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A fully opened St. John cathedral

New York City's giant Gothic Episcopal church, renovated after a devastating 2001 fire, will be rededicated Sunday.

November 28, 2008|associated press

NEW YORK — The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Upper Manhattan will be open from end to end for the first time since its restoration after a devastating fire damaged ancient tapestries and a 8,500-pipe organ seven years ago.

A celebratory rededication is planned for Sunday at the Gothic Episcopal church, called the largest cathedral in the world.

The entire length of the 601-foot-long building will be open.

A temporary wall had halved the cathedral, concealing the scaffolding for the restoration work.

The fire originated in the gift shop on Dec. 18, 2001.

At Sunday's celebration, the restored 98-year-old Skinner organ will be played for the first time since the fire.

All of its pipes were removed, cleaned and reinstalled.

Every inch of limestone, marble and granite surface also has been cleaned.

The ceremony will begin with a procession of bishops and Fire Department members who helped battle the blaze.

The fire wrecked two rare 17th century Barberini tapestries -- part of a set of 12 depicting the life of Christ. They were painstakingly restored in the cathedral's textile conservation laboratory on its 11-acre campus.

"The New Jerusalem," a hymn written for the occasion, will be played on the organ by Bruce Neswick, director of cathedral music at St. John the Divine.

Neswick and associate organist and choirmaster Tim Brumfield also will perform a score by Ralph Vaughan Williams, an English composer who wrote the commemorative piece for the opening of the entire interior of the cathedral in 1941.

The church's cornerstone was laid in 1892. It is larger than the French cathedrals of Chartres and Notre Dame combined.

It boasts a Gothic nave and Romanesque choir area, eight stately interior granite columns and 150 stained-glass windows depicting religious and historic scenes, including the inauguration of George Washington.

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