Amid the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, another building in Lower Manhattan was lost on that tragic September day in 2001.
The nearby Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center was the only house of worship destroyed when the center’s South Tower collapsed. However, this church would be rebuilt over the span of just over two decades and then reopened in December 2022.
In this guide, I’ll share more about the church’s history, its connection to Ground Zero, and what you can see when you visit.
The history of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine has a long history in New York City, founded in 1916 within a small row house that once served as a tavern. The house was originally bought by Greek immigrants in 1892 as a community home.
Over time, the original Greek Orthodox church would see this corner of Manhattan evolve into a major business area. The construction on the original World Trade Center began in the 1960s and then was completed the following decade. (You can see a photo of the original building above.)
Sadly, on Sept. 11, 2001, the church was demolished when the South Tower, also known as World Trade Center Tower 2, fell. No one was in the church at that time, but the building was completely gone. Only a few relics were recovered from the site.
The rebirth of the church
The church’s rebirth would consist of a two-decade-long process with multiple delays and discussions and setbacks. It involved talks, mediated by then New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, between the church’s officials and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the World Trade Center campus.
When the groundbreaking for the new church finally happened in 2014, construction was stopped three years later due to issues with funding.
In December 2019, the Friends of Saint Nicholas was founded to help raise and distribute funding for the construction, and the building project was restarted in 2020.
Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was appointed to design the new church. Calatrava is also responsible for creating The Oculus, a major transportation hub and shopping mall alongside the World Trade Center.
Calatrava was reported to be influenced by Byzantine architecture in his design plans for the new church, drawing upon marvels such as the Hagia Sofia and the Chora Church — or Kariye Mosque — in Istanbul.
In June 2023, the Society of American Registered Architects honored Calatrava and his firm with a Special Award for Innovation in Institutional Design at their awards gala.
What the church looks like
The bright white colored building contains a great deal of Pentelic marble that was donated by the Greek government. (It’s said to be the same type of material used in the building of the Acropolis.)
The church’s dome is made up of 40 ribs, in homage to the ribs of Saint Nicholas — the patron saint of Greece and of this church’s shrine and a major figure within the Greek Orthodox Christian faith — and 40 windows. The dome is also reportedly made with thin stone and glass laminated panels which, at night, illuminate the church’s façade.
What you can see inside the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero
The interior of the church is adorned with Greek Orthodox Christian iconography, with murals painted by an iconographer and monk named Father Loukas from the Xenophontos Monastery in Mount Athos, Greece.
A few of these religious symbols and scenes include:
- The birth of Christ
- The baptism of Christ
- The communion of the apostles
- The Ascension
- Saint Nicholas himself
Some of the church’s murals reflect on 9/11. For example, there’s an icon of the Virgin Mary embracing a panoramic image of New York City. Another portrays St. Nicholas—who is also viewed within the Greek Orthodox Christian faith as the protector of sailors and fishermen—as a seafarer, pulling a drowning man out of the water. Underneath a painted boat carrying passengers is a depiction of the Lower Manhattan skyline.
Across from the shrine, you’ll find a small gift shop worth browsing after your self-guided tour of the church. Staff is also on hand to answer questions.
How to visit Saint Nicholas in NYC
The Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine is located on Liberty Street in what’s described as an elevated section of Liberty Park. It overlooks the area’s World Trade Center memorial pools, close to the church’s original location. Visitors heading to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum can also include a stop at the church, just a short walk away. Their address is 130 Liberty Street.
The general public can visit the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s closed on Tuesdays.
Can you visit Saint Nicholas Greek Church at Ground Zero?
Yes, visitors can go inside the shrine on the ground floor and view the murals and altar. Bear in mind that the church is an active house of worship with services on Sundays and other days of the week. Visit the church’s website to confirm scheduling.
There is no admission charge.
Visiting the church via public transit? The nearest subway stops are the R and W lines stopping at the Cortland St. station and the 4 and 5 lines stopping at the Fulton St. station.
Historic churches of Ground Zero
Along with the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center, there’s another house of worship within Lower Manhattan with an important link to 9/11. St. Paul’s Chapel, a part of Trinity Church Wall Street, served as a place for refuge in the days after this horrific event. To learn more, read our post about the story of St. Paul’s Chapel.
Be sure to see both churches when visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum or Lower Manhattan.