Originally created 06/26/04

Photo exhibit chronicles Manhattan's religious centers



NEW YORK -- And you thought the only things that were worshipped in Manhattan were money, power and fame.

A new photo exhibit chronicles many of the hundreds of places around the New York borough dedicated to a higher spiritual authority - churches, synagogues, mosques.

"From Abyssinian to Zion: Photographs of Manhattan's Houses of Worship by David W. Dunlap" opened Tuesday at the New-York Historical Society and runs through Oct. 24. The exhibit features about 200 works from a book on the subject also being released.

Dunlap, a reporter with The New York Times, has been working on the photography project on and off since 1990.

"I get an uplift from seeing these buildings. ... No matter what you think of the liturgy practiced within, they're marvelous expressions of architecture and artistry," he said.

The vast majority of the images in the show are of the outside of the structures - spires, entrances, stained glass rose windows, columns, crosses.

Using atlases and old directories, Dunlap photographed around 650 edifices throughout Manhattan, from St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the cornerstone was laid in 1858, to the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, which had its cornerstone laid in 1988.

That may seem like a lot of religious centers for one borough, but Dunlap pointed out that one faith might have different congregations, based on members' geographical or social backgrounds. People from one nation, or part of a nation, often have built their own churches rather than worship with people from another place.

The exhibition, showcased along two long walls at the historical society, is divided into sections. One part focuses on the churches found in the northernmost sections of Manhattan. Another looks at religious buildings built from other structures, such as theaters, or those transformed from one kind of house of worship into another, such as a synagogue being turned into a church.

A third section groups churches together to show the different kinds of architecture, and the fourth focuses on churches that have recently been lost, either to fire or other damage or to development when their congregations became too small to maintain them.

The plethora of religious structures belies the image of Manhattan as a place concerned solely with the material realm, Dunlap said.

"Lurking under this seemingly completely secular surface is this sea of faith," he said.

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New-York Historical Society: http://www.nyhistory.org