Thursday, July 23, 2015

Iconoclasm in New York City

One of the many lovely churches in the city of New York, The Church of Our Savior, had a number of beautiful icons ornamenting the sanctuary, placed there by a previous pastor, Father George Rutler, who had them commissioned by Ken Woo, a New York artist, between 2004-2010.
In August of 2013, Father Robert Robbins became the pastor of Our Savior. One year later, many of the icons were removed, and the previously ornamented walls whitewashed in an effort to restore the “original vision” (various sources) of the parish. While it is certainly within the rights of a pastor to renovate his church building, these changes were done quietly, without much explanation to those in the parish. (An earlier phase of this project was covered by an article in First Things last December.)

In a post on July 22 on the Parish’s facebook page, Fr. Robbins said that these changes were being made in an effort to restore the parish to the original construction design of the church. To date, 23 of the 30 icons have been removed, with the large Christ Pantocrator still behind the altar. According to multiple sources, the Pantocrator icon is slated for removal as well, only 10 years after being put in. When originally installed, it was not an innovation, but a replacement for a crumbling acrylic mural on canvas from the 1950s. The icons, therefore, were an improvement from the state of the sanctuary in 2005 before they were added.

However, it may be noted that there have been no plans to move the freestanding altar to its original location in the church for exclusively ad orientem worship. It is also worth noting that the artist was not consulted in the process of these renovations.

The parish responded to our inquiries without comment. We submitted a written inquiry for information about the project to the Archdiocese of New York, but thus far have had no reply. When and if we do hear from them, we will update this post with any appropriate information.

The pictures below show the progression of the removal of icons.

A picture of the church before changes

August 24, 2014

Evening of of July 21, 2015

July 22, 2015

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