By Dorothy M. Jeffries

Just as New York has an abundance of cultural events, it has an extraordinary range of spaces to accommodate them—many of which are houses of worship. These particular structures are as much a part of the city’s fabric as are symphony halls and art museums. Ecumenical spaces allow for a wealth of music concerts, art happenings and theatrical shows to happen throughout the five boroughs, but they’re also destinations in and of themselves.

The architecture hearkens back to other eras and traditions in a melting pot that mirrors the diversity of the city’s residents. All styles are represented–from the French Gothic (both the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and the Park Avenue Christian Church were modeled after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris) to the southern Italian Romanesque with Moorish influence (Temple Emanu-El) to a simple universal design that purposefully removed any particular nationalistic style (Islamic Cultural Center of New York).

These architectural wonderments—some of which are official city landmarks—give visitors the opportunity to roam through vast cathedrals, admire an array of stained glass windows and ornamentation, including works by the esteemed designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, and even walk amid a labyrinth adapted from the maze at Chartres. Visitors can learn how deeply connected these structures are to the development of New York City through guided and self-guided tours and in-house exhibitions.

“Before the age of the skyscraper, slender church spires towering over Manhattan’s streets formed the city’s skyline,” says architectural historian Anthony W. Robins. “Yet even though no longer dominating the air, New York’s sacred sites still define much of the city’s character – from the monumental cathedrals of St. Patrick and St. John the Divine to the churches and synagogues, mosques and temples dotting the city’s neighborhoods. Thousands of buildings tell the stories of the myriad communities they have served across four centuries of New York’s history – the Friends Meeting House in Flushing dating to 1694; the 1767 St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan where George Washington worshiped; the Stanton Street shul, a 1913 “tenement synagogue” on the Lower East Side; the 1977 St. Peter’s, the “jazz church,” tucked beneath the Citicorp tower in Midtown. The city is truly blessed with an abundance of such treasures.”

Dig deeper into the integral role of sacred spaces in the history and culture of the city with David W. Dunlap’s From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship.” Though this book is focused on Manhattan, its broad message resonates throughout the boroughs.

Dunlap’s mission was to give readers “a window into a splendid architectural, artistic, cultural, spiritual, and social legacy, an image of its physical form and a record of the lives that have shaped it.” It is apropos not only of the buildings’ structures, but of the venues they provide for many of the city’s arts events.

A sampling of the events people can find at houses of worship include organ and chamber music recitals, orchestral and vocal performances, and early music and contemporary music concerts. Voices of Ascension, PomeriumC4: The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective, Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, and Cantori New York are just a few of the arts groups that perform in these spaces.

Dunlap also pointed out that in times of rapid commercial and residential construction, the sacred cityscape, like New York itself, has never seemed more precious.

—Dorothy M. Jeffries is a marketing consultant with a deep affection for the arts and New York City’s sacred spaces.

This NYC-ARTS collection is a guide for finding arts events (many of which are free) that take place in New York’s houses of worship and for discovering the rich heritage of these landmark buildings. Click on each venue to learn about concerts, tours, special services, museums, and more.

    Actors’ Temple

    Talent from vaudeville, musical theater, nightclubs, live television and the dramatic stage made the synagogue a true Actors' Temple.

    All Saints Church

    The All Saints choir occasionally presents musical events for the parish and greater community. In addition, All Saints is pleased to be the home of several performing arts groups that offer concerts throughout the year, including the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony.

    Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

    The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the largest Gothic-style cathedral in the world and the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. On display throughout the cathedral is a remarkable collection of religious icons, tapestries and paintings from the 16th through 20th centuries.

    Central Synagogue

    Central Synagogue, designated a New York City Landmark in 1966 and a National Historic Landmark in 1975, is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in New York City.

    Christ & Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church

    From September through to the end of June, the church celebrates the rich musical tradition of its Anglican heritage, with an all-professional choir singing a rich variety of anthems from the Renaissance period through the 20th century to newly commissioned works by some of Americans leading composers.

    Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

    This French Gothic Revival church offers a wide variety of concerts each year. In addition to concerts offered by its own music department, the church also hosts a number of outside groups that present concerts in the magnificent surroundings of the church.

    Church of St. Paul the Apostle

    St. Paul’s was built 1876-1884, by architect: Jeremiah O’Rourke. The outer facade is 13th-century old Gothic; the interior contains features of Byzantine style architecture.

    Church of the Blessed Sacrament

    The church today is in a structure completed in 1920, modeled on the Gothic Sainte Chapelle in Paris. The parish has its own choir and the American Classical Orchestra holds concerts here.

    Church of the Holy Trinity

    The magic of the interior of the Church of the Holy Trinity is created by the large stained glass windows designed by Henry Holiday.

    Church of the Incarnation

    The church building, designed by Emlen T. Littell, laid its cornerstone in March of 1864, and had its first services in December of the same year; it was consecrated in 1865.

    Corpus Christi Church

    Fine liturgical music has been a long tradition at Corpus Christi. The music program includes Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, baroque and early classical choral music, and contemporary works. There’s also the concert series "Music Before 1800" here.

    Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church

    The musical repertoire at FAPC is rooted in selections of the finest sacred organ, choral, vocal, and instrumental art music from many periods and Christian traditions, including present-day music from all around the world.

    First Baptist Church in the City of New York

    The church relocated to 79th and Broadway in 1891. This fourth church building stands near the site where its first pastor, John Gano, escaped an ambush as he left the city to join General Washington as a chaplain.

    First Church of Christ, Scientist

    Representing a composite synthesis of historical elements, the 68th Street and Central Park West facades reflect the formal proportions of the auditorium within. With raked seating, First Church of Christ, Scientist’s ambient and acoustical clarity is an ideal venue for chamber and orchestra performance.

    First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn

    This congregation, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), has been meeting regularly in Brooklyn Heights, NY since 1833. The church's music program makes use of its historic pipe organ, and many special music services are featured throughout the year to celebrate jazz, folk, classical and traditional music.

    Fourth Universalist Society

    The Fourth Universalist Society's current structure was built in 1897-98. The church was designed in late English Gothic style and features a tower modeled after that in Magdalen College at Oxford University. Its interior includes an altar by Louis Comfort Tiffany and a relief sculpture by Augustus St. Gaudens.

    Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

    With its steeple, rose window and red doors, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church has been a visible part of the Upper West Side community for over a century. The present building was completed in 1904.

    Islamic Cultural Center of New York

    Observe one of five prayers a day from the intricately tiled prayer hall on the first floor. The jewel of the mosque, however, is the grand domed hall on the third floor, punctuated by a circle of lights hanging low from the soaring ceiling.

    John Street United Methodist Church

    John Street Church welcomes tour groups, confirmation classes, Methodist pilgrims, and curiosity seekers to visit the historic church and museum.

    Judson Memorial Church

    Particularly during the pastorates of Bob Spike (1949-55) and Howard Moody (1956-92), Judson Church became known as a venue for avant-garde arts and a foe of art censorship. These activities continue today, as Judson makes its facilities available to a wide variety of artists in dance, theater, music, and visual arts of diverse styles.

    Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church

    In recent years the church has emerged as a growing, multiracial, multicultural inner-city church with a strong gospel foundation; outstanding music (including the best choirs in the city); a full menu of education programs and social service projects; and a high profile in the community.

    Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd

    The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in the Bay Ridge Parkway section of Brooklyn has long been involved with the community. Most recently it has collaborated with other community organizations including: Bay Ridge United Methodist Church (BRUMC), Lutheran Augustana Center, Lutheran Health Care (Older Adult Ministry), Leif Ericson Day School, and Bay Ridge Prep High School to insure that the campus is fully utilized for community efforts. The church hosts exhibits and festivities ...

    Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church

    Since 1965 MAPC has sponsored a concert series – the Saint Andrew Music Society – which presents concerts in its inviting and acoustically superb sanctuary. Our Sunday afternoon the Music on Madison series features a wide range of performers including pianists, chamber ensembles, vocalists and choral groups.

    Museum at Eldridge Street

    The Eldridge Street Synagogue is now restored it to its original grandeur and hosts a program of tours, school and family programs, public talks, concerts, and festivals which help keep alive the 19th-century building and the ancient traditions it embodies.

    Old First Reformed Church

    The imposing Neo-Gothic structure of Old First stands like a cathedral in a medieval city. The building is accented by beautiful stained glass windows with interior decoration that is considered to be one of the finest examples of arts-and-crafts design in the United States.

    Our Saviour’s Atonement Lutheran Church

    As one of the few venues for live concert music in Manhattan north of 155th Street, Music at Our Saviour’s Atonement provides the residents of Washington Heights and Inwood (in addition to music lovers throughout the metropolitan area) with an intimate, local venue to experience music of the highest quality for free.

    Park Avenue Christian Church

    The church hosts concerts and productions of Theater Ten Ten, an equity theater company. The church office is open from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.

    Riverside Church

    The home of an interdenominational congregation in Morningside Heights, the church also hosts the Theatre at Riverside Church and an extensive music program.

    St. Ann and the Holy Trinity

    An important example of Gothic Revival architecture in America, the richly ornamented church, designed by Minard LaFever, is notable for its elaborately vaulted roof and window tracery.

    St. Bartholomew’s Church

    St. Bart's has always had its umbilical cord tethered to creativity, from its unique architectural history to its beautiful music to the mosaics in 24-karat gold created by Hildreth Meiere to expressions in contemporary art using the medium of today.

    St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

    Saint Ignatius of Antioch is an Episcopal parish church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The church building, designed by Charles Haight, is English Gothic in character, distinguished by its stained glass windows (from Birmingham, England, circa 1905), its Roman brick interior, and its gustavino ceiling tiles, which are interlocking and self-supporting. It occupies a lot measuring 75 by 100 feet and seats approximately 325 persons.The professional Choir offers music at all our principal ...

    St. James’ Church

    At St. James’, music is integral to the services and liturgy. Though it is entirely normal to have prayer and other services without music, the extra dimension of music enhances our appreciation and understanding of our spiritual experiences.

    St. Jerome Church

    The Parish of St. Jerome is a vibrant faith community located in South Bronx. It is home to the Classics Chamber Orchestra, the St. Jerome Children Choir and the Apollo Opera Company.

    Church of Saint Joseph in Greenwich Village

    This edifice opened in March of 1833 and resembles the simplicity of that period. With excellent acoustics, the church has continued high quality music programs, with various choruses and chorales performing frequently. Its own adult vested choir sings the classic Catholic repertoire each Sunday at the 11:30 am mass.

    St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery

    The unofficial cultural center for the East Village and still an active Episcopal parish, the church hosts dance programs through the Danspace Project, and poetry readings through the Poetry Project.

    St. Patrick’s Cathedral

    The largest Gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the United States welcomes over five and a half million visitors each year. For many years, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of New York and “America’s Parish Church,” has offered a concert series as part of its music program.

    St. Paul’s Chapel

    An Episcopal church, St. Paul's Chapel was built in 1766 and is the oldest continuously used building in New York City. It holds the exhibit "Unwavering Spirit: Hope and Healing at Ground Zero," which chronicles the unique history of St. Paul's and its volunteer ministry in the weeks and months after 9/11. The chapel is also home to free music performances.

    Saint Peter’s Church

    This Lutheran church was erected as a bold architectural statement in the 1970s. Its flexible interior allows for worship services as well as art events and exhibitions.