Lectures and Other Events

David Lowe Lecture - “Where Angels Tread”

-Cultural historian & author David Garrard Lowe

-St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church

-Conservancy President, Peg Breen

April 7, 2016

As part of our 30th anniversary celebration for the Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program, our members enjoyed an illustrated lecture on “Where Angels Tread: New York’s Wondrous Houses of Worship” presented by cultural historian and author David Garrard Lowe. The lecture took place at the beautiful St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church on 76th Street and Lexington Avenue.


Mr. Lowe spoke about the history and styles of sacred architecture and how it represents some of humanity’s most ambitious collective creativity, citing many New York City churches and synagogues and how they inspire us with their universal and exalted beauty. Mr. Lowe further examined how congregations commissioned the most prominent architects, artisans and builders of the day to construct their houses of worship; they are repositories of incredible art, architecture, and history. Of course, no lecture by Mr. Lowe would be complete without stories of scandal, humor, and romance and once again he did not disappoint, giving his fans a history lesson that would make the angels surrounding him blush.

David Garrard Lowe is a well-known lecturer, cultural historian and author. His articles have appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, American Heritage, House & Garden and City Journal. His books include Stanford White’s New York; Beaux Arts New York; Chicago Interiors; Lost Chicago and Art Deco New York. Currently Mr. Lowe serves as President of the Beaux Arts Alliance, a not-for-profit organization founded to celebrate the many cultural links between the United States and France.

St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church was founded in 1882 as a national church serving the expanding French Canadian population in Yorkville on New York’s Upper East Side. It quickly became a spiritual center embracing many nationalities, as diverse as the City itself.

Financier Thomas Fortune Ryan funded the construction of the present church on Lexington Avenue which was completed in 1913. Italian architect Nicholas Serracino combined elements of the Italian Renaissance Revival and Classical Revival architectural styles and won first prize for his design at the Esposizione Internazionale delle Industrie e del Lavore in Turin in 1911. It is his only surviving church in New York.

St. Jean Baptiste is one of the few Roman Catholic churches in the City with a dome, and only one of two — the other being St. Patrick’s Cathedral — with stained glass windows from the glass studios of Chartres. The building was designated a City Landmark in 1969 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 along with its rectory.

The Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program pledged a $70,000 Robert W. Wilson Challenge grant in 2014 to replace 24 limestone columns at the church’s distinctive twin bell tower cupolas.

Sacred architecture represents some of humanity’s most ambitious collective creativity. Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples—whether ancient or post-modern—inspire us with their universal and exalted beauty. Through the centuries, congregations have commissioned the most prominent architects, artisans and builders of the day to construct their houses of worship. Many have been lovingly maintained by generations of congregants – virtual time capsules of art, architecture and history.