When the two planes crashed into the World Trade Center on the fateful day of September 11, 2001, they didn't just bring down the twin towers but several buildings in the immediate vicinity. The only religious site among them was a historic church belonging to the Greek Orthodox branch of Christianity – the St Nicholas Church and National Shrine.
In 2015, work to reconstruct the church at the same site began but got halted in 2017 due to various reasons. On Monday, in the presence of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in USA, Archbishop Elpidophoros, the construction work restarted and was blessed by a religious ceremony. The aim is to reopen the Church for service on the 20th anniversary of the attack, September 11, 2021.
The process has begun again thanks to the efforts of Governor Cuomo and The Friends of St Nicholas – an organisation which came into existence in January this year with the aim of getting funds to get the work restarted. "This St. Nicholas is going to be more splendid and more inviting than the St. Nicholas that was here before," Governor Cuomo said on the occasion.
Archbishop Elpidophoros struck a note of harmony in his remarks. "We are going to open St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine to open as a sign of love, not hate," the head priest stated. He too played a leading role in getting work restarted after the three-year break.
History of the church
The St Nicholas Church was established in 1916 on what is known as the Liberty Street of Manhattan. The building that got destroyed on 9/11 was converted into a church in 1919 after the congregation purchased it. It became the spiritual center of the 1.5 million-strong community of people belonging to this denomination.
The original building was modest and found itself surrounded by the skyscrapers that dotted the Manhattan skyline in the latter decades of the 20th century. The Church is named after St Nicholas who is regarded as the patron saint of sailors. It was located close to the South Tower of WTC and got demolished with the former's collapse on September 11.
The decision to rebuild the Church was taken in the aftermath of the tragedy. However, there were many issued which became insurmountable hurdles in the process. The Design of the Church was approved in 2013. But the original cost of the project skyrocketed from $20 million at the beginning to $86 million presently.
The work began in 2015 and was being carried out by Skanska USA, a construction company. Meanwhile, allegations of financial fraud by office-bearers of the Archdiocese, and convictions, caused troubles. There was also a dispute with Ports Authority which is the owner of the Liberty Street. To top it all, due to burgeoning costs, supplies ran dry. The work got stopped in 2017.
But, The Friends of St Nicholas were able to raise, in just 90 days, the required $45 million. Out of this, $10 million were donated by the family of late Alex Spanos, the owner of NFL team Los Angeles Chargers and real-estate businessman. As a result, the reconstruction work began again with a crane putting in place the first skylight on the dome of the under-construction building.
The new St Nicholas has been designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It has been inspired by two of the most famous churches of Greek Orthodox denomination – Hagia Sophia of Istanbul and Church of the Holy Savior or Chora Church, also in Istanbul. There would be towers as well in the building along with the dome.