Help Prevent This Church Wreckovation – Icons and Pantocrater Removal…

Help Prevent This Church Wreckovation – Icons and Pantocrater Removal… July 21, 2015

UPDATED 7/23/15 @ 7:40 pm

An image from the rally with the artist, Ken Woo, pictured in blue.

Photo by John O’Sullivan.

UPDATE: 7/23/15 @ 4:30 pm

With the rally to save the Pantocrater set for the next hour, two more Catholic media outlets have also taken up this story.

Steve Skojec at One Peter Five has an incredibly thorough piece that details financial squandering, the banning of the Latin Mass, and posh renovations made to the rectory.

There’s a very peculiar thing happening at The Church of Our Savior in Midtown Manhattan. Beautiful sacred art — icons commissioned in 2004 by Fr. George Rutler, the parish’s erudite and well-loved former pastor — have been disappearing from the columns surrounding the sanctuary – quite literally under the cover of night.

This clandestine desecration of the holy of holies — for surely, to denude the altar of God of such fitting accouterments is to divest it of no small portion of its sacred character — began last August, under the direction of the new pastor, Fr. Robert Robbins.

It’s a fantastic article with a lot of information, I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Christine Niles with Church Militant also reported on the events today. She points out the great effort by the parish and the renovation company to delete comments and censor all inquiries. The way Renovata Studios is handling this indicates a gross lack of professionalism.

Father Robbins is employing Renovata Studios for the church “improvements.” Queries on Renovata’s Facebook page asking about the mural’s fate have gone unanswered. According to Renovata’s most recent commentary on the changes, it’s most likely the case the Pantocrator will be gone, as the goal is to restore the sanctuary to the original vision sketched by an artist before the church was built. “This was the vision that the church pastor and bishop approved prior to beginning the construction of the building.”

Multiple comments on Church of Our Saviour’s Facebook page critical of the renovations have been deleted, replaced with the following comment: “This post is not intended to be a forum for grievances, but a statement regarding the renovations at The Church of Our Saviour. All comments posted here (good or bad) will be deleted.”

In other words, shut up.


UPDATE: 7/23/15 1 pm

Multiple requests to reach out to Renovata Studios have not been returned. There are actively deleting comments from their facebook page and ignoring all inquiries into the fate of the Pantocrater.

Will the Pantocrater stay or go? Renovata Studios has made no comment on the matter other than to make subtle jabs on facebook, bragging about the “subsequent improvements” made by Fr. Robbins.

Click to enlarge image.


New Liturgical Movement has also picked up the story, Iconoclasm in New York City.


UPDATED: 7/23/15 @ 9:00 am

From the facebook page of Church of Our Savior, this announcement regarding the renovations,

This original watercolor/gouache interior sketch of the proposed interior of the Church of Our Saviour was created by Mr. Richard Zimmerman of the Rambusch company under the artistic direction of Harold Rambusch and architect Paul C. Reilly before the church was built. This was the vision that the pastor and archbishop approved prior to beginning the construction of the building. Note that most of the colors in the sketch, such as the walls, ceiling and side altars are as the church appears today. It is also evident from this sketch that the baldacchino and sanctuary screen were always intended to be part of the sanctuary design even though early 1960’s photos show the sanctuary without them.


Since his appointment as pastor on August 1, 2013, Father Robert J. Robbins has worked to restore the church to its original vision and updating necessary systems. The church hired the firm Renovata Studios to begin a professional restoration process that was sensitive to the history of the church, while adapting the church to new technologies for the future. The original church lighting installed by Rambusch in 1959 was completely re-lamped with LED lighting fixtures which provide more light at a fraction of the cost in electricity. The bronze and glass chandeliers were restored and re-lamped with LED bulbs. This new LED lighting system is controlled by a new state-of-the-art computerized dimming system that allows complete control of the light output and can be individually programmed for the various religious services.

The 12 icons on either side of the altar were removed to restore the original vision of the central altar and its relationship to the two side altars of Joseph and Mary. The fourteenth station of the cross was found in storage and returned to its original location. The original cast bronze reading desk was of inadequate size for the Book of the Gospels, so a larger identically styled reading desk was cast in bronze and installed on the ambo. The decorative coffered ceiling was cracked and damaged in many places and this was painstakingly restored to original condition. The sound system was also upgraded with new digital technology.

The original Rambusch 500 watt downlights were replaced with Rambusch replacement LED units that draw only 85 watts while providing much more light. All original fixture locations and ceiling trim hardware was re-used in the original locations. There is significantly more light in the pews to help the congregation with reading and also much more light on the side walls of the church to make the church brighter. All of this new LED lighting is appropriately colored to 2700k for proper “warmth” of light and is completely controllable and dimmable with a new Strand 15 zone dimming system.

The original bronze chandeliers were restored and re-lamped with new LED technology. Previously, the chandeliers had spray painted gold paint over some of the translucent glass in the fixtures and the restoration/cleaning of this glass allows more light in the church. Uplighting was added to the chandeliers so the congregation can better see the beautifully restored coffered, decorative ceiling. New accent lighting was also incorporated into the chandeliers to add needed lighting to the side shrine areas, rear organ pipes and the side altars of Joseph and Mary.

New LED architectural uplightng was also incorporated into the window wells of each stained glass window to accent the beautiful architectural columns and mouldings in the nave and choir loft. Every component of this new lighting system is separately controlled by the new dimming system so that different settings can be created for the various liturgies. These 8 different settings are controlled by a central keypad that is simple to use and allows foolproof operation of the lighting in the church.

To date, twelve large and twelve smaller icons have been removed from the four columns that flank the altar. According to archival photos, these columns did not originally have decoration of any kind. All icons were carefully and sensitively removed by the same restoration craftsmen that restored the beautiful decorative ceiling of the church. The icon panels have all been wrapped individually in plastic and carefully stored in the undercroft of the church to await re-installation in other parish buildings or perhaps another church. The painted panels were installed on the two columns of the proscenium arch between the main altar and the two side altars.

Rev. Robert J. Robbins

Lawrence Hoy
Renovata Studios

The restoration consists of a little more than a good whitewashing and a bunch of LED lights. The justification being that this restoration will restore the church to it’s original vision.


As a reader pointed out in the comments, “Bernini’s baldachino wasn’t original to Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s basilica. However, I think we can all agree that
destroying it would constitute a wreckovation… no one would seriously
suggest that destroying Bernini’s work at St. Peter’s would
constitute a ‘restoration’ simply because the baldachin wasn’t
part of Michelangelo’s original design.”

To call this is a restoration is ludicrous and an insult. What exactly is being restored? The lights? You can install LED lights without removing icons and whitewashing the walls. The installation of a few energy efficient lights doesn’t make this any less an act of vandalism.

See also: First Things, Vandalism With Intent by Maureen Mullarkey

The fate of the Pantocrater is still unknown, as the parish’s facebook update failed to mention it specifically.

Renovata Studios posted their own picture and comments as well.

Church of Our Saviour, NYC

The first church in New York City converted to 100% LED lighting. Improved lighting controlled by a computerized dimming system and it saves the church 90% on their electric bill!


Oooooo. That energy savings doe. I’m sure the Pope will be so proud.

Whether you believe it a matter of taste or not, the whole ordeal has been handled poorly. When the first set of icons was stripped from the church last year questions asked by the congregation were blatantly ignored. I suspect we’ve been given this much information only now because of our persistence on the matter.

At this point, the only hope now is to save the remaining Pantocrater.

Interested readers can reach the chancery by email: or by phone: 212.371.1011 Ext 2935. Letters marked “Personal and Confidential” can be sent to His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 1011 First Avenue, New York 10022.

The artist is holding a rally today to save the Pantocrater. Details are below.


UPDATED: 7/22/15 @ 7:05 pm

The artist, Ken Woo, is coordinating a rally to save the icons from further destruction. He anticipates the icons will be completely removed, along with the Pantocrater, by Thursday. He writes,


Across from the cardinal’s residence which is: at Madison Avenue & 50th Street at 5:30 to 6:PM – Thursday, July 23rd. One poster will be used to indicate who we are and that we are demonstrating against the destruction of the magnificent interior artwork/icons at Our Saviours.

Hope you can make it, I’ll be there!!!

Still no word from Church of Our Savior. The pastor is on holiday in the Hamptons.


UPDATED: 7/22/15 @ 2:38 pm

More icons were removed this morning.

more gone

The back pillars are now stripped of their icons. One pillar has been whitewashed and the other has tape residue on it from the icon removal.

I wish I had more to report other than this sad fact. At this point there is just speculation at why they are being removed, where they are being stored, and if something will be installed in their place. Some have speculated they will be replaced with the Brumidi murals.

I have contacted several people hoping for more information. I will continue to update if I receive replies to my inquiries.

Story continue below as original posted.


Artist Ken Woo just shared this announcement on Facebook, imploring the help of art lovers and those who respect the dignity of sacred spaces.

He writes on his facebook page,

Please help save the icons at Church of our Saviour’s painted by myself, my wife and Donal Murray!


I was told today by a friend that Father Robbins is removing other icons at the Church of our Saviour. The company doing this is called Renovate, Inc. One rumor, and I think it is substantial, is that he also intends to remove the Pantocrator.

This requires immediate action. I shall go public if necessary. The Cardinal should be notified immediately and if photos can be taken of demolition in process, they should be circulated on as many websites as possible to stir up a wide protest (eg. New Liturgical Movement, Society of St. Hugh of Cluny, Father Zuhlsdorf’s Blog.)
We must act fast.

Maybe even a sidewalk protest
Thank you

Ken Woo

I was able to chat briefly with the Mr. Woo and he said that last year when the main pillar icons were removed hundreds of people wrote to the diocese but their appeals fell on deaf ears. No response was given.

It seems shocking that sacred works of art that have received awards from the city and are included in city tours are being systematically removed with no explanation given to the artist or the public.

Woo also gained a reputation through his project at Our Savior Church at Park Avenue and 38th in New York, which won him Best Renovation of the Year and a 2006 Gold Leaf Award. He was the winning bidder of an international competition of seven artists from all around the world. [SOURCE]

It has also been noted that during the the first removal people were told that the icons had been stored in the basement but no one has seen them there, nor was Ken Woo consulted on their conservation.

To contact the Church of Our Savior in NY visit this link here. I encourage you all to share this story in social media (#SaveThePantocrater) and reach out to the archdiocese.

Fr. Z reported last year about the removal of the icons on the larger pillars. It now appears the remaining icons and Pantocrater are also set for removal as well.

The photo Ken Woo used in his appeal is an image of the church before it’s slow stripping of the sacred. Below is what it currently looks like now with the partial destruction of it’s two main pillars.


Please share this story and contact the parish to prevent further destruction of this beautiful parish.

I’ll updated this post as necessary as new details and confirmations emerge.

More links: What Clericalism Looks Like, First Things.

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