St. Vincent Ferrer
869 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10021
By Tim McHale
In the midst of Manhattan's Upper East Side lies the striking French Gothic
church of St. Vincent Ferrer. Located on Lexington Avenue between 65th
and 66th Streets, the church is one of New York's greatest architectural
adornments. The Church was built by the Dominicans - also known as he Order
of Preachers. The Dominicans originated in the Catholic Church in the Middle
Ages. The order was founded in 1215 by St. Dominic.
In the 1860's a Dominican priest from France, Father Thomas Martin, was
sent to the diocese of New York and took up residence in a brownstone on
Lexington Avenue and 62nd Street. Father Martin along with some other Dominican
fathers began to construct a chapel on the northeast corner of 65th Street.
The first mass was offered in this chapel on July 2, 1867.
This structure had never been intended to be a permanent place of worship,
but it would soon become so. By 1869 the construction was expanded and
on December 12 a second church was dedicated. This church would serve the
congregation until 1914, when it was demolished. Soon after the destruction
of the second church construction began on a new one.
On October 22, 1916 the construction of the present incarnation of St.
Vincent was completed. It was dedicated on May 5, 1918. The completion
of the final structure was designed by some of the greatest architects
of this century.
St. Vincent Ferrer was designed by Bertrand Grosvenor Goodhue. In a recently
published book on American architecture, St. Vincent Ferrer is named as
one of the fifty most beautiful structures in the country, and it was also
named Goodhue's greatest work on an ecclesiastical structure. Goodhue designed
the church at a time when Gothic Revival was at its highest point. He designed
the church in the style of Fourteenth Century French Gothic with echoes
of Norman Romanesque.
The front entrance of the church is a striking masterpiece of stone and
glass which focuses on the life of Christ. The emblems of the twelve apostles
surround the outer circle of the window and below this window is a stone
carving of the Crucifixion. This was carved by Lee O. Lawrie, America's
greatest sculptor at that time. Surrounding this magnificent sculpture
are the emblems of the passion. By placing the crucifixion outside the
church Goodhue created an extremely new and unique design. Up until that
time, the crucifixion had never been placed outside of the church, and
even today it is a rarity. Framing the crucifixion is a crucifixion group
represented by Saints Francis of Assisi, Vincent Ferrer, and Dominic. Also
within the design are over thirty other Saints, Popes, and Doctors of the
The exterior of the church is constructed of random ashlar and trimmed
with dressed limestone, and the church's roof is covered in copper. The
church was originally planned to have a fifteen story steeple. However,
construction became too difficult to build. An ancient canal that passed
under the site, as well as the construction of subway tunnels down Lexington
Avenue made it impossible to lay the foundation.
The main body of the church is one of the most beautiful and stunning sights
one could ever see. The first thing that grabs one's attention is the High
Altar. This is the focal point of the church. The center piece of the altar
is the tabernacle which is covered in gold and precious metals. There are
five marble steps that lead to the altar. The altar is shaped like a sepulchre,
the purpose of which is to remind people that the early Christians had
to celebrate mass in catacombs.
The stained glass windows within the church are magnificent works of art.
The majority of these windows were contrived by the master craftsman Charles
Connick, under the direction of Goodhue. The windows were designed to complement
each other. The windows with dominant blues interact with the windows with
dominant reds, and with the help of the sun they create a exquisite mix
of light in the front of the church.
Another aspect which makes the interior of the church extremely unique
is the Stations of the Cross. The Stations, are not plaques, like most
churches, they are large oil paintings. These paintings were done by Telford
Paullin and his wife. Paintings, rather than plaques were used because
paintings are used in other Dominican churches in Spain.
Throughout the interior of the Church there are several statues of Saints
and holy figures. The shrine of Our lady of Fatima, contains one such statue.
The statue of Our Lady of Fatima was actually sculpted by a priest, Fr.
Thomas McGlynn. Fr. McGlynn worked personally with one of the children
who had the vision of Mary at Fatima to help him design the life-size statue.
The statue of St. Vincent Ferrer is visible from almost anywhere in the
church. The statue is made of marble and is life-size. St. Vincent Ferrer
is shown wearing a Cappa, the black preaching cloak of the Dominican
Order, his hand is raised and the flame of the holy spirit is above him.
There is a bell next to the statue which is rung by petitioners when praying
to St. Vincent.
Interesting Facts about St. Vincent Ferrer
- Over 50,000 people attended the dedication of the church.
- The cost of the completed church in 1918 was $1,500,000.00.
- The church was originally intended to have a fifteen story steeple.
- Three main symbols are repeated throughout the various sculptures in
the church: the dolphin, the dog, and the pelican.
- The statue of Our Lady of Fatima is the prototype for the for the one
used at the basilica at Fatima.
- The Pope's residence contains a copy of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
- There are two relics of St. Vincent Ferrer in the church.
- There is St. Vincent Ferrer water in the church, there are requests
for this water from all over the country.
- There are relics from all of the Dominican Saints in the church.
- The church contains relics of St. Anne, St. Theresa, St. Bernadette
of Lourdes, and St. Paul of the Cross.
- There is an actual piece of the True Cross in the Church.
- St. Vincent Ferrer has the only example of a hanging pyx that is not
in a museum.
- St. Vincent Ferrer was founded and is still run by the Dominican Order.
Kirkham, Richard, St Vincent Ferrer A Church For All Seasons Pages
to Medieval New York