St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (New York City, New York)
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is a parish of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in New York City, which stood at 155 Cedar Street in the City’s financial district, across from the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The church was completely destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks when the South Tower collapsed. It was the only non-WTC building to be immediately destroyed by the attacks.
The building that came to house the church was built around 1832. In 1916, Greek American immigrants started the congregation of St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and in 1922 started to hold worship services at the Cedar Street location. Serving the spiritual needs of the early immigrant community, the church also achieved prominence as a religious and cultural center for Greek shipping magnates passing through New York.
The church building was only 22 feet (6.7 m) wide, 56 feet (17 m) long, and 35 feet (11 m) tall, and was easily dwarfed by the 110 story Twin Towers, which were completed in 1972 and 1973. Despite its small size and unusual location, before the attacks the church had a dedicated congregation of about 70 families led by Father John Romas. On Wednesdays, the building was opened to the public and many people, including office workers from the towers and non-Greek Orthodox, would enter the quiet worship space for contemplation and prayer.
Among the church's most valuable physical possessions were some of the relics of St Nicholas, St Catherine, and St Sabbas the Sanctified, which had been donated to the church by the holy and right-believing Emperor Saint Nicholas II, the last czar of Imperial Russia. These relics were removed from their safe on holy days for veneration; they were never recovered after the attack.
September 11, 2001
The building was completely buried by the collapse of the South Tower of the WTC. No one was inside when the church was destroyed. The church sexton and an electrician managed to escape only minutes before the tragedy.
Very little of its content was ever recovered. Among what was eventually found were the damaged icons of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos and Zoodochos Pege and a handful of miscellaneous religious items.
A report in a Greek-Orthodox newspaper said that before the South Tower collapsed, part of the airplane's landing gear was seen resting atop the church. Also, body parts were spotted on and around the church before the collapse of the tower, presumably the remains of those who had jumped or fallen from the towers.
The congregation members and Father Romas have temporarily relocated to St. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn.
The plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center complex included building a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, in a new location at 130 Liberty Street, quite close to the original site. The church would again house a worshiping congregation, and a museum would also be built for the projected large influx of visitors expected to come to the site.
On July 23, 2008, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reached a deal with the leaders of the church for the Port Authority to acquire the 1,200-square-foot (110 m2) lot that the church had occupied for $20 million. $10 million were to come from the Port Authority and $10 million from JP Morgan Chase & Co. In addition, the authority was willing to pay up to $40 million to construct a bomb-proof platform underneath.
In March 2009, the Port Authority stated it quit talking with the church and canceled building St. Nicholas altogether. The Port Authority claimed that the church was asking for too much, and that they might delay the whole World Trade Center project. The Archdiocese said that they just wanted the church back, and a third of the building would be a memorial for 9-11, and a place where people of all faiths could pray and remember those who died in the attacks.
In July 2010, George Demos, a former SEC attorney and Republican Congressional candidate, first brought the failure to rebuild St. Nicholas Church into the national debate. Demos claimed that the Executive Director of the Port Authority, Chris Ward, had not made the rebuilding of St. Nicholas a top priority. On August 16, 2010, Demos launched a petition on his website calling on the Port Authority to rebuild the church. On August 23, 2010, former New York Governor George Pataki joined George Demos at a press conference to call on the Port Authority to reopen talk with officials from the Church.
On October 14, 2011, ten years after the church was destroyed, an agreement for the reconstruction of the church was signed that ended all legal action, marking a major win for the tiny church:
"On Friday, after a combined feat of political arm-twisting and reverse engineering, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo; Archbishop Demetrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; and Christopher O. Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced that the new church would be constructed at Liberty and Greenwich Streets, exactly where it was envisioned three years ago, but on a plot of 4,100 square feet, about two-thirds the size of the site in the earlier plan.
The new church will be constructed on a platform above a spiral ramp to an underground parking area. It will also include a nondenominational bereavement center adjacent to it. The Port Authority estimates that it will spend about $25 million to construct the platform on which St. Nicholas will sit and provide the necessary utility hookups. The church will pay for anything built above ground.
"Father Arey said it was too early to predict whether St. Nicholas would have a dome. “It will look like an Orthodox church,” he said, “while the emphasis will be to be spiritually and contextually harmonious with the neighborhood.” Speaking of the 2001 attack, Father Arey said: “It wasn’t just an act of terrorism. It was an act of religious hatred at some level. Rebuilding the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11 is important for the psyche and the soul of the nation.”"
Archbishop Demetrios said that "our pledge is to be a witness for all New Yorkers, that freedom of conscience and the fundamental human right of free religious expression will always shine forth in the resurrected St. Nicholas Church."
- Greek Orthodox Parishes Of New York State – A Photo Tour. Lulu.com. pp.16-23.
- David W. Dunlap. From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. Columbia University Press, 2004.
- A Schneider. America Transformed – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. NPR. October 1, 2001.
- Juan Sanchez. Terrorism & It's Effects. Global Media, 2007.
- William G. Ramroth. Planning for disaster: how natural and man-made disasters shape the built environment. Kaplan Publishing, 2007.
- M. Dion Thompson. A search for holiness amid rubble; Greek Orthodox priest seeks relics of saints, while hoping to rebuild; TERRORISM STRIKES AMERICA. The Baltimore Sun. September 30, 2001.
- Church surrenders ground zero lot. MSNBC.com. 7/24/2008 2:33:39 AM ET.
- Charles V. Bagli. Church Destroyed at Ground Zero Is Still at Square One. New York Times. March 19, 2009.
- Decision Not to Rebuild Church Destroyed on 9/11 Surprises Greek Orthodox Leaders. Fox News. August 18, 2010.
- Rebuild Ground Zero Church First. George Demos for U.S. Congress.
- Paul Vitello. Amid Furor on Islamic Center, Pleas for Orthodox Church Nearby. New York Times. August 24, 2010.
- St. Nicholas & Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America File Lawsuit Against NY and NJ Port Authority. Greek Reporter USA. 14 February 2011.
- David W. Dunlap. Way Is Cleared to Rebuild Greek Orthodox Church Lost on 9/11. NY Times. October 14, 2011, 2:21 pm.
- Kevin Eckstrom. Greek Orthodox church will rebuild at Ground Zero. ENInews/RNS. 19 October 2011.
- St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. (Homepage)
- PBS Feature: Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. PBS.org: Religion & Ethics. September 9, 2005. Episode no. 902.
- Amid Furor on Islamic Center, Pleas for Orthodox Church Nearby. NY Times. August 23, 2010.
- What About the Ground Zero Church? Archdiocese Says Officials Abandoned Project. FoxNews.com. August 17, 2010.
- Wired New York article/forum on the church. Wired New York. (includes pictures)
- Justia Federal District Court Filings & Dockets: Civil Rights Cases filed in the New York Southern District Court. The Hellenic Eastern Orthodox Church Of Saint Nicholas Of The Downtown Part Of The City Of New York et al v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey et al. Filed: February 14, 2011. Case Number: 1:2011cv00985