Get your worship on, or just see where others demonstrate their faith, at one of the free tours listed below of some of the city’s most notable churches and synagogues. By Jessica Allen.
Located in Midtown, Central Synagogue serves a reformed Jewish community from all over. You can tour the gorgeous sanctuary on Wednesdays at 12:45, accompanied by a knowledgeable docent. Designed in 1872 by New York’s first prominent Jewish architect, Henry Fernbach, it’s the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the city. The exterior shows a Moorish influence in its domed towers, arches, and entrances, while the interior features an organ with two consoles and 4,345 pipes.
On Sundays at 12, you can wander about the Flushing Meeting House, the oldest house of worship in New York (check out the original wood ceiling and floorboards, dating to the 17th century). From here, Quakers in Queens ran an active outpost of the underground railroad, ferrying slaves through Long Island and New York City to freedom, in the 1800s, and Patrick Healy, the first African American to earn a PhD in the United States, is believed to have attended primary school at the Meeting House as well.
On Sundays after the morning service (usually about 12:15), you can tour the Riverside Church. Led by a volunteer guide, you’ll visit the Nave, Christ Chapel, Chancel, and Gethsemane Chapel, as well as spend some time at the organ. No doubt you’ll learn loads about the eminent people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela who’ve spoken here. Truly Gothic, the Riverside Church has a facade that was modeled after a 13-century cathedral in France. All told, Riverside stretches across two city blocks, welcoming all.
Probably the most famous church in the entire city, St. Patrick’s Cathedral stands like a sentinel on Fifth Avenue, across the street from Rockefeller Center, as it has in all its neo-Gothic glory for going on 130 years. Masses have been held here for Babe Ruth, Andy Warhol, Vince Lombardi, and Joe DiMaggio, among many others. The free tours are generally held on Mondays and Fridays, but check the schedule for details. Pay particular attention to the Tiffany & Co. stained glass adorning the altar.
Created way back when the British occupied New York, St. Paul’s Chapel (it dates to 1766) was where George Washington worshiped on his inauguration day. Located across the street from the World Trade Center, the chapel served as a rest and recovery area for workers, as well as a sanctuary, in the days following September 11. On Wednesdays at 1, there’s a free concert of Bach’s cantinas, while a free Neighborhood Movie Night (with popcorn and drinks) takes place on select Fridays. But the chapel is awe-inspiring anytime.