Concerns over historic artwork inside church forced to close

Michelle Charlesworth Image
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Church treasures in trouble
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Michelle Charlesworth reports parishioners are trying to protect precious artwork.

KIPS BAY (WABC) -- A church that is 150 years old is about to be shuttered.

Inside the Kips Bay building is precious artwork.

The Crucifixion Fresco was painted by the man that painted the rotunda in the U.S. Capitol. This was painted in the far wall behind the altar. The plastic is to protect it.

The ceiling, which has been crumbling is reinforced. It is part of the building. It cannot be removed without destroying it.

Now that St. Stephen's is being closed by the archdiocese, the future of this mural is up in the air.

"So, was this a surprise to you?" Eyewitness News asked.

"Completely," said Father Robert Robbins of St. Stephen's.

Father Robert Robbins tells Eyewitness News the church was built in 1848 by the same architect that designed St. Patrick's Cathedral.

In 1890, it was the largest Catholic parish in the United States. 20,000 people came on Sunday. Now they see closer to 200.

But the history of this church follows the history of New York from the artwork to the walls, the ceilings, and even the floorboards.

"Two years ago, we redid this section of the church and these floors had grooves in them from where people knelt for those hundreds of years," Father Robbins said.

These are the same boards. They were turned over and refinished.

The German windows are like the mural, more than 150 years old.

The building is land marked. It cannot be destroyed but there are questions about this art and what will happen when it closes on August 1, 2015.