A Greek Orthodox church taking shape next to the World Trade Center memorial plaza will glow at night like a marble beacon when it opens sometime next year. It also will mark another step in the long rebuilding of New York’s ground zero.
The St. Nicholas National Shrine, designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, will replace a tiny church that was crushed by the trade center’s south tower on Sept. 11, 2001. The new church will give Greek Orthodox believers a place to worship while also welcoming visitors of any faith who want to reflect on the lives lost in the terrorist attacks.
“It is such a significant church because of what happened here,” said Jerry Dimitriou, executive director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which oversees 540 parishes and approximately 1.5 million Greek Orthodox faithful across the United States. He said people may want to stop and pray after they’ve been to the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum, a few paces away. “We will give them a place to come and sit, and sit inside of a church,” Dimitriou said.
The large crowd that will assemble Monday for a ceremony on the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks will be able to see the unfinished church, now a raw-looking structure covered in concrete and plywood.
It is one of a handful of unfinished pieces of the reconstruction of the huge trade center site, which is now a combination of green trees, polished stone and glassy towers after being known for years as a dusty, gray construction zone.
Two of four planned office towers are now open. A third is set to open in spring 2018 with Spotify as an anchor tenant. A fourth office tower and a performing arts center are yet to be built.
The church, tucked in a park on the southern edge of the site, is Calatrava’s second World Trade Center commission.
His bird-shaped train hall, called the Oculus, opened in March 2016 and is now a draw for selfie-taking tourists, though some critics grouse that the $4 billion price tag was high for a structure that seems more mall than train station.
The estimated cost for St. Nicholas is $50 million. Unlike the transit hub, built largely with federal transportation dollars, the church is being funded through donations from disparate sources including the Greek government, Greek Orthodox church members around the world and, Dimitriou said, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the Italian city of Bari, whose patron saint is St. Nicholas.
The church they are building hardly resembles other Calatrava projects such as the Oculus or the Milwaukee Art Museum with their distinctive ribbed wings.
Rather, the new St. Nicholas was inspired by two Byzantine shrines in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora. Like those structures built in the fifth and sixth centuries, St. Nicholas will feature a central dome flanked by towers.