On Wednesdays, the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, an Episcopal Church, on Amsterdam and 112th Street offers two tours back to back. The first tour is the Highlight Tour which starts at 11AM and lasts about an hour, but it usually goes a little over. The second, the Vertical Tour, starts at noon and is also to last an hour, but it lasted closer to an hour and a half.
The Highlight Tour ($6) gives a great overall look at the Cathedral. One thing I learned was that all cathedrals have their doors facing west with the alter facing east. Huh, never knew that.
I was in a group of about 10 and Bill was our tour guide. We walked the floor of the Cathedral with stops at various points where Bill talked about the history, architecture and the stained glass. Nicknamed "St. John the Unfinished," there is scaffolding and evidence of work in progress. The Cathedral is built from granite with limestone covering that granite to give it a polished look and you can see in the photo above where the limestone work last was left unfinished.
The hour went by really quickly and thankfully, Bill was also the tour guide for the Vertical Tour so I knew I wouldn't be late for that one. At around 12:05PM, we rushed over to begin the next tour.
The Vertical Tour ($15) is offered also on Saturdays at noon and 2PM if you can't make it out there on Wednesdays. This tour lasted a good hour and 20 minutes. Unlike the Highlight Tour, reservations are recommended and they ask you to bring a flashlight. This tour starts off with a short overview of the Cathedral then off we went up the narrow flights of stairs on the sprial staircase. The staircase is TIGHT with people walking in front and back of you so it can feel a little claustrophobic. Best to do this on a cooler day since it's pretty stuffy in there as well. We didn't walk up the entire 11 flights in one shot, but instead, stopped at a few times for Bill to give us some insight, to answer questions, and mostly to take a breath!
Some spots along the way were completely dark, which is why they ask you to bring a flashlight but they had a few to borrow in case you forget to bring one. I used my iphone to light the way.
The first three stops were inside the Cathedral, next to or on a buttress. The final stop is at the top of the arches of the Cathedral, a roof within a roof, where I actually said "WOW" when I entered through the doorway. It's a pretty fascinating sight.
The Cathedral offers a lot of of tours, which is understandable since as Bill put it, "It's an encyclopedia." After the two tours, I felt like I was barely scratching the surface. I'm already thinking of return trips for the Revelation Revealed: Spotlight on the Apocalyse and the Within the Walls: Exploring Hidden Spaces tours.
Note: My calves were killing me for three days after – what a workout!