(Above: The finished restoration. Photo courtesy of Tim Lykins)
We have received and pass on to you the following message from St. Michael’s parish, West 34th Street and Ninth Avenue, New York:
“Two years ago, Father George Rutler, formerly pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, was assigned as pastor of the Church of St Michael in the “Hell’s Kitchen” neighborhood of Manhattan, as well as Administrator the Church of the Holy Innocents in the “Garment District,” which was slated for sale. Since then, Holy Innocents has been saved and is able now to have its own full-time priest. St. Michael’s also remains, although the archdiocese is “seriously considering” replacing it with a new church close by. The once derelict and crime-ridden area is undergoing the biggest real development in the nation and the property is immensely valuable. The historic parish was founded in 1857 and moved to make way for the original Pennsylvania Station by McKim, Meade and White. While at this time, no capital improvements are being done, interior devotional art is being restored.
The large unfinished reredos behind the High Altar has been polychromed with the donated 800 man-hours of labor by young parishioners whom Father Rutler trained in the art of gold-leafing. It was a hobby of his father who had taught him. Assisting were Ken Jan Woo and his wife Camille whom Father Rutler baptized and married. Woo did the major work on the famous icons in the Church of Our Saviour. Other volunteers represented many ethnic backgrounds, and a Jewish friend also assisted. One young parishioner with a construction company provided the scaffolding. There is an altar erected in the nave crossing in 1997 but it is hoped that the High Altar will be more frequently used.
Father Rutler thought that this critical time in our culture was appropriate to begin a revival of liturgical art in “Hell’s Kitchen. “ He cited an inscription on the wall of the Holy Trinity Church, Staunton Harold, in North West Leicestershire, England:
“In the year 1653 when all things sacred were throughout the nation either demolished or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet founded this church; whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in the worst times and hoped them in the most calamitous. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.”
(Holy Trinity is one of the few churches erected during the time of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. In this period of English history the monarchy was abolished and many churches destroyed. Sir Robert Shirley did more than just hope against a powerful, divisive and destructive government. He did “the best things in the worst times.” Founding Holy Trinity was a courageous act of defiance and witness by this young man who later died at age 27, after being imprisoned in the Tower of London.)”
(Above: the reredos in March 2012)
(Above: Members of the restoration team; Below: A detail of the gilding. These two photographs courtesy of Tim Lykins)
For more on St. Michael’s church see HERE.