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The Consecration

Interior of the Cathedral during the Consecration Ceremonies

Figure 10. Brown Bros. "Interior of the cathedral during the consecration ceremonies" from "New York's Cathedral Consecration," The Churchman, April 29, 1911, 602.

 

 

 

Interior of Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York

Figure 11. Interior of Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. From Seymour B. Durst Old York Library. New York, NY : Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

The Cathedral as It Is To-Day

Figure 12. "The cathedral as it is to-day" from "New York's Cathedral Consecration," The Churchman, April 29, 1911, 604

On April 19, 1911, the Wednesday after Easter, the choir and the two chapels that had  so far been built (St. Saviour and St. Columba) were consecrated. As we can see from a photo of the church taken around that time (fig. 12), the north, south, and west ends of the crossing were enclosed with temporary walls, since the transepts and the nave had yet to be built. The dome over the crossing, still in place today, was also intended as a temporary structure. It is relatively shallow and saucer-like in comparison with the deep high dome that was planned to replace it.

The consecration was, as per The Churchman, "in many regards the most august religious ceremony that the city, and indeed the country, ever witnessed."[1] In Bishop Henry C. Potter's 1887 announcement of the proposed cathedral, he had stated: "its welcome would be for all men of whatsoever fellowship." This was exemplified in the consecration ceremonies. While these were presided over by the current Episcopal Bishop of New York, the Right Reverend David Hummell Greer, dignitaries representing other Protestant Churches (Moravian, Lutheran, and Presbyterian are mentioned in the article) were included in the opening procession.[2]

Generally speaking, the inclusiveness of the ceremony was applauded in the press. It should not, however, be assumed that either ecumenical ideals, or the manner in which this consecration ceremony embodied them, were universally cherished by Christians at the time. An unnamed author, writing in the Jesuit periodical America about the cathedral consecration, laments that "all doctrinal pronouncement was suppressed on that day of days, when a splendid opportunity presented itself of letting the world know what Episcoplianism stood for and new strength was given to the widespread and anti-Christian error of the day, viz., that the dogmas which differentiate the various religious bodies of Christians are really of no vital importance."[3]

From an architectural standpoint, the consecration clearly provided an opportunity to assess the work done so far. Assessments published in art and architecture periodicals in 1911 and years shortly thereafter were largely appreciative.[4] Of special interest is an article in American Architect that includes a positive response to Heins and La Farge's eclecticism. Its unnamed author writes: "The semi-dome of the apse, abutting on the groined vault of the choir, exhibits that 'mixture of styles' which, however successful its results may be to the artist, remains an affliction to the purist. This is nothing less than an attempt to combine the Byzantine with the Gothic, to harmonize St. Sophia with Amiens." The author plainly allies himself with the artist, not with the purist. He ends the article by concluding: "Properly Gothic or not, even what is to be seen of the new cathedral is about the most interesting object in New York to a student of church architecture, and the most worthy of his careful consideration." [5]

The "mixture of styles" effect just described, in which a half dome abuts on groined vaulting, can still be seen in a postcard featuring a photograph dating from 1925 or earlier (fig. 11). It can no longer be observed in the cathedral itself because the apse semi-dome was later redesigned to harmonize with the increasingly Gothic style of the cathedral overall.[6]

 

 

 



[2] Ibid., 604-05.

[3] "St. John the Divine" America, April 29, 1911, 63.

[4] See: "The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine : Heins and La Farge, Architects" American Architect April 19, 1911, 145-50, 152; William H. Goodyear, M.A., “Temperamental Architecture in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York,” The New York Architect 5, no. 4 (April 1911), 41-53; and George Martin Huss, “Should St. John the Divine Have One or Two Spires?” Art World (Oct 01, 1917), 20-27.

[5] "The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine : Heins and La Farge, Architects," 149, 152.

[6] Although the postcard in fig. 11 is undated, the photograph it features was also featured (with a more intrusive coloring scheme superimposed) in a postcard published in 1925. For the 1925 postcard, see Durst Old York Library https://dlc.library.columbia.edu/durst/cul:jq2bvq83hm. The original apse semi-dome was remodelled in Gothic style in 1939 (as per Strong, 1:43).