Nearly 100 ecclesiastical sites across New York State will open their doors this weekend so that visitors can admire the awe-inspiring architecture inside. On May 20th and May 21st, synagogues, churches, temples, and mosques throughout the boroughs of NYC and beyond will take part in the Sacred Sites Open House festival hosted by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. This annual event celebrates the social and cultural importance of New York State’s amazing religious buildings. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Conservancy, so the theme of the event is Congregations and Communities: 50 Years of Sacred Sites. Here, we share 10 of the most stunning sacred sites you can tour in New York City this weekend!
1. Manhattan – Museum at Eldridge Street
The Museum at Eldridge Street is housed inside the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Opened in 1887, the Eldridge Street Synagogue was one of the first to be erected in the United States by Eastern European Jews. In the early to mid-20th century, as Jewish residents began to disperse to the suburbs and immigration into New York slowed, the congregation dwindled. The synagogue closed its main sanctuary.
For years, the space remained shut off and abandoned. Finally, in 1987, local residents and urban preservationists joined forces to save the architectural marvel. It took 20 years to bring the neglected synagogue back to its former glory. After two decades of work, the main sanctuary re-opened in 2007. Today, you can appreciate the painstaking restoration work that went into the synagogue’s rehabilitation, including the installation of an iconic stained glass window filled with stars, crafted by Artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. For the Sacred Sites Open House weekend, photographer Michael L. Horowitz and author Elizabeth Anne Hartman, the creators behind Divine New York, will lead a Lower East Side walking tour convening outside the Museum at 10:30am. You can register here!
2. Church of St. Francis Xavier
The Barque-style church that now stands at 46 West 16th Street is the second structure built for the parish of St. Francis Xavier. In 1847, Jesuit priest John Larkin was sent from Fordham to Manhattan to found a new church. He landed on this site in Union Square. With a growing congregation, the existing church building soon became too small.
In 1878, the cornerstone of a new church was laid. The new structure, the one we see today, was designed by noted architect Patrick C. Keely and opened in 1882. The ornate building underwent an extensive restoration in 2005. This weekend for Sacred Site Open House, the church be open for self-guided tours on Sunday from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm.
3. Bialystoker Synagogue
Bialystoker Synagogue is a New York City landmark built in 1826. It originally served as a church, the Willet Street Episcopal Church, and was converted into a synagogue in 1905, making it the oldest building used as a synagogue in New York City.
You can learn more about the synagogue, such as why there is a lobster on the ceiling and a connection to the mob, here! The synagogue will be open on Sunday for both self-guided and guided tours from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm.
4. Church of the Holy Trinity
Located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, The Church of the Holy Trinity was consecrated on May 6, 1899, after roughly two years of construction. The architect, J. Stewart Barney of Barney and Chapman, designed the gold brick and terracotta structure in the French Gothic style. Barney said he wanted to combine “the repose of the English church with the picturesque dignity and beautiful detail of the French.”
On Sunday, May 21st, at 3:00 PM, George Bryant will be giving a special presentation of his newly published book Henry Holiday: His Stained Glass Windows for Gilded Age New York. The presentation will take place at Draesel Hall. A tour of the church with refreshments provided by Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and Victorian Society will follow. You can register here. The church will also be open for self-guided tours from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm on Sunday.
5. Brooklyn – Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church
One of the unique features of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church that you can learn more about this weekend is the hand-painted mural that rings in the sanctuary at the balcony level. Titled Cloud of Witnesses, the painting was created in the 1970s by Hank Prussing. A recent graduate of Pratt Institute at the time, Prussing took photographs of people in the neighborhood going about their daily lives and used those images to inspire the figures in the mural.
The church was founded by prominent Brooklyn families who lived in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene and was known as the “temple of abolition.” It is one of the many sites in New York City believed to have been a stop on the underground railroad and to have hosted speakers such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Over the Sacred Sites weekend, the church will be open for self-guided and guided tours on Sunday from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
6. Congregation Kol Israel
Congregation Kol Israel holds the title of the oldest continuously practicing Orthodox community in Brooklyn. Located in Crown Heights, the building was constructed in 1927. As with many synagogues, Congregation Kol Isreal struggled through the mid-20th century as Jewish families moved out of the area.
The congregation has persevered and is now led by a young rabbi who is trying new methods of attracting worshippers. Recently the synagogue began hosting creative events, such as Jewish Comic Con, to engage with the community. The building will be open for self-guided tours on Sunday from 10:00 am to 11:30 am.
7. Queens – Hindu Temple Society of North America
The Hindu Temple Society of America was established in 1970 and originally occupied a non-functioning Russian Orthodox Church on Bowne Street in Flushing, Queens. In 1977, the current structure known as Ganesha Temple, was completed. It was built in accordance with the Agama Sastras – ancient scriptures relating to temple building.
The new temple building was designed by Sri Muthiah Sthapati, a prominent Temple Architect from South India. Dozens of artisans from India assisted Sthapati in the construction. This impressive building will be open for both days of Sacred Sites weekend from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm for self-guided-tours and guided-tours.
8. The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
According to the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Gothic-style Church of the Resurrection in Kew Gardens, Queens was built in 1904, around an original church structure from 1874. Designed by Collin and Vickers, the church building is accompanied by a Queen Anne-style parsonage from 1888 and a residential property.
The site was granted a spot on the State and National Historic Registers in 2003. The building will be open for Sacred Sites weekend on Saturday from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm for self-guided tours.
9. Bowne House Historical Society and Museum
Built in 1661, Bowne House is one of the oldest structures in Queens. The wood-framed, Anglo-Dutch Colonial house was originally owned by John Bowne, a champion of religious freedom who was arrested for holding a Quaker meeting in the house in 1662. His appeal to the Dutch West India Company helped lay the foundation for the First Amendment.
The spirit of Civil Rights advocacy continued through the following generations of Bownes. John Bowne’s great-grandson, Robert Bowne, was a well-known abolitionist. Mary Bowne Parsons and her husband Samuel Parson operated the home as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The house became a museum in the 1940s. The site will be open for self-guided tours on Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.
10. The Bronx – Riverdale Presbyterian Church
The Gothic Revival-styled Riverdale Presbyterian Church has many iconic features that set it apart, from its red door to its towering steeple. Designed by James Renwick Jr, the architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island and many other structures, it was designated a New York City Landmark in 1966.
The church was formed by five local business owners, William Earl Dodge, Jr., Robert Colgate, Samuel W. Dodge, J. Joseph Eagleton and John Mott, in 1863.The site will be open on Sunday for self-guided tours from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm.
You can see all participating Sacred Sites locations and pre-register for tickets to certain tours here!