Funny how us New Yorkers can travel here and there and visit cathedral after cathedral in various parts of the world, but turn our backs on an amazing cathedral right here at home. If you have not yet been to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, I would recommend you get there. And if you go, I highly recommend taking a tour. I give a special shout out for the VERTICAL Tour (nice choice Jaime!) that I went on earlier this month.
I had been to this cathedral a few times prior to my tour. I spent an afternoon setting up for a party and was in awe of the sheer vastness of the space. I stood quietly in reverence of this soaring sacred space. I enjoyed a dinner there and swooned at the glory of the stained glass and the shifting light. But did I really understand what I was looking at? Had I ever travelled further than it’s ground floor? No. I am sure my new found knowledge is still just a thimble full of all there is to learn, but it is a start.
I won’t go on and on about every little thing that I discovered on my tour, but I will share a few kernels. I was surprised to learn that the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the LARGEST cathedral in the world. Apparently this is a touchy subject as others want to stake this claim, so to be specific it’s largesse award is due to it’s spectacular length. It is so long that one could lay down the Washington Monument and still have room left to plop in a tennis court.
The cathedral, located in Morningside Heights, was a major catalyst in the development of the area that is now largely monopolized by Columbia University. The cathedral sits on 11.5 acres of land. My most favorite things of any church, chapel or cathedral are the stained glass windows. Our tour guide took special care to guide us through the rationale behind each stained glass exhibit and the message it was trying to send to the congregation. What I learned from him on this tour will inform how I look at every single stained glass window in my future.
This specific tour appealed to me for all of the ground that we covered. Most of that ground was via steps winding our way to the top of the structure. Our guide would lead us through the narrow circular stairs and gather us at various vantage points to get a better understanding and view of the structure.
To keep us engaged he asked many questions along the way – and would wait until someone ponied up an answer. In addition to the knowledge that was bestowed on us, our climb was rewarded with a brilliant south facing view of Manhattan.
If you are not keen on heights, this tour might not be your cup of tea. In that case you can go on the Highlights tour. You are also welcome to self tour – a $10 donation is suggested.
For an inspiring and in-depth way to experience the Cathedral, there are three tour options…
Explore the many highlights of the Cathedral’s history, architecture, and artwork, from the Great Bronze Doors to the seven Chapels of the Tongues. Learn about the daily services, events, and programs that welcome and inspire visitors from around the world. This hour-long tour is offered Mondays, 11 am and 2 pm; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 am and 1 pm; and select Sundays, 1 pm. Tickets are $14 per person; $12 per student/senior. It is not necessary to make advance reservations for this tour.
On this adventurous, “behind-the-scenes” tour, climb more than 124 feet through spiral staircases to the top of the world’s largest cathedral. Learn stories through stained glass windows and sculpture and study the grand architecture of the Cathedral while standing on a buttress. The tour culminates on the roof with a sweeping view of Manhattan. This hour-long tour is offered Mondays at 10 am; Wednesdays at 12 pm; Fridays at 12 pm; and Saturdays at 12 pm and 2 pm. Tickets are $20 per person; $18 per student/senior. Participants must be 12 years of age or older. To make reservations, please click here, or call (866) 811-4111.
Spotlight Tours are specially created by Cathedral Guides to give visitors a closer look at unique aspects of the Cathedral’s extraordinary architecture, artwork, and history. Visit the Calendar to discover these many different “spotlights” on the Cathedral and to make reservations, or call (866) 811-4111. Tickets are $18 per person; $15 per student/senior, unless otherwise listed.
All tours meet for registration at the Visitor Center inside the Cathedral entrance. Though these tours are drop-in, space is limited. Reservations are recommended for Vertical and Spotlight Tours. For more information, please call (212) 316-7540.