Riverside Church Retains Intriguing History


By Russell Stern

Located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, on Riverside Drive and 120th street, the Riverside Church stands, fascinating and imposing, as the tallest church in the U.S. It has been around for almost 100 years and covers two city blocks.

Constructed in 1927 with its doors opening to the public in 1930, its building was organized by John D. Rockefeller, an infamous American oil industry magnate.

The architecture of the church dates back to Medieval times, and it was developed in modern day northern France and part of the United States, commonly called Gothic Art. Gothic and religious art are obviously still seen today, and the Riverside Church is the perfect host for them.

There is a massive bell tower that dwarfs the rest of the church, making the church itself look somewhat small. It was built on a steel frame, approximately the equivalent of a 22-story building (392 feet high. Shown on the floors of the church are various mazes, possibly representing one being lost in thought.

The windows of the church, however, are what is really striking. They are stained glass windows with colorful decorations on them, with some having details of faces and hands and drapery painted onto them. Since the 12th century, the creating of stained glass windows has barely changed, and they still consist of pieces of colored glass held together by a web of lead.

Not only is the Riverside Church’s architecture interesting, many important speakers, including civil rights leaders, have came to the church to deliver sermons. According to the archivist of the church, Ricki Moskowitz, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached in this church. The essential idea of his speech was his opposition to U.S. intervention in the Vietnam War and American soldiers being forced to fight in a war they did not want to fight in.”

Moskowitz also stated that other civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Nelson Mandela preached in the church. After Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he came to the church to speak out against apartheid in South Africa.

“He actually came to speak at the church twice.” Moskowitz said. “Mandela had spent almost 27 years in prison. After he was released, he arrived at the church to deliver a speech about unifying the country of South Africa and its civilians.”

She also had information to share about the architectural history of the church and how long the art dated back to.

Moskowitz stated, “In 1920, Rockefeller chose the architects who were going to construct the church and sent them to Europe. The beauty of the church is that when you are inside, you feel like you are in an actual European cathedral. Also, the stained glass windows are 16th century furnished windows. These are the only windows that the church contains that were not made in the 19th and 20th centuries.” The art of stained glass windows has been around since the 1500’s, and their common decorations have hardly changed.

The Riverside Church, built in 1927, has been standing tall for almost 100 years now. With its beautiful stained glass windows and its interesting history, the church makes for an intriguing place to think and observe. Regarding John D. Rockefeller’s Christian faith, the fact that he provided a great deal of his own money to the foundation and construction of churches makes sense, and shows that although he did control a monopoly and was ruthless in defeating enemies, he still strived for the better of the country. He once said, “I always try to turn disaster into opportunity.”


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