Razed by Terror Attacks, a Church Will Rise Anew

By Alex Vadukul New York Times

Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Thirteen years ago, a small Greek Orthodox church with a ringing rooftop bell offered a reprieve from the city’s furious financial nerve center, until it was crushed when the World Trade Center’s south tower collapsed on Sept. 11. On Saturday, church officials blessed the ground where the new St. Nicholas church would rise.

The original four-story building, its whitewashed sides surrounded by a parking lot, was home to a congregation of some 70 families. It was the only religious building destroyed during the attacks. New York officials and church leaders vowed to rebuild, but the process has been marred by disputes and prolonged negotiations.

The ceremony on Saturday, conducted by high-ranking members of the Greek Orthodox Church, was muted but hopeful. Under overcast skies that occasionally gave glimpses of the sun, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York and former officials including Mayor David N. Dinkins and Gov. George E. Pataki were among the large crowd.

The event, held on an undecorated concrete pavilion surrounded by dozens of steel foundation beams, mirrored a traditional service. Altar boys walked through the hushed audience, a choir sang hymns and church leaders talked of hope and resilience. After the ground was blessed, Mr. Pataki, who left office at the end of 2006, took the stage amid the bishops and deacons and spoke of the initial promise to rebuild and the bumpy road that followed.

“It was easy to say,” he said. “It was harder to do.”

The ceremony, he said, represented more than the resurrection of a small and vanquished city church. “We were attacked not because of what we do wrong, but because of what we do right,” Mr. Pataki said. Democracy, he said, “came from Greece.” He concluded by adding: “Today my name is Georgios Patakis.”

The new structure, to be called the St. Nicholas National Shrine, will be at Liberty Street, directly across from the National September 11 Memorial waterfalls, and will sit more than 20 feet above ground level. Officials said they hoped construction would be finished by 2017.

During the ceremony, Archbishop Demetrios, the spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians of America, recounted how after the attacks “the church was not there. Instead we saw a hole, with a depth of 7 to 10 feet.” The scene, he said, was merely the remnants of a “one-time charming little church.”

He applauded the shrine’s architect, Santiago Calatrava. The Rev. Evagoras Constantinides, a church spokesman, explained that once completed, the Byzantine-inspired structure will “glow from the inside,” through the combination of light marble fused with glass and backlit with LEDs.

Mr. Schumer’s speech further conveyed a story of triumph through the church’s odyssey.

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes,” he said, “this church will show the resilience and fortitude of St. Nicholas and of all New Yorkers.”

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