The Ruins of St. Sava

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.




  1. Oh how sad. As someone in a young city in a very old country, I treasure history, even our short one and hate it wheneve a beautiful old building crumbles. Or maybe I just don’t like most modern architecture. 🙁

    Anyway, is there any chance the church will be rebuilt? Maybe the building process could lead to a story.

    • Candy Korman

      That’s an interesting question. If they decide to rebuild, will it be anything like the original? That might make a story, but the original had so much wood and was so graceful… I wonder if I could do a ghost story about an old building haunting the new one that replaced it? It would have to be a comedy, right?

  2. What struck me about my trip to Munich was how some of the older buildings and churches had been rebuilt after getting bombed in WWII and how the repairs didn’t try to keep with the original feel of the architecture. I’m sure lots of factors come into play in deciding how to fix such damage, so it’s a hard call to decide if the repair can or should be anything like the original given all the variables at play.

    • Candy Korman

      I’ve been to cities in Europe that were bombed and then rebuilt as faux old in order to keep the same feeling and I’ve been to cities where the modern mixes well with the ancient. It’s like art that has been restored, but not conserved —— it’s changed in a fundamental sense. NYC is very much a city in flux. The old, even the very old, can be swept away in a flood (or fire) and a long set of considerations go into what comes next. And on the other hand, new buildings abut buildings from the late 19th century in ways that are striking (both beautiful and disturbing) until you seen them a thousand times and all becomes normal.

      Happy that I’m a writer, editing mistakes as I go, the permanent (or semi-permanent) nature of architecture is awe inspiring.