Saint Nicholas Shrine, the long-awaited church that is being constructed to replace the original St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero in Manhattan, will soon be clad in the very same Pentelic marble as the Parthenon, atop the Acropolis in Athens.
The radiant, cream-colored light of the marble of the Parthenon, which has shone like a beacon for more than two millennia, will be part of the new Shrine, which has been designed to serve as a lantern, with a transparent dome which will allow the light from within to shine up into the skies above New York City.
And the walls of the Shrine will soon be cloaked in the same marble, which will reflect the same warm ambience outward toward those who stand on the hallowed ground of Ground Zero, where nearly three thousand people perished in the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.
Pentelic marble, carved out of the ground from the quarries at Penteli, north of Athens, is a fine-grained calcitic marble. It is white, but has a unique golden tinge that makes it nearly appear as if it is alive.
The ancient quarry on Mt. Pentelicus is protected by law, and it is used exclusively to obtain material for the Acropolis Restoration Project — except for the Shrine at Ground Zero.
The iconic Greek marble was used for most of the major monuments of Classical-era Athens, especially from the 5th century BC onward.
In the mid-5th century BC, when the Athenian Acropolis became the seat of the Delian League and Athens was the greatest cultural center of its time, the Athenian leader Pericles initiated an ambitious building project that lasted the entire second half of the century.
The most important buildings that we see on the Acropolis today – the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike – were erected during this period.
The Parthenon was constructed under the supervision of the great artist Phidias, who also had charge of its sculptural decoration. The architects Ictinos and Callicrates began their work in 447 BC, and the building was substantially completed by 432. However, work on the decorations continued until at least 431.
The quarrymen chosen to hew the stone for this great symbol of Athens had exceptional skills and were able to cut the marble blocks to very specific measurements. The quarrymen also knew how to avoid the faults, which are common in Pentelic marble.
St. Nicholas Shrine is “A Monument to Memory”
A letter sent by Archbishop of the Americas Epidophoros, titled “A Monument of Memory,” relates how the construction of the St. Nicholas Shrine is progressing, stating that the walls are beginning to be installed now.
The Archbishop states, “the walls of the Saint Nicholas Shrine are beginning to glow! We have arrived at the beginning of the installation of the curtain wall and the first marble siding (lower right) that has come all the way from Greece and the same vein of Pentelic marble that was used to construct the Parthenon 2500 years ago.
“You will note the brightness of the building, which is the full complement of the lighting that will illuminate this marble from within and create the signature glow of our National Shrine.”
The Archbishop relates that back in 447 BC, “when the Parthenon was constructed, one hundred thousand pounds of marble was quarried from Mount Pentelikon, and transported over thirteen miles to the Acropolis, an engineering feat the equal to the Pyramids.
Pentelic marble is “an extraordinary gift of the Hellenic Republic”
“Thankfully,” he notes in his letter, “we are not bringing so much marble, but it is traveling much farther. Our λιθαγωγία (stone conveyance) is quite a bit longer.
“We begin in Attica,” he states, “where the marble has been quarried from the very same vein as the Parthenon marble, which is white with a faint tint of yellow, making it shine with a golden hue under sunlight.
“This,” he states with truthfully, “is an extraordinary gift of the Hellenic Republic, which reserves the Pentelic marble only for the reconstruction efforts on the Acropolis. As one writer observed, “… the Parthenon’s parts may be said to spring from the very geology of Attica.”
The Archbishop states that “the same can be said for the Saint Nicholas Shrine, which will be clad in the same stone as the Parthenon and be a true American Parthenon of Orthodoxy, a proud accomplishment for the Omogeneia.”
From where they were finished and polished in Austria, the precious panels were then transported to Minnesota, to be assembled into their unique configuration with the glass that will allow the light to shine from the new Shrine.
St. Nicholas Shrine will be “a candle lit to dispel hatred and inhumanity”
This is, the Archbishop noted, “A journey of over 6,700 miles.” However, he stated,”Unlike the Parthenon, Saint Nicholas will not be a mountain of marble, but rather a monument of memory.
“Its glow will be a candle lit to dispel the hatred and inhumanity that was behind 9/11, and to remind the world that the Light of Christ, the Light of the Resurrection shines on, overcoming all darkness.
“In the light of Christ,” Archbishop Elpidophoros said, “we will see the radiance of the faithfulness, dedication, and generosity of all those whose sacrifices have made the Saint Nicholas Church and National Shrine a reality…. May our light shine for all the world to behold and rejoice.”
In an exclusive interview with Greek Reporter, Michael Psaros, the co-chair of the Friends of St. Nicholas and the co-founder and co-managing partner of private equity fund KPS Capital Partners, reiterated that it is a matter of history for the Greek Orthodox community to complete the construction of the only religious structure that was destroyed during the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
Up to 10 million visitors expected each year at St. Nicholas Shrine
Psaros also noted that “once completed, the St. Nicholas Shrine “would be the single most-visited church in New York — and maybe in the U.S.
“The New York authorities estimate that up to ten million visitors a year would visit this church. It would become the beacon, the symbol of Orthodoxy not just in the U.S., but in the world,” he adds.
“We are not just building this extraordinary monument of Orthodoxy but we also building a memorial to all those slaughtered, murdered, massacred and martyred on September the 11th.”
Named after the patron saint of sailors, the church was the first stopping point for many Greek immigrants after they left Ellis Island. As towering skyscrapers went up around it, the modest church added just one floor to the whitewashed structure that sat, for years, in the shadow of the Twin Towers. The building was reduced to ruins when the south tower collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Psaros encourages the Greek American and Orthodox community to “grab the opportunity to be part of history,” reminding the faithful that “Every single donation, whether it’s a million dollars or one dollar, will be recorded in a database that all future visitors would be able to access.”
For the Greek-American businessman, the most important milestone will be reached only upon the long-awaited completion of the St. Nicholas Shrine. He notes that Archbishop Elpidophoros has pledged that Saint Nicholas will be ready to open its doors by September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of that fateful day.
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