Tale of Two Churches,
Natalia J. Garland
The mosaic of New York City is brightly colored by many
different houses of worship--the freedom of religion in action.
There are two churches that are, or were, within close walking
distance of the World Trade Center. One is an Episcopal
church, St. Paul's Chapel, located at Broadway and Fulton
Streets. The other was the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church,
tucked away behind the Twin Towers on Cedar Street, and
completely destroyed in the September 11th attack.
chapel is a popular tourist attraction and easy to reach by
bus. I have often walked by it on Saturdays, after browsing
J&R Computer World and then heading over to the underground
shopping mall at the World Trade Center.
St. Paul's is
on New York's historical map. It was dedicated in 1766. It
is the oldest church, and the oldest public building still in
use in Manhattan. George Washington worshipped here. He
attended St. Paul's on his Inauguration Day in 1789. At that
time, New York City was our nation's capital. Despite its
proximity to the World Trade Center, St. Paul's remained
intact after the September 11th attack. In fact, it was
turned into a place of respite and medical care for the weary
firefighters and other rescue workers.
Church, by contrast, was a tiny church that opened only on
Sundays for services and on Wednesdays for private prayer.
Employees from the local businesses could get away from their
hectic workday and light a candle in the church. St. Nicholas
was founded in 1916. In the olden days, the church served Greek
and Syrian immigrants. Their descendants, though no longer
living nearby, continued to attend St. Nicholas because they
felt a connection to Hellenic heritage there. Over the years,
the faithful have steadfastly refused to sell the church even
though real estate values in Manhattan greatly increased.
Along with the
destruction of St. Nicholas Church, the relics of three saints
have gone missing: St. Nicholas, St. Katherine, and St.
Savvas. Reverend John Romas has notified rescue searchers,
including workers at the Staten Island landfill, to look for
the box containing these relics. They have yet to be found.
The reverend's wife, Lorraine Romas, believes that if the
relics are not found, "maybe it's because they wanted to
stay there with everybody else."
reaction contains a vivid sense of logic. Imagine the relics
buried deep within the landfill (i.e., garbage dump), and the
holiness they would lend to this very unpleasant area which
itself has been the bane of Staten Islanders for many years.
How fitting that the saints should humble themselves and
reside at this macabre destination with those who perished so
horribly. How comforting to the victims' families. How
victorious over terrorist intentions.
With or without
the relics, there are plans to rebuild St. Nicholas Church.
Fundraising has already begun. The city of Bari, Italy, where
St. Nicholas is the patron saint, has donated money. The
impact of and the responses to the September 11th attack have
reached far beyond the New York mosaic. It has brought out
the goodness in many people from many places. The recovery
process has transformed into a resurrection of spirituality
and a renewal of cultural ideals.
St. Paul's and St. Nicholas, are unique symbols of American
democracy at its best. They are models of the freedom to
worship while living in tolerance of those who are different.
St. Patrick has long been the patron saint of New York City.
I think it would be prudent and gracious if New York had a
committee of patron saints, starting with: St. Patrick, St.
Paul, St. Nicholas, St. Katherine, and St. Savvas. With the
passing of the old world, that is, the world that existed
before September 11th, perhaps the concept of patron saints
should be taken more literally and personally. (Written
12/17/01: bibliography available.)
Until we meet