For this month’s word “Beauty” I had originally intended to shoot St Patrick’s Cathedral. In my 10+ years in NY I had never stepped foot inside and part of what I love about this project is being exposed to things I might not otherwise be in the city I live in. I took the day off, a much needed break from the whirlwind my life has been these days, and after some coffee and reading, set out for my planned location. Despite the dreary cold weather I decided to get off a subway stop early and take a longer walk to the cathedral. It was on my way there that I spotted St. Thomas Church on the corner of 5th Avenue and 53rd Street. I used to work in the area so I had passed by this church more than once and was ashamed that I’d never taken the time to really look at it. I shot a few pics from the outside, hesitantly walked up the stairs and peeked my head indoors, making sure I wasn’t disturbing a service. The place was completely empty and I was overwhelmed by what I saw, a wall at the far end of the church that glowed, intricate carving, quiet, cool, and infinitely beautiful. I sat in the church for 20-30 minutes, soaking up the silence which is a rarity in my life these days, and just took it all in. Had I not decided to get off a stop early, I wouldn’t have discovered this beautiful church so I’m grateful for happy accidents. I did end up going to St Patrick’s Cathedral afterwards and honestly, for all of it’s grandeur, it paled in comparison to St Thomas.
(the view when I first walked in)
Designed by the distinguished architectural firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson and completed in 1913, Saint Thomas Church is built in the French High Gothic style, with stone ornamentation of the later Flamboyant period in the windows, small arches of the triforium, and stonework surrounding the statuary in the reredos. The flat wall behind the altar is characteristic of English cathedrals, and the magnificent reredos, one of the largest in the world, is strongly suggestive of the single, massive windows that terminate the naves of many English churches designed in the Perpendicular style.
Except for its length, Saint Thomas is of cathedral proportions, with the nave vault rising 95 feet above the floor. The church is built completely of stone, according to medieval construction principles, using load-bearing rib vaulting without the space-spanning benefits of steel. The size, spacing, and number of columns and arches are precisely what is necessary to support the structure – and give it the unique acoustical properties associated with churches built of the same materials and in the same way during the Middle Ages. Because much of the music presented in concert at Saint Thomas was composed for use in these churches – not in the concert hall – Saint Thomas Church provides an authentic space in which this music can be heard today.