A new church will rise at Ground Zero

Details were first reported in The New York Times: 

A gleaming, monumental and unmistakable symbol of Orthodox Christianity would rise at the south end of the National September 11 Memorial under plans drawn up for the new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

The original St. Nicholas Church was crushed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Plans to replace it on the grounds of the new trade center, across Liberty Street from the memorial, have sputtered, stopped and crept ahead in the intervening years. But no images of the new church have been made public.

Until now.

Eight images published recently on the website of the architect Santiago Calatrava, who is designing St. Nicholas, showed a building that would draw inspiration from the great churches of the East: Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora. Both are in Istanbul. The shallow dome of the new St. Nicholas Church will have 40 ribs, as does the dome of Hagia Sophia. Alternating bands of stone on the corners will echo the walls of the Chora church. Though both date to the early centuries of Christianity, they both were later used as mosques before becoming museums.

While that ecumenical provenance may accurately reflect the stated desire of the Greek Orthodox Church to create a space in which all visitors will feel welcome, it will almost certainly ignite a new round of debate over the role of religion at or around the World Trade Center. In 2010, national attention focused on a bitter fight over an Islamic community center and mosque that was proposed nearby.

Mr. Calatrava, the architect of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, is known for his expressive designs and, sometimes, projects with impressive cost overruns. Certainly, his St. Nicholas, which will include a nondenominational bereavement center, will look nothing like the modest old parish church that it is replacing. That was housed in a decrepit 19th-century tavern at 155 Cedar Street with a little rooftop bell cote and cross to announce its purpose.

The new church will occupy the corner of an L-shape block bounded on the north by Liberty Street and on the east by Greenwich Street. Much of this block is already taken up by a large bulkhead being constructed over entrance ramps to a vehicle security center beneath the World Trade Center. The church and a landscaped open space known as Liberty Park will sit atop this bulkhead, a little more than 20 feet above street level.

That a Spanish architect should design a modern Byzantine church in Lower Manhattan for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, based on buildings in Turkey that were used for Islamic worship, goes to the heart of the message the archdiocese says it hopes to send with the $20 million project. The new St. Nicholas is to open by early 2016.

“If I may quote Jesus, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people,’ ” said the Rev. Mark Arey, a spokesman for the archdiocese. “It will be open to everyone: the believer, the unbeliever, the Orthodox Christian, the atheist. Whoever you are, this is a space that you can come into and find some meditative solace.”

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