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Saint Thomas Church (Manhattan)

Saint Thomas Church, located at the corner of 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan in New York, New York in the United States, is an Episcopal parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is also known as Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue or as Saint Thomas Church in the City of New York and was incorporated on 9 January 1824. The current structure, completed in 1914, is the fourth church built to house this congregation and was designed by the architects Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in the French High Gothic Revival style.[2]

St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue
Saint Thomas Church in the City of New York
New York - Manhattan - Saint Thomas Church.jpg
Location53rd Street and Fifth Avenue
Manhattan, New York City
CountryUnited States
ChurchmanshipHigh church
DedicationThomas the Apostle
ConsecratedApril 25, 1916
Architect(s)Ralph Adams Cram
Architectural typeGothic Revival
Construction cost$1,171,906.44 (equivalent to $29,313,235 in 2018)
Length214 feet (65 m)
Width100 feet (30 m)
Nave width43 feet (13 m)
Height95 feet (29 m)
MaterialsKentucky limestone, Kentucky sandstone
DioceseNew York
ProvinceProvince II
Bishop(s)Andrew M. L. Dietsche
RectorCarl F. Turner
  • Matthew J. Moretz
  • Adam Spencer
Honorary priest(s)
  • Andrew C. Mead
  • Charles F. Wallace
  • David F. McNeeley
  • William A. Norgren
  • Thomas F. Pike
  • John C. Smith
  • J. Robert Wright
  • Anne Mallonee
  • Gina Gore
  • Mark Brown
  • Alison J. Turner
Organist/Director of musicJeremy Filsell
  • Benjamin Sheen
  • Nicholas Quardokus
  • Aaron Koch (Head Verger)
  • Ben Williams (Verger)
Armorial of Saint Thomas Church in New York City
St. Thomas Church and Parish House
Saint Thomas Church (Manhattan) is located in New York City
Saint Thomas Church (Manhattan)
Saint Thomas Church (Manhattan) is located in New York
Saint Thomas Church (Manhattan)
Saint Thomas Church (Manhattan) is located in the United States
Saint Thomas Church (Manhattan)
Location1-3 W. 53rd St.
Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates40°45′39″N 73°58′34″W / 40.76083°N 73.97611°W / 40.76083; -73.97611Coordinates: 40°45′39″N 73°58′34″W / 40.76083°N 73.97611°W / 40.76083; -73.97611
ArchitectCram, Goodhue & Ferguson
Architectural styleLate Gothic Revival
NRHP reference #80002722[1]
Added to NRHPApril 9, 1980
A painting by George Harvey (1801–1878) entitled Nightfall, St. Thomas Church, Broadway, New York (c. 1837) currently in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, shows the first Saint Thomas Church on the corner of Broadway and Houston Street

The church is home to the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, a choral ensemble comprising men and boys which performs music of the Anglican tradition at worship services and offers a full concert series during the course of the year. The boys of the Saint Thomas Choir (as the men are professional singers) are enrolled at the Saint Thomas Choir School, the only church-affiliated residential choir school in the United States.


Four buildings, two locationsEdit

On 12 October 1823, members of three Episcopal parishes in Lower Manhattan, including notably William Backhouse Astor (1792–1875), a wealthy Manhattan landowner, Charles King (1789–1867), later president of Columbia University, and jurist William Beach Lawrence, combined forces to organize a new episcopal church in New York.[3] Saint Thomas Church was incorporated on 9 January 1824.[4] With the cornerstone laid in July 1824 at the northwest corner of Broadway and Houston Street, the first church edifice opened in 1826 and was described as "the best specimen of Gothic in the city."[5][6] The location was the northern extent of developed settlement in Manhattan during the early 19th Century. It was designed in a Gothic Revival style by architect Joseph R. Brady (1760–1832) and John McVickar (1787–1868), professor of moral philosophy at Columbia College (now Columbia University).[7] Though enlarged and remodeled in 1844 to accommodate a growing congregation, this structure was destroyed by fire on 2 March 1851. The church immediately rebuilt at this location, opening in 1852.[7]

The character of the neighborhood at the corner of Broadway and Houston, the southeasternmost corner of Greenwich Village, broadly speaking, had "degenerated into anchorage for cheap dance halls and 'concert salloons'" and led to the congregation seeking to relocate to its current location.[8] The parish remained at its original location until 1870, while a new church was built (from 1865–1870) at the present location on the corner of Fifty-Third Street and Fifth Avenue based upon a design by Richard Upjohn (1802–1878) and his son Richard Michell Upjohn (1828–1903)[7] This third structure, at the time located in a neighborhood dominated by the mansions of Manhattan's upper class, featured a prominent 260-foot (79 m) high tower and a bas-relief reredos by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) and murals by John LaFarge (1835–1910).[7][9] It was also noted as the scene of many high society weddings and funerals, including that of Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877–1964) to Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough (1871–1934), the first cousin of Winston Churchill (1874–1965).[10] This structure was destroyed by fire in 1905, leaving only its trademark tower remaining.[7]

The fourth and current church, designed in 1906, was built from 1911 to 1913 under a design by Ralph Adams Cram (1863–1942) and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869–1924) of the architectural firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, and featuring an elaborate reredos designed by Goodhue and sculptor Lee Lawrie (1877–1963). It was consecrated on 25 April 1916.[9] The design by Cram and Goodhue won an architectural competition to build the new Saint Thomas Church, winning over entries by George Browne Post (1837–1913) and Robert W. Gibson.[11]

Cram and Goodhue are also noted for having designed Saint Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue and East 50th Street, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue and West 110th Street, the chapel and a large portion of the campus at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, the Princeton University Chapel at Princeton University and the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago.

September 11th ministryEdit

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Saint Thomas Church reached out to the British expatriate community in recognition of its Anglican heritage. This culminated in an interfaith service held at the church on 20 September 2001. The service was addressed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and broadcast live in its entirety throughout the United Kingdom. On 28 October 2002, the rector of Saint Thomas Church, Andrew C. Mead, was made an honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. The honor was conferred at a ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington, DC.[12]


Rector Years as Rector
1. Cornelius Roosevelt Duffie 1824–1827
2. George Upfold 1827–1831
3. Francis Lister Hawks 1831–1843
4. Henry John Whitehouse 1844–1851
5. Edmund Neville 1852–1856
6. William Ferdinand Morgan 1857–1888
7. John Wesley Brown 1888–1900
8. Ernest Milmore Stires 1901–1925
9. Roelif Hasbrouck Brooks 1926–1954
10. Frederick Myers Morris 1954–1972
11. John Gerald Barton Andrew 1972–1996
12. Andrew Craig Mead 1996–2014
13. Carl Francis Turner 2014–present


Saint Thomas Church c. 1889 (third church)

The present church, a designated New York landmark, was built from 1911 to 1913, designed by a partnership of Ralph Adams Cram, who also designed the Princeton University chapel, and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, who designed nearby St. Bartholomew's church. Lee Lawrie designed the many sculptures and decorations, most notably the 60 figures of the magnificent reredos, which is 80 feet (24 m) high. Prior to working together on Saint Thomas Church, Lawrie and Goodhue worked together on El Fureidis, an estate located in Montecito, California. First designs date from 1906, the church opened for services in 1913. Its magnificence is the happy result of a dramatic, impulsive act of compassion: The 1906 San Francisco earthquake had so shocked the rector, Rev. Ernest Stires, that he rushed the accumulated balance in his parish's building fund to aid the stricken city. Throughout New York and beyond, an impressed public responded in kind to his generosity with unsolicited gifts that more than replenished the fund.

This masterpiece of a city church, with bold massing and a strong profile, has plain ashlar limestone exterior surfaces and sandstone interior surfaces in French High Gothic style, embellished with dense French Flamboyant Gothic detail in the window tracery, in the small arches of the triforium, and in the rich stonework of the reredos, where Bertram Goodhue's original genius in decoration, and sculpture designed, by Lee Lawrie, are inspired by the altar screen at Winchester Cathedral in England.

Saint Thomas church is characterized by a high main arcade and an open triforium, and clerestory. Making the most of a restricted rectangular urban corner site with no space for transepts, St. Thomas has the scale of a large parish church (which it is), and, except for its foreshortened length, the proportions of major European and English cathedrals, with nave vaults 95 feet (29 m) high.

The church, like New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic church in the world, whose nave and west facade were designed by Cram, is built of stone on stone, without any steel reinforcing. The ribs of the vault are load-bearing structure. Cram's approach to a structurally authentic and a scholarly, but not imitative Gothic style, emphasized originality through logical development of the historical Gothic styles, tempered by creative scholarship and employing the use of modern machinery in the execution of stonecutting and dressing. In a letter of 1925 Cram said that he considered a rigorous modern Gothic to be "a logical continuation of the great Christian culture of the past, but also a vital contribution to modern life." However, in 1925, eleven years after completion, the north wall of the church was found to be bulging dangerously and hidden steelwork added. Subway construction on 53rd St. in the 1930s prompted additional steel under the altar and massive reredos as a precaution.

Cram excelled at planning buildings and at the general massing of forms, while Goodhue had an inventive eye for appropriate decorative detail. Often each worked on separate buildings, depending on the advice and approval of the other. Sometimes they worked together on major projects, as at Saint Thomas, their final collaboration.


The style of worship at Saint Thomas Church has varied greatly over the history of the parish. Beginning with the rectorship of John Andrew in 1972, however, it has followed the Anglo-Catholic or high-church tradition within the Episcopal Church that developed out of the Oxford Movement. This was further developed under the rectorship of Andrew Mead. Sunday services include Low Mass, High Mass, and Evensong, and Solemn Mass on Christmas, Easter and major feast days. Special liturgies and processions are held for Advent, Epiphany, Candlemas and Holy Week. The Litany is sung in procession in Advent and Lent. The choir of men and boys sing most Sundays in term time and, if there are no visiting choirs during the school vacation, the gentlemen of the choir sing the services. The church uses traditional language on Sundays and for most of its weekday services and the King James Version of the Bible is used on Sundays and at Evensong during the week. Rite II of the BCP1979 is used for the 12:10 pm mass Mondays to Fridays. In Lent 2015 Shrine Prayers were started at the image of Our Lady of Fifth Avenue and intercessions are offered at noon after the Angelus Mondays to Saturdays; these intercessions may be left in the church or submitted online via the church website. Confessions are heard each Saturday from 11:00-11:45 am. The church is open every day of the year.


Choir of Men and BoysEdit

Boy choristers of the choir performing in the church

Music is an important component of worship and liturgy at Saint Thomas Church. It follows in the Anglican tradition of the all-male choral ensemble. The choir's primary function is to provide music for five services each week, as well as an annual concert series sponsored by the Church. In addition, the choir has toured throughout the United States and Europe, with performances at Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, London, King's College, Cambridge, and the Aldeburgh Festival. In 2004, the choir toured Italy and received a papal audience at the Vatican.

In 2005, the choir toured in the southern United States, with a benefit concert in New Orleans. Upon returning to New York, they performed in Saint Matthew Passion at Carnegie Hall. Other appearances have included performances at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and alongside artists such as Jessye Norman and Plácido Domingo. In addition, the choir gave the world-premiere performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem, which was subsequently televised internationally by the BBC. The choir was also featured in a recording of Carly Simon's "Let the River Run".

The boy choristers reside at Saint Thomas Choir School, founded in 1919 and the only church-affiliated boarding choir school in the United States. In 2007, there were three tours to Mexico City, Baton Rouge along with other domestic cities, and a tour to the United Kingdom in the early summer.

The choir typically records and releases one CD a year.


Interior, 2013

Musical offerings at Saint Thomas Church are enhanced through three organs. The Arents Memorial Chancel Organ, which has been replaced with the Irene D. and William R. Miller Chancel Organ in Memory of John Scott, was initially built as the "Opus 205" of the Ernest M. Skinner Company of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1913.[2] This organ, which was revised in 1945, boasted 4 manuals and 77 ranks. In 1956, the organ was rebuilt, as "Opus 205-A", by the Aeolian-Skinner Company by G. Donald Harrison (died 1956), who died before the work was completed. This rebuilding expanded the organ to comprise 172 ranks. With damage to the reredos and the organ due to construction of the Museum of Modern Art, the church's immediate neighbor on West 53rd Street, Gilbert F. Adams of Brooklyn was contracted in 1969 to repair and rebuilt the organ. This revision decreased the number of ranks to 156. Further revisions were completed in the early 1980s by Mann & Trupiano. With the exception of the Trompette-en-Chamade, located under the Rose Window above the narthex, the entire instrument of the Great Organ is located in the church's chancel. The now-dismantled Great Organ featured an Electro-pneumatic and electric-slider stop and chest action, a Solid-State combination action, 4 manuals, 158 ranks and 9,050 pipes.[7][13]

The Loening-Hancock Gallery Organ was built as "Opus 27" of Taylor & Boody Organbuilders of Staunton, Virginia, in 1996 to honor Gerre Hancock for 25 years of service to Saint Thomas Church. Located in the gallery beneath the church's Rose Window, this organ features a mechanical key and stop action, 2 manuals, 25 stops, and 32 ranks. Its case sports fumed white oak with pipe shades gilded in 23 carat gold.[14] Its predecessor, the Loening Memorial Organ, dedicated in memory of Hermine Rubino Leoning, was built by Gilbert F. Adams in 1969 and featured 4 manuals, 59 stops, and 90 ranks.[14]

The Martha J. Dodge Positiv Organ was built and installed in December 2001 by Taylor & Boody Organbuilders. This organ consists of 5 ranks, and is used as a continuo organ.

New Chancel OrganEdit

On October 3, 2008, Saint Thomas Church announced the Vestry's decision to replace the aging Arents Memorial Chancel Organ with a new instrument. The announcement noted that as part of a substantial renovation effort to the church, a new instrument from Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa, would be installed to replace the current instrument. Plans called for the retention of the especially ornate 1913 organ case-front and console cabinetry, and the elimination of visible pipework added above the choir stall canopies in the 1956 rebuild, to better respect the church's well-developed neo-Gothic design aesthetic.

The Irene D. and William R. Miller Chancel Organ in Memory of John Scott, dedicated on October 5 and 7, 2018, is one of North America's most significant new pipe organs. In addition to supporting the parish's internationally renowned liturgical and musical life, the Miller-Scott Organ serves as a showcase for recitalists from all over the world and helps Saint Thomas train the next generation of organists.

The new organ contains 7,069 pipes, a number of which are from the former instrument. Fifteen sets of pipes, including some of the largest existing wooden ones, have been rebuilt and reinstated; these include the very softest sounds, several flutes and strings, and some specialty trumpet stops. Much of the design and decoration form for the new organ case are derived from precedents throughout the rest of the building, and Gothic revival style in general. In the 1913 north organ case, the imagery is taken from Psalm 150: trumpet and lyre, string and well-tuned cymbal, are now visible as never before, thanks to new lighting. The new case takes as its program the themes of Music, Ministry and Praise. Engraved texts include “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone the Glory), and quotations from the Psalms. There are portraits of those important in the recent life of Saint Thomas Church, including Dr. Gerre Hancock and Dr. John Scott, our Rector Emeritus, Fr. Mead, and Irene and William Miller, whose benefaction has been central to the creation of the Miller-Scott Organ.[15]


Stained glassEdit

The High Altar and Reredos of Saint Thomas Church designed by architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869–1924) and sculptor Lee Lawrie (1877–1963)

The first stained glass window placed in the fourth Saint Thomas Church structure was designed by Nicola D'Ascenzo (1871–1954), an Italian-born American stained glass artist best known for creating stained glass windows for the Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; the Nipper Building in Camden, New Jersey; and the Folger Shakespeare Library and Washington National Cathedral, both in Washington, DC. The window was designed in 1926 and completed and installed in 1927. The last window, designed and installed in 1974, came from the Willet Stained Glass Studios, E. Crosby Willet, President. The Willet Stained Glass Studios firm was founded by William Willet (1869–1921) in 1899. Willet is best known for the windows he designed for the West Point Cadet Chapel. Both those studios were located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the time of the fabrication of their windows for Saint Thomas Church.

With regard to the remaining windows in the present church structure, it is believed that due to the location of his business office across Fifth Avenue from Saint Thomas Church and through his many meetings with Roelif Hasbrouck Brooks (1875–1960), the Rector at that time, the representative for James Powell & Sons (Whitefriars), Ltd, of London, was able to secure a contract for them all. (There is also some speculation that the fact that the windows in the third Saint Thomas Church structure were designed and fabricated by the James Powell & Sons firm may have had some bearing on the awarding of such a major commission.) The windows for the present structure were designed beginning in 1929 by the great English stained glass artist, James Humphries Hogan (1883–1948), who worked for the James Powell & Sons firm from the age of 14 until his death. He was also the main American sales agent for the firm, and was the representative who labored from 1926 to 1928 to acquire the commission for the Saint Thomas Church windows. Hogan's son, Edmond Humphries Hogan (1910–1945) designed some of the windows, including those in the Rector's office. The actual fabrication and installation of the Powell & Sons windows was not completed until 1970, but most of the windows were designed by Hogan before his death in 1948. Five windows were designed and completed after his death: one in 1950, one in 1954, two in 1959, and one in 1970. Those windows were the work of another Powell & Sons artist, Edward Liddall Armitage (1887-1967). The windows in Saint Thomas Church are considered by many authorities on stained glass to be some of the finest designs Hogan ever created. In 2007, conservation began in earnest on all the stained glass windows in the present structure. It took ten years and $20 million to renew the splendor of 33 windows, with their 9 million pieces of glass. The restoration was completed in February 2017. (From a lecture presented by stained glass conservator, Julie L. Sloan, LLC, to the members of Saint Thomas Church on February 26, 2017, after the completion of her restoration of the windows.)

In popular cultureEdit

Saint Thomas Church, and specifically the choir, are centrally featured as subjects in a song by Guess Who front man Burton Cummings. "I'm Scared" relates an experience Cummings had as he came upon the church during a visit with the band to New York. The song was a top ten solo hit for Cummings in Canada in 1976.

The church was featured in a scene in the 1990 Whit Stillman film Metropolitan.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ a b Collins, Glenn (April 15, 2008). "A Gigantic Job for Window Fixers". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-15. Now, in the most expensive restoration of stained glass ever undertaken in the United States, conservation is under way on the famous Whitefriars windows of St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. It took ten years and $20 million to renew the splendor of 33 windows, with their 9 million pieces of glass.
  3. ^ "Painting the Town" Archived 2006-12-18 at the Wayback Machine from the Museum of the City of New York (no further authorship information available) accessed 8 November 2006.
  4. ^ About the Church at the Saint Thomas Church website, (no further authorship information available), accessed 8 November 2006.
  5. ^ "Painting the Town" Archived 2006-12-18 at the Wayback Machine from the Museum of the City of New York (no further authorship information available), quoting Koke, Richard. American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society (New York: New-York Historical Society; Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982), 114.
  6. ^ Perris, William. Maps of the City of New York, Vol. 5 (New York: Perris & Browne, 1854), "Plate 57". NYPL Digital Gallery. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  7. ^ a b c d e f St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue - Great Organ Archived 2007-03-23 at the Wayback Machine from the website of the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (no further authorship information available), accessed 31 December 2006.
  8. ^ "Painting the Town" Archived 2006-12-18 at the Wayback Machine from the Museum of the City of New York (no further authorship information available), quoting Miller, Terry. Greenwich Village and How It Got That Way (New York: Crown Publishers, 1990), 95-96, accessed 8 November 2006.
  9. ^ a b Book Review Archived 2006-06-28 at the Wayback Machine by David Middleton of J. Robert Wright's Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue(2001) in the Anglican Theological Review (Winter 2003), accessed 8 November 2006.
  10. ^ "'Consuelo and Alva': An Early Story of Celebrity" at Fully Authorized by Karen Grigsby Bates, at National Public Radio's website, accessed 8 November 2006.
  11. ^ The Midtown Book: Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue at The City Review Published by Carter B. Horsley, no further authorship information available, accessed 8 November 2006.
  12. ^ "Four Americans receive Honorary British awards" (Press Release 28 October 2002)--Google Cache of British Embassy website—accessed 8 November 2006.
  13. ^ Aeolian-Skinner Archives: Opus 205-A Archived 2006-12-05 at the Wayback Machine, from the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company website, from the shop notes and specifications of Allen Kinzey (no further authorship information available), accessed 17 December 2006.
  14. ^ a b Gallery Organ, Saint Thomas Church at Archived 2007-03-27 at the Wayback Machine, from the website of the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (no further authorship information available), accessed 17 December 2006.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "New Director of Music Appointed | Music | Saint Thomas Church". Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  17. ^ "Press Release: Embargoed Friday, October 19, 2018" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-11-25.

Further readingEdit

  • Wright, J. Robert. Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; New York: Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, 2001). ISBN 0-8028-3912-6.
  • (no author) "St. Thomas's Church, corner of Broadway and Houston-street" New-York Mirror, and Ladies' Literary Gazette Vol. 6 No. 50 (June 20, 1829), 393. (Scroll up for engraving.) Online provider: HathiTrust.

External linksEdit