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Church of the Intercession

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Church founded by J.J. Audubon and designed by Bertram Goodhue

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Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Washington Heights
Institution, What New Yorkers Find Beautiful, Place of Worship

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Church of the Intercession


Janet Vetter

Intercession is a beautiful building, designated a landmark in 1966, that is rich with architecture, art, and symbolism. I was an adult before I appreciated it, and now it is all in danger of being lost, as the aging and shrinking congregation no longer has the resources to keep it up. The original Intercession was founded by John James Audubon and friends, and he is buried in Trinity Church's north cemetery (for many years, Intercession was a chapel of Trinity Wall Street). The current building is Intercession's third and is a neo-Gothic gem. It was designed by Bertram Goodhue, who considered it his masterpiece and chose to be buried there (something of a scandal back in the late 1920s, since he was Roman Catholic and Intercession is an Episcopal church). He lies near the baptismal fount, with a frieze of his buildings arching over him (including St. Bartholomew's, St. Vincent Ferrer, and St. Thomas in New York and the chapel at West Point). The memorial was designed by sculptor Lee Lawrie, who also did other stone carvings there. At least some of the iconography was deliberately American (e.g. George Washington's cherry tree to represent truth on the fount). The high altar is also a masterpiece, with its front inset with a brass Celtic tree of life, with stones from sacred places in the Holy Land and England, each labeled, set into its face along the stem and under the curling branches. It has an Aeolian-Skinner organ, transferred from St. Paul's Chapel, rebuilt and installed by Schlicker in 1968. And that's only part of the story.

Intercession was my family church in a way that most New Yorkers simply don't have nowadays: my father was baptized there and my mother started there at the age of five. Although I don't get up there much now that I live in Staten Island, it is still an important part of my life I'd like to share and help preserve.

Go up on a sunny Sunday morning and see how the stained glass glows, look at the carvings, feel how the building soars. Trace the vine on the high altar and think of the stones from all those places, gathered a hundred years ago by a clergyman and brought here. Explore the small Lady Chapel with its exquisite stained glass and charming altarpiece.

The stained glass and the carvings is what I would miss most if the church were to close, and the way the light changes in the chancel as the sun moves. It is a living, breathing sacred space.

The church has been running in the red for years, and the Episcopal Diocese of New York is trying to decide whether it should be shut down. It needs much repair, for which there is no money. The Rev. Gerald Keucher of the Episcopal Diocese of New York has been appointed vicar of Intercession to see if it is salvageable. For more information, see the following: (details on the organ) (a short history) (a short history more compiled than written (despite attribution) by me 25 or 30 years ago from resources my parents had)

(August 2006)

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