop Greer dies and is succeeded by Charles Sumner Burch, 9th Bishop of New York.

1920
Bishop Burch dies and is succeeded by William Thomas Manning, 10th Bishop of New York. Bishop Manning applies himself to the reactivation of the building and fundraising campaigns.

1922
Installation of the Historical Parapet depicting figures in the history of Christianity.

1925
Cathedral Trustee Franklin D. Roosevelt chairs a fundraising drive to complete the Cathedral.

1928
Consecration of the Baptistery.

1930
New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs donates two 12-foot tall menorahs to flank the High Altar as an acknowledgement of the Cathedral’s efforts to improve Jewish-Christian relations.
Milo Hudson Gates is named Dean.

1932
The Rose Window is installed.

1937
A model of a slum tenement dwelling is exhibited in the Nave to publicize the need for decent housing in New York.

1939
The first services are conducted in the Nave.
Edward Nason West joins the clergy, beginning a 50 year commitment to the Cathedral as a vibrant community and a living building.

1940
The Very Reverend James P. DeWolfe is named Dean.

1941
The entire length of the Cathedral is consecrated on November 30. One week later, the attack on Pearl Harbor halts work as the country enters World War II.

1942
Five tons of Cathedral scrap metal is donated for the war effort, including wrought iron railings. The Cathedral accepts silver altar vessels from London’s Chapel Royal for safekeeping during the war, giving rise to the urban legend that the Cathedral housed the Crown Jewels.

1945
Thousands fill the Cathedral for services of thanksgiving for the end of the war.

1947
Bishop Manning retires and is succeeded by the Rt. Reverend Charles Gilbert, 11th Bishop of New York.

1950
Bishop Gilbert dies and is succeeded by the Rt. Reverend Horace W. B. Donegan, 12th Bishop of New York.

1952
James Albert Pike is named Dean. Under Dean Pike and Bishop Donegan, the Cathedral’s pulpit becomes a forum for important national issues such as civil rights, McCarthyism and the Cold War.

1954
The Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company expands the Great Organ from its original 5,000 pipes to the present size of 8,035 pipes arranged in 141 ranks. The State Trumpets are mounted on the wall at the west end of the Nave.

1956
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preaches at an ecumenical service.

1960
John Vernon Butler is named Dean, replacing Dean Pike.

1964
Six thousand attend an ecumenical service to support civil rights legislation and to call for an end to racial segregation.

1968
Madeleine L’Engle publishes The Young Unicorns, a novel for young adults set at the Cathedral.
Duke Ellington premieres his Second Sacred Concert at the Cathedral to critical acclaim.

1969
A solemn litany listing names of U.S. servicemen killed in action is part of a nationwide protest against the escalating war in Vietnam.

1971
Advancing the Community of Tomorrow (ACT) is established.

1972
Bishop Donegan retires and is succeeded by the Rt. Reverend Paul Moore, Jr., 13th Bishop of New York.
James Parks Morton is named Dean. Bishop Moore and Dean Morton expand the Cathedral’s advocacy of peace, social justice, and the environment.

1973
The Cathedral School becomes co-educational.

1974
Duke Ellington’s funeral is attended by jazz luminaries and 12,500 mourners.

1976
Bishop Moore preaches a headline-making Easter sermon in which he challenges corporations to keep their operations in New York rather than join others who have fled to other states, thus worsening the city’s fiscal crisis.

1978
Dean Morton announces plans to revive construction of the Cathedral. Local youth are recruited as apprentice stonecutters for the Cathedral stoneyard.

1979
His Holiness the Dalai Lama pays the first of many visits to the Cathedral.

1980
The Paul Winter Consort joins the Artist-in-Residence program.

1981
Philippe Petit, famed high-wire artist and Cathedral Artist-in-Residence, delivers a trowel to the Bishop via a high wire strung 150 feet above Amsterdam Avenue to inaugurate work on the South Tower.

1982
The Cathedral establishes a soup kitchen and overnight shelter.

1983
Leonard Bernstein conducts the first New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace.

1984
Inauguration of The American Poets Corner in the Arts Bay, dedicated to American writers.

1985
The first Feast of St. Francis celebration, now an annual event, features a procession of animals.

1986
Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks at the Cathedral.

1989
Thousands attend a memorial service for choreographer Alvin Ailey.
Bishop Moore retires and is succeeded by the Rt. Reverend Richard Grein, 14th Bishop of New York.

1990
Vaclav Havel, playwright and president of the newly liberated Czech Republic, is guest of honor at a gala concert.
Big Bird and other Muppets pay tribute to puppeteer Jim Henson at his memorial service in the Cathedral.

1992
The Cathedral marks its centennial with an architectural competition calling for designs that explore connections between ecology and spirituality. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava wins the competition with a design incorporating greenhouse-like structures to serve as north and south transepts and a glass-enclosed arboretum atop the Nave.

1993
Lack of funding halts construction of the South Tower.

1997
Dean Morton retires and is succeeded by the Very Reverend Harry H. Pritchett, Jr.
South African president Nelson Mandela speaks at a memorial service for anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Trevor Huddleston.

2001
Hundreds spontaneously congregate at the Cathedral within hours of the terrorist attacks on September 11.
A six-alarm fire in December destroys the North Transept and the gift shop within it.
Bishop Grein is succeeded by the Rt. Reverend Bishop Mark S. Sisk.

2002
The Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski is installed as Dean.
Plans for post-fire restoration begin.

2003
The Cathedral proposes to lease two vacant perimeter parcels of the Close for development.

2005
Post-fire cleaning and restoration of the Cathedral’s interior begins in the East End and chapels.

2006
The Cathedral enters into a partnership with Avalon Bay Communities, Inc., allowing the company to build a residential property on Cathedral land, with 20% affordable housing units.
Restoration and removal of scaffolding renders the upper 55 feet of the South Tower visible for the first time in 15 years.

2008
Rededication and celebration in honor of the reopening of the entire length of the Cathedral. Guests in the service include New York Senators Hillary R. Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, Cardinal Edward Egan, and firefighters who battled the 2001 fire.

2009
Sting performs at the Cathedral for the launch of his album, “If on a Winter's Night.”

2010
The Cathedral's "Enter the Conversation" series hosts guests such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Gwen Ifill, Michelle Norris, Karen Armstrong, and Wangari Maathai, among others.

2011
The Cathedral presents an extensive contemporary art exhibition titled The Value of Water: Sustaining a Green Planet. Among the forty artists represented in the show are Bill Viola, Kiki Smith, and Mark Rothko.
The Cathedral commemorates the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 by offering “A Day of Community, A Day of Faith,” which includes four services, a “Spotlight on Spirit" tour, and music, readings, and messages of hope from local, national, and international guests.

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