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Cathedrals in New Jersey

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

With the ship in port, after breakfast I debarked, collecting my luggage and walking to the exit. After 20 minutes of complete disorganization at the taxi stand (4 queues with a total of at least 200 passengers, and no vehicles) I walked back to the pickup area and called for an Uber. The driver arrived in 10 minutes and I was at the rental car counter at Budget in about another 10.

In a silver Chevy with New York plates, I headed off the lot to the first of an anticipated 7 cathedrals in the northern New Jersey area. Closest was the Syriac Catholic St Joseph Cathedral.

St Joseph Cathedral, Bayonne

The lettering above the door was Saint Michael the Archangel Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church, the building’s prior designation. Alongside is a building with a sign for the Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese. The internet indicates the old Syriac cathedral had been demolished in 2020 (for housing redevelopment) and moved to the St Michael church. The Catholic Archdiocese had been consolidating shrinking parishes. Google Maps now shows a new dark banner over the door with the St Joseph designation.

Trinity and St Philip’s Cathedral, Newark

Onward. I drove into Newark, with three churches to visit. First was Trinity and St Philip’s Cathedral. On Broad Street at the north end of Military Park, it is a red brick building with a single white spire rising over its west-facing pillared entrance. A locked wrought-iron fence kept me from trying the door.

St Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral, Newark

Three blocks away on Central Avenue was St Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral, which had been the bishop’s seat from 1853 until the completion of the new cathedral in 1954. On a corner, again faced in red brick, a bell tower with an oxidized copper spire stands over the main entrance onto Washington Street. It was open and I found its interior interesting. Columns, vault and walls of ivory color, with arches and ribs of a soft light gray lent a comforting but somber feeling to the atmosphere.

Elaborate gold bosses dressed the ceiling. I was intrigued to find that the cathedra, a dark carved wooden seat still held place at the front of the sanctuary. The organ console and pipes are in the rear, in the choir loft.

Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark

Continuing along Central Avenue, I made a right onto Clifton. After passing under I-280, and Branch Brook Park to my left, I found parking on Sixth Street across from the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Photos of the front are popular pins on Pinterest, with its two 4-story stone towers, set at 45° angles to the front face: a distinctive identifying feature. Young trees in flaming red leaf lined the sidewalk strip along Ridge Street. Set back above the crossing is a slender copper-clad octagonal spire, reminiscent of the Paris cathedral.

Ridge Street is the entry access, passing by a security desk, and the walk to the nave brought me into the west transept. (The footprint is along a north-south axis, with the main entrance to the south.) Over the side aisles are galleries, with clerestory stained-glass windows above rising to the stone vault. An ambulatory runs around and behind the sanctuary in the apse, with brilliantly colored depictions of saints in the window panels. There are three large rose windows. Having been visited by Pope John Paul II in 1995, there is a formal chair for the Pontiff, smaller and less ornate than the white carved stone cathedra placed to the left of the altar.

A wedding was scheduled, and family started to arrive, asking that the transept door be opened. After Deacon Andrew accommodated them, he guided me to a few features he favored, which I had spotted during my explorations. Two organ consoles, the larger of which controlled the largest pipe organ built by Schantz Organ Company, were in the apse. Per Wikipedia, the cathedral is French Gothic Revival style.

Cathedral of St Michael the Archangel, Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Passaic

Driving pretty much due north along the meandering Passaic River, the Cathedral of St Michael the Archangel, Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Passaic faces west midblock on First Street. Climbing the steps to the doors I found them locked. Twin bell towers bracket the front, and I walked around the north side, spotting the corner stone and seeing the curved exterior of the apse. The pale brick façade looked to have had a white paint coating.

[For some strange, inexplicable reason, I skipped the Russian Orthodox cathedral in Passaic.] Next on the plan was my final stop for the day in Clifton, but it was midday, so I continued to Paterson. Situated in downtown at the corner of Main and Grand Streets, St John the Baptist Roman Catholic Cathedral has a façade of rose blocks of textured stone in neo-Gothic style.

St John the Baptist Roman Catholic Cathedral, Paterson

Midway along the southern wall is a square clock tower rising above the roof of the cathedral. As far as I could tell in my walk around the block, the building was locked. Opposite the end of Jackson, an office doorway seemed active, and I was able to talk my way into an escorted visit inside.

Granted about 10 minutes in the unlit interior, I was able to walk in the sanctuary between the altar and high altar, noting the rich reddish-brown shades used in the columns and ribbing. A baldachin rose over my head. Over the locked entrance, the loft was home to a pipe organ, which blocked some light through the stained-glass windows there. Images of saints populated the nave windows.

Next, my notes sent me to a lot where a pile of rubble was all that remained of the ROCOR St Michael’s Cathedral in Paterson. I continued driving without taking a photo. Continuing to Paramus, I drove through a wooden suburb with large homes on big lots as I came to St Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral on Midland Avenue.

St Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral , Paramus

On a large landscaped lot with plentiful parking, a social hall and the archdiocesan office, the cathedral has a cruciform footprint with the entrance to the west, entrance up stairs from the drive.

A christening was about to start, but Deacon Daniel was insistent that I enter and take my pictures. Large icon-like murals were positioned above head level, and a simple curtain in the east end proved to be the iconostasis. Thin wide windows in the arched nave running the east-west axis allowed plenty of light, and the modern space was simple and clear. In the dome at the crossing, the dove emblem of the Holy Spirit was surrounded by twelve medallion portraits of the apostles and the Mother of God. Smiling and offering my gratitude, I left before the priest arrived for the service.

Metropolitan Cathedral of St John the Theologian, Tenafly

Another 45-minute drive to Tenafly, and I was once again in a heavily wooded suburb. The Metropolitan Cathedral of St John the Theologian, a Greek Orthodox church, is set on a large campus. The church itself is at the northwest end of a large connected structure, and was closed. Evergreens mix with deciduous trees in full autumn color. The front of the pale coral-colored entrance has a mural in the arched inset above the sets of doors. A large copper-green dome rises at the crossing.

Cars were parked at the far end, so I headed there. It turned out to be a gymnasium, and what I think were second and third graders were being coached during an intermural game of basketball. Parents observed from the sides. No one seemed concerned, so I began “prowling”, dropping a floor to what seemed to be school offices, and along a corridor. Climbing another set of stairs, I found myself at the center of the building, looking out glass doors towards my parked car. Continuing, I came to a small chapel, with elaborate murals on the walls and a small dome above. Without an iconostasis, I knew to continue to explore.

When I reached the cathedral proper, I was amazed at the ornate beauty. Mosaic depictions of Christ’s life lined the walls. The ceiling was gold leaf, with the images of the Evangelists at the axes, and one of Jesus in a field of blue stars fills the dome. The wall of the iconostasis is solid, with arched panels of mosaics depicting angels and saints. Its center is merely a metal gate, allowing visibility into the sacred space. Completing my picture-taking tasks, I reversed my journey through the building and exited.

Departing at 3pm, I began reversing my journey to head towards Clifton and the Ramada Inn in Wayne. I guess through corporate consolidations, it wasn’t surprising to find the franchise name wasn’t as expected, and I checked into a Quality/Choice Inn, into room 208 at about 5pm. Having sat in the car much of the day, I strolled the service road to check on dining options. Red Lobster turned out to be the better of my options, so I did the unlimited shrimp with garlic roasted Brussels sprouts and beer.

Returning to the room, I began charging the two camera batteries that I’d replaced, plus I’d also run out of space on the chip in the camera. Backing up the 200 pictures for the day was a bit more complex, but once I’d copied to the Chromebook and the thumb drive, I was able to blog some more as well as tend to emails.

Day 2 – New Jersey

Sunday morning and once again, it was sunny and bright outside. I checked out the breakfast options, making a waffle once I headed the queue. Other than OJ, I skipped the yogurt, bagels, toast and cold cereal options. On my return to the room, the lock failed, and it took three trips to the front desk before the assistant manager came up and zapped it. The original itinerary had 6 cathedrals, but I’d seen 4 of them the day earlier, leaving 1 from that day’s plan. Net: I had 3 for the day.

Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Ascension Cathedral, Clifton

First stop for the day was the Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Ascension Cathedral in Clifton. I arrived minutes after the 10am services began, and, from experience, knew that the church would be busy for at least 90 minutes and the congregation would stand for that period. A square footprint, the façade has polished natural stone at the corners and three panels of arched windows on the sides. A small onion dome with the three-barred Orthodox cross rises at the center. After walking around the building, I continued my journey.

Saint Demetrius Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral , Carteret

Heading south, I arrived in Carteret and Saint Demetrius Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral just after the 9am service ended. As I stood in front getting a picture, a woman exited, and I asked if I might get inside. Unfortunately, she had just locked up the church and didn’t have keys. She suggested I come to the church hall about 3 blocks away to ask the priest. Not wanting to intrude on the social hour or the priest‘s afternoon, I deferred. I walked around three-quarters of the outside of the three-story blond brick building, cussing out the sun in the clear skies.

St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Cathedral, Metuchen

Forty minutes later and I arrived in Metuchen as the St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Cathedral was letting out 10am Mass. There was a window of opportunity: for about 20 minutes before noon Mass I could take pictures inside. In appearance, it is a simple church which was elevated when the Trenton diocese was split by Pope John Paul II in 1981. On Main Street at the corner of Elm Avenue, the trees line this well-kept community, and I was again dodging fall colors and branches. The outsides are simple, irregular blocks cut of a light stone. A rose window fills the west wall above the three doors. Inside, personally, it feels like a barn with lots of light. Seven larger stained-glass windows line each side; the apse seems to be a box tacked to the end of the building. The choir loft and organ are above the entrance, with the rose window depicting Christ at the center of the apostles.

Midday Sunday and over two days I’d visited twelve of the thirteen sites I had on my list, with the missing one being rubble. My lodging reservation was in Edison, but I had five hours available. I decided to return to Rutgers, where I’d graduated fifty years ago. Curious about the College of Engineering, I started on the Busch Campus, and with one exception, didn’t recognize anything. (The Institute of Microbiology was that outlier.) I headed across the Raritan River (different bridge) and drove down College Avenue, where I recognized the library, dining hall, student center and several fraternity houses. I never got out of the car, so took no pictures. Heading out past the former fraternity house, I decided to head south towards Princeton, where my family resided for 40 years.

For about half an hour I trusted my sense of direction, before asking Maps to get me to the old homestead. Coming through Kingston, I stopped by Lake Carnegie, finding the smooth surface and colorful trees very relaxing.

Next stop was the corner of Hamilton and Moore, where the turn-of-the-century “Victorian monstrosity” that was home during high school (and years beyond). My mother had sold it in 2004, and the owner has put enormous amounts of care and love into it. Now empty-nesters, I was able to speak with Adrian out front as I was snapping pictures. We spoke for a while, where I learned he had used his research into the house for his advanced degree’s thesis.

Around the corner and up two blocks, I stopped at the high school before heading to the shopping center (for a rest room break, and possibly lunch.) Back to downtown, I rolled along Nassau Street, out to the Battlefield before coming back through downtown and then Kingston. Out to Route 1, I headed to the Quality Inn in Edison. I had dinner at Akbar (walking around two corners from the hotel.) Chicken lollipops (tender tandoori chicken wings in a succulent marinade); chicken chop korma (tender cubes of our famous chicken chop cooked again in a creamy and complex curry of almonds, cashew nuts, and freshly ground spices); mili juli rotiyan (assortment of naan, roti & kulcha); accompanied by a scotch and soda.

Day 3 – New Jersey (Halloween)

Breakfast was similar to the day before, but included sausage and egg patties, and hash browns. The plans for the day were two cathedrals and then dinner with a college friend. Leaving the lodgings in Edison, I headed east to Route 9 and then followed it south to the Co-Cathedral of St Robert Bellarmine. (It shares the bishop in Trenton.) Well south of central Freehold on Georgia Road, the parking lot behind (to the east of the building complex) probably is half the campus.

Co-Cathedral of St Robert Bellarmine, Freehold

The cathedral building itself is new, having been completed in 2002, and the entry faces east. The roofline is gradual and long, stretching from the height of the nave vault over two paired side structures. Three sets of glass doors open into the narthex, below a large circular window. The clear glass window is repeated above the doors into the nave.

The vault and walls are a flat white, with the ceiling stepped to allow triplets of clerestory-like windows. Along the auditorium walls, arched stained-glass windows depict American saints and some historic scenes. The pulpit, altar table and the stone backing the cathedra are a deep forest green Italian marble. Pews are angled towards the altar table.

Heading into the office, I was directed first to the chapel, which was part of the old church. Also in the round, brilliantly colored glass along the ceiling behind the sanctuary gives the room a warm glow. The receptionist suggested (secondly) that I make a detour to Spring Lake and the Shrine of St Catharine. About 18 miles east, it would put me very close to the ocean shore. Arriving a bit before noon, I took pictures of the outside, which reminded me of the cathedrals in St Louis, St Paul and Minneapolis, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Once inside, that thought was reinforced, plus I recalled the Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin that I’d visited this summer. After staying for Mass, I took more pictures of the murals, paintings, statues and ornamentation, and spoke with Sister Carole who had finished putting away the elements of the Mass.

St Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Howell Township

Maybe fifteen miles westward in Howell Township was my last destination for the day. St Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral sits off Alexander Road east of US-9 with woods to its rear beyond the large parking lot. When I arrived, that lot was gated, so I parked up the road at the caretaker’s property. With a moss green roof over cream walls and a dark rose base border, the multiple gold onion domes on dark brown pedestals have a very Victorian color palette. Walking around the flat grounds, I tried several doors without success. Crossing the road to what I hoped were offices, the only receptionist I found was for the school. Deciding to try what turned out to be the caretaker, I was directed to the house behind the buildings across the street where the priest lives.

His wife answered the door, holding a small child. Explaining, she called her husband and he graciously said he’d escort me, once he put on appropriate clothing. Armed with keys, we crossed the road, and I was able to enter the nave. Every wall surface was adorned with images, and the gilded iconostasis with its pair of reliquaries on either side were awe inspiring. While Father Anthony took care of the business he had in back, I was able to take 35 pictures of many of the surfaces.

Done for the day at 2pm, I decided to head for my lodgings, the Quality Inn in Tinton Falls. The twenty-mile ride took about a half hour, and I soon settled in, getting pictures backed up and checking emails. With dinner plans involving a pickup at 5, I decided on a nap. On time, my friend Ray collected me from a bench in front and made a scenic drive into Asbury Park and the restaurant Homesick. Grabbing a Proper 12 Irish whiskey at the bar, we began chatting and catching up nearly 50 years as our table was readied. Sharing experiences of adult life, we talked non-stop. Ray suggested the butter board, a menu item I was unfamiliar with, but a favorite of his. Edible flowers topped a spread of seasoned butter, which I spread on artisanal bread. Chicken pot pie followed, with a piece of chocolate cake to conclude the meal. Ray returned me to the hotel and I settled in for the night.

Day 4 – New Jersey

Awaking to misty rain, I had waffles and OJ, just meeting their cutoff time for breakfast. Out into the car, I headed south to I-195 west which took me directly to the state capitol. There are three cathedrals in Trenton, so I started with the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption at the corner of N Warren and Bank Streets.

Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption , Trenton

After squeezing into a tight parking spot, I did inside photos first, hoping that the rain would stop, as well as fitting in between a funeral and noon Mass. As I walked from the parking lot to the front of the church, I passed an old, circa 50’s, fallout shelter sign pointing to the crypt entrance, giving me a nostalgic chuckle.

The nave views as boxy, with shallow transept-like “dents” along the very deep line up of pews. Probably 3-stories tall, the vault has a shallow concave dip over the central aisle, painted in a pale aqua-blue with ivory stenciling. At the sanctuary, a baldachin with gold-colored poles supports a simple square umbrella-like covering over the high altar and tabernacle. Closer to the congregation are two more altars, raised four steps from the nave floor. The cool feeling I experienced mirrored the overcast gray drizzling skies outside.

Trinity Cathedral, Trenton

Heading up W State Street along the Delaware River, my next stop was Trinity Cathedral, its red door in the north transept announcing it as an Episcopal church. The campus occupies about a third of the long block, at its eastern end, with a few mature trees and wide grass expanses. After walking around the building, I found an open entry to the school where Dean Rene John welcomed me, walking me into the nave. With a dark wood vault, the blond pews complement the light peach-colored walls.

Placed high in the side walls, the stained-glass windows featured both early Christian saints and British saints. No apse, the altar with the choir stalls, chairs for the bishop and the dean, and a simple high altar flow from the nave. Above in one side chapel is an arrangement of 15 classic gilded icons, a brilliant spot for worship. As I parted, Father John asked me for a copy of Cathedrals to the Glory of God, which I will send out after the year end holydays.

Church of the Cathedral of the Holy Assumption, Trenton

My final stop in Trenton took me back towards the central core, near Market Park. The Church of the Cathedral of the Holy Assumption is a ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, as opposed to those with allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchy.) On Jackson Street, a narrow tree-lined residential street, the three-story white stucco faced structure is unassuming. Up four steps to a double door under a peaked portico, I was unable to raise anyone. Its website’s last update was the death in summer 2018 of Bishop Stefan, but Google Maps has pictures from 2021-22.

With good directions from Maps, I was able to proceed to Highway One which took me west across the Delaware River into Morrisville, Pennsylvannia.


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