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The Proposed Cathedral

New Cathedral Planned [Excerpt]

Figure 2. From "New Cathedral Planned," New York Times, June 2, 1887.

On June 2, 1887, the project of building a new cathedral was announced in an article in the New York Times. That article included an appeal "To the Citizens of New York" by the Right Reverend Henry C. Potter, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Potter asks New Yorkers to extend their “large-hearted” philanthropy (which had already, he notes, made possible great monuments to culture and art) to the support of a visible institution and structure in which “great moral and spiritual ideas” would be expressed and embodied—in short, a new cathedral.[1]

The cathedral’s relevance, as described by Potter, would extend far beyond the Episcopal Church. “Such a building", he writes, "would of necessity, under our present condition, require to be administered by the church under whose control it would be reared, but its welcome would be for all men of whatsoever fellowship, and its influence would be felt in the interests of our common Christianity throughout the whole land.” [2]

To our modern ears this may sound like untrammeled ecumenicism; but Potter and his contemporaries kept at least one distinction clearly in mind—the distinction between Protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity. This was to be a Protestant cathedral, and one that might, furthermore, play a role in promoting a sense of unity amongst America’s Protestant churches. As an article in the New York Tribune stated the following day: “it may in time become the religious forum of the Protestant Christianity in this country.”[3]

In describing the proposed cathedral as a "forum," the Tribune writer was, in fact, echoing a key emphasis from Potter’s appeal. The cathedral was to be noteworthy as a center for the dissemination of the best that was available in current Christian thought.  In Potter's words: “It would have a pulpit in which the best preachers . . . from all parts of the land and of various schools of thought would have a place and opportunity, thus bringing the people of a great metropolis into touch with the strongest and most helpful minds of the age.”[4]




[1] "New Cathedral Planned," New York Times, June 2, 1887. The idea of building an Episcopal cathedral in New York City has been traced back as far as 1828. For a discussion of actions considered and/or taken in this direction prior to Potter's 1887 appeal, see: Andrew S. Dolkart, Morningside Heights: A History of its Architecture & Development (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 37-41. A helpful discussion of "The Cathedral Idea" from the perspective of Bishop Potter's career can be found in the chapter bearing that title in George Hodges, Henry Codman Potter, Seventh Bishop of New York (New York, Macmillan, 1915), 195-207.

[2] “New Cathedral."

[3] "A Cathedral for New-York," New-York Tribune, Jun 03, 1887. Strong notes that there had been within the Episcopal Church in the 1870s an interest in moving towards a  “unification of the non-papal churches”; and she demonstrates that Bishop Potter’s ecumenicism needs to be understood in this context. See Strong, 1:77-79.

[4] "New Cathedral."