St. Thomas Episcopal Church

Saint Thomas Church, located at the corner of 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan, New York, New York in the United States, is an Episcopal parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is also known as Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue or as Saint Thomas Church in the City of New York and was incorporated on 9 January 1824. The current structure, completed in 1914, is the fourth church built to house this congregation and was designed by the architects Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in the French High Gothic style.

The church is home to the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys a choral ensemble comprising men and boys which performs music of the Anglican tradition at worship services and offers a full concert series during the course of the year. The boys of the Saint Thomas Choir (as the men are professional singers) are enrolled at the Saint Thomas Choir School, the only church-affiliated residential choir school in the United States.

Four buildings, two locations

On 12 October 1823, members of three Episcopal parishes in Lower Manhattan, including notably William Backhouse Astor (1792–1875), a wealthy Manhattan landowner, Charles King (1789–1867), later president of Columbia University, and jurist William Beach-Lawrence, combined forces to organize a new episcopal church in New York. Saint Thomas Church was incorporated on 9 January 1824. With the cornerstone laid in July 1824 at the corner of Broadway and Houston Street, the first church edifice opened in 1826 and was described as "the best specimen of Gothic in the city." The location was the northern extent of developed settlement in Manhattan during the early 19th Century. It was designed in a Gothic Revival style by architect Joseph R. Brady (1760–1832) and the Reverend John McVickar (1787–1868), professor of moral philosophy at Columbia College (now Columbia University). Though enlarged and remodeled in 1844 to accommodate a growing congregation, this structure was destroyed by fire on 2 March 1851. The church immediately rebuilt at this location, opening in 1852.

The character of the neighborhood at the corner of Broadway and Houston, known as Greenwich Village had "degenerated into anchorage for cheap dance halls and 'concert salloons'" and led to the congregation seeking to relocate to its current location. The parish remained at this location until 1870, while a new church was built (from 1865–1870) at the present location on the corner of Fifty-Third Street and Fifth Avenue based upon a design by Richard Upjohn (1802–1878) and his son Richard Michell Upjohn (1828–1903) This third structure, at the time located in a neighborhood dominated by the mansions of Manhattan's upper class, featured a prominent 260-foot (79 m) high tower and a bas-relief reredos by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) and murals by John LaFarge (1835–1910). It was also noted as the scene of many high society weddings and funerals, including that of Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877–1964) to Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough (1871–1934), the first cousin of Winston Churchill (1874–1965). This structure was destroyed by fire in 1905, leaving only its trademark tower remaining.

The fourth and current church, designed in 1906, was built from 1911 to 1913 under a design by Ralph Adams Cram (1863–1942) and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869–1924) of the architectural firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, and featuring an elaborate reredos designed by Goodhue and sculptor Lee Lawrie (1877–1963). It was consecrated on 25 April 1916. The design by Cram and Goodhue won an architectural competition to build the new Saint Thomas Church, winning over entries by George Browne Post (1837–1913) and Robert W. Gibson.

Cram and Goodhue are also noted for having designed Saint Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue and East 50th Street, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue and West 110th Street, the chapel and a large portion of the campus at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, the Princeton University Chapel at Princeton University and the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago.

September 11th ministry

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Saint Thomas Church reached out to the British community in recognition of its Anglican heritage. This culminated in an interfaith service held at the church on 20 September 2001. The service was addressed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and broadcast live in its entirety throughout the United Kingdom. On 28 October 2002, the rector of Saint Thomas Church, the Reverend Andrew C. Mead, was made an honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The honor was conferred at a ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington, DC.


The present church, a designated New York landmark, was built from 1911 to 1913, designed by a partnership of Ralph Adams Cram, who also designed the Princeton University chapel, and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, who designed nearby St. Bartholomew's church. Lee Lawrie designed the many sculptures and decorations, most notably the 60 figures of the magnificent reredos, which is 80 feet (24 m) high. First designs date from 1906, the church opened for services in 1913. Its magnificence is the happy result of a dramatic, impulsive act of compassion: The 1906 San Francisco earthquake had so shocked the rector, Rev. Ernest Stires, that he rushed the accumulated balance in his parish's building fund to aid the stricken city. Throughout New York and beyond, an impressed public responded in kind to his generosity with unsolicited gifts that more than replenished the fund.

This masterpiece of a city church, with bold massing and a strong profile, has plain ashlar limestone exterior surfaces and sandstone interior surfaces in French High Gothic style, embellished with dense French Flamboyant Gothic detail in the window tracery, in the small arches of the triforium, and in the rich stonework of the reredos, where Bertram Goodhue's original genius in decoration, and sculpture designed, by Lee Lawrie, are inspired by the altar screen at Winchester Cathedral in England.

St. Thomas church is characterized by a high main arcade and an open triforium, and clerestory. Making the most of a restricted rectangular urban corner site with no space for transepts, St. Thomas has the scale of a large parish church (which it is), and, except for its foreshortened length, the proportions of major European and English cathedrals, with nave vaults 95 feet (29 m) high.

The church, like New York's Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the largest Gothic church in the world, whose nave and west facade were designed by Cram, is built of stone on stone, without any steel reinforcing. The ribs of the vault are load-bearing structure. Cram's approach to a structurally authentic and a scholarly, but not imitative Gothic style, emphasized originality through logical development of the historical Gothic styles, tempered by creative scholarship and employing the use of modern machinery in the execution of stonecutting and dressing. In a letter of 1925 Cram said that he considered a rigorous modern Gothic to be "a logical continuation of the great Christian culture of the past, but also a vital contribution to modern life."

Cram excelled at planning buildings and at the general massing of forms, while Goodhue had an inventive eye for appropriate decorative detail. Often each worked on separate buildings, depending on the advice and approval of the other. Sometimes they worked together on major projects, as at Saint Thomas, their final collaboration.


The style of worship at Saint Thomas Church has varied greatly over the history of the parish. Beginning with the rectorship of John Andrew in 1972, however, it has followed the Anglo-Catholic or High Church tradition within the Episcopal Church that developed out of the Oxford Movement. Sunday services vary between Low Mass, Missa Cantata, and Evensong, and Solemn Mass on Christmas and Easter. Incense is used in many Sunday and festival services, as well as Anglican choral music.

Choir of Men and Boys

Music has been an important component of worship and liturgy at Saint Thomas Church. The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys is currently directed by John Scott, the organist and master of choristers. It follows in the Anglican tradition of the all-male choral ensemble. The choir's primary function is to provide music for five services each week, as well as an annual concert series sponsored by the Church. In addition, the choir has toured throughout the United States and Europe, with performances at Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, London, King’s College, Cambridge and the Aldeburgh Festival. In 2004, the choir toured Italy and received a Papal audience at the Vatican.

In 2005, the choir toured in the southern United States, with a benefit concert in New Orleans. Upon returning to New York, they performed in Saint Matthew Passion at Carnegie Hall. Other appearances have included performances at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and alongside artists such as Jessye Norman and Placido Domingo. In addition, the choir gave the world-premiere performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem, which was subsequently televised internationally by the BBC. The choir was also featured in a recording of Carly Simon's "Let the River Run".

The boy choristers reside at Saint Thomas Choir School, the only church-affiliated boarding choir school in the United States. In 2007, there were three tours to Mexico City, Baton Rouge along with other domestic cities, and a tour to the United Kingdom in the early summer.

The Choir typically records and releases one CD a year.


Musical offerings at Saint Thomas Church are enhanced through three organs. The Arents Memorial Chancel Organ was initially built as the "Opus 205" of the Ernest M. Skinner Company of Boston, Massachusetts in 1913. This organ, which was revised in 1945, boasted 4 manuals and 77 ranks. In 1956, the organ was rebuilt, as "Opus 205-A", by the Aeolian-Skinner Company by G. Donald Harrison (d. 1956), who died before the work was completed. This rebuilding expanded the organ to comprise 172 ranks. With damage to the reredos and the organ due to construction of the Museum of Modern Art, the church's immediate neighbor on West 53rd Street, Gilbert F. Adams of Brooklyn was contracted in 1969 to repair and rebuilt the organ. This revision decreased the number of ranks to 156. Further revisions were completed in the early 1980s by Mann & Trupiano. With the exception of the Trompette-en-Chamade, located under the Rose Window above the narthex, the entire instrument of the Great Organ is located in the church's chancel. In its present form, the Great Organ features an Electro-pneumatic and electric-slider stop and chest action, a Solid-State combination action, 4 manuals, 158 ranks and 9,050 pipes.

The Loening-Hancock Gallery Organ was built as "Opus 27" of 'Taylor & Boody Organbuilders, Inc.' of Staunton, Virginia in 1996 to honor Dr. Gerre Hancock for 25 years of service to Saint Thomas Church. Located in the Gallery beneath the church's Rose Window, this organ features a mechanical key and stop action, 2 manuals, 25 stops, and 32 ranks. Its case sports fumed white oak with pipe shades gilded in 23-karat gold. Its predecessor, the Loening Memorial Organ, dedicated in memory of Hermine Rubino Leoning, was built by Gilbert F. Adams in 1969 and featured 4 manuals, 59 stops, and 90 ranks.

The Martha J. Dodge Positiv Organ was built and installed in December 2001 by 'Taylor & Boody Organbuilders, Inc.' of Staunton, Virginia. This organ consists of 5 ranks, and is used as a continuo organ.

New Chancel Organ

On October 3, 2008, Saint Thomas Church announced the Vestry's decision to replace the aging Arents Memorial Chancel Organ with a new instrument. As part of a substantial renovation effort to the church, a new instrument from Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa, will be installed to replace the current instrument. Plans call for the retention of the especially ornate 1913 organ case-front and console cabinetry, and the elimination of visible pipework added above the choir stall canopies in the 1956 rebuild, to better respect the church's well-developed neo-Gothic design aesthetic.


George William Warren, 1870–1902

  • T. Tertius Noble, 1913–1943
  • T. Frederick Candlyn, 1943–1954
  • William Self, 1954–1971
  • Gerre Hancock, 1971–2004
  • John Scott, 2004–present
Stained glass

The stained glass windows in St. Thomas were designed by the great English stained glass artist, James Humphries Hogan (1883–1948), who worked for Powell & Sons (Whitefriars), Ltd., of London, from the age of 14 until his death. The windows in this church are considered by many stained glass experts to be some of the finest designs Hogan ever created. In 2007, conservation began in earnest on the Powell & Sons windows. It will require three years and $20 million to restore the 9 million pieces of glass. The largest windows will each require 4,500 man hours, the labor of one artisan for two and a half years.