Founded in 1873 on its original location at the corner of Broadway and Houston in downtown New York, the story of what is now St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue is plagued by fire; with its first Gothic revival building burning to the ground in 1851 and after its move uptown to Fifth Avenue near Central Park, that structure also falling victim to flames. The present building was designed by Ralph Adams Cram and Betram Grosvenor Goodhue in a Gothic style and completed in 1913. Though it is often overshadowed by its larger neighbor, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Thomas’s Church holds a breathtaking respite from the chaos of one of the busiest shopping thoroughfares in the world.
The centerpiece of St. Thomas is the immense Great Reredos, the largest in the world at 80′ high and 43′ wide, completed by Goodhue in 1925 and for which he won the American Institute of Architect’s gold medal. The figures in the great altarpiece include a cast of characters from the Bible but also, more modern times such as George Washington, British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone and then presiding Bishop, Daniel Sylvester Tuttle.
Also of note at St. Thomas’s is the painting at the foot of the gallery stairs entitled The Adoration of the Magi, a significant piece dating to the early 1600s attributed to Peter Paul Rubens. And the bells you are hearing while in the church? Those are a carillon of 26 bells that are played on special occasions while a single bell rings the Magdalen College (Oxford) chime on the quarter hour.