Church of Notre Dame

A Photo-Essay on Lourdes in America

Church of Notre Dame is at the corner of 114th Street and Morningside Drive in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan in New York City.

Church of Notre Dame had humble beginnings as a mission chapel of the Parish of St. Vincent de Paul on 23rd Street, also known as The French Church. In 1899, Mrs. Geraldyn Redmond (Estelle Livingston) purchased land later deeded in 1909 to the Fathers of Mercy, a Catholic religious institute in France. In keeping with Mrs. Redmond’s wishes, the Fathers used the land to build the mission chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes and affiliating with the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

The facade of the Church as seen from the east across Morningside Drive, featuring Corinthian Order columns, a triangular pediment, modillion cornices, and swag-festoons banded around the building.

The original chapel was dedicated in October 1910 and completed a year later, with the cornerstone of the current structure laid in March 1914 and significant expansions occurring intermittently over the next five decades. In 1919, the mission chapel became an independent parish church, while the current structural footprint was completed during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Inspired by Saint-Louis Invalides Cathedral, its architectural style is French Neoclassical, with a low roofline and shallow dome finalized in the 1960s, after plans for a high dome were canceled.

The Church as seen from the southwest across 114th Street, its footprint being that of a Greek Cross.

The chapel-cum-church was immediately a natural hub for French Catholics in New York City, with the congregation diversifying over time to eventually include Irish, Germans, Italians, African-Americans, Latinos, and Filipinos. Even today, while the Principal Mass is in English, the Mass before it is in French and the Mass after it is in Spanish. Furthermore, during Christmas and Easter at the very least, trilingual intercommunal celebrations are held in common Liturgy.

Left: The rear entrance of the Church. Center: The Garden and Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, installed in the early 1960s, adjacent to the rear entrance. In the background is the Rectory, built in 1913 with its interior renovated in the early 1960s. Right: The semicircular colonnade enfolding the projecting rear apse of the Church.

Authority of the Church was transferred from the Fathers of Mercy to the Archdiocese of New York in 1960, but the legacy of the Fathers and the connection with the Sanctuary of Lourdes since 1913 remain. Lourdes is prominent among Catholics for the Marian apparitions seen in 1858 by peasant Bernadette Soubirous (canonized 1933), who was told to dig a well that yielded water since considered Holy. The special affiliation with the Sanctuary of Lourdes has allowed Lourdes Water to be sent directly to the Church, making the Water regularly available there for over a century.

The Sanctuary of the Church, featuring a replica of the Lourdes Grotto, which is the oldest section of the structure.
The Sanctuary as seen from the northeastern corner of the Church, featuring massive marble columns at its corners, which allow for the monumental interior on what is otherwise a relatively small land plot.
The ceiling in detail, featuring grand arches and shallow dome. The coffered dome cornice and pendentives are Akoustolith, a patented material created by Rafael Guastavino and Wallace Sabine, which consists of a cement-pumice mixture with micro-pockets of air.

The Catholic Church is known for its centralized, highly institutional structure. However, Catholic traditions through history have become as diverse as the global peoples that belong to the Holy See. The French architectural and ecclesiastical aspects of the Church of Notre Dame manifestly exhibit this diversity, a fascinating example of the universal and the particular intersecting via the contingencies of history within faith.

The Main Altar in detail, with the Grotto Chapel behind it in the projecting western apse. The Altar, Pulpit, and Balustrade are white Carrara marble, the work of accomplished French sculptor Edmond Becker, who further supervised their installations. Brought via steamship from France, they were consecrated on April 24, 1927.
The Grotto Chapel in detail, featuring a statue of St. Bernadette Soubirous gazing at the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Left: An angled perspective on the Grotto Chapel. Right: The High Altar, Tabernacle, and Sanctuary Lamp within the Grotto in detail.
Left: The Chapel of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and step-father to Jesus, on the northern wall. Right: The Chapel of the Sacred Heart on the southern wall. Both Chapels were dedicated on December 2, 1916.
Left: The Dormition and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in stained glass, installed after 1960, above the Chapel of St. Joseph. Right: The Sacred Heart of Christ in stained glass, installed prior to 1960, above the Chapel of the Sacred Heart.
Left: The Baptismal Font and Statue of St. John the Baptist (canonized pre-congregation), with the Statue likely acquired before 1960. The Font and Statue were moved to this southwestern corner in 1988. Flanking them are the first and second Stations of the Cross in bas-relief, which were designed by Joseph Sibbel Studios circa 1920. Right: A Confessional and Statue of St. Anne (canonized pre-congregation), mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the southeastern corner. The Statue was acquired before 1960.
Left: The Statues of St. Anthony of Padua (canonized 1232) and St. Thérèse of Lisieux (canonized 1925), flanked by the ninth and tenth Stations of the Cross. Both Statues were acquired after 1960. Right: The Chapel of St. Joan of Arc (canonized 1920), dedicated on December 2, 1916, flanked by the thirteenth and fourteenth Stations of the Cross. The Statue was acquired in 1918, dedicated with a special ceremony in the presence of French seamen. The Altar’s coat of arms was posthumously awarded by Charles VII to Joan in 1429. The Tabernacle was moved in 1988 from its original place at the Main Altar.
A reverse view of the Sanctuary, featuring the Organ manufactured by Casavant Frères in Quebec. The Organ was inaugurated on February 15, 1925, with Paul Franck, nephew of composer César Franck, serving as organist for the occasion.

These photos were taken on two nonconsecutive days utilizing a wide angle lens and a standard zoom lens. The photo of the Organ employed flash because of insufficient light. Acknowledgments and gratitude go to the Church and Valerie Coates for making publicly available a plethora of history both general and specific. Separate acknowledgment and gratitude goes to Señora Clarice for the spontaneous conversation, notwithstanding my own horrendously broken Spanish, on the first day, a conversation more thoughtful and genuine than most I have had in fluent English.

The Photographic Muslim

Capturing Light In & Around Houses of Worship.

Haytham ad-Din → The Photographic Muslim

Written by

Male. New Yorker. Photographer. Capturing light in and around houses of worship. Also known as the intellectual Rushd as-Safaa → The Contrarian Muslim.

The Photographic Muslim

Capturing Light In & Around Houses of Worship.

More From Medium

More on Christianity from The Photographic Muslim

More on Christianity from The Photographic Muslim

St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery

More on Photography from The Photographic Muslim

More on Photography from The Photographic Muslim

The Bialystoker Synagogue

More on Christianity from The Photographic Muslim

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade