Abyssinian Baptist Church
132 Odell Clark Place (formerly 138th St.)
New York, NY 10030
Perhaps the most famous of Harlem’s more than 400 places of worship, Abyssinian traces its roots back to 1808 when visiting free Ethiopian seaman and African American parishioners left the First Baptist Church to protest racially segregated seating. They formed a new church, calling it the Abyssinian Baptist Church after the historic name of Ethiopia. The church became the center of cultural life in Harlem. By 1937, it was the largest Protestant congregation in the U.S. Today, Abyssinian is the domain of the fiery, activist-minded Rev. Calvin O. Butts, whom the New York Chamber of Commerce has declared a “living treasure.” Sunday morning services are held at 9 and 11 a.m. and offer an opportunity to experience the Harlem gospel tradition.
The Cathedral Church Of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, New York 10025
St. John the Devine is the official Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is sometimes referred to as the largest cathedral and Anglican church in the world (this has been disputed by other Anglican churches, however). The church measures 121,000 square feet and has the longest Gothic nave in New York at 230 feet. Due to many starts and stops in construction, the cathedral has been nicknamed “St. John the Unfinished.” One of the more endearing things about this massive house of worship is the yearly Blessing of the Animals, when people from around the neighborhood and city bring family pets and even farm animals inside the cathedral to be blessed. It is rumored that elephants once marched through the doors of St. John the Devine for a blessing, until a parishioner got kicked and the tradition was halted. The church is open for daily services beginning at 8 a.m. Monday through Sunday.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
14 E 51st St
(between 5th Ave & Madison Ave)
New York, NY 10022
Another massive house of worship, St. Patrick’s spans an entire city block in midtown Manhattan, its spires rising 330 feet from street level. Constructed in the gothic style during the late 1870s, the cathedral makes a striking contrast to the neighboring midtown skyscrapers. The great rose window is acknowledged to be the finest work designed by Charles Connick, the 20th century genius in stained glass window design. The Cathedral seats about 2,200 people. Open Monday-Sunday. St. Patricks is packed with throngs of tourists on the weekends.
Friends Meeting House in Flushing
137-16 Northern Boulevard
Flushing, N.Y. 11354
The term “Quakers” comes from a description of early parishioners trembling at the word of God, and this house of worship certainly has a fascinating history befitting its fascinating name. Quakers were persecuted in England, prompting some to relocate to the U.S. Many of these transplants settled in Flushing, then an area owned by the Dutch. The Quakers didn’t fare a whole lot better under the Dutch Gov. Peter Stuyvesant, however; Stuyvesant issued an edict forbidding anyone in the colony to allow a Quaker meeting in their house. The Quakers persisted, building the permanent Friends Meeting House in 1694. The house later served as part of the underground railroad helping slaves travel to freedom. Today, the Meeting House is open for worship the first Sunday of every month at 11 a.m. Additionally, tours are offered after worship on Sundays from 12-12:30 p.m.
Congregation Shearith Israel
8 West 70th Street
New York, NY 10023-4605
Shearith Israel is often called the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue because it was founded by Spanish and Portuguese Jews in September 1654, making it the oldest known congregation in New York. Like the early Quakers in New York, the Jews also tangled with Gov. Stuyvesant and were not given permission to worship in public. The congregation succeeded in building a synagogue in 1730, moving to several new locations thereafter. The neoclassical building in which it is housed is 113 years old. Prayer Services are held daily, morning and evening, as well as on Sabbath and holidays. The congregation also offers a religious school and pre-school for children, cooking class, discussions and more. Activities are listed on the congregation’s Facebook page.
Eldridge Street Synagogue
12 Eldridge Street
New York, NY
Eldridge Street Synagogue is one of the few synagogues erected by Eastern European Jews that still stands, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1887 by architects Peter and Francis William Herter (who subsequently received many other commissions in the area), the space served thousands of New York Jews during its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century. Eldridge Street fell into decline during the Depression, however, as the wealth of its congregation dwindled. The sanctuary was restored in 2007 and it has since been opened as a museum. It also continues to serve as an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, with regular weekly services on the Sabbath and holidays.
Islamic Cultural Center
1711 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10029
The Islamic Cultural Center was the first mosque built in New York City. Plans for a large Islamic Center were originally drawn up in the 1960s, but the process of building the mosque ran into a series of setbacks when tenants had to be relocated and buildings demolished on the site. Construction of the Islamic Cultural Center finally started on the last day of Ramadan in 1987. A unique feature of the space is the absence of columns due to the fact that the structure incorporates steel trusses. Upwards of 900 people congregate for Friday services. Non-Muslims are invited to watch from chairs in the back of the room. Al participants are required to remove their shoes. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Mahayana Buddhist Temple
133 Canal Street
New York, NY 10002-5033
Mahayana is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism encompassing Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren and Esoteric Buddhism. Perhaps due to the fact that it includes such a wide variety of sects, this is New York’s largest Buddhist sanctuary holding the largest NYC statue of the Buddha. Visitors can see scenes from Buddha’s life depicted throughout the temple and receive their fortune on a rolled scroll, for a $1 donation.