NEW YORK (RNS) Leaders of a Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center broke ground on a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that will overlook the 9/11 memorial.
The new domed building is scheduled to open in 2016, the same year as the church’s 100th anniversary. The church has raised $7 million of about $38 million needed.
Plans to rebuild the church were stalled by a dispute with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is in charge of overall rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero. Under a 2011 agreement brokered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the church agreed to drop its lawsuit in return for building at a larger site.
On Saturday (Oct. 18), government and church leaders joined on a concrete platform surrounded by steel foundation beams and orange construction netting to break ground for the church, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, said the future building would be “an iconic house of worship,” comparable to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown.
“Just as the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the birth, mourns the death and praises the resurrection, today we celebrate the rebuilding and the blessing of the hollowed land on which it will stand,” Foye said.
Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who was governor during 9/11, said the return of St. Nicholas to Ground Zero will fill in a missing piece of the rebuilding process.
“We had remembrance, we had commerce, but without St. Nicholas, we did not have faith,” Pataki said. “Well now today, we have remembrance, we have commerce, we have that rock, we have faith, right here at St. Nicholas.”
Pataki said it was appropriate that the rebuilt church would be Greek Orthodox.
“It was the Greek city-states that gave us our belief today in freedom,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “It will now be the Greek Orthodox Church that is the rock of faith that anchors all that is done here at Ground Zero.”
Calatrava, who also designed the nearby World Trade Center Transportation Hub, said he took his inspiration from the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both in Istanbul. Fusing stone and glass, light will glow from the inside out rather than by exterior floodlights.
The church will fit about 150 people at a time in a 4,100-square-foot building on the corner of Liberty and Greenwich streets. While small, the rebuilt church will be able to accommodate twice the 80 or so worshippers that were standing room only in the old church.
Some items from the old church were recovered, including a crushed bell, a candelabra, a few Bibles, mangled candles and two icons, which will be housed in the new church. Relics of St. Nicholas were never recovered.
Archbishop Demetrios, who heads the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, recalled the day when church leaders first saw the destroyed church, which was hit by falling rubble from the twin towers.
“We remember this very place filled with ruins, hiding under piles of debris, the pulverized remains of 3,000 innocent victims. Breathing a very heavy air, saturated with the dust of storm, wood, iron and with tiny particles of human bodies, we remember walking with heavy hearts to the specific place where our St. Nicholas stood as a building. … The church was not there,” he said. “We stood there frozen, paralyzed and cried.”
The church will include an interfaith and nonsectarian space for reflection and meditation.
“It will be a refuge for people in need of spiritual comfort, regardless of their specific beliefs or unbeliefs,” Demetrios said.