Friday, September 28, 2007

Open House New York

Coming up next weekend, museums, historic sites, old theaters and churches throughout the five boroughs will be throwing open their doors to tourists in the know, free of charge, for tours, sightseeing and access to architectural sites usually closed. I went last year ("Episcopalian Real Estate Envy Tour 2006") and enjoyed stops at the Museum of the City of New York, St. John the Divine, the Fabbri-Vanderbilt Mansion and the (Episcopalian) General Theological Seminary, Chelsea, where the, er, girl seminarian (cough) who led the tour told us all about the pranks they play on their professors in chapel, as well as several labored Harry Potter analogies to describe the architecture of the place, which resembles a Cambridge quad translated to Manhattan. I have a feeling the parties are better at the North American College.

This year, sites of interest to the church-hopping tourist include:

The possibly doomed St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in the low 20s, a splendid example of continental Greek Revival architecture built for the local French community in 1857. Check out the interior while you still can.

The Lutheran Church for All Nations, a chunky terra-cotta neo-Gothic monolith, formerly one of New York's two churches built by the virtually extinct Irvingite or Catholic Apostolic sect, famed for their discerning taste in architecture. This tiny group of Protestants concocted an eclectic set of liturgies rivaling in mind-boggling complexity anything Sarum, Lyons or Constantinople ever produced. (Let's put it this way: a fully-functioning parish required, in theory, a staff of 64 clerics to keep things running smoothly. Even I think that's overkill.)

The Little Church Around the Corner, a tiny Episcopalian parish nestled amid the high-rises of Murray Hill, well-known for servicing the spiritual needs of actors.

Temple Emanu-El, the world's largest synagogue, a massive (and sometimes rather overpowering) Moorish-Romanesque-Deco structure on Fifth Avenue that I am quite fond of, despite being described by a friend of mine as looking like a "Celtic mausoleum."

Our Lady of the Scapular and St. Stephen's, a hybrid Catholic parish featuring a monumental east wall painting by Constantino Brumidi, the artist who brought you the Stations of the Cross at Notre Dame and the mildly ridiculous "Washington in Heaven" dome painting in the U.S. Capitol.

The St. George Theater, on Staten Island; not very ecclesiastical, but no doubt much of the Italo-Spanish Baroque detailing for this 1929 landmark was borrowed from churches across the Mediterranean.

These, and much, much more can be found here. Enjoy!

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