Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava
The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava was once the uptown chapel of Trinity Church. Trinity Chapel was designed in 1850 by celebrated architect Richard M. Upjohn in a Gothic Revival style and consecrated in 1855. It was built to serve the uptown Episcopal community. Edith Wharton (Jones) married Edward Wharton in 1885 in Trinity Chapel. She later wrote about the church in her famous novel of Victorian New York, The Age of Innocence.
Trinity Chapel was active in the Episcopal Church community until the area became commercial and parishioners began to relocate farther north. Trinity decided to sell the church and offered it to the Serbs as well as to the Russian and Greek Orthodox communities. Trinity decided to sell to the Serbs because the Serbian people had no church on the east coast of the U.S. and the long-standing relationship between a Serbian Bishop and the Anglican Church in England.
The Serbian Orthodox Mission Center attracted not only Serbs in America but also those from around the world. The church works to preserve Serbian culture, tradition, and language. Following World War II, the Cathedral reached out to large waves of refugees and immigrants from Yugoslavia. “It was the only place where they could preserve their faith and national identity, simultaneously a place to learn English and enter into their new, alien society and culture. As then, as today the Cathedral relentlessly continues its holy, patriotic and human mission,” according to the church literature.
In 1966, a bomb blast from across 26th street destroyed the original stained glass altar windows, which were replaced with stained glass windows in a Byzantine style motif. From the Associated Press, September 3, 1966: “A crude bomb exploded Sunday at the offices of the Communist newspaper, the Worker, wrecking a basement room and shattering windows, including a number of stained-glass ones in a church across the street. There were no injuries. Police said the pipe bomb, 10 to 12 inches long and probably filled with gunpowder, was detonated in the basement areaway of the three-story brown stone building. The church damaged was the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava. A party spokesman blamed the blast on the “fanatical, fascist ultra-right…now inflamed by the Johnson war policy.”
From the church literature, “During its long and colorful history the Cathedral of St. Sava has witnessed some very beautiful and also very difficult times. However, with God’s help, the work and prayers of St. Sava and the Serbian Orthodox Saints, we know and have seen that all problems can be overcome.” For much more detail, see the church website which is in Serbian Cyrillic and English.
I first heard of the church from a Wall Street Journal article, “Giving Helping Hands To Places of Worship,” May 2, 2012. The article documented the help that Sacred Sites provides in restoring churches throughout New York. I visited the church on a weekday. After circling the church several times, I located the office door and rang the doorbell. Father Vlad welcomed me into the church and gave me a tour of the beautiful cathedral, providing many historical details. I used my 17-55 mm, capturing the altar and Rose window.
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