See inside Manhattan’s gorgeous old churches and synagogues in this new book


While churches tend to have an open-door policy, they can sometimes be intimidating spaces to enter. This new book flings open the doors to showcase 65 of Manhattan’s historic churches and synagogues through gorgeous photos and detailed histories. 

Divine New York: Inside the Historic Churches and Synagogues of Manhattan documents the grand architecture and fascinating stories of the island’s houses of worship constructed between 1698 and 1935.  

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The book’s photographer Michael L. Horowitz set his lens on showcasing the details—colorful mosaics, golden-hued Stars of David and ornate woodwork—in vivid detail. Meanwhile, author Elizabeth Anne Hartman wrote a vignette for each venue exploring its history with important contextual details about New York City at the time of each building’s construction.

Monumental stained glass windows let light into Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Photograph: By Michael L. Horowitz | Monumental stained glass windows let light into Abyssinian Baptist Church.

“People always walked by these buildings and they only ever went in if it was their church or synagogue or they went for a funeral or they went to get married. Those are the only three times that they were in those churches,” Horowitz tells Time Out. “I decided to show what was behind the closed doors. I opened the doors to everybody’s eyes and say, ‘Come on in and look at this place. This is gorgeous.'”

Among the 65 featured churches, some you’ve certainly heard of, like St. Patrick’s Cathedral (which receives 5 million visitors each year) and Temple Emanu-El (the largest Jewish temple in the world and one of America’s “religious wonders”). But others haven’t yet gotten the admiration they deserve. The book focuses on Manhattan’s historical houses of worship, those created before the Great Depression. That means the book includes only churches and synagogues; mosques hadn’t yet been introduced in Manhattan. 

Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral (the lesser known St. Pat's)
Photograph: By Michael L. Horowitz | Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (the lesser known St. Pat’s)

To write about each one, Hartman scoured church websites, newspaper archives and books to create a compelling historical narrative. She also brought to the project her own admiration for these architectural masterpieces. 

You walk in and you’re just awestruck.

“I love beauty, and these places are magnificent. You walk in and you’re just awestruck,” Hartman says. “When you walk into a church or synagogue, and I am not particularly religious at all, but you do feel this kind of link to ancestors or link to heaven or something, there’s something a little more than just the physical beauty for me.”

Hand-carved figures adorn the choir seats at Trinity Church.
Photograph: By Michael L. Horowitz | Hand-carved figures adorn the choir seats at Trinity Church.

Looking back, the story of churches is the story of immigration. 

“You had not only Catholics and Jews, but you had Orthodox Catholics coming from the Eastern countries, you had Irish Catholics, you had Italian Catholics, you had German Catholics. And with Jews, you had Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and then they started coming from every tiny little town,” Hartman says. “And each of those communities sought a place to gather, to be able to speak their dialects to be able, to practice their rituals, just as they did at home.”

Nowadays as some churches shutter, Horowitz hopes his photos will capture the spirit of these resplendent places. 

“I’ve always been chasing things as they disappear, and churches are losing their membership and they’re closing and that was a major drive on my part. I wanted to preserve it photographically,” he says. 

An ornate ark holds torah scrolls at Central Synagogue.
Photograph: By Michael L. Horowitz | An ornate ark holds torah scrolls at Central Synagogue.

He’s been working on the project for more than a decade, but it was first inspired even longer ago. Back in 1969 on a school assignment, he came across the reredos at St. Thomas Church, and it kindled his love of ecclesiastic architecture. Now, decades later, that same church is on the cover of his book. 

“They’re all like mini museums,” he says. “All these people, the poor people, they put all their money into building these buildings at the time—it’s for the glory of God.”

Divine New York: Inside the Historic Churches and Synagogues of Manhattan was published in November 2022 with Abbeville Press, which is offering 20% off and free shipping right now; the book retails for $55. You can also find it in local bookstores throughout the city. 



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