Calvary-St. George’s with Eric MetaxasChurch Hopping, Featured — By Stephanie Nikolopoulos on July 6, 2010 at 7:00 am
When I heard that Eric Metaxas was speaking at Calvary Church about his new book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy — A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hear him talk and to feature him in a Church Hopping column. Eric is brilliant. That’s not just my opinion: the Yale graduate is the New York Times bestselling author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. He is also the founder of Socrates in the City, which you may remember from the BWC article “Animal Hybrids, Asexual Reproduction, and Medical Tourism.” …Or maybe you remember Socrates in the City from the front page of that other little publication: the New York Times. More than just thoroughly informed, Eric is funny — his humor pieces have been published by Atlantic Monthly. Kids like him too! He wrote the #1 bestseller God Made You Special!, a VeggieTales book. All of this makes him an engaging speaker.
I quickly rounded up some friends from City Grace and FOS (Forum on Orthodox Spirituality), and we sat down in the pews of the church that Eric attends, as he told the story of how Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s faith had been impassioned by the church services he attended in Harlem — so much so, that after safely escaping to New York during World War II, Bonhoeffer returned to Nazi Germany to stand up against Hitler and his regime. We walked away inspired. Do we have a faith that is more than just an acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as Savior and that calls us to action? Are we picking up our cross and following Jesus? How can we today be a voice for the voiceless?
Church: Calvary-St. George’s
Location: Calvary Church*
277 Park Avenue South
(Located at 21st Street, near Gramercy Park)
St. George’s Church
209 East 16th Street
(Located at 3rd Avenue, near Stuyvesant Square)
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on the architecture of the Calvary branch since that’s where the reading took place. For the St. George’s branch, see Church Hopping with Susan Isaacs and Donald Miller.
Architect: James Renwick, Jr. (1818-1895). Although he was not formally educated as an architect (rather, he had studied engineering at Columbia), Renwick entered a competition to design the Grace Church in New York City … and, at only twenty-five years old, won. In addition to Grace Church and St. George’s Church, Renwick’s other famous buildings are the Smithsonian Institution Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and part of St. Mark’s in the Bowery.
Architectural style: Gothic Revival
History: Calvary was originally established uptown in 1832, but moved to Gramercy in 1836. In 1975 it merged with St. George’s Church and the Church of the Holy Communion. Later, the Church of the Holy Communion was sold — look for the sordid story in an upcoming Church Hopping column.
Exterior design: Characterized by pointed arches that point heavenward, Calvary is one of the earliest American examples of a Gothic Revival church. One of the most striking Gothic Revival features of Calvary is no longer visible, however — by 1860 the steeples had become unstable and were taken down, but you can see what they looked like in this old stereoscopic image.
Although we now recognize the beauty of the design, at the time George Templeton Strong, a lawyer, writer, and also a vestryman at Trinity Church further downtown on Wall Street, called Calvary Church “a miracle of ugliness.” Ironically, he got married in another of Renwick’s Gothic Revival designs, Grace Church.
Interior design: Typical of a Gothic Revival church, which emphasizes light in both the metaphorical and literal sense, Calvary Church has a vast array of brilliant stained-glass windows. Of particular note are the multitude of rose (round) windows.
The church also features Gothic vaults. Like the pointed arches, the vaults emphasize height and draw the eye up.
Famous reverend: From 1928 to 1952, Reverend Dr. Samuel Moor Shoemaker served at the church. He was influential in setting the spiritual principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.).
Political congregants: President Theodore Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanore Roosevelt. (Note that Eleanore was FDR’s wife, not Teddy’s. Teddy was born a few blocks away, which you can read more about in my introduction to his classic Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches. Find out where else Teddy — and every other U.S. president, including President Obama — worshipped here.)
Literary trivia: Eric Metaxas isn’t the only author with a connection to Calvary. Edith Wharton set The Age of Innocence at Calvary. The novel’s Dr. Ashmore is based on Rev. Edward Washburn, rector at Calvary from 1865 to 1881.