Religion: Riverside Church

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(See front cover)

Pinkerton detectives guarding Manhattan's practically completed Riverside Church last week straightened to attention, craftsmen made a show of their slow assiduity, as a small, stocky, energetic, bushy-haired, suntanned man—Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick—walked with authoritative curiosity through the church nave and accessory rooms. A small group attended him on this his first inspection of the church since his regular summer vacation on Mouse Island in Boothbay Harbor, Me., "where a man can put on a flannel shirt in the morning and go to bed in it at night if he feels like it." The church, he saw quickly, would be spick & span enough for his first sermon service therein, Oct. 5.

His followers pointed out the details of the interior: ten enormous stained glass aisle windows softening the sight of his stone pulpit, reading stand and chancel screen; the 1,408 seats in the nave, some equipped with electrical earphone connections, and only 100 blocked by pillars from view of the pulpit; 'the two galleries at one end of the nave and the triforium galleries (seating 1,000) between the pillars and the clerestory windows, reached by four quiet elevators.

Dr. Fosdick's party paused to study the great, stone chancel screen curving from reading desk to pulpit. Carved large on each of its seven separate sections is an aspect of the Christ.

The chapel (almost finished last week) is to be the jewel of the entire structure. Here small weddings, funerals and special religious services which require no more than 200 seats are to be conducted. The chapel, like the entire church, is replete with symbolism. But, although the church is modeled after the Gothic Cathedral of Chartres and the chapel an adaptation of the Romanesque features of the Cathedral of St. Nazaire at Carcassone, there has been throughout a careful disregard of inherently Roman Catholic symbolism. Whatever the Scriptures suggested to Riverside iconographers, that they designed. Thus the chapel reredos is dominated by a massive cross. Above its crossbar is the hand of the Father and the dove of the Holy Spirit and, carved small, the cruciform Son. However, the nave door of the chapel portrays the Nativity, without using the motif of Virgin & Child.

On the front porch of the church is a thin John the Disciple carved on the median jamb of the red double doors. St. John is the greeter. For "ushers" he has on one side of the porch Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah; on the other side followers of Christ SS. Simeon, Stephen, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy. Carved above them on the arch of the porch are two rows of angels framing a row of greatest scientists (Hippocrates to Albert Einstein, only living person yet figured in the whole church), a row of philosophers (Pythagoras to Ralph Waldo Emerson, only American figured), a row of religious leaders (Moses to David Livingstone. African missionary, explorer). High on the porch's tympanum surrounded by Mark's lion, Matthew's angel, John's eagle, Luke's ox is Christ. Adjoining those Gospel writers is the idea of Matthew XXIII, 57: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"

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