The East Village is a neighborhood known for its rich history, diversity, and creative culture. That diversity includes the wealth of religious institutions found across the neighborhood, as highlighted by our Churches Tour on our East Village Building Blocks website. Covering a span from 1799 to 1970, stops on the tour include the oldest site of continuous religious worship in New York City, and one of the only houses of worship that at one time served all three of what were historically the city’s main religions. Here, we review a few of those sites, and encourage you to explore the rest and learn more about the East Village here.
St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, 131 East 10th Street
One of the most historically significant landmarks in the East Village and arguably the entire city, St. Mark’s Church is one of the major focal points of the neighborhood. The parcel of land that St. Mark’s rests upon was purchased by New Amsterdam Director General Peter Stuyvesant in 1651 and a family chapel was erected on the site by 1660, making this the oldest continually used place of worship in New York City. Stuyvesant died in 1672 and was interred in a vault under the chapel. During Stuyvesant’s controversial tenure as director general, he continued the Dutch practice of conditionally freeing black slaves and granting them land to farm, much of which was in the vicinity of his own farm and chapel at the location. Stuyvesant is buried along with several other notable family members in the Stuyvesant family vault in the churchyard.
Stuveysants’s great-grandson sold the property to the Episcopal Church in 1793, which built St, Mark’s Church here over an extended 55-year period: the main building was constructed of fieldstone in the Georgian style in 1799; the Greek Revival steeple was completed in 1828 by architect Ithiel Town; and the cast-iron, Italianate portico was added in 1854, possibly by architect James Bogardus. The iron fence was added in 1838, likely part of a series of renovations undertaken by architect Martin E. Thompson. The institution was popular with founding father Alexander Hamilton, who played a role in incorporating St. Mark’s Church as the first Episcopal parish independent of Trinity Church in the United States.
The church and grounds were designated a New York City Landmark in 1966 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. A fire damaged the church in 1978, and the building was not fully restored until 1986.
St. Brigid’s Church, 123 Avenue B
St. Brigid’s Church was constructed in 1848 by immigrants to serve the growing Irish Catholic community in the East Village during the Irish famine migrations. The church, built by shipwrights who worked in the East River shipyards in the Dry Dock District, was designed by notable Irish-American architect Patrick Keely, who also completed a number of interior details including the altar and altar screen, and handcarved the gothic reredos. The name St. Brigid came from a fifth-century Irish nun, the patron saint of sailors. The church eventually served Slavic, Italian, and more recently, Spanish-speaking congregants. St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church, now at 16-20 East 7th Street, held its first services here.
Keely was a prominent Roman Catholic architect-builder in the midst of the biggest building boom of Catholic churches. St. Brigid’s is a simple Gothic church with twin towers flanking a gabled section. The facade has a triple portal of pointed arch doorways and three large pointed arch windows. After closure due to mounting structural concerns in 2001, an anonymous donation was made in 2008 to save the church. The building has had other structural issues in the past; in 1962, the two iconic steeples on the church were dismantled due to safety concerns. The restoration project was completed in 2013, the same year the church merged with the closed St. Emeric Church on Avenue D to form the modern-day St. Brigid-St. Emeric Church.
The building was the inspiration for poet Frank O’Hara’s “Weather Near St. Brigid’s Steeples,” which he could see from his tenement at 441 East 9th Street.
Graffiti Church, 207 East 7th Street
A synagogue designed by the architecture firm Bernstein & Bernstein was constructed at 207 East 7th Street in 1910 for Congregation B’nai Rappeport. Its Anshe Rembrava Synagogue was a neo-Classical–inspired tenement-style synagogue with a bold facade featuring lateral rusticated bands of limestone. The building was abandoned in the mid-1970s and demolished in 1996.
The current building hosts the Graffiti Church, aka the East 7th Street Baptist Church, which started out by serving the children of the drug-controlled culture of Alphabet City in the early 1970s. The red brick facade of the present church has a geometric style, found in the frieze and surrounding the windows, and retains some remnants retrieved from the demolished synagogue. The entrance is enhanced by long rounded arches and a round window.
All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church, 206-208 East 11th Street
Constructed in 1851–52, the building at 206-208 East 11th Street originally housed the Welsh Congregational Church, which operated out of this location until 1944, when the building was sold to the Free Magyar Reformed Church of New York for a Hungarian congregation. Between 1960 and 1962, the site served as an off-Broadway theater that could hold some 230 people; the building returned to religious use with the arrival of the All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 1971.
One of the most delightful and immediately recognizable contributions the All Saints congregation has made to the neighborhood has been the intricate mosaic on its facade. Created by Vasyl Barabash with assistance from Phillip Ravensburg, the mosaic jubilantly represents the protection of the Mother of God. While the mosaic was only completed and dedicated in 2012, the practice and importance of this type of iconography in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are imbued with centuries of history and cultural value.
These are just a few of the interesting religious sites featured in our Churches Tour in the East Village. Explore them all on our Building Blocks website here.