Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church

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Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church

St. Bartholomew's Church, commonly called St. Bart's, is a historic Episcopal parish founded in January 1835, and located on the east side of Park Avenue between 50th and 51st Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City.

Former structures

The congregation's first location was opened for service in January 1835, in a plain church at the corner of Great Jones Street and fashionable Lafayette Place.

The second location, built from 1872 to 1876 at the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and East 44th Street, was designed by James Renwick, the architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the Lombardic style. The building was embellished in 1902–1903 with a triple French Romanesque portal by Stanford White, who took as his inspiration the church of Saint-Gilles, Gard, between Arles and Nîmes, which White had admired in 1878; the sculptures in the tympana are Renaissance-inspired. The portal was paid for by the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt II as a memorial; Vanderbilt's son, William H. Vanderbilt, had sold the site to the church. The magnificent bronze doors, with bas-reliefs in panels depicting episodes from the Old and New Testaments, were carried out by some of New York's established sculptors: Andrew O'Connor, working freely under the general direction of Daniel Chester French, executed the main door; the south door was executed by Herbert Adams, the north door by Philip Martiny.

Present building

The current church was erected in 1916–17. The original freely handled and simplified Byzantine design by Bertram Goodhue was called "a jewel in a monumental setting" by Christine Smith in 1988. Goodhue modified his design in response to the requirement that the old church portal, beloved by the parishioners, be preserved, with its bronze doors, from the Madison Avenue building and re-erected on the new site.

The foundation stone of Goodhue's original design, a vast, unified barrel-vaulted space, without side aisles or chapels and with severely reduced transepts, was laid 1 May 1917 and the construction was sufficiently far along for the church to be consecrated in 1918; its design was altered during construction, after Goodhue's sudden, unexpected death in 1924, by his office associates, in partnership as Mayers, Murray and Philips; they were engaged in erecting the community house, continuing with the same materials, subtly variegated salmon and cream-colored bricks and creamy Indiana limestone; they designed the terrace that still provides the equivalent of a small square, surrounded by the cliff-like facades of Midtown commercial structures (illustration, upper right); in summer, supplied with umbrellas and tables, it becomes the outside dining area for the restaurant, Inside Park. They also inserted the "much discussed" dome, tile-patterned on the exterior and with a polychrome Hispano-Moresque interior dome, which substituted for the spire that had been planned but never built. Completed in 1930, the church contains stained-glass windows and mosaics by Hildreth Meiere, and a marble baptismal font by the Danish follower of Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen. St. Bartholomew's, completed by 1930 at a cost of $5,400,000, is one of the city's landmarks. For long one of New York's wealthiest parishes, St. Bart's is known for a wide range of programs. It draws parishioners from all areas of New York City and surroundings.


St. Bartholomew's is noted for its pipe organ, the largest in New York and one of the ten largest in the world. One of the church's former choir-directors was the famous conductor Leopold Stokowski, who was brought from Europe by St. Bart's; he was followed by the organist choirmaster David McK. Williams. The church's choir has achieved distinction under the direction of conductors such as William Trafka and James Litton. The Chorister Program, currently under the direction of Paolo Bordignon, has also had success in bringing together children ages 6–18 to sing in the church, and has been featured on shows such as The Today Show and Good Morning America.

Landmark status

Saint Bartholomew's Church and Community House was designated a landmark by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1967, a move opposed at the time by the rector and vestry. Beginning in 1981, St. Bartholomew's found itself the subject of a much-publicized case concerning air rights in the highly-competitive New York real estate market clashing with historical preservation. The parishioners wanted to replace the community house and open terrace with a speculative high-rise commercial structure that would re-capitalize the parish's depleted funds; following a series of public hearing the Landmarks Preservation Commission turned down the plans for a fifty-nine story office building The case, St. Bartholomew's vs New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (1990), raised as a constitutional issue the question whether churches and religious buildings should be exempt from historic ordinances. went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear an appeal. It was a victory for landmark preservation that cast the parish in a poor light and proved divisive.

Center for Religious Inquiry

The Center for Religious Inquiry (CRI) is an inter-religious program based at St. Bartholomew's Church and directed by Rabbi Leonard A. Schoolman. It is based on the premise that there are few opportunities for religious seekers who can study their own and other religious traditions in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Schoolman was previously the founding director of the Center for Theological Studies at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, which served as a prototype for the program at St. Bart's. CRI offers a vast array of opportunities for religious seekers of any background or affiliation to learn in an open and welcoming environment. Instructors are distinguished academics, known for solid and engaging teaching skills. Classes are designed for anyone who is interested in religious and spiritual matters, those exploring their own faiths or other religions, and anyone else who loves to learn. Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, and Union Theological Seminary are some of the institutions whose faculty have participated in CRI programs since its inception in the Fall of 1999.

In popular culture
  • In the 1981 movie Arthur, Arthur's (Dudley Moore) wedding with Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry) was to take place at St. Bart's. The infamous wedding scene in the remake of the same film was also filmed at St. Bart's in July 2010.
  • In the 2010 film Salt, the Russian President is supposedly killed in the church while delivering a eulogy at the funeral of the late American Vice President.

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator
  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference and added a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via