St. Michael's Church, New York City

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St. Michael's Church is a historic Episcopal church at 225 W. 99th Street in New York City. It was founded in January 1807; the present Romanesque building was built in 1890 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

The church building also is noted for its two tracker-action pipe organs built in 1967 by the Rudolph von Beckerath Organ Company (Hamburg, Germany), and its fine acoustics.

In addition to traditional Anglican services, St. Michael’s has services and prayer groups influenced by the emerging church movement.

Sale of air rights that enabled the building of The Ariel allowed St. Michael's to finance a major building restoration.

History

Almost uniquely among upper Manhattan’s houses of worship, St. Michael’s Church has been located on exactly the same site for two centuries.

The first building was a simple white frame structure with a belfry, built for pewholders of Trinity Church, Wall Street who sought a more convenient place to worship near their summer homes overlooking the Hudson River amid the farms on what is now Manhattan's Upper West Side. At that time the City of New York was confined to the southern tip of Manhattan. Among the congregation was the widow of Alexander Hamilton. A second, larger, Carpenter Gothic building was in use from 1854 to 1891. The third and current building, influenced by the Romanesque and Byzantine styles and designed to seat 1,500 people, was dedicated in December, 1891. The present church was erected after an elevated railroad was built on Columbus Avenue absorbing the rural district into the growing city.

In 1895, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) was commissioned to design and install the seven great lancet windows representing St. Michael’s Victory in Heaven, along with a marble altar. Twenty-five years later, Tiffany’s overall design scheme was completed with the Chapel of the Angels reredos mosaic depicting the Witnesses of the Redemption. From the 1890’s through the 1920’s, parishioners donated stained glass windows of eclectic styles.

In 1997 St. Michael’s Church became a Designated Historical Building on the National Register of Historic Places and the New York State Register of Historic Places.

The ghostly presence of St. Michael's Lane may still be traced in mid-block back alleys and service access for several blocks south of 91st Street.

Architecture and art

St. Michael's is noted for the many works of art created for the congregation by Tiffany studios. After the church building was completed, seven windows were commissioned and installed showing "St. Michael's Victory in Heaven." Louis Comfort Tiffany designed the windows which were made in his studios with the assistance of artists Clara W. Parrish, Edward P. Sperry, Louis J. Lederle and Joseph Lauber. Two additional Tiffany stained glass windows were later installed in the Chapel of the Angels,in addition to a large Tiffany mosaic behind the altar. Tiffany decorations in the main sanctuary include a white Vermont marble altar, altar rail, and pulpit and the dome of the apse. The many Tiffany features were installed between 1891 and 1920. The windows were restored in 1990.

After the windows were restored, the church had the entire interior painted by Fine Art Decoration of New York with the architectural details picked out in in a striking array of colors drawn form the windows and mosaics.

The square, Romanesque bell tower rises 160 feet. The architect was Robert W. Gibson.

Organ

A Rudolf von Beckerath was installed in 1967.

Impact

For most of its existence, and continuing today, St. Michael’s has had an impact on the physical and social development of New York City. St. Michael’s founded at least six New York churches, including All Angels' Church, located first in Seneca Village, in what is now Central Park, and later on West End Avenue. After the Civil War, St. Michael’s provided space and financial support for the free Bloomingdale Clinic, District Nurse Association, Day Nursery and Circulating Library.

St. Michael's is known for its wide range of programs and for its congregation’s wide ethnic, socio-economic, and sexual orientation diversity. The church draws people from all areas of New York City and its surroundings.

Today, the church has five choirs; more than 100 children are involved in the Christian Formation Program. Social ministries include work for the hungry and the homeless, the ill and their caregivers, the unemployed and their dependents. Both church and parish house provide space for extensive parish activities and major not-for-profit community organizations.

Since the early 1990s, St. Michael’s has been partnered with St. Michael’s, Promosa, in Matlosane, South Africa and, most recently, with the Diocese of Madras in the Church of South India.

Sources and External Links

St. Michael’s Church website http://www.saintmichaelschurch.org/

Building Activity

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