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Up to the Roof: A Vertical Tour of St. John the Divine

morningside heights st john divine church interior

Last Saturday, MAS members took a vertical tour of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, climbing the equivalent of 12 stories of narrow, winding stairs with periodic stops to breathe deeply and take in memorable views and vistas. The newly-cleaned stone walls not only reveal architectural details unnoticed for decades, they are now a canvas for the play of color from the stained glass windows. High up in the cathedral, the mix of sun through colored glass bathed tour takers in golden-pink light, a highly flattering effect more often seen in movies than life.

morningside heights st john divine church guastavino vaults

Senior tour guide Tom Fedorek, a church volunteer for 24 years, gave an excellent commentary throughout, explaining the geometry of the church as clearly as its outreach programs for teenagers (which include overnights with sleeping bags and midnight communion at the high altar). After examining the Guastavino tile vaults of the cathedral’s ceiling at close enough range to see the weep holes which drain water, the group climbed to the space above the vaults and below the roof.

morningside heights st john divine church tour

From above, the vaults resemble a giant sea serpent, undulating the length of the nave. The tour ended on the roof, with long views north to St. Luke’s Hospital and Columbia University and close-ups of spires and quatrefoil windows. In addition to the vertical tour, architectural historian Matt Postal led a highly enjoyable walk through Morningside Heights, placing the cathedral’s story in a wider architectural, historical, and topographical context.