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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.


Additional Stories

Memories of St. Nicholas: A Refuge
Series titled "Memories of St. Nicholas" We headed to social media to ask people to share their memories of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church before it was destroyed on September 11, 2001. This story is about a worker at City Hall who frequented St. Nicholas.
Memories of St. Nicholas: A Treasured Place
Series titled: Memories of St. Nicholas. The story from an individual who frequented St. Nicholas during their lunch hour, celebrated joys, and commemorated their grandmother's one year memorial at St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas Ground Zero: Out of the Ashes, A New Symbol of Faith
The Church of St. Nicholas that will be built at the heart of Ground Zero replacing the one destroyed on 9/11 will make the most stirring statement that any house of worship has made in the United States in a long time. It will tell America in brilliant visual images what we are, where we come from, and where we are going. A fusion of the past and the future is what characterizes the new St. Nicholas Church. Calatrava has taken his inspiration from some of the great churches in Constantinople in creating his design.
A National Shrine for Everyone
The new Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero will be much more than a rebuilt parish. It will be a National Shrine of our Holy Archdiocese and a place of pilgrimage for our Nation and the whole world. This recognition, this raising of the consciousness of every member of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to the value and significance of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at Ground Zero is just the beginning. Saint Nicholas will be the only House of Worship in the entire sixteen-acre rebuilt World Trade Center site.
Our American Parthenon
In her remarkable new book, “The Parthenon Enigma,” classical archaeologist Joan Breton Connelly fortuitously highlights the similarity between the rebuilding of the World Trade Center in the wake of 9/11, and the construction of that most famous of human monuments, the Parthenon. In the Persian sack of Athens in 480 B.C., the Older Parthenon, roughly in the same spot and yet unfinished, was destroyed in the fires that swept over the Acropolis. She writes of the motivations of Periklean Athens, a generation later, to rebuild the Parthenon:
A Tale of Three Churches: Part 2
Nearly eighteen hundred years ago, a famous man sardonically asked: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” As Orthodox Christians, we know that there is an answer and that answer is “Very much!” In the same way, we have seen that New York City has much to do with Jerusalem – as the world’s two most famous cenotaphs are located in each. But we began last issue with three Churches in our tale, and it is time now to include that third House of the Lord, and to behold how all three are intertwined in the work of salvation and history.
A Tale of Three Churches: Part 1
On September 11, 2001, in an act of terror and hatred, our Nation was attacked and three thousand of our fellow human beings were mercilessly murdered. The horrific deaths of the innocent victims of that tragic day were brought about by a hatred fueled by perverse and perverted religious views. In the face of the horror of that day, we all witnessed the heroic love of the responders who gave their last measure to save others. This altruistic love is at the heart of the rebuilding of the Saint Nicholas Church at Ground Zero, a National Shrine of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
The City Set On A Hill Cannot Be Hidden
It should not difficult for anyone to see that Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the World Trade Center, a National Shrine of our Archdiocese, will truly be, as the Lord preached in the Sermon on the Mount, “the city set on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).
Rebuilding St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
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.
St. Nicholas: On this rock I will rebuild my Church
On September 11, 2001 the barbaric attack not only destroyed the majestic Twin Towers but also the tiny yet historic St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, located south of the second tower of the World Trade Center. In the aftermath of its destruction, very little survived: two icons, one of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos and the other of the Zoodochos Pege, along with a few liturgical items, a book, and some candles.