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Medieval architecture in NYC: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Cloisters and more

While sleek supertall skyscrapers may be the future of New York City, its architectural past is vast and just as celebrated.

Dozens of Medieval-style buildings, many of which are city landmarks, offer a constant reminder of another era in New York City.

From Byzantine and Romanesque to Gothic and Renaissance, scroll down to learn more about some of the city’s most prominent examples of Medieval architecture.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Not only is the Cathedral of St. John
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Grant Lamos IV

Not only is the Cathedral of St. John the Divine a stunning illustration of Medieval architecture, it's also the largest cathedral in the world - despite the fact that it stands unfinished to this day. Several architects have made their mark on its existence, including original designers George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge, as well as Ralph Adams Cram, who played a large role in the cathedral's second phase of construction.

During the first phase, Heins and LaFarge brought in many Romanesque-Byzantine elements, such as the granite columns and tiled barrel-vault ceilings. During the second phase of construction, Cram leaned heavily on neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival architecture, including the ribbed vaulting, flying buttresses and stained glass windows seen in the Nave.

The third phase of construction included the completion of the Portal of Paradise by master stone carver Simon Verity. Built between 1988 and 1997, it is used as the cathedral's central portal. Due to a funding shortage in the 1990s, the cathedral's south bell tower, which was designed by Cram, stands unfinished at only two-thirds of its preconceived height.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

"St. Patrick's Cathedral represents the epitome of the Gothic Revival in New York City," said the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in its designation report. Though construction of the cathedral began in 1858, it wasn't until 1879 that the building was completed and began to welcome the city's faithful. The cathedral has since undergone several renovations and restorations, but remains an impressive example of Gothic Revival architecture with its beautiful stained glass windows, ornate stone tracery and two towers that rise 330 feet into the air.

Belvedere Castle

Central Park is home to many New York
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

Central Park is home to many New York City treasures and among them is Belvedere Castle. Originally built in 1867 by architects Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould as an observation tower atop Vista Rock, this Gothic-style castle offers beautiful views of the park and its other landmarks, including the Great Lawn and Delacorte Theater. Part of the structure was built using the same type of rock as the vista, according to the city parks department, so that it appears Belvedere Castle is rising out of the park itself.

Since it was only meant as a lookout destination for parkgoers, the castle lacked windows and doors until the United States Weather Bureau moved the Central Park Observatory to the castle in 1919. After the weather bureau automated its instruments and closed its offices in the castle during the 1960s, the castle went through a period of disrepair until the Central Park Conservancy converted it into a visitor's center in 1983, restoring the castle's original turret and rebuilding the pavilions in the process.

Tavern on the Green

Another example of Medieval-style architecture within Central Park
Photo Credit: Tavern on the Green

Another example of Medieval-style architecture within Central Park is historic Tavern on the Green. Like Belvedere Castle, the structure was designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould in the late 19th century, though at the time it housed about 200 sheep and was known as the Sheepfold. The park's department described the structure as "one of the city's finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture." About 60 years later, then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses converted the Sheepfold into Tavern on the Green, which opened on Oct. 20, 1934, per the parks department.

The iconic landmark took on many forms throughout the decades since, but was most recently renovated and reopened in 2014 as a restaurant that harkens back to its tavern-inspired roots. "Reclaimed white-oak parquet floors, ceiling panels that mimic decorative plasterwork, and hand-painted mirrored panels are just a few of the elements that lend a handcrafted, timeworn feel to the space," Architectural Digest reported ahead of the restaurants reopening in March 2014.

The Cloisters

Quite possibly one of the most well known
Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Quite possibly one of the most well known examples of Medieval European architecture in New York City, The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met named the museum after portions of cloisters from France, particularly in Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Trie-sur-Baïse, Froville and Bonnefont-en-Comminges. Situated on four acres inside Fort Tryon Park, the museum offers visitors a window into the world of Medieval Europe, with more than 2,000 architectural elements and artworks on display, including stained glass, sculptures, tapestries and more from the 12th through 15th centuries.

Jefferson Market Library

Located within the city's Greenwich Village Historic District,
Photo Credit: Google Maps

Located within the city's Greenwich Village Historic District, this Victorian Gothic-style building was once a courthouse. Jefferson Market was built between 1875 and 1877 by architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux. It wasn't until 1961 when then-Mayor Robert F. Wagner commissioned its transformation into a New York Public Library branch. Architect Giorgio Cavaglieri completed the work in 1967. Though the function of the building has changed, the 100-foot-tall Art Deco tower remains. According to the NYPL, the tower was once used by the neighborhood firewatcher, who would ring the bell to summon volunteer firemen. The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission described Jefferson Market Library as "a landmark in the best sense of the word" due to its stained glass windows, High Victorian Gothic details and clock tower gables.

Riverside Church

It's nearly impossible to miss Riverside Church -
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew H. Walker

It's nearly impossible to miss Riverside Church - and not just because of its stunning neo-Gothic architecture. Located on a high bluff in Morningside Heights, the church can actually be seen from the Hudson River. Riverside Church was built by architects Henry C. Pelton and Allen & Collens between 1928 and 1930. According to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, the design was based mainly on French Gothic structures, particularly the Cathedral at Chartres.

Trinity Church

Built in 1846, this is actually the third
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

Built in 1846, this is actually the third Trinity Church structure to stand at 75 Broadway since England's King William III granted the church a charter in 1697. The 19th century Gothic Revival-style church was designed by architect Richard Upjohn. A registered National Historic Landmark, Trinity Church features striking bronze doors and some of the oldest stained glass in the country. The church's steeple is also home to the only set of 12 change-ringing bells in the nation. Rung every Sunday and on special occasions, the bells rotate 360 degrees, creating a complex cascading chime.


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