The largest Gothic-style cathedral in the world, even with its towers and transepts still unfinished, this divine behemoth comfortably asserts its bulk in the country's most vertical city. The seat of the Episcopal diocese in New York, it acts as a sanctuary for all, giving special services that include a celebration of New York's gay and lesbian community as well as the annual Blessing of the Bikes (mid-April), when cyclists of all faiths bring their wheels for a holy-water benediction. Built in two long spurts starting in 1892, the cathedral remains only two-thirds complete. What began as a Romanesque Byzantine–style structure under the original architects, George Heins and Christopher Grant Lafarge, shifted upon Heins's death in 1911 to French Gothic under the direction of Gothic Revival purist Ralph Adams Cram. You can spot the juxtaposition of the two medieval styles by comparing the finished Gothic arches, which are pointed, with the still-uncovered arches, which are rounded
in the Byzantine style.
To get the full effect of the cathedral's size, approach it from Broadway along 112th Street (all the while doing your best to avoid the sight of the two unholy 15-story rental towers cozying up to—and obscuring—the 113th Street side of the cathedral). Above the 3-ton central bronze doors is the intricately carved Portal of Paradise, which depicts St. John witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus, and 32 biblical characters. Step inside to the cavernous nave: more than 600 feet long, it holds some 5,000 worshippers, and the 162-foot-tall dome crossing could comfortably contain the Statue of Liberty (minus its pedestal). The Great Rose Window is the largest stained-glass window in the United States; it's made from more than 10,000 pieces of colored glass.
At the end of the nave, surrounding the altar, are seven chapels expressing the cathedral's interfaith tradition and international mission—with menorahs, Shinto vases, and dedications to various ethnic groups. The Saint Saviour Chapel contains a three-panel bronze altar in white gold leaf with religious scenes by artist Keith Haring (his last work before he died in 1990). Outside in the cathedral's south grounds is the eye-catching Peace Fountain. It depicts the struggle of good and evil in the form of the archangel Michael decapitating Satan, whose head hangs from one side. Encircling it are whimsical animals cast in bronze from pieces sculpted by children.
On the first Sunday of October, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, the church holds its usual Sunday service with a twist: the service is attended by men, women, children, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, and the occasional horse, sheep, or ant farm. In past years upward of 3,500 New Yorkers have shown up to have their pets blessed. A procession is led by such guest animals as elephants, camels, llamas, and golden eagles. Sunday services are at 8, 9, 11, and 4. "Highlight Tours" and "Vertical Tours" are offered throughout the week; check the website for details and to reserve.