St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic church (East Village)

St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic church is one of the most unusual religious buildings in Manhattan. I’ve been by it a hundred times, but never when it was open. Finally, I’ve gotten myself together on a Sunday morning to take a peek inside.

The Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States generally traces its roots to Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants from Central Europe (the former Austrian Galicia and Hungarian Subcarpathian Rus). According to a New York Times article from St. Mary’s dedication in 1963, “most of the church’s 700 member-families are of Russian, Slovak or Hungarian ancestry” - which is to say, Carpatho-Rusyn.

St. Mary’s location is no accident - it serves a sizable Slavic community in the East Village alongside the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox parishes of St. Nicholas (10th/Avenue  A) and St. Mary’s (7th/Avenue A), the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. George (7th/3rd), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of All Saints (11th/3rd), the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Virgin Protection (2nd/2nd) and the Polish Roman Catholic Church of St. Stanislaus (7th/1st).

St. Mary’s parish dates to 1912, the heyday of Carpatho-Rusyn immigration to the United States. The parish first used a former Welsh Presbyterian church building at 255 East 13th Street. The present building was designed in 1959, by the Rev. Cajetan J.B. Baumann, who was a Franciscan friar in addition to being an architect. He designed a range of religious buildings both in New York and elsewhere.

According to the New York Times, this was the first all-glass church in the country, with a design that “emulates temples of early Christianity in Greece.” The estimated cost in 1958 was nearly a million dollars.

David W. Dunlop’s From Abyssinia to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Places of Worship describes St. Mary’s as “[t]he most startling of the four houses of worship around Stuyvesant Square” and “a Modernist jewel box,” noting the “tower of glistening metal strands that reach up flame-like, whipped and wrapped around the bell.” The tower is a 50-feet tall  stainless steel Modernist impression of a bell tower, which contains the bell from the parish’s original 13th Street home.

Inside, the church continues to impress. The massive stained-glass walls could be beautiful from the outside, if the inside were ever lit at night (if this ever happens, it must be rare). From the inside, however, catching the sun, they are amazing.

The fantastical mosaic of the Virgin Mary on the facade outside is matched by a similar mosaic of Christ inside, and the mosaic theme continues across almost all of the icons in the church. The impressionistic bell tower outside is matched inside by an impressionistic iconostas (the screen of icons that divides the main body of the church from the sanctuary), more a framework than an impenetrable wall.

It’s easy to see this church as dated and retro, but imagine the impression it must have given when it was built: modern, futuristic, even hopeful.

St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic church (East Village)

St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic church is one of the most unusual religious buildings in Manhattan. I’ve been by it a hundred times, but never when it was open. Finally, I’ve gotten myself together on a Sunday morning to take a peek inside.

The Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States generally traces its roots to Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants from Central Europe (the former Austrian Galicia and Hungarian Subcarpathian Rus). According to a New York Times article from St. Mary’s dedication in 1963, “most of the church’s 700 member-families are of Russian, Slovak or Hungarian ancestry” - which is to say, Carpatho-Rusyn.

St. Mary’s location is no accident - it serves a sizable Slavic community in the East Village alongside the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox parishes of St. Nicholas (10th/Avenue  A) and St. Mary’s (7th/Avenue A), the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. George (7th/3rd), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of All Saints (11th/3rd), the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Virgin Protection (2nd/2nd) and the Polish Roman Catholic Church of St. Stanislaus (7th/1st).

St. Mary’s parish dates to 1912, the heyday of Carpatho-Rusyn immigration to the United States. The parish first used a former Welsh Presbyterian church building at 255 East 13th Street. The present building was designed in 1959, by the Rev. Cajetan J.B. Baumann, who was a Franciscan friar in addition to being an architect. He designed a range of religious buildings both in New York and elsewhere.

According to the New York Times, this was the first all-glass church in the country, with a design that “emulates temples of early Christianity in Greece.” The estimated cost in 1958 was nearly a million dollars.

David W. Dunlop’s From Abyssinia to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Places of Worship describes St. Mary’s as “[t]he most startling of the four houses of worship around Stuyvesant Square” and “a Modernist jewel box,” noting the “tower of glistening metal strands that reach up flame-like, whipped and wrapped around the bell.” The tower is a 50-feet tall  stainless steel Modernist impression of a bell tower, which contains the bell from the parish’s original 13th Street home.

Inside, the church continues to impress. The massive stained-glass walls could be beautiful from the outside, if the inside were ever lit at night (if this ever happens, it must be rare). From the inside, however, catching the sun, they are amazing.

The fantastical mosaic of the Virgin Mary on the facade outside is matched by a similar mosaic of Christ inside, and the mosaic theme continues across almost all of the icons in the church. The impressionistic bell tower outside is matched inside by an impressionistic iconostas (the screen of icons that divides the main body of the church from the sanctuary), more a framework than an impenetrable wall.

It’s easy to see this church as dated and retro, but imagine the impression it must have given when it was built: modern, futuristic, even hopeful.

Posted 2 years ago & Filed under east village, carpatho-rusyn, 2 notes

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