The Cathedral of St. John the Divine bills itself as the largest Gothic cathedral found anywhere in the world, and even though it’s famously an unfinished structure, it’s considered one of the biggest churches ever built in any architectural style. As a fully operational church facility, the Cathedral is open free of charge to those members of the public seeking a place to pray, meditate, and worship. The Cathedral also offers guided tours, or for a small fee, individuals are permitted to enter the site for a self-directed sightseeing experience.
Cathedral of St. John the Divine History
Ground broke on construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1892, nearly 65 years after the idea was originally broached by leaders of the Episcopal Church and the New York City mayor’s office. The first services were held here in 1899, and the twentieth century saw the structure steadily grow in size and stature—its floor area alone totals roughly 120,000 square feet—but to this day St. John the Divine is considered to be only two-thirds complete.
In addition to holding regular services and playing an important role in the community, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine has been the site of numerous historic events, too. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached here, jazz legend Duke Ellington’s funeral was held here, and Madeleine L’Engle published a novel set within the walls of the Cathedral. Work on St. John the Divine is scheduled to continue for years to come.
What’s at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is such a sprawling attraction that it can be overwhelming to try and experience it all. Regardless, a few of the standout features of St. John the Divine would have to be the vertical stained-glass windows lining the Nave, the incredible choir stalls, and the stunning High Altar, just to name a few.
One fabulous method for getting a handle on all there is to see at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is by taking a guided tour of the site. The Cathedral’s Public Education Office organizes themed tours that cover a variety of subjects, so whether you want to explore the attraction’s beautiful gardens, spiral staircases, ornate stained-glass windows, or just hit all the highlights, there’s a guided tour that’s just right for you.
Music is an important part of most everything that takes place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The Cathedral Choir is renowned, and in addition to performing during Sunday worship services, they regularly stage special recitals and concerts. You’ll have to plan your schedule carefully if you want to catch one of these unique performances, but by all accounts they’re well worth the extra attention to detail.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine has its very own on-site gift shop. You’ll find it located just inside the front doors of the south tower. Items sold here tend to emphasize the work of small businesses, local craftspeople, and fair-trade-certified producers. Proceeds are directed toward a host of philanthropic causes.
Tips for Visiting the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
- Those guests of the Cathedral wishing to sightsee are strongly encouraged to purchase timed-entry tickets in advance of their visit.
- You won’t find any public parking at the Cathedral itself, meaning if you have to drive to the attraction, you’ll need to procure street parking or search for a garage. Several are available in the area, including multiple options near West 108th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
- The guided tours described above are not available every day of the week, so if you have your heart set on a particular guided tour, be certain to look into the schedule posted on the Cathedral’s official website.
- There are many symbolic design flourishes built into the Cathedral. For instance, it’s no accident that there are seven lamps above the High Altar. If you’re feeling adventurous, try and pick out all the different spots where design elements occur in “sevens” throughout the building.