Religion, Architecture, Money — Midtown Manhattan

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Place, religion, and corporate empire. More from my walk this week down Lexington. St. Peter’s Church (Evangelical Lutheran) is just a bit south from Central Synagogue. I thought it was of more recent design, but it was built in 1977. There used to be a big but utterly unremarkable 1870s  neo-Gothic thing at the site. The church sold its plot of land to Citicorp, or to a bank that later got gobbled up by Citicorp.

The new site is nestled into that imposing structure. It’s supposed to evoke a small tent under and as part of the Citicorp skyscraper. It’s a striking little building. From street level, large glass windows from Lexington and 54th let you look inside, deep down into the sanctuary pit, which itself is spare and elegant. I like the I like the sunken space, the bright openness, and all the color and glass. Devoted to social justice work and a jazz ministry, its geometric design and ample use of glass blend up into the corporate skyscape. For more general information, including a mission statement put out by the church, you can go here.

I like this line from the statement: Saint Peter’s Church is a bold architectural statement of Christianity’s confidence in the future of this city, a counter thrust to the glossy opulence of Park Avenue and the discordant noises of Lexington Avenue.

That’s the nub of the question, isn’t it? Is “the Church” or religion antipodal to capital, a seamless part of it, or is the relation more dialectical one? I’m more inclined to the third way of looking at the relation. Either way, I like the architecture. Liturgically, I have no way of knowing, but I think it works “visually.” And that’s the start in terms of trying to suss out the more structural relations between religion, culture, and capital.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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