On the east side of Lexington Avenue, between 75th and 76th Streets, currently hidden behind a layer of scaffolding, is one of the most beautiful churches in New York City. St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church grew out of a desire in the 1840s by French Catholics to establish their own congregation, and they brought some remarkable stained glass windows with them from France.
Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, the congregation moved north (from Canal street to 23rd Street and then to a space above a stable on 77th Street nicknamed the “Crib of Bethlehem.” The church’s current building was financed by the financier Thomas Fortune Ryan, who arrived late to mass once, and after having to stand for the entire service, offered to pay for a new church building.
St. Jean Baptiste was completed in 1912 and designed by Nicholas Serracino, who had won first prize in the International Exhibit at Turin, Italy, in 1911. The building was designed in the Renaissance style, with a dome, archest and fluted pilasters, three naves, and twin towers surmounting the facade. The Church’s facade was supposed to contain an “imposing Arch-of-Triumph portico, supported by four gigantic columns, and an impressive approach of church-wide steps.” However, the widening of Lexington Avenue resulted in its removal.
The altar came from Italy and the stained glass windows are from Chartres. The only other Catholic church with windows from Chartres in New York City is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As a result of its architectural and historical merit, the building was designed a New York City landmark in 1969.