Leaders of a Greek Orthodox church that was
destroyed during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center broke ground on a
new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that will overlook the 9/11
The new domed building is scheduled to
open in 2016, the same year as the church’s 100th anniversary.
The church has raised $7 million of about $38 million needed.
Plans to rebuild the church were stalled by a
dispute with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which
is in charge of overall rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero. Under a 2011
agreement brokered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the church agreed to drop its
lawsuit in return for building at a larger site.
On October 18, government and church leaders
joined on a concrete platform surrounded by steel foundation beams
and orange construction netting to break ground for the church, designed by
renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port
Authority, said the future building would be “an iconic house of worship,”
comparable to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown.
“Just as the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the
birth, mourns the death and praises the resurrection, today we celebrate the
rebuilding and the blessing of the hollowed land on which it will stand,” Foye
Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who was
governor during 9/11, said the return of St. Nicholas to Ground Zero will fill
in a missing piece of the rebuilding process. “We had remembrance, we had
commerce, but without St. Nicholas, we did not have faith,” Pataki said. “Well
now today, we have remembrance, we have commerce, we have that rock, we have
faith, right here at St. Nicholas.”
Pataki said it was appropriate that the rebuilt
church would be Greek Orthodox. “It was the Greek city-states that gave us our
belief today in freedom,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “It will now be the
Greek Orthodox Church that is the rock of faith that anchors all that is done
here at Ground Zero.”
Calatrava, who also designed the nearby World
Trade Center Transportation Hub, said he took his inspiration from the
Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both in
Istanbul. Fusing stone and glass, light will glow from the
inside out rather than by exterior floodlights.
The church will fit about 150 people at a
time in a 4,100-square-foot building on the corner of Liberty and
Greenwich streets. While small, the rebuilt church will be able to accommodate
twice the 80 or so worshippers that were standing room only in the old church.
Some items from the old church were
recovered, including a crushed bell, a candelabra, a few Bibles, mangled
candles, and two icons, which will be housed in the new church. Relics of St.
Nicholas were never recovered.
Archbishop Demetrios, who heads the Greek
Orthodox Archdiocese of America, recalled the day when church
leaders first saw the destroyed church, which was hit by falling rubble
from the twin towers.
“We remember this very place filled with ruins,
hiding under piles of debris, the pulverized remains of 3,000 innocent
victims. Breathing a very heavy air, saturated with the dust of storm,
wood, iron, and with tiny particles of human bodies, we remember walking with
heavy hearts to the specific place where our St. Nicholas stood as a
building. … The church was not there,” he said. “We stood there frozen,
paralyzed and cried.”
The church will include an interfaith and
nonsectarian space for reflection and meditation. “It will be a refuge for
people in need of spiritual comfort, regardless of their specific beliefs or
unbeliefs,” Demetrios said.