St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

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St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox National Shrine
St Nick from Cedar St 2021-05 (1) jeh (cropped).jpg
Construction as of May 2021
Location130 Liberty Street,
Manhattan, New York City, New York
CountryUnited States
DenominationGreek Orthodox
Former name(s)St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
StatusUnder construction
Founder(s)Greek immigrants
Architect(s)Santiago Calatrava, Koutsomitis Architects PC
Architectural typeModern
StyleEastern Orthodox
Length56 ft (17 m)
Width22 ft (6.7 m)
Height35 ft (11 m)
ArchdioceseGreek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Priest(s)Father John Romas

The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, officially the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine,[1] is a church and shrine under construction in the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York City. It is administered by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is being developed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, based on the design of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The church is set to be completed in April 2022, coinciding with the Orthodox Holy Week,[2][3] and will be consecrated July 4, 2022.[3]

St. Nicholas will replace the original church of the same name that was destroyed during the September 11 attacks in 2001—the only house of worship, and only building outside the original World Trade Center complex, to be completely destroyed.[4][note 1] The new church is located in Liberty Park, overlooking the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Its architecture draws from Byzantine influences, namely the Church of the Savior and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, as well as from the Parthenon in Athens.[5][6] In addition to serving as a Greek Orthodox parish, St. Nicholas is officially planned as a "House of Prayer for all people" that will function as a national shrine and community center, incorporating a secular bereavement space, social hall, and various educational and interfaith programs.[7]

Initially scheduled to open in 2016, St. Nicholas' rebuilding effort was beset by delays, cost overruns, and claims of financial impropriety.[8] In 2019, the nonprofit Friends of St. Nicholas was founded to help complete the project, which continued under the auspices of the newly elected Archbishop Elpidophoros. The church was partially opened for a memorial service commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.[9][10]

Early history[edit]

External image
image icon Interior of the original church

Greek immigrants founded the congregation of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in 1916. Parishioners initially worshiped in the dining room of a hotel on Morris Street owned by Stamatis Kalamarides.[11] In 1919, five families raised $25,000 to purchase a new location for the church, a three-story tavern on 155 Cedar Street that was originally built in the 1830s as a private home.[12][13] The modest structure was converted into a church and given a fourth story, holding worship services by 1922.[14][15]

St. Nicholas was only 22 feet (6.7 m) wide, 56 feet (17 m) long, and 35 feet (11 m) tall. It was originally an old calendar church, but in 1993 began holding Wednesday services according to the Gregorian calendar.[16] It was notable for its small size, unusual location, and juxtaposition with the large modern skyscrapers in the area—all other adjacent buildings had been demolished,[17] leaving the church surrounded on three sides by a parking lot.[18] Before the attacks the church had a dedicated congregation of about 70 families led by Father John Romas. On Wednesdays, the building was open to the public, often receiving visitors that were not Greek Orthodox; in addition to local residents and Greek immigrants, St. Nicholas attracted Greek shipping magnates passing through New York.[19]

September 11, 2001[edit]

The original church on 9/11 just before the South Tower (2 World Trade Center) collapsed, destroying the structure.

The building was completely destroyed when the South Tower of the original World Trade Center collapsed after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175. No one was inside when the church was destroyed; the church sexton and an electrician were able to escape only minutes before.[19]

A report in a Greek-Orthodox newspaper said that before the south tower collapsed, part of the airplane's landing gear was seen resting atop the church. Additionally, human body parts were spotted on and around the church before the collapse of the tower, presumably the remains of either those who had jumped or fallen from the towers, or of the passengers of the hijacked planes.[citation needed]

Very little of the church's contents were recovered. Among the most valuable physical possessions lost were some relics of St Nicholas, St Catherine, and St Sava,[20] which had been donated to the church by Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia; they were removed from their safe on holy days for veneration.[21] Archbishop Demetrios expressed that having the saints' relics intermingled with the remains of the attack's victims served to sanctify the site further.[22] Among the items eventually found were the damaged icons of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos, the Life-giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi), and a handful of miscellaneous religious items.[20][23][24] These are to be displayed in an exhibit in the new church dedicated to its predecessor.[12]


Congregation members and Father Romas temporarily relocated to Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn.[21][note 2]

On December 6, 2001, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, Archbishop Demetrios of America, joined by Archbishop Iakovos and area clergy, celebrated a somber vespers and memorial service near the location where the church once stood.[26]

Following its collapse, donations of almost $2 million were received, as well as additional pledges of construction materials and appointments for the complete rebuilding of the church.[26] The city of Bari, Italy, where the relics of Saint Nicholas were originally bestowed, donated $500,000.[27] The Government of Greece contributed $750,000 to these efforts,[26] and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople gave $50,000.[28][note 3]

Meanwhile, the plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center complex included building a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church quite close to the original location, on the elevated Liberty Park.[4] Once completed, St. Nicholas will be located diagonally from One World Trade Center.[30] The church would again house a worshipping congregation, while a museum would also be built for the projected large influx of visitors expected to come to the site.

2008–2011: plans and deal breakdown[edit]

On July 23, 2008, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reached a deal with the leaders of the church for the Port Authority to acquire the 1,200-square-foot (110 m2) lot that the church had occupied for $20 million; $10 million came from the Port Authority and $10 million from JPMorgan Chase & Co.[31][32] Under the terms of the deal, the Port Authority would grant land and up to $20 million to help rebuild the church in a new location – in addition, the authority was willing to pay up to $40 million to construct a bomb-proof platform underneath it.[18]

In March 2009, the Port Authority stated that it had stopped talking with the church and had canceled building St. Nicholas altogether. The Port Authority said that the church was asking for too much, and that they might delay the whole World Trade Center project.[32] The Archdiocese, however, said that they just wanted the church back, and a third of the building would be a memorial for 9/11, a place where people of all faiths could pray and remember those who died in the attacks.

In July 2010, George Demos, a former SEC attorney and Republican Congressional candidate, first brought the failure to rebuild St. Nicholas Church into the national debate. Demos said that the Executive Director of the Port Authority, Chris Ward, had not made rebuilding St. Nicholas church a top priority.[33] On August 16, 2010, Demos launched a petition on his website calling on the Port Authority to rebuild the church,[34] calling the Port Authority "disingenuous and disrespectful".[35] On August 23, 2010, former New York Governor George Pataki joined George Demos at a press conference to call on the Port Authority to reopen talk with officials from the Church.[36]

During the vespers service held on December 5, 2010, Archbishop Demetrios said the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese would do anything to rebuild the church.

On February 14, 2011, The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Port Authority pursuant to Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1983),[37] requesting a grand jury trial for not rebuilding the church.[38][39]

2011: agreement to rebuild[edit]

As a result of settlement discussions mediated by the Governor of New York's office, the Port Authority and Archdiocese agreed to an independent engineering study to determine the feasibility of siting the Church at various locations in Liberty Park. The four-month study was led by construction expert Peter Lehrer, who worked on the project on a pro bono basis with Director of World Trade Center Construction Steven Plate and independent engineers Gorton & Partners and McNamara/Salvia, Inc.[40] The study concluded that structural issues could be resolved to site the Church at 130 Liberty Street at significantly lower cost than originally agreed, and with no delay to construction at the World Trade Center site.[40]

On October 14, 2011, ten years after the church was destroyed, an agreement for the reconstruction of the church was signed that ended all legal action.[41] Governor Andrew Cuomo, Archbishop Demetrios, and Christopher O. Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced that the new church would be constructed at the intersection of Liberty and Greenwich Streets in Liberty Park, exactly where it had been envisioned three years before. However, the church would be located on a plot of 4,100 square feet, about two-thirds the size of the site in the earlier proposed plan of 2008.[42] It would also include an adjacent nondenominational bereavement center.[42]

The new site at 130 Liberty Street was less than 50 yards east of the church's original site at 155 Cedar Street, but more than three times larger.[43] The new church would be rebuilt on Port Authority land,[44] on a platform above the helical underground ramp of the Vehicular Security Center, which houses the loading and parking areas of the new World Trade Center.[42] The Port Authority estimated that it would spend about $25 million to construct the platform on which St. Nicholas will sit and provide the necessary utility hookups,[42] while the church would pay for anything built above ground.[45] Archbishop Demetrios stated that "our pledge is to be a witness for all New Yorkers, that freedom of conscience and the fundamental human right of free religious expression will always shine forth in the resurrected St. Nicholas Church."[45]

2014–2017: construction and further fundraising[edit]

Construction progress seen in June 2016

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was awarded the task of designing the new St. Nicholas; he has referred to the church as a “human-scaled presence in an ensemble of giants.”[30] The building will take the form of a circular domed church flanked by four towers,[30] referencing the great Byzantine churches of Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both in Istanbul.[46] According to Calatrava, who consulted Archbishop Demetrios with regard to the liturgical and iconographical requirements of the interior, the church would be built of steel and concrete, but the exterior would be clad in stone[47] using a double-wall construction method. The outer wall will feature thin slabs of Pentelic marble that will be illuminated by LED lights on a nightly basis. While the layout of the interior will follow a traditional Greek Orthodox pattern, St. Nicholas will function as an open, pluralistic communal gathering space accessible to the public on a regular basis, in addition to its role as a place of worship.[30]

The ground blessing ceremony and symbolic laying of the cornerstone took place on October 18, 2014, attended by government and church leaders, with construction expected to be completed within two years.[48][49][50] In September 2015 a live webcam showing the church's construction was made available.[51]

In 2015, AHEPA chapters from across the country launched fundraising efforts hoping to raise at least $500,000 over the following two years toward the estimated $38 million project, combining contributions with private gifts and donations from the 525 parishes within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.[52] In the spring of 2016, it was announced that proceeds totaling $100,000 from the liquidation of the assets of St. Nicholas Church in Appleton, Wisconsin would be donated to the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Church and Shrine. The parish would be denoted as a benefactor, and a video history of their church would be present at the new St. Nicholas National Shrine.[53][54] In September 2016, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation donated 5 million dollars for the rebuilding of Saint Nicholas at the WTC.[55]

On November 29, 2016, the church structure was ceremoniously topped out with a temporary cross, to be replaced with a permanent cross upon completion of the church dome.[56]

On August 21, 2017, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church signed a formal lease and purchase agreement with the Port Authority for what is to be known as The Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center.[57] The final deal was signed by Rick Cotton, the Port's new executive director, just days after he took on the role. The 198-year lease runs until July 31, 2215, and has an additional 99-year extension, as well as an option to buy the land from the Port Authority at any time during the term of the lease for a nominal [i.e., $1] purchase price.[57]

2017–present: cessation and resumption of work[edit]

Construction progress, September 2018

The church was expected to re-open in November 2018.[58] However, in December 2017, Skanska U.S.A., the construction company rebuilding the Santiago Calatrava-designed shrine, ceased work at the site in Liberty Park. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America had been unable to pay Skanska's bills, despite receiving $37 million in donations for the shrine.[59] According to a December 2017 newsletter, $48,991,760 had been pledged to date, while of that amount $37,398,316 had been collected, leaving a pledge balance of just over $11 million.[60] Following the cessation of work, the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan as well as the state Attorney General's Office opened probes into the project's finances and those of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.[61]

On May 16, 2018, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America released the results of Phase I of a PricewaterhouseCoopers investigative report regarding the rebuilding of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine (SNCNS).[62] The report concluded that as of December 31, 2017, the Archdiocese owed the SNCNS an aggregate of $3,504,550, excluding interest. On May 2, 2018, the Archdiocese made a $1,000,000 payment to the SNCNS thereby reducing the balance due to $2,504,550.[63]

In July 2018 the Archdiocese closed a deal with Alma Bank for a 10-year, $5.5-million mortgage to restore monies to the unfinished St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at Liberty Park, however the fresh funding was not expected to be enough to complete the project, whose cost had ballooned to $80 million.[64]

On October 16, 2018, the Special Investigative Committee (SIC) released Phase II of the PricewaterhouseCoopers investigative report to the Archdiocese, along with a summary communication based on the report.[65] It concluded that there was no evidence that St. Nicholas funds were improperly paid to any individuals employed by or associated with the Archdiocese, and no evidence or allegation that fraud was committed in connection with the St. Nicholas project. Rather, the cost overruns appear to have been the result of change orders agreed to by Archdiocese decision-makers to address architectural concerns or enhance the design of SNCNS.[66] In addition, the Special Investigative Committee recommended that the St. Nicholas rebuilding effort be spearheaded by a new legal entity, the "Friends of St. Nicholas," which could be affiliated with, but would be independent from the Archdiocese, with separate bank accounts and an appropriately qualified board to do the fund-raising and oversee the project.[65]

Construction progress, May 2021

In April 2019, reports from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office said that he had assembled a team of seven millionaire and billionaire donors committed to putting up the money to complete the project.[67][68] A keynote address of Archbishop Elpidophoros of America on October 17, 2019 stated that the building of the Church should re-commence immediately with the opening of the doors scheduled by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, as a tribute to those who perished, as well as a lead off to the centenary year of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.[69] New York officials and the Port Authority estimated that the rebuilt church would be the most visited church in the United States.[66] Fundraising and the resumption of the work was slated to start by January 2020.[70][71][72] A nonprofit group formed in January 2020 raised $41.5 million for construction within eight months.[73] However, this work was paused due to a general construction hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. On August 3, 2020, Governor Cuomo and Archbishop Elpidophoros attended a ceremony that was held to officially resume construction.[74][75] When the marble facade was installed in February 2021, the church remained on track for a 2021 opening.[76]


  1. ^ The adjacent Deutsche Bank Building and nearby Fiterman Hall were later demolished due to severe damage and contamination
  2. ^ Rev. Father John Romas labored tirelessly for the rebuilding of the church and anxiously awaited its completion, however he died on Sunday, January 24, 2016.[25]
  3. ^ Some of the donors that contributed immediately after the horrific events of 9/11, whose critical support made rebuilding possible included the following parties:[29]


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  4. ^ a b Greek Orthodox Parishes of New York State – a Photo Tour Vol. 1. May 2010. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-4303-2861-2.
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  10. ^ Cooney, Dan (September 9, 2021). "This church was destroyed on 9/11. Now it's reopening as a shrine to victims". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved September 10, 2021. Now, two decades later, the church is embarking on a resurrection of sorts. It will reopen not only as a functioning church for Orthodox Christians, but also as a shrine to those who died in the attacks. Most of the exterior of the new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center will be finished for the anniversary on Saturday.
  11. ^ Dunlap, David W. (April 22, 2006). "On Greek Orthodox Easter A Displaced Parish Contemplates its Future". The New York Times.
  12. ^ a b Dunlap, David W. (May 14, 2004). "Solace on the Site of Disaster". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Bagli, Charles V. (July 3, 2008). "Church's Troubles Typify Ground Zero Delays". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Dunlap, David W. (2004). From Abyssinian to Zion: a guide to Manhattan's houses of worship. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-12542-0.
  15. ^ A Schneider (October 1, 2001). "America Transformed – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church". NPR.
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  18. ^ a b Bagli, Charles V. (July 24, 2008). "Agency in Tentative Accord With Ground Zero Church". The New York Times.
  19. ^ a b Zirogiannis, Marc. GREEK ORTHODOX PARISHES OF NEW YORK STATE- A PHOTO TOUR Vol. 1, Volume 1., 2010. Page 18. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  20. ^ a b Thompson, M. Dion (September 30, 2001). "A search for holiness amid rubble ; Greek Orthodox priest seeks relics of saints, while hoping to rebuild; TERRORISM STRIKES AMERICA". The Baltimore Sun.
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  24. ^ Ramroth, William G. (2007). Planning for disaster: how natural and man-made disasters shape the built environment. Kaplan Publishing. p. 180. ISBN 978-1-4195-9373-4. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church new york.
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  34. ^ "Rebuild Ground Zero Church First". George Demos For Congress.
  35. ^ Berger, Judson (August 17, 2010). "What About the Ground Zero Church? Archdiocese Says Officials Abandoned Project". Fox News.
  36. ^ Vitello, Paul (August 24, 2010). "Amid Furor on Islamic Center, Pleas for Orthodox Church Nearby". The New York Times.
  37. ^ Justia Federal District Court Filings & Dockets: Civil Rights Cases filed in the New York Southern District Court. The Hellenic Eastern Orthodox Church Of Saint Nicholas Of The Downtown Part Of The City Of New York et al v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey et al.. Filed: February 14, 2011. Case Number: 1:2011cv00985. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  38. ^ "Church Destroyed On 9/11 Files Suit Against Port Authority". NY1. February 14, 2011. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
  39. ^ Shifrel, Scott. Church sues PA for $20M. Daily News (New York). February 15, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  40. ^ a b PORT AUTHORITY AND GREEK ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE ANNOUNCE AGREEMENT ON REBUILDING OF ST. NICHOLAS GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Press Release Number: 122. October 14, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
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  47. ^ Scaros, Constantinos E. (March 8, 2014). "Hagia Sophia Spirit Abound in Calatrava's St. Nicholas Ground Zero Church Design". The National Herald. New York. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°42′37″N 74°00′50″W / 40.71028°N 74.01389°W / 40.71028; -74.01389