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

1854
The Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter succeeds Bishop Hobart.

1872
Bishop Potter takes the lead by suggesting to the Episcopalian Diocesan Convention that it is time to build an American Cathedral.

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
Bishop Potter dies and is succeeded by his nephew, The Rt. Rev. Henry Codman Potter, who begins to solicit financial support for construction of the Cathedral.

An 11.5-acre site is acquired for the Cathedral atop the plateau known as Morningside Heights.

1891
George Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge win a three-year architecture competition to design Cathedral. Their eclectic design 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 as a boarding school for the boys in the Cathedral’s choir.

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 the Rt. Rev. David Greer.

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 freestanding domes in the world.

1910
Ernst Skinner begins building the Great Organ.

1911
Consecration of the Chapel of St. Columbia, the Great Choir and the Crossing.

Ralph Adams Cram is hired to complete the Cathedral.

The Very Rev. William Mercer Grosvenor is named the Cathedral’s first Dean.

1913
The Cathedral School building is constructed to accommodate 45 resident choristers.

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
The Very Rev. Howard Chandler Robbins is named the second Dean of the Cathedral.

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

1919
Bishop Greer dies and is succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Charles Sumner Burch.

1920
Bishop Burch dies and is succeeded by the Rt. Rev. William Thomas Manning. 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
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Cathedral Trustee, chairs a fundraising drive.

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.

The Very Rev. Milo Hudson Gates is named the third 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.

1940
The Very Rev. James P. DeWolfe is named the fourth Dean.

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

1942
Five tons of Cathedral scrap metal are 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. Rev. Charles Gilbert.

1950
Bishop Gilbert dies and is succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Horace Donegan.

1952
The Very Rev. James Albert Pike is named the fifth 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
The Very Rev. John Vernon Butler is named the sixth Dean.

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.

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

1971
ACT, an after-school and summer program for community children, is established.

Cathedral dramaturg John-Michael Tebelek adapts the Gospel of Matthew into the hit musical Godspell with composer Stephen Shwartz. The musical celebrates its first and second anniversaries and final performance with special liturgies at the Cathedral.

1972
Bishop Donegan retires and is succeeded by the Rt. Reverend Paul Moore, Jr.

The Very Rev. James Parks Morton is named the seventh 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, halted in 1941. Local youth are recruited as apprentice stonecutters for the Cathedral stoneyard.

1979
Construction resumes.

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

1982
The Cathedral establishes a soup kitchen and overnight shelter.

Artist in Residence Philippe Petit walks a wire strung across Amsterdam Avenue to the Cathedral’s West Front to inaugurate the new South Tower building program.

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

1984
The Cathedral hosts the first annual Feast of Saint Francis and Blessing of the Animals. The service includes the music of Artist in Residence Paul Winter and Paul Halley’s Missa Gaia/Earth Mass. Saint Francis Day continues to be one of the largest services at the Cathedral, drawing visitors from all over the world.

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

Edwina Sandys’ Christa, a sculpture of a female Christ on a crucifix, is displayed during Holy Week and taken down early after causing a small but historical controversy. The piece returns to the Cathedral as part of The Christa Project in 2016.

1985
Artist in Residence Greg Wyatt creates Peace Fountain in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

1986
Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks at the Cathedral.

1989
Thousands attend the memorial service for choreographer Alvin Ailey.

Bishop Moore retires and is succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Richard Grein.

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 Congregation of St. Saviour
is formed.

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
The Very Rev. Harry H. Pritchett, Jr. is named eighth Dean.

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 Mark S. Sisk.

2002
The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski is installed as the ninth Dean of the Cathedral.

Plans for post-fire restoration begin.

2005
More than 1,000 people fill the Crossing for an anti-war rally to hear activist Cindy Sheehan on the Bring Them Home Now Tour.

Post-fire cleaning and restoration of the Cathedral’s interior begins in the east end and chapels.

2006
The Cathedral enters into an agreement with a real estate investment trust, leasing land for the construction of a residential building with twenty percent affordable housing units to the south of the Cathedral.

Restoration and the removal of scaffolding renders the upper 55 feet of the South Tower visible for the first time in 15 years.

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

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 Value of Water: Sustaining a Green Planet opens, ushering in a new wave of large-scale art exhibitions, including Jane Alexander: Surveys (From the Cape of Good Hope) (2013), The Phoenix Project: Xu Bing at the Cathedral (2014), The Value of Food (2015-2016), The Christa Project (2016-2017), and The Value of Sanctuary (2019).

The Cathedral reestablishes its gift shop for the first time since the fire in the 2001.

The Cathedral commemorates the ten-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.

Music Director Kent Tritle revives the “Great Music in a Great Space” program, an annual series of choral, organ, and orchestral concerts.

2013
The Rt. Rev. Andrew ML Dietsche succeeds Bishop Sisk.

2014
The Cathedral hosts “Religions for the Earth: A Multifaith Celebration” following the People’s Climate March.

2015
The Cathedral Choristers record a breathtaking version of “Silent Night” with Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo and American musical group The Piano Guys.

2016
Over the course of the year, Cathedral Community Cares reaches a new record, offering 26,000 meals to 68,580 clients at its Sunday Soup Kitchen.

2017
The Cathedral is officially designated a historic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Newly restored baroque tapestries are installed for the first time for the exhibition The Barberini Tapestries: Woven Monuments of the Baroque Rome.

Aretha Franklin gives her final public performance as part of the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The annual Cathedral Craft Fair, sponsored by the Congregation, moves after twenty-five years from Synod Hall to the Cathedral itself, becoming a signature program.

2018
Phase one of renovation of the North Transept is complete.

The Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel III is installed as the tenth Dean.

The Cathedral celebrates the 125th anniversary of the laying of its cornerstone with a special evensong on November 18th. During the service, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, is seated in the International Ecumenical Cathedra and preaches his message of love.

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