How fortunate for us that Greeter Sharon Fitzpatrick also serves as a docent at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, located between West 110th Street and 113th Street in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights. It’s the largest cathedral in the world – so large in fact, it’s over two football fields long and the Statue of Liberty would fit comfortably under its central dome!
The highlights Sharon shared with us were fascinating. We first saw the magnificent Rose Window, the largest stained glass window in the country. We learned that building the Cathedral began in 1892 and the main structure was completed in 1942. However, the structure is missing most of its towers, including the main one – and so it is aptly nicknamed “St. John the Unfinished.”
Next we came upon generous gifts the church had received: Buddhist Prayer Chests from the King of Siam, and two twelve-foot menorahs donated in the 1930s by Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times. The menorahs flank the High Altar as an acknowledgement of the Cathedral’s efforts to improve Jewish-Christian relations.
“The Life of Christ” Altarpiece, cast in bronze and covered in white gold, was artist Keith Haring’s last sculpture before his death in 1990. Haring used a loop knife to draw the piece into clay. According to a cathedral publication, he never stopped to rethink the line, he never edited himself and he never made corrections, as he did with other work. The first lines he carved in clay were flawless – perhaps divinely inspired.
Also on view are two sculptures by Chinese artist XI BING of a male and female Phoenix, the mythical bird. At once fierce and strangely beautiful, each bird weighs
six and a half tons. Enormity seems to be a recurring theme throughout the cathedral.
At the end of our visit we were treated to an organ recital. The Great Organ has over 8500 pipes and is widely considered to be the masterpiece of American pipe organ building. Powerful and spirited, the music was a fitting tribute to the utter majesty of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.