No one looking at the Church to-day from the outside, and its neighbourhood, would imagine that it was founded as a missionary venture to the wrong side of the tracks. But such is the truth: for in its first four years, the Church was on the “wrong” side of the Park Avenue tracks of the New York Central Railroad, before they were submerged and covered over.
Even now, of course, one can occasionally feel the trains going beneath Park Avenue and hear their whistles in the still of the night, or in those rare less frenzied moments in the day.
Once the tracks were covered, the fashionable neighbourhood extended to Lexington Avenue, just far enough from the IRT Third Avenue “El” which travelled along even with the tops of the tenements on that avenue until 1955, when the last of the elevated train lines in the city ceased operation and was torn down.
In any case, from its beginning this church was a church with “all sittings free”. Unlike most Episcopal churches frequented by fashionable and wealthy New Yorkers who rented their pews annually and thus were part of a church-sanctioned social pecking order, ours was a church with free sittings which admitted everyone equally, and where no one was entitled to any special treatment.
Most of the parishioners for most of our history have been quite ordinary people and indeed in the first thirty-five years or so, this was very much a working-class slum parish church.
The parish was founded by a group of Episcopalians who had been worshipping in a union hall on Third Avenue and East 75th Street beginning in 1863 with a young General Seminary student, James Oatlands Tuttle-Smith. When Father Tuttle-Smith returned from the Civil War, and become the priest of a group which constituted itself as the parish of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 3 January 1866.
To the right of the Church you will see the Bishop Albert Chambers Parish House, built in 1913. It was built as a lying-in hospital, and was used as such, and later as an eye and ear hospital operated by Dr Julius Lempert, generally considered the father of American otology, (and a Broadway investor married to a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl!) until 1960, when the hospital closed and the building was purchased by the Church in a Herculean effort led by Father Chambers. It gave the Church the space it needed for proper offices, clergy accommodation and, eventually, for a school founded along with four other Episcopal Churches on the Upper East Side but housed here (Episcopal Academy - which subsequently moved away and is no longer a church school). The Chambers building contains church and Resurrection Episcopal Day School offices, classrooms, and apartments used by school staff, the organist, and the rector.
As you enter the church by the Park Avenue door, you will see in the stairway the large icon of Our Lady of Smolensk, purchased from A La Vieille Russie, a 1972 gift of Mrs Louise Westing Bernays, in memory of her husband, Murray C. Bernays. The icon is 17th century Russian, School of Stroganoff, and was formerly in the iconostasis of the Cathedral in Nizhny Novgorod (in Soviet days Gorky) before the church was dynamited by Stalin and all its contents sold abroad. Murray Bernays, one of the chief prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials, and a convert from Judaism, was baptised in this church later in life, and this gift of his wife was in his memory. Mr Bernays was born with the name Cohen, but when he married the only child of Edward C. Bernays, the originator of the American advertising profession, and the nephew of Sigmund Freud, he agreed to take his wife’s surname.
The Church is made of rough ashlar stone in pointed Gothic style with free stone trimmings. It was built in 1868. The architect was James Renwick Jr. who had drawn the plans which won the competition for Grace Church, Lower Broadway, when only twenty-three years old. His most famous work is probably St Patrick’s Cathedral, which he was building at the same time as our church, though he was responsible only for St. Patrick’s exterior, not the interior decoration. Resurrection is very like an English country church, its roof supported by timbers, and hammer beams, tie beams, king posts and criss-crossed braces form a pattern overhead. In 1905, the short square topped faux “tower” was added (a bit like a stage set for Romeo and Juliet!), along with the small vestibules on the Park and Lexington Avenue sides, and the rear annex of offices.
Just inside the Park Avenue doors is the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. This devotion began in Norfolk in England in 1061 when Our Lady appeared to Lady Richeldis de Faverches and asked her to build a replica of the Holy House of Nazareth. The shrine was despoiled and the statue burnt publicly in Chelsea by the evil Thomas Cromwell, under orders from Henry VIII. Perhaps nothing else symbolised so poignantly the feeling of anguish in England at the break with the True Faith it had always known. In 1921, a new parish priest went to Walsingham, Father Alfred Hope Patten, and re-established a shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, with an image he had carved from one found on a mediaeval medal in the British Museum. In 1931, the statue was solemnly translated to a separate chapel of its own, to-day’s Shrine Church, after the Bishop of Norwich ordered its removal from the parish church. A world-wide cult of Our Lady of Walsingham now thrives throughout the Anglican Communion, and a lamp burns for Resurrection at Walsingham. The diploma of our shrine’s affiliation with the Shrine at Walsingham hangs next to her, with a hanging lamp, and a framed set of prayers to be used by those visiting the shrine, especially former pilgrims to Walsingham.
Walking into the Church you will see at once the stone altar, unchanged since the beginning. Above it is a carved, stone-gabled canopy supported by two rose marble columns, each surmounted by a stone angel. The sculptured reredos depicts in deep relief one of the most moving scenes of the New Testament: St Mary Magdalen’s meeting with the Risen Lord outside the Holy Sepulchre. The subject was chosen as the original dedication of the Church which, until 1907, was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is no less appropriate to-day in the Church of the Resurrection (both names are shared with the first church in Christendom, in Jerusalem, on the site of the tomb and therefore the Resurrection of Christ, which has both dedications). The moment chosen is the exact one when St Mary Magdalen, supposing Our Lord to have been the gardener, hears Him speak her name and with that knows that He has risen as He said. The baroque silver “big six” candlesticks are French and flank the tabernacle with its veil in the colour of the day or season. There are normally various reliquaries on the Altar (apart from Passiontide), and also a set of baroque altar cards, and a crown tops the tabernacle which keeps the veils in place.
The Font is original to the Church, and is crafted of white Caen marble supported by four legs. Fonts are usually located in the west of a church near the door, to signify that Baptism is the gate to the other six Sacraments, as of course none of them may be received without becoming a member of the Body of Christ in Baptism first. Ours is inscribed, “Except a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. On the shelf behind the font, made to hold various items required for baptism, there is always a crucifix and candles. The candlesticks are monumental silver gilt wood Italian ones, and the crucifix an antique made of ebony, tortoise shell and ivory inlay..
The pulpit is the original one placed in the Church in 1868, as can be seen by the legend at its base. The pulpit was originally on the Epistle side of the Church, but was exchanged with the Lady Altar in 1950 by Father Chambers so that the pulpit would be, correctly, on the Gospel side, since it is the Gospel which we preach.
The corner stone is just behind the pulpit, having been placed in 1868, though probably moved here from its first placement. On the pulpit is a dedication plaque in memory of the Father Founder’s wife, née Frances Manice, in whose memory he gave it.
The Shrine of the Sacred Heart is next to the pulpit. This shrine was installed in 2004 and blessed by the late Father Ralph Walker of St Michael & All Angels, Denver, Master of the SSC. The statue of Our Lord and hanging lamp were crafted in Spain for this shrine. The candlesticks are Spanish gilt wood of the 18th century. French brass altar flowers of the 19th century complete the display. This is the National Shrine of the Guild of All Souls, a devotional society of prayer for the dead, and the Guild’s prayers are said here daily.
The hanging rood, a thank offering for the fifth anniversary of Father Gordon B. Wadhams’ rectorate in 1940 was the work of Dutch sculptor Joep Nicholas, then living as a refugee from the Nazis in this country (he had been a member of the Dutch Resistance and left his country just hours before its fall to the Germans). The window over the High Altar was then plastered in, as it was thought to detract from the Rood, and its Victorian style was not in favour. It remained covered for fifty years, but was revealed in 1991. This sort of occurrence happened all over the Anglican Church when Victorian church appointments became passé after the Great War. The lovely Rood has recently been restored and re-lighted.
The 1916 Casavant (Op. 665) organ has been fully restored and augmented. This beautiful, lush symphonic-style organ was given new life, having been removed from the Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Lewiston, Maine, and entirely restored, updated and given lovely appropriate additions in 2009. We have an extensive and beautiful music programme, organ music, orchestral concerts, and over 50 choral mass settings offered each year. The choir is among the best professional choirs in New York. Our organist and choir master is Mr David Enlow, M.Mus., F.A.G.O.
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The polychrome Holy Oil aumbry was installed during the tenure of Father Bourne (1920-1935) and was originally used as an aumbry for the Blessed Sacrament. Father Wadhams installed a proper tabernacle on the altar, and with that, the aumbry was converted to its correct use for the storage of the three Holy Oils used in the sacred liturgy: Oil of the Catechumens, Oil of the Sick, and Sacred Chrism. It is the product of the Robert Robbins studio of New York. Mr Robbins, an artist living in Greenwich Village, did a great deal of work in Anglo-Catholic churches all up and down the East Coast.
A magnificent Paschal Candle stand also by Robbins stands on the pavement before the Gospel horn of the altar during the forty days of Easter. This enormous stand befits the importance of the Paschal Candle and Eastertide itself. The stand seems to have been supplied toward the end of Father Wadhams’ time, which came in 1949, with his submission to the Roman Catholic Church. It is a many-turreted and battlemented affair, with polychrome and gilded stencilling throughout, and stands over 10 feet tall.
A major stained glass project was executed in 2014, and blessed by Bishop Allen Shin at Michaelmas that year. Twenty-one were installed in all, including those at eye level on three walls of the church and at the top of the Park Avenue stairs. There is a tour of the stained glass on this website also. The windows were designed by Father Swain and made by Master craftsman Nick Parrendo of Hunt Stained Glass Studios of Pittsburgh. Mr Parrendo died in February 2016, shortly after completing this large commission, which was his last.
To the right of the High Altar on the Epistle side of the Church is the Shrine of Our Lady of Joy. The candles burning before the Shrine testify to Our Lady’s regular clients here. The silver hearts are ex voto offerings made to European shrines of Our Lady over many years and have been given a home here; others have been given since by parishioners. Our Lady of Joy and her divine child are both crowned. Ex voto offerings are made when prayers or favours are granted, some are hearts returning love to God and Our Lady, others are emblematic of the grace given, a pair of newlyweds and a dog among them. A blue hanging lamp burns before this Shrine, and large silver standard candlesticks from the famed silver-workers in Toledo adjoin it..
At the head of the Epistle aisle, and next to this shrine, is the All Saints’ Altar. This item was a travelling mass set used by Dominican friars in Peru, and carved in about 1725. It is highly unusual to find an item like this in such good repair and with all its constituent pieces. When needed for a missionary visit, it would be loaded on a donkey cart and then make its way from one village to another, and a table would be pushed up to this to make a very impressive altar piece. We have no idea how the church came to acquire this extremely beautiful and unique item – there are photographs back to the 1930s which show it in the old Rector’s Study in the church and it was placed in the new Rector’s Study in the Bishop Chambers Building some time after 1961. Clearly the donors must have hoped that it would be used in church someday as giving such an elaborate and beautiful gift just to sit in an office would make no sense. It was long assumed that it was in too bad condition to be restored, but in 2016 Father Swain showed it to Center Art Studios, who were here for another job altogether. It turned out that this area and period are a speciality of theirs and they were the most qualified entity in the country to restore this piece. St Joseph was sent away as a test piece, and came back glowing and unbelievably beautiful. It was then that the Vestry decided that this piece should be completely restored and placed in the church as our 150th Anniversary Project for 2018. Philip Forbes of Brooklyn made the altar which is in front of it, and the pair of candlesticks are Sicilian gilt wood from the 18th century. In addition to the doors of the altar piece which close in Passiontide and display St Dominic and St Rose of Lima (which suggests it was used by Dominican friars), there is an inside Calvary group, and ledges with six charming statues of saints, one in each alcove: St Joseph, St John of God, St John Baptist, St Teresa of Avila, St Catherine of Alexandria and St Anne with the Virgin Mary as a child. The Latin American decoration of the piece, including the arabesques, are very characteristic of the melding of Spanish and native Latin American cultures. This piece was clearly created out of both great love and great artistic talent, and we are extremely fortunate to have it here. The retablo was 150 years old when this church was built, and the church is now 150 years old, which creates a nice circle of 300 years since Mass was first said before this altar piece to the time that it now is again.
At the foot of the Epistle aisle, you will find the Altar of St Michael which is used for weekday masses. The altar has a neo-Baroque sterling silver altar suite made for us in Toledo, Spain. There is a shrine of St Michael by the Lexington Avenue door, which is a 1920s neo-Baroque hand-carved wood product of a famous studio in Venice, which has a green lamp hanging over it, and votive candles for use.
Near the font is the church’s confessional. This one was made in France just after 1800 (a common date, as those destroyed in the Revolution needed to be replaced after Napoleon made peace with the Church) and was installed here in 2007. It is made of French walnut. When a dealer in French furniture saw this discarded from a church near Caen, she engaged a container on a large ship every year to carry her furniture back to America, to be transported to her North Carolina shop. She was charmed by the confessional, and decided to save it. This was in 1968, and the confessional stayed in her warehouse until her retirement in 2007. At that point, it was sold at auction. The left side is arranged for kneeling, the right side has a chair for those for whom kneeling would pose a problem. The centre is the priest’s part. The Sacrament of Penance, or confession, was left by Our Lord to forgive all sinners who come to him with a broken and contrite heart, and is a great gift to all. The simple country character of this piece fits in well with this country church.
Resurrection is privileged to have several relics of saints and holy objects. Three of the four altars have relics of martyrs deposited in the mensa or altar stones, and some of our large collection of antique and new reliquaries normally adorn the altars.
By the west door is the Shrine of St Francis of Assisi. This Italian carved statue was given to the Church by Mai D. Harper, a long-time parishioner, in 2015. The statue was conserved, gilded and polychromed by Center Art Studios of New York and a new surround for it, designed by Father Swain, was made by Philip Forbes, of Brooklyn, who also made the surround for the Sacred Heart Shrine. The lasting appeal of this simple saint has been much felt in the 20th and 21st centuries, and as the patron of animals, of children, the originator of the Christmas nativity scene and a person much involved in Christian-Muslim relations, he seems very much a saint of to-day. A votive candle stand is there for the faithful to light candles, and a pair of very fine 18th century Neapolitan gilt wood candlesticks adorn the shrine. If you look up, you will see guardian wolves, which reminds us of the story of St Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio.