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St. John the Divine

Photo Credit: Urban Compass

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, officially the Cathedral Church of Saint John: The Great Divine in the City and Diocese of New York, is located on Amsterdam Avenue between West 110th and 113th Streets in Manhattan's Morningside Heights neighborhood. Designed in 1888 and begun in 1892, the cathedral’s construction has undergone radical stylistic changes and the interruption of two World Wars.

Originally designed in the Byzantine & Romanesque Revival styles, the plan changed after 1909 to a Gothic Revival design. After a large fire on December 18, 2001, it was closed for repairs and reopened in November 2008. Today, it still remains unfinished, with construction and restoration a continuing process. While original plans called for two towers on either side, only one was ever completed. As a result, it is often nicknamed St. John the Unfinished. It is the fourth largest Christian church in the world: the interior covers more than 121,000 square feet.

The building as it appears today is mostly the product of the second design campaign in the Gothic Revival Style. The cathedral is 601 feet in length, and the nave ceiling reaches 124 feet. At the west end of the nave, installed by stained glass artist Charles Connick and constructed out of 10,000 pieces of glass, is the largest rose window in the U.S.

Seven chapels radiating from the ambulatory behind the choir are each in a distinctive nationalistic style, some of them borrowing from outside the Gothic vocabulary. These chapels are known as the "Chapels of the Tongues", and they are devoted to: St. Ansgar, patron of Denmark, St. Boniface, apostle of the Germans, St. Columba, patron of Ireland and Scotland, St. Savior (Holy Savior), devoted to immigrants from the east, especially Africa and Asia; St. Martin of Tours, patron of the French, St. Ambrose, patron of Milan, and St. James, patron of Spain. These saints represent each of the seven most prominent groups of immigrants to enter New York City upon the opening of Ellis Island in 1892, the same year the cathedral's construction began.

The view from the BellTel Rooftop, Photo Courtesy of BellTell Lofts (

In 2003, the cathedral was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; however, shortly thereafter, the designation was unanimously overturned by the New York City Council, some of whose members favored landmark status for the cathedral's entire footprint, rather than just the building. Councilman Bill Perkins proposed that the protective status should also be extended to the cathedral's grounds in order to control development there. However, during the next 5 years, no move to designate a special status for the entire grounds was made.

In 2007, the cathedral leased the southeast corner of its property, which contained the Cathedral's playground and Rose Garden, to the AvalonBay Communities. AvalonBay completed construction of the Avalon Morningside Park, a modern 295 unit glass rental building, in 2008.

In 2016, a second residential building, the "Enclave" was built on the northern edge of the Cathedral's property, along 113th Street. Handel Architects designed the building for the Brodsky Organization, which has a 99-year lease on the land. The Enclave rises 16 stories high and holds 428 rental units. In total, the lease on the Enclave land pays the Cathedral about $3 million a year, the lease on the Avalon about $2.5 million.

Photo Courtesy of The Enclave

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