I’ve passed the Church of the Holy Family, located on 47th Street in Manhattan between First and Second Avenues before, but until recently I had never taken the time to check it out more closely. Last weekend, however, I was exploring the neighborhood, and the church caught my attention. The rather stark lines of the church, reflecting the design sense of the era in which it was constructed (the mid-century modern style popular in the 1960s), stood out in contrast to the glass buildings and bright blue sky above them.
As I researched the church, I discovered that it was designed by a New York architect named George J. Sole, who focused primarily on religious architectural design in his work. The church was dedicated in 1965, and it has served the United Nations community ever since. (UN headquarters are located nearby, on the other side of First Avenue.)
The interior of the church is modern, continuing the clean lines of the exterior but in warmer tones. The church’s website provides this description of the main altar and figure of Jesus:
The art and design of the church reflect a spirit of ecumenism and multi-nationalism. As you enter, you are greeted by the loving, open arms of the Risen Christ above the altar. Like the figures on the two side altars, and the statue of the Virgin in St. Mary’s Garden, the sculpture is a product of the studio of Nagni and was cast in Pietrasanta, Italy. The altar is fashioned of Canadian black granite quarried near the Arctic Circle.
I found this altar in one corner of the sanctuary, which I learned from the church website is the altar of reservation. Like other parts of the church, this altar reflects the church’s inclusive theme, as above the Tabernacle is a large Byzantine icon of Our Lady of Peace.
Everywhere I look I see more religious art, once again with diverse meanings. The beautiful stained glass windows, with their pleated structure, portray “the various national and racial groups who were refugees as a result of World War II, and repeat the word “hope” in all the refugees’ languages, as well as in Latin.” Artist Jordi Bonet designed the windows and other ceramic art throughout the space. (The large ceramic sculptures portray the Holy Family as refugees as well, fleeing to Egypt after Jesus’s birth.)
Emerging back into the sunlight, I noticed this small garden next to the church, labeled “St. Mary’s Garden.” It’s a quiet respite from the busy city, with its lovely statue of Mary.