Rededication for St. John the Divine

November 30, 2008 3:43:08 PM PST
The two-football-field length of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine opened for worship Sunday after years of cleanup from a fire that struck the world's largest Gothic cathedral in 2001. The cathedral's 98-year-old Skinner organ was played for the first time since the fire, heralding a new beginning for the spiritual home of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

"The rededication of this magnificent cathedral church speaks to all of us with such a wonderful sense of not only resurrection and renewal but of a recognition that through all that we have come together there is a constant sense of resilience arising from this cathedral in this great city," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who joined church officials and 3,800 parishioners at the rededication service.

African drums boomed as the opening procession traversed the 601-foot length of the sanctuary with its 124-foot vaulted ceiling.

Firefighters who had battled the Dec. 18, 2001, blaze joined Episcopal bishops and leaders of other denominations, including Cardinal Edward Egan, the head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

"Cathedrals are planted down to stay and span history," said the Very Rev. James A. Kowalski, dean of St. John the Divine.

"This cathedral has done that and engaged its culture, this city, our nation, the world."

Sen. Charles Schumer said that in this season of Thanksgiving, "There's so much to be thankful for. This rededication service brings together all the great religions and people of every different background, and that's a metaphor for the greatness of New York City."

A temporary wall had halved the cathedral during the $41 million restoration, in which every inch of limestone, marble and granite was cleaned.

As part of the rehabilitation, all 8,500 organ pipes were taken out and shipped to Missouri in 2005 for cleaning by Quimby Pipe Organs.

St. John the Divine has a floor area of 121,000 square feet and a volume of 16,822,000 cubic feet, larger than the French cathedrals of Chartres and Notre Dame combined.

Its cornerstone was laid in 1892, but the cathedral was not dedicated until Nov. 30, 1941, on completion of the nave.

Gail Chandler, 76, who was a choirboy in 1941, said the cathedral looked as magnificent on Sunday as it did then.

"It hasn't changed," he said.

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