The rebuilding of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the World Trade Center, destroyed during the attacks on 9/11, is nearing a twenty year saga. News that went quietly under the radar recently was the resumption of construction on the new St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, located at the end of Liberty Park. Although Governor Andrew M. Cuomo stated that it was the “start the construction,” it really is the continuation of a project under joint leadership between the Friends of St. Nicholas board and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
On September 1, 2001, the four-story St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was crushed when 2 World Trade Center collapsed. Other than the towers, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was the only other structure completely destroyed in the city that morning. In the bustling financial district, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was a relic of simpler times. One frequenter of the church remembered, “When I worked at City Hall and needed a moment to strengthen my spirit I would walk over [to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church], light a candle and have time to pray on my lunch hour. It was a refuge in the midst of the busiest city in the world.”
The horrific circumstances of this tiny church’s loss were felt for years. Soon after the attacks, donations from around the world poured in for the church’s rebuilding. Bari, Italy donated $250,000, the government of Greece $750,000, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate contributed $50,000. Even with these donations, however, funding shortages served as the flashpoint of the controversy over plans for rebuilding.
This new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, will depart stylistically from the old. It will follow the architectural tradition of Greek Orthodox churches, borrowing from the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both of which are located in Istanbul, Turkey. Its design will make the building glow in the evening. The building will include a nondenominational bereavement center.
Archbishop Demetrios, the chief bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, stated his vision for the rebuilt church: “Within this area, which experienced the horror of total catastrophe, which was the ultimate in human ugliness, you have this type of place which is not a house, not a business, not a museum, not a symphony hall.” He went on to say “It’s a religious place, which opens the realm of holiness: this total other, the transcendent.”
Vision was not enough though, for in 2009, the Port Authority, which was directing construction efforts at ground zero, broke off negotiations with the church, citing excessively costly requests. For years since, the construction efforts have been embroiled in disputes and negotiations. The effort toward reconstruction of St. Nicholas flagged. That is until a month ago, when Governor Cuomo visited the site and announced that construction would resume.
Having overcome the trials of negotiation, Governor Cuomo offered in a statement “The start of construction on the new St. Nicholas Church echoes the overarching message of these challenging times: We are going to build back the way we built back from 9/11, and it will be better and stronger with more solidarity and more faith and more spirit of community than ever before. This St. Nicholas is going to be more splendid and more inviting than the St. Nicholas that was here before. We have gone through difficult times together, but we rise from the ashes and we rise stronger than ever before. That’s what this St. Nicholas will stand for. It is a powerful message to all New Yorkers and all Americans.”
Archbishop Elpidophoros and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
The new Archbishop Elpidophoros joined Cuomo in triumphant tone “Nearly twenty years ago, our Saint Nicholas fell with thousands of our fellow human beings lost in the ashes of 9/11, and countless others wounded in body, heart, and soul by a savage act of hatred and terror. We cannot, we must not, and we shall not let this stand. We are going to open the Saint Nicholas Church and National Shrine as a sign of love, not hate; a sign of reconciliation, not of prejudice; and a sign of the ideals that exist in this great American Nation, where one’s religious liberty and freedom of conscience never excludes, but only embraces.” Plans, at least as of last year, are to open the doors of the church on the 11th of September 2021.