I live in a relatively old city in a relatively young country. When New Yorkers speak about a historic building, it could be Fraunces Tavern (where George Washington made his famous farewell speech) or as recent as the late 19th Century. In other words, nothing in New York is old when it’s compared to Leicester, England where Richard III’s bones were recently discovered under a parking lot; Athens, Greece where the Parthenon is still a presence in the city’s daily life; Rome, Italy with layers of historic strata everywhere; and many other places around the world with ancient temples in jungles, palaces buried under hill tops and majestic forts crumbling into the sea.
Still, New York has occasional ruins. Unfortunately a historic church caught fire the night of Orthodox Easter and it now looks like it belongs on a haunted moor in a Bronte novel. I walk by St. Sava often and, until the fire, it was a beautiful break in the urban, architectural landscape of Chelsea—just a little north and west of Union Square.
Built in the 1850s as an Episcopal Church in the Gothic Revival style, it became a Serbian Orthodox church in 1943. The fire swept through the building hours after the Easter mass on May 1, 2016. Smoke poured out of it for hours. It was horrific! Fortunately, no one was inside the church at the time.
The first time I walked by after the fire, I was struck by the skeletal beauty of what remains! Had there not been a policeman patrolling, to make sure no one tried to get too close or to breach the protective barriers, I might have been tempted to go inside. As I’m not brave, this speaks to the power of a ruin. It’s hard to resist. I took some snapshots from across the street and went on my way—haunted and sad, but longing for a scary story to place under its now broken roof.