Rebuilding St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Photo by: Grisha Ressetar
The original St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church cast a reverent and faithful shadow on the World Trade Center. Greeks purchased the row house in 1892 as a community home, and it became the Saint Nicholas Church in 1916. For many Greeks immigrants, it would have been their first stop after seeing the Statue of Liberty and disembarking from Ellis Island. The little church was a spiritual jewel, open to all. Generations of New Yorkers stopped in to light a candle, say a prayer, or just sit quietly.
Everything changed on 9/11. Saint Nicholas was completely destroyed in the collapse of World Trade Center Tower Two during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. During the weeks and months that followed, the Archbishop presided over numerous funerals and memorials for the many Greek Orthodox Christians who died that fateful day. He participated in interfaith and ecumenical events, at city, state and national levels. And most importantly for Saint Nicholas, the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11, the Archbishop inaugurated a dialogue with then Governor George Pataki to rebuild the church.
In the years following, as the rebuilding of the World Trade Center took shape, there were challenges to keep the Church as a priority for the site (16 acres), since it was virtually a sliver a land. Due to changes at the site, it was proposed that the Church be relocated to 130 Liberty Street, a short walk from its original location. Even when negotiations stalled, governmental authorities always affirmed the right of the Church to be rebuilt.
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took office, a new opportunity arose to meet the impasse. His office mediated settlement discussions that confirmed the site at 130 Liberty Street. Following the signing of an agreement, presided over by the Archbishop and the Governor, the Archdiocese commenced a rigorous search for a design architect. A special committee was formed, including academic experts in Church Architecture, to interview a select group of firms with international reputations for excellence.
Archbishop Demetrios set the tone for this process:
"The design for church must respect the traditions and liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, but at the same time must reflect the fact that we are living in the 21st century."
In the end there was an overwhelming consensus advising His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios in favor of the design and expertise of Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava developed his plan from a wealth of Byzantine precedents, including the famous Church in Chora and Hagia Sophia itself. At the top of this page, you can see how Calatrava's artistic inspiration for the design emerged from the mosaics of Hagia Sophia. The renderings presented here not only show its appearance, but its relationship to its environment. It is clear that the Church will be a lamp on a lampstand, and a city set on a hill (cf. Matthew 5:14,15)
The tradition of hospitality that Saint Nicholas exemplified throughout the twentieth century will continue at the new location. There will be a Meditation/Bereavement space and a Community room, housed in the upper levels above the Narthex, to welcome visitors and faithful.
The parish will continue to function as parish of the Archdiocese, but it will also be a National Shrine on hallowed ground. The scope of its mission will span the globe, as literally millions of visitors to the Ground Zero memorials and museum pass by it every year. Its doors will be open to all to light a candle, say a prayer, or just sit quietly. It will shine as a spiritual beacon of hope and rebirth to cherish the memory of those who were lost that fateful day, and to build a better future for generations yet to be born.