Church of the Intercession

West Harlem / Hamilton Heights / Sugar Hill

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The Church of the Intercession on 155th Street and Broadway is the finest example of Gothic Revival or Neo-Gothic architecture in New York City. The present site of the Church is the third in a series of locations in upper Manhattan to bear the name Intercession.

The first Church of the Intercession was located on 154th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and was opened in the 1850’s. The second Church was on Broadway and 158th Street dating from 1900. In 1906 when the IRT Subway was extended to the Bronx from 145th Street a large part of the congregation came to the church from the 157th Street station. The present structure was erected between 1911 and 1914 and was anchored to the site by the heaviness of the tower. The Church of the Intercession had an advantage of a site that was, at the time, immune from commercial encroachment.

The church’s interior is not only massive but beautiful as well. It gives the feeling of a large country church set in the middle of a rural cemetery. Exquisite carvings abound the building. The roof is supported by massive beams and a wood hammered ceiling that gives the nave a flavor of a baronial banquet hall with colorful banners.

The church is complete with a cloister, vicarage, vestry, parish building and a crypt. There is also a secret Abbot’s eye just above the main altar. The cloister is detailed and highlighted by an altar inlaid with stones from the Holy Land and sites of early Christian worship. The loose chairs for the parishioners are used instead of pews gives the church a French flavor. In the tower is an 850-pound bell, which was cast in London. The church is
awash in light from the stained glass windows.

On August 16, 1966 the Church was given landmark status by the National Landmark Status Committee for quality of architecture and historical interest. Under Landmark Status the building cannot be sold and be open once a month "for tours and studies." Printed materials on the facility, in this case the church must be made available for those using the facility. In exchange for these requirements, the government (whether it be federal, state or local) will pay half of all major improvements in a building.

The architect of the church, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue is laid to rest in a wall vault in the north vestry. Inscribed on his tomb is the following: Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue MDCCCLXIX MCMXXIV This tomb is the token of affection of his friends. His great architectural creations that beautify the land and enrich civilization are his monuments. The memorial was made by sculptor Lee Lawrie in 1929 and was designed in the Protestant interpretations of the royal tombs of Saint Denis. It is the only memorial in New York City to an architect within one of his own works.

Goodhue was a member of the architectural firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson who also designed the chapel at West Point, Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street and Saint Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue and 51st Street. Saint Bartholomew’s was and still is known as the "quintessential" Goodhue church and was the favorite of the architect.

In 1997 Trinity Parish celebrated its tercentennial (300th Anniversary) under a Royal Charter signed by William III of England in 1697. The cost of the maintaining the charter was one peppercorn per year. After the American Revolution had ended the Anglican churches in the United States had to reorganize and became the Episcopal Church.

In 1976 Queen Elizabeth II came to New York on her tour of America’s Bicentennial anniversary of Independence. When she visited Trinity Church the ministry had presented her with 279 honorary peppercorns to commemorate the original Royal Charter and its (the Parish’s) continuing ties to England.

Intercession was originally part of Trinity Parish of lower Manhattan, which includes Trinity Church and Saint Paul’s Chapel. It was elevated in status from Chapel to Church in 1976 thus creating its own parish in northern Manhattan.

The Reverend Canon Frederick B. Williams has been rector of the Church since 1971. On occasion Bishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican Church of South Africa has come to Intercession to officiate on various church matters.

Every Christmas the Church celebrates the Clement Clarke Moore Candlelight Carol Service. This service was instituted in 1911 by Reverend Milo Hudson Gates, Rector of the church at that time. It has become the oldest and most widely publicized Christmas tradition in northern Manhattan.

The festival honors Moore for his poem "A VISIT FROM SAINT NICHOLAS" which is read while children are sitting on the steps of the altar. Special guests who have read the poem were; Joyce Dinkins, wife of former Mayor David Dinkins; G. Keith Alexander, radio and television personality; and Avery Brooks, star of the television series STAR TREK, DEEP SPACE NINE. Christmas carols are sung during the festival too.

The Church of the Intercession is located on a bluff in historic Trinity Cemetery, which is bounded by 153rd to 155th Streets and Amsterdam Avenue to Riverside Drive. Many of New York’s social elite are buried here and the mausoleums and gravesites reflect the lavish lifestyles that they had lived by in life show it in death. Such names as the Astors, Schermerhorns, local residents such as Eliza Jumel, John James Audubon, Mayors Fernando Wood and A. Oakey Hall and Alfred Tennyson Dickens are at Trinity.

For further information on the Church of the Intercession and its activities call (212) 283-6200. The Parish House and offices are located at 550 West 155th Street. Information on Trinity Cemetery can be obtained by calling (212) 602 0787 or (212) 368-1600. The website for the Anglican (or Episcopal) Church in America can be accessed by logging on to www.ecusa.anglican.org. Trinity Church, located at 74 Trinity Place, can be reached at (602-0800). The Parish website for Trinity Church can be reached at www.trinitywallstreet.org.

by James Renner, Historian for Northern Manhattan. For more information on Washington Heights/inwood, visit James Renner's site at http://www.hhoc.org/hist/

Sites & Attractions: Churches Sites & Attractions West Harlem / Hamilton Heights / Sugar Hill

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