Holy Trinity, New York (Exterior)

Holy Trinity, Manhattan, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Manhattan, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 April 2012, 12:30pm

The building

A really interesting synthesis of Byzantine and Romanesque elements. Built in 1910, it is essentially a long riff on the Hagia Sofia in miniature with the decidedly (then) modern twist of Guastavino structural tiles. The façade features Romanesque arches with statues of St John and St Peter. The interior, like the Hagia Sofia, is dominated by mosaics and the dome. Here, the dome is laid out in a herringbone pattern of tan, glazed structural tiles in the style that came to dominate Beaux Arts architecture in New York City. Guastavino tiles can be found in structures as diverse as the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, the understory of the 59th Street Bridge, and St Paul's Chapel at Columbia University, but nowhere else are the tiles used as the primary decorative focus as they are here. It is really quite extraordinary, both modern and hinting at the past.

The church

They provide a homeless shelter and sponsor a Narcotics Anonymous chapter, as well as a Christian meditation center. They also provide extensive religious education classes for both adults and children. They sponsor Scouting for both boys and girls.

The neighborhood

The Upper West Side of Manhattan was once seen as the arty, slightly bohemian cousin to the old-monied Upper East Side. But that distinction has sort of fallen away, as the neighborhood now is the most expensive and desirable in the entire city. With a proliferation of small shops, restaurants, and access to nearby Central Park, the area has seen an influx of young upwardly-mobile families, giving it an almost suburban feel.

The cast

An elderly priest officiated with the assistance of a younger priest and lay reader. Their names weren't listed anywhere, and I didn't get a chance to meet him on the way out.

What was the name of the service?

High Mass

How full was the building?

Pushing 500. The galleries were opened up to accommodate the overflow, but it was still standing room only below.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. We had to scramble around to find someone to show us how to get upstairs into the gallery. The nave was packed.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews in the galleries are slightly miniaturized, with smaller seats and straighter backs. I felt as though I were perched on a limb like a bird.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Pretty lively, with lots of folks jockeying for seats. Some ushers would have been helpful.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Today's Missal and an immense service bulletin that covered the entire Easter triduum.

What musical instruments were played?

A string quartet of violins, viola and cello and a fantastic organ, an opus of the Orgues Ltourneau Lte of Quebec, and the only one of its kind in New York City. I would have loved to have heard this organ play some French 20th century works. The organ case is quite beautiful, and the sound is equally stunning. There was also an outstanding choir of 10 men and women.

Did anything distract you?

The gallery smelled overwhelmingly of Lemon Pledge furniture polish. I suppose it got a fresh dusting in anticipation of all the crowds. Also, sitting in the gallery, we had a birds eye view of the congregation below. And it was fun to pick out all the hats, although there weren't many in bright colors. This being New York City, it tended to black, black, and more black. Sober Easter bonnets seem a bit sad to me.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Reserved and formal without being stuffy. The mass setting was an early Haydn Missa Brevis – which was light, fluffy and elegant, and really well done. The collect, gospel reading and eucharistic and Lord's Prayers were chanted. The congregation was asperged and censed, but in place of a sanctus bell, the organist did a run on a glockenspiel, prompting hastily stifled laughter from my friend and me.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 – The elderly priest, whoever he was, spoke with authority and was quite an effective speaker, using dramatic pauses to much success. He also had a slight English accent, which my friend found charming. However, I'd say the homily was a triumph of style over substance.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

There was a bit about the hope that comes at Easter with the promise of redemption, but even looking at my notes, I no have real way of reconstructing what he said.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Definitely the music! Two sopranos were standouts: one with a lovely coloratura just perfect for the Haydn, and the other with a heavier dramatic voice.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Sitting as we were, perched in the dome, both my friend and I noticed a couple in the front of the nave getting more than a little touchy-feely. Who knew Easter was such a turn-on?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Nothing. Nobody approached us. We wandered about a bit to look at the rest of the church, then headed out for brunch.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

If there was one, I didn't know about it.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – Great music, but I felt a bit anonymous. However, to be fair, it was a massive crowd, so how welcoming could they be?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. Great music is, I feel, a gift of God.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The quality of singing, especially the Sanctus.

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