Sketching St. John Divine

I started working uptown this past spring on both a whim and a planned expedition in changing.  And I mean, actually uptown and not just above the corridor of favored lower Manhattan offices. I mean the uptown of that-certain-university in Morningside Heights.

At first I thought, well this will be the commute, when considering the working life up here. But after a few meandering walks around the campus, and down Broadway into the the west nineties, I was sure it was the right change. I kept thinking during the walks about those essays about leaving New York, those inflated ideas of New York we grab onto.

Morningside Heights is also full of charm, students, bookstores, and slower cafes than those downtown. It is most notably to me home to the looming neo-gothic glory of the Cathedral of St. John Divine. Every time I rest on it’s steps, or venture inside for a moment in its cavernous-like interior, I feel the pangs of a long lost crush on Joan Didion. Just this past week I was remembering how I clung to her narrative for a long time but that now I feel a natural distance from her detached prose. I kept her books when cleaning my apartment for the move uptown still. Either it was sentimental or silly, I don’t know.  I know she too felt a particular connection to the cathedral, though, the way it witnessed ups and downs in her life. 

When I’m walking up Morningside Drive in the morning arching my way onto the campus, I always stare up at the Cathedral’s spires, feeling a bit like I’m coming around to the beginning of a life in New York. The church is always inspiring me to sketch, to look at it from a side street, in awe of it’s giant prowess in such a small beautiful neighborhood. 

Maybe I’ll join the ranks of those wistfully thinking about loving and leaving New York from this iconic neighborhood or maybe i’ll just mark this as another part of the journey.  I’m happy to entertain my own version of Goodbye To All That even if I’m thinking right at this moment that I never want to be so far away I can’t still get lost in the giants of Manhattan’s avenues.  Of course, that gracious feeling I have walking around is more often than not buttressed by finding myself crammed into a hot and sticky heatwave subway car or watching a pigeon eat my fallen slice of pizza on the street.

I wouldn’t change it, though. 

Cathedral of St John Divine.
1047 Amsterdam Ave,
New York, NY 10025

It’s worth taking a tour around the inside of the Cathedral. So many artists have had a part in shaping the vision of the church in the 21st century, and it’s mission to serve the diverse people of the city.There’s a Keith Herring Triptych inside as well. It’s one of the oldest buildings in the New York!

  • Alexandra Charitan

    I took a vertical tour here that was so cool. Always looking for a reason to go back!

  • My friend works in the marketing department, she gave me a little informal tour. We should go again! She also lives in Harlem. #uptownfriends