The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City holds the distinction of being the largest cathedral in the world. Some people may contest that fact by saying that St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is much bigger than the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. That may be true, but we would have to point out the St. Peter’s Basilica is not a cathedral. Therefore, St. John’s Cathedral holds its position of esteem, unconquered, and unchallenged, so far. The interiors of the cathedral measure 121,000 sq ft, roughly the size of half a city block, probably more. The cathedral has a length of 183.2 meters (601 ft) and a height of 70.7 meters (232 ft).
The design of the cathedral was finalized in 1888 and work on it began in 1892. George Heins and Christopher Grant Lafarge were the original architects whose Romanesque-Byzantine design gave them an edge over 80 of their fellow architects. The style of the cathedral has seen radical changes in its history. After 1909, it was changed to a Gothic design. In fact, construction and restoration on this cathedral are ongoing even as of now, and that has earned it the nickname of “St. John the Unfinished.”
A trip to St. John the Divine involves, for the major part, gaping open-mouthed at the cavernous rooms and craning your neck to see if the rooms are really as big as they seem to be is or if it is some sort of an illusion done with mirrors. The cathedral’s nave is 601foot long nave and can easily accommodate two football matches running side by side in it (with the spectators, mind you!). The dome crossing is about 162-foot-tall and Lady Liberty could easily waltz through the room with her torch held aloft and there’d probably be some room left over.
If you are coming in from the Amsterdam Avenue side, you can see five portals arching over the entrance doors. The center is named “Portal of Paradise” and it depicts St. John witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus, and 32 biblical characters, all this intricately carved into stone. The doors below this portal are made of 3 tons of bronze and feature relief castings of scenes from the Old Testament on the left and the New Testament on the right. These gigantic doors are opened only twice a year, once on Easter and once in October, for the Feast of St. Francis. High above the doors, you have the Great Rose Window, the largest stained-glass window in the United States. It is truly a sight to behold made from more than 10,000 pieces of colored glass.
If you are interested in visiting the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, join one of the public tours offered 6 days a week. A more interesting tour is the Vertical Tour that is organized periodically, generally twice a month. These tours take you right up to the top of the cathedral, but only after you traverse 11-flights of a circular staircase! Quite a feat that is, and not for the meek hearted.
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025