NEW YORK — Hundreds of members of New York's Greek Orthodox community attended a blessing ceremony Saturday for a new church near ground zero in Lower Manhattan that will replace a house of worship that was destroyed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
In his remarks at the construction site, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in America recalled his dismay when, on Sept. 12, 2001, he and other pastors visited the spot where St. Nicholas church had stood since the early 20th Century. The tiny structure had been crushed in the collapse of the twin towers, making it the only church destroyed in the attack.
"We stood there frozen, paralyzed," said Archbishop Demetrios. "There was a big hole instead of a church. It left a terrible kind of impression."
More than 13 years later, work has begun on a much larger, $38 million domed church designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava intended to serve both as the new home for the Greek Orthodox parish and as a national non-denominational shrine for ground zero visitors. The dome made of glass and white marble will be backlit from within so that it glows at night.
"It will be a refuge for people in need of spiritual comfort regardless of their specific beliefs, or unbeliefs," the archbishop said. "Above all, this resurrected St. Nicholas church will be a monument declaring the victory of good over evil, of love over hatred."
Those in attendance included Calatrava, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, former Gov. George Pataki, former Mayor David Dinkins and various other government officials from New York and New Jersey. Pataki, who was governor at the time of the attack, said the church was an important addition to the memorials and skyscrapers that have risen in recent years at the World Trade Center site.
"We had remembrance, we had commerce, but without St. Nicholas, we did not have faith," he said.
The original church was founded by Greek immigrants in 1916 and began services at its 1,200-square-foot location on Cedar Street in 1922. After it was destroyed, the rebuilding was delayed by a legal dispute between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America over the original site.
In 2011, the parties struck a deal in which the church agreed to exchange its land on Cedar Street for the rights to another parcel on Liberty Street, just south of the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum.
Calatrava also conceived the Port Authority's $4 billion World Trade Center transportation hub. The church chose him for the project after he submitted a plan that drew inspiration from two Byzantine shrines in Istanbul — Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora.
Church officials say construction is being funded by donations from around the world, including $260,000 from the Greek government. They expect the shrine to open within the next two years.