The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
If I look through the eyes of new visitors who come to New York City to get the sense of Western world, they will never be disappointed to visit The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. And this church is the most interesting place in New York City in the list of website for visitors, too. This shows the influence from European life and religion before those people went to this new land. The religion founds many things around people’s life; for example, music, routine, artwork, architecture and also politic in ancient time. In this case, here is Catholic Church.
The huge piece of Gothic architecture which is sit on 3 blocks of changing slope from Morningside Driveway to Amsterdam Avenue, mostly was seen from east side of the town before other views. People walk from Central Park or from Subway around Central Park North and walk up this slope hill. They pass a small park, Morningside Park which has plain landscape and simply ballfeilds, but very deep from street. Surely everybody will get the feeling of how large the church is, from both attempt to walk up, and from the Morningside Park. The experience to walk down to the Morningside Park and look up to the church is more than the street walker’s sight. And this is not only about how large of the church, but also how high and powerful of the Catholic God. Before the time of Jesus Christ, the God was much cruel. He could kill the country which let a human tough an abandon box.
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is already a big contrast to the way people look at New York as a modern city. On the plan of its block, there is The Avalon Morningside park apartment at the south-east corner. That corner is the first sight of most people to the church as previous paragraph said. Some complain that this apartment hides the view and hide how classic the view is. Some complain about the height of the apartment that it is sin. I visited New York first time on 2006, and I visited this church, too. The Avalon Morningside Park was built in 2007. To be an optimist, the modern materials of facade of this apartment give a big contrast in its block, as well as the church gives a big contrast to other modern buildings in the city.
Most people like to walk on 110th street or Cathedral Avenue that make their eyes cannot contain over all part of the church so well. They are too close to the church. If they walk on 113rd street, their distance can hold all part of the main building very well. This view should be recommended for giving first impression to people who have never visited here. However the space between the feet of people in 113th street and the large wall of the church is parking areas and something under-construction. It is different from the space between 4 – 5 buildings in the middle which is calm and plentiful with trees. The plan cannot be changed, but it can be improved to give a good look from 113th street.
The main entrance has three prominent tympanums and large stair. Firstly, the right-side tympanum is the story of Jesus birth. Mary (Virgin) is the main person on this side. Secondly, the left-side tympanum is the crucifixion of Jesus. It includes Mary and Mary from Magdala. This shows that Virgin Mary is very important to Catholic believe. Some of them worship Virgin Mary more mainly than Jesus. Although she is the mother of Jesus, Jesus called her, “Woman” rather than, “Mother” during his last 3 years. Thirdly, the middle tympanum is Jesus in the book of Revelation. The things that can be noticed that this is revelation are seven circles around Jesus in King dress. Moreover the space between Jesus and two doors, there are 4 animals in the book of revelation, too. They are strange human, strange lion, strange eagle and strange horse. All must have 7 eyes and 6 wings, but on the tympanum which has limited space, all of them have only 2 wings and 2 eyes for each.
Around the main door, there are 12 disciples standing at people’s head level. This may be concern about a part of Act in Bible, which God is the head if the man. At this part, some of them seem to be graphic-like rather than human-like sculpture. Mainly for all art at the facade, humans have to stand close to them, because the width of the street does not allow going further. So surely, humans have to life the head up.
After the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine renovation was finished about last year, 2008 (I visited last time before this year at Christmas of 2007), the nave was open. People can see directly to the choir, and stand in the middle and look around the cross arch roof. The scale of the roof and window is very large, and surely it is not human scale. All should be about feeling of God. In fact, Bible said that God created human as his image, so God should not have bigger body than regular people. The high roof and barbaric glass do not allow much light to come in. It should be about that feeling, too. But the church already put the spot light on the column. Catholic really concern about feeling, if compare with Buddhism country as Thailand. Thai ancient house also has high roof. The house can seem like church in this way, but in fact, it is reduce the heat at human level, because the heat always moves to the top. The paradox to Bible does not happen just for God scale, it is also about light in the space. All Catholic architects might think about the beginning of the book of genesis which is really short and small part of Bible. Most parts of Bible talk about bright and light rather than the dark over the water. God also blame people that they hide themselves from God in the darkness, because they are afraid that God will see something wrong on them. So almost all Catholic churches are strange from the reality in Bible. That is truly different from Protestant church which is more like human scale and much brighter.
In the day I visit this Church
I walk in to the Church. I heard a soft chorus from faraway at around the cross part. High roof, make the sound of chorus has an incredible range especially emotion of praising their God. There is no microphone around those students. It is sad to me that their number is bigger than the number of audience. They are too fantastic to have that little number of audience. There are thousands chairs in the church, but they got sat less than one-eighth. I was interested to look for other events or performances, and I found that too many performances would be in here nearly every day. A question suddenly popped up in my head. This church should be very rich. Nowadays, The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine became more commercial-like church to atheists’ eye (or maybe, in Christians’ eyes, too). They can saw it in many movies about fighting of God and Satan. This church also require visitors’ donation 5 USD for each. It should get a lot of money from government and membership prizes already. But it is still worth to visit.
I had walked into other Catholic Church and attended some Christian churches’ activity for studying Bible. All church has nice rolls of wooden chairs. Nowadays, the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is strange that there are no wooden chairs for audience. Only wooden chairs are in abandon area. All chairs are steel and plastic. I do not feel strange just about modern chairs in this fantastic Gothic building, because I got a really strange experience when I open the door of restroom. Its restroom sits like a container box at north side of the cross part (Middle of the church). The true bright light from fluorescence inside the restroom came under and between the edges of the door. I got into this area and close my eye a little while. Inside the church is so dark, and the restroom is much brighter. The book of revelation said that after the punishment to the world, there is not sun anymore, but the new land will be bright. If we compare this situation to the restroom, the darkness of the church is seem to be how the world looks like during the disaster, and the restroom is new world for happiness, and for people who do not know God yet. God will give them 1,000 years to know God, but in fact, that is only 1 day for Him of waiting, as the words in letters of Peter.
In conclusion, the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine has difference in itself. Other architecture makes the difference in its block. The scale makes difference to the city around there. And the church is also the different style to the business and hurry city as New York City. To be New York is to be as mosaic. If the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine was not exist, New York City would not be perfect itself.
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