Hundreds of members of the Greek Orthodox community from throughout New York City and the nation attended a ground-blessing service on the spot where the new St. Nicholas National Shrine will be built. The shrine replaces the tiny church of St. Nicholas, founded by Greek immigrants more than a century ago, which was crushed by the falling Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
Anthoula Katsimatides, a native National September 11th Memorial Board Member, community activist and actor whose brother John perished in the 9/11 attacks served as the Master of Ceremonies, that included a blessing with water from the 9/11 memorial, numerous scripture readings, including an Epistle reading offered by a representative of the Jewish community, and participation by the entire synod of Metropolitan bishops of all of the Greek Orthodox Metropolises in the United States.
Serving a dual purpose, the new structure will function as the church that was destroyed— with regular Sunday services and sacraments, serving the second and third generation family members of the original founders of the church, many of whom worshipped there right up until its destruction on September 11th.
The original church was founded by Greek immigrants in 1916 and served a large population of Greeks who once lived in the tenement slums of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Eventually, as the neighborhood changed and it became a financial district, the church remained— a tiny 1,200 square foot whitewashed structure, amidst towering sky skyscrapers.
But the building will also become a national shrine, a place where all can come and reflect— regardless of their own faith or religious affiliation.
“It will be a refuge for people in need of spiritual comfort regardless of their specific beliefs, or unbeliefs,” the archbishop said. “Above all, this resurrected St. Nicholas church will be a monument declaring the victory of good over evil, of love over hatred.”
More than 13 years after the terrorist attacks, work has begun on the much larger, $38 million domed church designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who was also on hand for the ceremony.
The dome made of glass and white marble walls will be backlit from within so that it glows at night. Calatrava drew inspiration from two Byzantine churches in Istanbul — the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora and Hagia Sophia, which he called “the Parthenon of the Christian world” in his remarks at the ceremony.
To date, two thirds of the approximately $40 million has been raised by private donations, corporations— even a $260,000 gift from the Greek Government. At the ceremony, representatives of families and institutions integral to the fundraising campaign were invited to lay a brick of marble in the structure’s cornerstone.
Those in attendance included U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, former Gov. George Pataki, former Mayor David Dinkins and various other government officials from New York and New Jersey. Pataki, who was governor at the time of the attack, said the church was an important addition to the memorials and skyscrapers that have risen in recent years at the World Trade Center site.
“We had remembrance, we had commerce, but without St. Nicholas, we did not have faith,” he said.