Riverside Church

Riverside Church is an ecumenical center of worship located on Riverside Drive, overlooking the Hudson River, in the Morningside Heights district of New York City. The 392-foot French Gothic edifice is one of the best-known religious structures in the city and a splendid sight when viewed from a boat in the river.

Riverside Church was the brainchild of Pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick, who staunchly believed in a modernist religious theology, as opposed to a more fundamentalist interpretation of Holy Scripture. He conceived Riverside Church as an interdenominational place of worship where anybody — irrespective of denomination — can secure membership, the only criterion being an affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ.

The church began to take shape in 1927, according to designs laid down by architects Henry C. Pelton and Charles Collens, with the project funded largely by millionaire philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr.

The church was modeled after a 13th-century Gothic cathedral in Chartes, France. The construction was completed in 1930, and the first service was held on October 5 of the same year.

Riverside Church consists of 22 floors, which house everything from the narthex, Christ Chapel, and belfry, to offices and meeting rooms. The floor maze in the chancel is an adaptation of the maze in Chartes.

The chancel’s multicolored windows stand out in their finesse; in the morning, the semblance of a radiant rainbow and a heavenly effigy-like image fill the chancel as the light seeps in.

The wood canopy above the pulpit captures the architectural theme of a medieval cathedral. But the church’s real claim to fame arises out of the fact that it is home to the heaviest and second-largest carillon in the world — the 74-bell Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon. It is the only carillon in the world that can surpass five musical octaves and achieve a bourdon* of pitch C.

Riverside Church is worth exploring, and the carillon is open for self-guided tours. Anyone who is able to climb up the tower can enjoy a 360-degree view of the city. Nearby the church are Grant's Tomb and the tomb of St. Clair Pollock.


*Medium in scale, but with dark timbre.

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