Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
July 17, 2011 -- Upper Westside, New York City
While in New York City one Sunday afternoon I walked to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on the upper-Westside of Manhattan. Saint John the Divine is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. I learned about it from my pocketsize New York City guidebook as a must-see in the area.

The Episcopal Church is the American version of the Church of England, a.k.a. Anglicanism. It was formed shortly after the American Revolution when America broke free from the British Empire. No longer having to swear allegiance to the British monarch, Anglicans in America formed their own church and branded it Episcopal.

A “diocese” is the “district or see under the supervision of a bishop”. The district is usually a large area or of some historical significance. It is further subdivided into parishes. (source: - Diocese)

As the Cathedral of the Diocese of New York, you can think of Saint John the Divine as the headquarters where day-to-day affairs of many local parishes in New York City and beyond are managed and overseen. Hence it is no ordinary church. The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is the fourth largest church building in the world. (source: - List of largest church buildings in the world)

Saint John the Divine is so big and its ornate and massive exterior demands awe. While standing beside the Peace Fountain in the bushy garden which, coming from midtown, I went to first, I felt like I was in some remote part of England -- definitely not New York City -- staring up at the imposing and medieval-looking Gothic cathedral above.

And once inside, the wide open space without pews or fixtures of any kind that greets the visitor -- a cavernous hall with tall stone pillars along the sides supporting the massive roof -- seems to serve either as an engulfing embrace or a stark reminder of how diminutively small we are, or maybe both.

Why the Episcopal Diocese of New York chose that part of New York City -- out and away from the more well-known midtown commercial hub, the all-important Battery Park at the mouth of the Hudson, and the affluent locales of upper eastside and instead bordering with the southwest corner of Harlem where “The Great Migration”, a massive movement to New York City of two million blacks from the South, occurred in 1904 -- may puzzle the visitor. The cathedral after all was begun in 1892 to rival the Roman Catholic Saint Patrick’s Cathedral beside the expensive Saks department store on Fifth Avenue (and to this day is not yet complete and so is nicknamed, "St. John the Unfinished" [source: - Cathedral of Saint John the Divine]).

Whatever the reason, there may well have been a bit of foresight involved. Away from the commercial and financial districts, the towering Cathedral of Saint John the Divine may need never worry about falling prey to an affliction suffered by many churches in Manhattan -- that of being dwarfed and then swallowed to near invisibility by the neighboring steel-and-glass skyscrapers that never seem to stop sprouting around them.

Click on a picture to enlarge.
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is so big I had to shoot from the sidewalk's edge -- where buses and other traffic speed by -- to fit its facade within the frame.
This is a picture not of Saint John the Divine but of Saint Patrick's which Saint John the Divine was built to rival against. (source: - Cathedral of Saint John the Divine)
Standing beside Saint John the Divine, the Peace Fountain is a baroque or grotesque (I can’t decide which) statue that depicts “the winged Archangel Michael... leader of the heavenly host against the forces of Evil...vanquishing his chief opponent, Satan.”  (source: inscription on the Peace Fountain)
View from the “Biblical garden”, south side of the Cathedral. Biblical gardens are “cultivated collections of plants that are named in the Bible.” (source: - Biblical garden)
The Cathedral School on the south side of Saint John the Divine.
Upon entering, the visitor is engulfed in this massive, vacant hall. Altar is at the far end.
Rose window.

While taking this picture, a fellow photographer approached and asked what I was taking pictures of.

I said I wanted to take a straight-on shot of the rose window but didn’t want to plant my tripod in the middle of the great cavern.

He said, “But that’s what being a photographer is about. You shouldn’t be shy.”

I thought then he hit the nail on the head. I tended to be shy which is probably a more politically-correct term for a less than exemplary lack-of-character on my part when photographing people and places.
FDNY Memorial at Saint John the Divine.
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