© David Lubarsky – All Rights Reserved —
For 161 years, Richard M. Upjohn’s English-style Gothic Revival church stood on 25th Street just off Broadway. Think of it. It was there through the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Depression, and even a Vietnam-era bombing, which destroyed the stained glass in its apse. It was there while 28 Presidents led the country through more than two-thirds of our nation’s history.
In the years that the structure was an Episcopal chapel, Edith Wharton was married there, along with scions of the Rhinelander and Gardiner families. Funerals were held in the church for Mrs. John Jacob Astor, William Astor and Mrs. William Waldorf Astor. The church even saw the lavish marriage of Mary Amelia Tweed, daughter of William “Boss” Tweed, with attendees looking like a Christmas tree of diamonds . . .” and gifts estimated to be worth $14 million in today’s money. The funeral for Roscoe Conkling, who died just across the street of exposure in the Blizzard of 1888, was held here as a congregation full of United State Senators looked on. Different sources report that in 1914, The New York Times either said it was considered “eminently respectable to be buried from there” or “distinctly favorable to be married there,” and its place in society was immortalized by Wharton in The Age of Innocence.
The church’s fame continued after it began serving the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church in 1943. Renowned engineer Nikola Tesla worshipped at St. Sava and the last King of Yugoslavia, King Peter II and his wife, Queen Alexandra, worshiped here in exile. The church would become the second largest Serbian Cathedral in the world and the mother church of the Serbian Easter Orthodox religion in the United States.
Trinity Chapel / St. Sava stood grandly throughout this notable history. The inside was decorated with intricately carved fretwork, a beautifully designed inlaid tile floor, and fourteen large-scale religious paintings by Rachel Richardson. Of particular note, were a beautifully carved wooden pulpit, a rosette window of extraordinary quality, and an Odell organ. Since the conversion of the church from Episcopal to Orthodox worship, a stunning large Iconostasis (altar screen), was installed. It was carved at the Monastery of St. Naum in Yugoslavia and contained 40 icons written by Russian Iconographer Ivan Melnikov.
Virtually all of this treasure is lost, but what does remain is Upjohn’s beautiful brownstone exterior and strong design, with its powerful buttresses balanced against a high pitched roof and elegantly proportioned windows.
David Lubarsky, who captured the stunning images of St. Sava before the fire featured in our recent post, has photographed the haunting shell of St Sava. More than providing us with a record of what was lost, these photos suggest all of the beauty that remains in Upjohn’s outer structure and hints at what might be again.
The NoMad Alliance is hoping that this wonderful structure can be salvaged and that, with the superior restoration techniques available today, much of the interior grandeur and detailing can be restored — for the sake of history, art, our neighborhood, and most of all, for the Serbian community that centers its life around this church. If you never had the opportunity to enter this church, it is hard to communicate to you appropriately the spare, strong beauty of this cathedral and the ability of its architecture to create a sacred space.
How you can help.
Go to St. Sava’s website. At the top right of the homepage, you can donate securely.
Check St. Sava’s website for news of fundraisers. The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava has already had a fundraiser at the New York Athletic Club with tennis stars Jelena Janković, Jovana Jakšić, Dušan Lajović, and Fernando Verdasco attending to support the effort.
Later this month, Ethno group “Trag” from Republika Srpska will hold a fundraising concert at the Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th St, New York, NY 10003). The concert is scheduled for Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available for $20 via PayPal, Credit Card, or at the door. All proceeds from the concert will go towards the restoration of St. Sava Cathedral. The ethno group “Trag” is a vocal-instrumental band which preserves traditional music of the Balkans. Its repertoire mainly consists of songs from Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Check back at ExperienceNoMad.com because we will be passing along fund raising event news as we get it both in our calendar of events and post section.
Let’s join together and help our neighbors restore this gem of NoMad.
All photographs courtesy of
1133 Broadway, Suite 509
New York, NY 10010