The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘church

luminous aether

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maritime Sunday is suspended this week in honor of St. Patrick’s day. Last week, I had an opportunity to wave my camera around at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan, and was allowed to photograph the Irish Language Mass they were conducting. Here’s what I saw…


Designed by architect Joseph Francois Mangin, St. Patrick’s has great dignity and character in its restrained simplicity. Her sidewalls rise to a height of 75 feet, and the inner vault is 85 feet high. The church is over 120 feet long and 80 feet wide. Near the west wall stands the huge marble altar surrounded by an ornately carved, gold leaf reredos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin with, these shots are a combination of tripod and handheld. It’s not that bright in the cathedral, but it is lit like a movie set by the interaction of sunlight and stained glass which is augmented by well placed electrical fixtures. Sculptural elements and motifs are plentiful, and it is easy to get lost in photographing small details.

from wikipedia

In 1836, the cathedral was the subject of an attempted sack after tensions between Irish Catholics and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing nativists led to a number of riots and other physical confrontations. The situation worsened when a brain-injured young woman wrote a book telling her “true” story – a Protestant girl who converted to Catholicism, and was then forced by nuns to have sex with priests, with the resulting children being baptized then killed horribly. Despite the book being debunked by a mildly anti-Catholic magazine editor, nativist anger at the story resulted in a decision to attack the cathedral. Loopholes were cut in the church’s outer walls, which had just recently been built, and the building was defended from the rioters with muskets

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long has one enjoyed the pursuit of photographing ritual spaces of all kinds around the City of New York, but fascination with the era surrounding this cathedral lent a certain nervous excitement to my task. This was the “House of Dagger John“, after all, and its connections with Calvary Cemetery along the Newtown Creek have given it a special status in my eyes.

from wikipedia

John Joseph Hughes (June 24, 1797 – January 3, 1864), was an Irish-born clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the fourth Bishop and first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, serving between 1842 and his death in 1864.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The plan for the service (and one must remember that a humble narrator was raised in the Hebrew faith as I stumble through this part- I’m not being vague, sarcastic, or anti anything- rather I’m Jewish and have no real idea what the meshuggenah goyem do) was for the Mass to be vocalized in the Irish Language. There was an Organist and a Cantor performing music, and the adherents stood up and sat back down a couple of times while the Priests said things (in Irish).

from wikipedia

Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought their Gaelic speech with them to other countries, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man, where it gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx. It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe. In the Elizabethan era the Gaelic language was viewed as something barbarian and as a threat to all things English in Ireland. Consequently, it began to decline under English and British rule after the seventeenth century. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic decrease in the number of speakers especially after the Great Famine of 1845–1852 (where Ireland lost 20–25% of its population either to emigration or death). Irish-speaking areas were especially hit hard. By the end of British rule, the language was spoken by less than 15% of the national population. Since then, Irish speakers have been in the minority except in areas collectively known as the Gaeltacht.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I met the fellow on the left earlier in the day, one Msgr. Donald Sakano, who was a very nice fellow. He and the other Priests performed several actions while saying things which I’m sure would be familiar to adherents of the Roman Catholic Church, or at least Irish speakers, but not to this Jewish kid from Brooklyn.

The gaps in my knowledge just astound sometimes, actually, how can I not know every single detail of this altar ceremony?


Monsignor Donald Sakano is one of those urbanists who certainly possesses a singular perspective, forged from his work at the intersection of ministry, social work and affordable housing development and policy.

For the past four years, as Pastor of the Basilica of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, he has presided over the restoration and transformation of Old Saint Patrick’s buildings — which include The Old Cathedral, the school, the Parish House, St. Michael’s Chapel, the Youth Center and the iconic wall — into a series of community facilities available for outreach, assembly and cultural events, such as our benefit event, which will begin at the St. Patrick’s Youth Center at 268 Mulberry Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s funny, as I can bore you to death about Arius, Origen, or Loyola. Want to talk about the Renaissance, Reformation, or Second Great Awakening- I’m all in. Recognizing the common tools and long practiced performance of catholic mass?


I can describe the effects of nearly all the known forms of kryptonite, however.

from wikipedia

The Roman Missal contains the prayers, antiphons and rubrics of the Mass. Earlier editions also contained the Scripture readings, which were then fewer in number. The latest edition of the Roman Missal gives the normal (“ordinary”) form of Mass in the Roman Rite. But, in accordance with the conditions laid down in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of 7 July 2007, the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, the latest of the editions that give what is known as the Tridentine Mass, may be used as an extraordinary form of celebrating the Roman Rite Mass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ceremony continued, and I decided that maybe it wouldn’t be that terrible to get lost in some of that architectural detail for a frame or two, and opened up the shutter for a long exposure. The big difficulty encountered, of course, were the dichotomous ambient conditions whose luminous contrast stretched into narrow bands of shadow and light.

from wikipedia

The Eucharistic Prayer, “the centre and high point of the entire celebration”, then begins with a dialogue between priest and people. This dialogue opens with the normal liturgical greeting, “The Lord be with you”, but in view of the special solemnity of the rite now beginning, the priest then exhorts the people: “Lift up your hearts.” The people respond with: “We lift them up to the Lord.” The priest then introduces the great theme of the Eucharist, a word originating in the Greek word for giving thanks: “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God,” he says. The congregation joins in this sentiment, saying: “It is right and just.”

The priest then continues with one of many Eucharistic Prayer prefaces, which lead to the Sanctus acclamation: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Following the moment depicted above, the three priests dispersed to the heads of the aisles, whereupon celebrants of the faith formed lines whose reward seemed to be a small cookie or cracker. One presumes that this is “the host” which figures so prominently in the Catholic Mass.

How am I supposed to know, I’m Jewish- by me it’s a cookie.

Happy St. Patrick’s day- and thanks to Jim Garrity and Msgr. Sakano for allowing so poor a specimen as myself to spend the day with them.

from wikipedia

The absence of snakes in Ireland gave rise to the legend that they had all been banished by St. Patrick. chasing them into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a hill. This hagiographic theme draws on the mythography of the staff of the prophet Moses. In Exodus 7:8–7:13, Moses and Aaron use their staffs in their struggle with Pharaoh’s sorcerers, the staffs of each side morphing into snakes. Aaron’s snake-staff prevails by consuming the other snakes.

deserted midnight

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A friend recently published an excellent book (Eat the City) and your humble narrator was invited to the reception party her publisher was sponsoring on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. On the way to the event, deep in Alphabet City, this church building at 345 East 4th street between Avenues B and C caught my eye.

Built in 1895 as a Russian church, it currently houses the congregation of “San Isidro y San Leandro of the Western Orthodox Catholic Church of the Hispanic Mozarabic Rite”.

from wikipedia

Western Rite Orthodoxy or Western Orthodoxy or Orthodox Western Rite are terms used to describe congregations and groups which are in communion with Eastern Orthodox Churches or Oriental Orthodox Churches using traditional Western liturgies rather than adopting Eastern liturgies such as the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. While there are some ancient examples of Western Rite churches in areas predominantly using the Byzantine Rite (the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Latins, often referred to as Amalfi, is a common example), the history of the movement is often considered to begin in the nineteenth century with the life and work of Julius Joseph Overbeck. Less commonly, Western Orthodoxy refers to the Western Church before the Great Schism.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The history of this structure is somewhat hazy, but it was purpose built as a church. Originally a catholic church serving the St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish, ownership was transferred to the “Russian-Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Holy Trinity” and then the “Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas”. I’ve been unable to tie down exactly when the current congregants took possession of the structure.

from wikipedia

The Mozarabic Rite is the second-best attested liturgy in the Latin Church in terms of preserved documentation. The Mozarabic Rite was considered authoritative for the clarification of a Sacramentary received by Charlemagne from Pope Adrian I (d. 795). The first is, of course, the Roman Rite, which, to encourage unity of faith and worship, generally replaced the Mozarabic in Iberia from about 1080.

In the year 870, Charles the Bald, wishing to see what the ancient Gallican Rite had been like, had priests sent from Spain to celebrate the Mozarabic Rite before him.

In the latter part of the eighth century, the Rite had fallen under some suspicion owing to quotations cited by Elipandus of Toledo in support of his Adoptianist theories, and the Council of Frankfurt 794 spoke somewhat disparagingly of possible Islamic influence on it. It was due to these suspicions that in 924, John X sent a Papal Legate named Zanello to investigate the Rite. Zanello spoke favourably of the Rite, and the Pope gave a new approbation to it, requiring only to change the words of consecration to that of the Roman one. Spanish clergy gradually started to use the Roman words of institution (though there is no evidence whether or not it was done consistently).

When King Alfonso VI of Castile conquered Toledo in 1085, it was being disputed as to which rite Iberian Christians should follow: the Roman rite or Mozarabic Rite. After other ordeals, it was submitted to the trial by fire: One book for each rite was thrown into a fire. The Toledan book was little damaged whilst the Roman one was consumed. Henry Jenner comments in the Catholic Encyclopedia: “No one who has seen a Mozarabic manuscript with its extraordinarily solid vellum, will adopt any hypothesis of Divine Interposition here.” The king allowed six parishes in the city to continue to use the Mozarabic rite.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Baroque, and literally gothic in its decoration and design elements, the church reminds one that the monolithic Roman Catholic Church of modernity was once rent asunder by schisms. The Church was once caught between two dying and one growing empires (Latin Rome, Greek Rome, and the Arab Rum) which caused isolated pockets of Christian adherents to stray from Vatican orthodoxy. Often, it was the endless sea of politics which created these schisms, but as often as not it was merely regional variation in belief.

from wikipedia

Saint Isidore of Seville (Spanish: San Isidro or San Isidoro de Sevilla, Latin: Isidorus Hispalensis) (c. 560 – 4 April 636) served as Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades and is considered, as the historian Montalembert put it in an oft-quoted phrase, “le dernier savant du monde ancien” (“the last scholar of the ancient world”). Indeed, all the later medieval history-writing of Hispania (modern Spain and Portugal) was based on his histories.

At a time of disintegration of classical culture, and aristocratic violence and illiteracy, he was involved in the conversion of the royal Visigothic Arians to Catholicism, both assisting his brother Leander of Seville, and continuing after his brother’s death. He was influential in the inner circle of Sisebut, Visigothic king of Hispania. Like Leander, he played a prominent role in the Councils of Toledo and Seville. The Visigothic legislation which resulted from these councils is regarded by modern historians as exercising an important influence on the beginnings of representative government.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The world of a thousand years ago, while bearing strange similarity to our own, saw one of the great wheels of history grinding to a halt. The process that began with Alexander the Great and continued through Rome’s unified empire, then the Western and Eastern Roman imperiums, and the fall of the West and subsequent reign of the barbarous men of the North- spawned several Catholic variants which few have ever heard of. The Copts, Mozarabs, and Syriacs come to mind, of course- as do the Arians, Monophysites, and Nestorians.

from wikipedia

Leander and Isidore and their siblings (all sainted) belonged to an elite family of Hispano-Roman stock of Carthago Nova. Their father Severianus is claimed to be according to their hagiographers a dux or governor of Cartagena, though this seems more of a fanciful interpretation since Isidore simply states that he was a citizen. The family moved to Seville around 554. The children’s subsequent public careers reflect their distinguished origin: Leander and Isidore both became bishops of Seville, and their sister Saint Florentina was an abbess who directed forty convents and one thousand nuns. Even the third brother, Fulgentius, appointed Bishop of Écija at the first triumph of Catholicism over Arianism, but of whom little is known, has been canonised as a saint. The family as a matter of course were staunch Catholics, as were the great majority of the Romanized population, from top to bottom; only the Visigothic nobles and the kings were Arians. It should be stated that there was less Visigothic persecution of Catholics than legend and hagiography have painted. From a modern standpoint, the dangers of Catholic Christianity were more political. The Catholic hierarchy were in collusion with the representatives of the Byzantine emperor, who had maintained a considerable territory in the far south of Hispania ever since his predecessor had been invited to the peninsula by the former Visigothic king several decades before. In the north, Liuvigild struggled to maintain his possessions on the far side of the Pyrenees, where his Merovingian cousins and in-laws cast envious eyes on them and had demonstrated that they would stop at nothing with the murder of Liuvigild’s sister.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting series of clips, detailing the choral aspects of the Mozarabic rite, can be accessed here. Always fascinated by the prismatic flavors of faith, your humble narrator is glad to have stumbled across this enigmatic little church. Should any congregants of the institution have anything to add or correct, please use the comments link to share your knowledge.

from wikipedia

The Mozarabs (Spanish: mozárabes [moˈθaɾaβes]; Portuguese: moçárabes [muˈsaɾɐβɨʃ]; Catalan: mossàrabs [muˈsaɾəps]; Arabic: مستعرب‎ trans. musta’rab, “Arabized”) were Iberian Christians who lived under Arab Islamic rule in Al-Andalus. Their descendants remained unconverted to Islam, but did however adopt elements of Arabic language and culture. They were mostly Roman Catholics of the Visigothic or Mozarabic Rite.
Most of the Mozarabs were descendants of Hispano–Gothic Christians and were primarily speakers of the Mozarabic language under Islamic rule. Many were also what the arabist Mikel de Epalza calls “Neo-Mozarabs”, that is Northern Europeans who had come to the Iberian Peninsula and picked up Arabic, thereby entering the Mozarabic community.

A few were Arab and Berber Christians coupled with Muslim converts to Christianity who, as Arabic speakers, naturally were at home among the original Mozarabs. A prominent example of Muslims who became Mozarabs by embracing Christianity is the Andalusian rebel and Anti-Umayyad military leader, Umar ibn Hafsun. The Mozarabs of Muslim origin were descendants of those Muslims who converted to Christianity, following the conquest of Toledo and perhaps also, following the expeditions of king Alfonso I of Aragon. These Mozarabs of Muslim origin, who converted en masse at the end of the 11th century, many of them Muladi (ethnic Iberians previously converted to Islam), are totally distinct from the Mudéjars and Moriscos who converted gradually to Christianity between the 12th and 17th centuries. Some Mozarabs were even Converso Sephardi Jews who likewise became part of the Mozarabic milieu.

Separate Mozarab enclaves were located in the large Muslim cities, especially Toledo, Córdoba, Zaragoza, and Seville.


August 5th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley- This Sunday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman will be leading a walk through the industrial heartlands of New York City, exploring the insalubrious valley of the Newtown Creek.

The currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, and the place where the Industrial Revolution actually happened, provides a dramatic and picturesque setting for this exploration. We’ll be visiting two movable bridges, the still standing remains of an early 19th century highway, and a forgotten tributary of the larger waterway. As we walk along the Newtown Creek and explore the “wrong side of the tracks” – you’ll hear tales of the early chemical industry, “Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharfs”, colonial era heretics and witches and the coming of the railroad. The tour concludes at the famed Clinton Diner in Maspeth- where scenes from the Martin Scorcese movie “Goodfellas” were shot.

Lunch at Clinton Diner is included with the ticket.

Details/special instructions.

Meetup at the corner of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn at 11 a.m. on August 5, 2012. The L train serves a station at Bushwick Avenue and Grand Street, and the Q54 and Q59 bus lines stop nearby as well. Check as ongoing weekend construction often causes delays and interruptions. Drivers, it would be wise to leave your vehicle in the vicinity of the Clinton Diner in Maspeth, Queens or near the start of the walk at Grand St. and Morgan Avenue (you can pick up the bus to Brooklyn nearby the Clinton Diner).

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic as we move through a virtual urban desert. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed-toe shoes are highly recommended.

Clinton Diner Menu:

  • Cheese burger deluxe
  • Grilled chicken over garden salad
  • Turkey BLT triple decker sandwich with fries
  • Spaghetti with tomato sauce or butter
  • Greek salad medium
  • Greek Salad wrap with French fries
  • Can of soda or 16oz bottle of Poland Spring

for August 5th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 1, 2012 at 12:15 am

stately height

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, the Saint Demetrios Cathedral here in Astoria held their annual street fair, and I had an opportunity to enter the church and wave my camera around a bit. Greek, or Eastern Orthodox as adherents would prefer, churches are a particular favorite of mine to visit due to the literally byzantine artwork and lavish ornamentation.


Saint Demetrios was born in Thesaloniki, Greece in 270 AD. He came from a wealthy family and because he was athletic in appearance and heroic in spirit, he became a high-ranking officer in the Roman Army at a very young age. (This is why he is depicted in Byzantine icons in military dress, either standing or riding a horse.) He considered himself a soldier of Christ first, and a military soldier second. He spent most of his time as a devout missionary, preaching the Gospel at secret meetings and converting pagans to the Christian faith.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every time that I do a posting about a church, someone invariably accuses me of being ignorant or attempting to smear an institution somehow. Seriously, this could not be further from the truth, as the last thing I want to argue with anyone about is religion. Politics yes, but religion no.

Funnily enough, the Greeks pretty much invented both politics and religion, as well as “arguing”.

also from

The very first organized meeting of Greeks included also the residents of Corona and took place on December 18, 1923 at the Archdiocese which was then located on 30th Drive in Astoria. Immediately following these few Greek families received permission from the then, Archbishop Rodostolou to attend services in the Archdiocesan chapel of St. Athanasios on 30th Drive. At that time, the first Greek School was established.

The people then felt a need to organize their own Church and in 1927 the ground on which St. Demetrios stands today, was purchased for $3,500. An architect was engaged and a $25,000 structure was agreed upon which could later serve as a basement for the someday completed structure of their dream.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m not entirely sure if it was ok to be taking pictures in the Cathedral, and an older Hellenic woman was watching me carefully. If you don’t know any older Hellenic women, trust me on this, you don’t want them angry at you.

It ends badly.

The lady, however, did not adjure me to cease photographing, so I kept on clicking.


In terms of architectural style, the building itself is reminiscent of older Byzantine churches. Its high arching stained glass windows are also reflective of a distinctly American style. Greek characters adorn each wall, and flags of Greece stand tall throughout.

The church offers a variety of different services, ranging from blessing a new office or home to holding services for those about to go to war. Funeral services are also provided, as well as exorcisms.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lovely stained glass window dominates the cathedral, depicting the annunciation. The last time that I was in this structure, a young priest described the windows as being the work of a famous artist and that it was a great coup for this congregation to possess them, however I can supply little additional detail on the artist.

from wikipedia

In Eastern Christianity Mary is referred to as Theotokos (Θεοτόκος=”God-bearer”). The traditional Troparion (hymn for the day) of the Annunciation which goes back to Saint Athanasius of Alexandria is:

Today is the beginning of our salvation,

And the revelation of the eternal mystery!

The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin

As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.

Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:

“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the church year. As the action initiating the Incarnation of Christ, Annunciation has such an important place in Eastern theology that the Festal Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is always celebrated on March 25, regardless of what day it falls on—even if it falls on Pascha (Easter Sunday) itself, a coincidence which is called Kyriopascha. The only time the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated on Great and Holy Friday is if it falls on March 25. Due to this, the rubrics regarding the celebration of the feast are the most complicated of all in Eastern liturgics. The Annunciation is called Euangelismos (Evangelism) in Greek, literally meaning “spreading the Good News”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 2007, the Saint Demetrios congregation was robbed of a relic of the saint himself, which was later returned. While looking around for information on the Saint- I became interested in Myrrh, a term I’ve heard all my life but have never been quite sure what it meant. A sort of tree resin, I’m told it is used extensively by both Catholic and Orthodox churches for incense and other ritual usage.

Having grown up in the Jewish culture, such usage of resinous incense wasn’t part of the program, as we had Pastrami.


Detectives in Queens have cracked the case of a stolen church reliquary, the police said.

The reliquary — a sterling silver box containing a saint’s ankle bone — was stolen from the solea, a sanctuary platform, in front of the altar of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Astoria between noon and 2 p.m. on Tuesday, the police said. Church elders discovered the theft early on Wednesday, during morning prayers, said Fr. Dionysios Anagnostopoulos, who is the church’s archimandrite, a clerical dignitary ranking below a bishop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Informal and entirely incidental reading has suggested to me that both Myrrh and Frankincense were a standard carry for soldiers in the Roman military serving in the theaters of North Africa and the Near East. In a world without antibiotics, the two substances were used to treat wounds incurred in the field.

from wikipedia

One theory is that his veneration was transferred from Sirmium when Thessaloniki replaced it as the main military base in the area in 441/442 AD. His very large church in Thessaloniki, the Hagios Demetrios, dates from the mid-5th century, so he clearly had a large following by then. Thessaloniki remained a centre of his veneration, and he is the patron saint of the city.

After the growth of his veneration as saint, the city of Thessaloniki suffered repeated attacks and sieges from the Slavic peoples who moved into the Balkans, and Demetrius was credited with many miraculous interventions to defend the city. Hence later traditions about Demetrius regard him as a soldier in the Roman army, and he came to be regarded as an important military martyr. Unsurprisingly, he was extremely popular in the Middle Ages, and along with Saint George, was the patron of the Crusades.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 28, 2012 at 2:24 am

An Iron Road, St. George, and the Copts

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from Northern Blvd. by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

When heading east along Northern Blvd. – after navigating and exiting the traffic choked Queensboro bridge complex of off ramps, elevated trains, and vehicular approaches – the elevated iron and steel tracks make a sharp screech of a turn, transiting along the centuries old borderline between those calloused declinations found in semi industrial Dutch Kills- and the tree lined hillocks of sun kissed and sharply tragic Astoria.


The Astoria Line did not come into being until the era of the Dual Contracts, when it and the Corona (Flushing) Line were constructed to serve the northern part of Queens. These were perhaps the most cooperative portions of the project since both the IRT and BMT would share the routes and operate them jointly.
The original arrangement, beginning around 1920, was that the IRT (now the 7) ran through the Steinway Tunnel, and the Second Avenue El ran over the Queensboro Bridge, and met at Queensboro Plaza. From there, trains ran to either Flushing or Astoria.
Queensboro Plaza Station was built with eight tracks on two levels, served by four island platforms. The BMT operated the northern half of the station and the IRT ran the southern half. The north station had two platforms that fit the wider ten foot BMT subway cars and two for the narrower el cars. The southernmost pair of tracks connected to the Steinway Tunnel, while the next set north connected to the Second Avenue El. Both of these could serve either line in Queens via scissors crossovers west of the platforms on either level. The northerly pair of tracks curved to the Astoria Line and the southerly pair connected to the Flushing Line.

The Astoria Line did not come into being until the era of the Dual Contracts, when it and the Corona (Flushing) Line were constructed to serve the northern part of Queens. These were perhaps the most cooperative portions of the project since both the IRT and BMT would share the routes and operate them jointly.

The original arrangement, beginning around 1920, was that the IRT (now the 7) ran through the Steinway Tunnel, and the Second Avenue El ran over the Queensboro Bridge, and met at Queensboro Plaza. From there, trains ran to either Flushing or Astoria.

Queensboro Plaza Station was built with eight tracks on two levels, served by four island platforms. The BMT operated the northern half of the station and the IRT ran the southern half. The north station had two platforms that fit the wider ten foot BMT subway cars and two for the narrower el cars. The southernmost pair of tracks connected to the Steinway Tunnel, while the next set north connected to the Second Avenue El. Both of these could serve either line in Queens via scissors crossovers west of the platforms on either level. The northerly pair of tracks curved to the Astoria Line and the southerly pair connected to the Flushing Line.

from the Elevated Subway Platform by you.

31st street, Astoria Elevated Subway- photo by Mitch Waxman

A critical artery, the elevated tracks are also a loud, noisome, and exasperating neighbor for those forced to live near it. The tracks currently carry the N and W subway lines from their Manhattan duties back to the marble cloaked Ditmars section of Astoria, which hurtle along sounding like the chariots of hell itself. Interestingly, the stations along this mechanical Appian Way bear the nomenclature of old Astoria’s street names, – Beebe Avenue, Grand Avenue etc.- which are otherwise extinct and atavist usages. I’ll refer you, once again, to forgotten-ny’s excellent “Street Necrology of Astoria” page- which describes the perplexing maze of street designations far better than I can.

Click here to hear what its sounds like on the street, under the elevated train. (that’s me doing the voiceover time stamp at the end).

note: this is being served by my comics site, and is quite safe for work- its a quicktime movie around 500K, audio only.

Elevated Subway Tracks, Astoria by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

A movie or two have used 31st street as their location. I specifically have to mention one of my favorite NY flicks- A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints– which is a good representation of what New York street life used to be like in the 80’s and is a GREAT Astoria movie. The graphic and often violent action in the movie, however, is set on the Ditmars side of 31st street, not below Broadway- where these photos were shot. Seriously… rent it… it doesn’t suck.

g10_img_7487_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria “the other Shunned House” – photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of the buildings lining 31st street, like this enigmatic and quite large home which has been abandoned for years, have recently seen new fencelines erected and DOB permits affixed. If the normal patterns of destruction and construction observed in modern Queens play out over the coming months in predictable fashion, an enigmatic structure will be obliterated and replaced by some towering rectangular pile of rebar and cinder blocks.

Rare Political Statement from fence sitter Mitch:

We Plebeians can’t stop the money of the Patrician and Equestrian classes from pushing their plans along except in very rare cases- this is historically true.

The currency that the Political class trades in, ultimately, are votes. If chimpanzees voted, and did so “reliably”, we’d have a lot of bananas growing in Queens and a dedicated effort to bring more Chimpanzees into the neighborhood. The government would ignore the horrific realities of chimpanzee attack.

Community equals constituency. Constituency means that the Politicians will come to YOU, because you vote- reliably. If we can supply a torch bearing mob of angry constituents to a Politician to exploit- anything can happen- because the game rules have changed and the community can out “tweed” the other side. Only 15% of eligible voters went to the polls in the last democratic primary… during wartime.

Community equals constituency.

g10_img_7493_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

The Dutch Kills side of 31st street hosts a series of automotive service shops, collision remediation specialists, and large warehouses which offer glimpses of a more prosperous time in fading signage and ornate masonry. These grand structures testify to the wealth and prosperity carried into the area by the elevated tracks. Just a century ago, this was farmland.

31st street, Astoria by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

All along the southern borderlands of 31st street, the shadows of the “El” part to reveal relict buildings which have been either been cross purposed to modern usage- or just abandoned. Near 36th avenue, there is an avian abattoir.

There are also many churches clustered along 31st street- including the notable St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox institution. The neighborhood I grew up in was Irish, Italian, Jewish, and African American, with a sprinkling of Boricua here and there. I went to a lot of communions, weddings, and confirmations as a result. This “Brooklyn experience”, and a lifelong fascination with diabolical oppression as represented by Hollywood, my perspective on Christianity is an intrinsically Roman Catholic one- but that might be because of Dio.

note: I was lucky enough to be allowed to take photos inside the St. Demtrios Cathedral back in May, and was given a tour of the place by a young priest. You’ll get to see the photos sometime this winter

As a result, I find the other branches of the cross fascinating- warning- I’m about to go off on a tangent here- might as well go get yourself a coffee because you’ve got links to click.

g10_img_7479_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

In the beginning -which in this case is around the 3rd and 4th century AD- there was a great civilization built around an ocean sea that spread out along the coastlines onto three continents.

This civilization had just spawned a new religion, based ultimately around three places
– the civilizations capitol city in the west,
– its intellectual heartlands in the east,
– and in its breadbasket to the south.

As is the case with ecclesiastical communities, disagreements over doctrinal practice and liturgical rites caused schisms to form between various camps. As time went by, and the civilization crumbled into constituent states at war with each other, these schisms widened. The branches of the roseated cross were separated and they became part of emerging nation states.

The western capitol- where the northern barbarians called Normans (specifically Lombards) would rule- was Rome, and its branch of the cross is called Roman Catholic. The intellectual heartland, and the eventual seat of the Greek Roman Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire, whose citizens called themselves Romoloi) was Constantinople. and its church became known as the Orthodox. The southern branch, which is based in Alexandria, is called the Coptic Orthodox. The people who grew up in this tradition can be referred to as Copts.

g10_img_7480_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

St. George was a noble born Roman citizen from Cappadocia (modern day anatolia) who joined the legions and made a name for himself during the reign of Diocletian. The emperor found it politically convenient to purge his ranks of noble christians, and George found himself in direct conflict with the world’s most powerful man.


Diocletian gave orders for the issue of a formal edict against the Christians on February 23, in the year 303 A.D., being the feast of Termhlalia. The provisions of this edict which was published on the next day in the market place, were as follows: “All churches should be leveled to the ground. All sacred books to be burned. All Christians who hold any honorable rank are not only to be degraded, but to be deprived of civil rights. Also, All Christians who are not officials are to be reduced to slavery”.

from wikipedia:

Recognizing the futility of his efforts, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have him executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s city wall, on April 23, 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr

g10_img_7477_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

There is a large Copt community in Astoria (as well a large Egyptian Muslim neighborhood near Steinway and Astoria Blvd.).

Culturally similar (recipes, style of life, role of women) to the long habitated Greeks, the Copts own many shops and restaurants along Broadway. They often offer a version of the Greek Taverna– an inn which offers light meals and various beverages to weary travelers- but with the addition of Hookah pipes filled with flavored tobaccos and other aromatics. There really does seem to be a Mediterranean culture which crosses state boundaries, but never gets more than 200 miles away from that ancient waterway which was the navel of the world.

There are other ancient branches of the cross out there which also survived the fall of their Roman Empire. The Nestorians, The Chaldeans, The Monophysitists, amongst many others. I haven’t found them yet, however, I’m still searching for the Yazidi– who have got to be somewhere in Astoria.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 23, 2009 at 1:42 am

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