A roundup of 15 religious sites in Upstate New York.
by Chris Clemens
For 2015 I’ve given myself a challenge. Each month I’ll be choosing a topic that I think is interesting enough. Then I’ll attempt to find 15 examples of it from my jaunts around New York. My inaugural ’15 for 2015′ was cobblestone buildings, and this month I’m sticking with the building theme. I’ve decided that my second installment in the series would be religious sites.
If you’re not aware already, Central and Western New York has a very storied past with religion. We’re no Middle East of course, but we still can lay claim to birthing the Second Great Awakening. We even earned the moniker ‘burned over district’ because all of the ‘lamp oil of the spirit had entirely burned up’ here according to Charles Grandison Finney. During the Second Great Awakening (1820-1850) numerous religions sprung up in the Central New York and Finger Lakes Regions. Nearly everyone in the region claimed membership to a religious belief.
This Religious Sites List
This list is by no means meant to be all inclusive. This is just fifteen really interesting religious sites from around the state. It is also in no particular order or rank. I’ve spent probably more time and effort visiting and learning about religious places in New York than any other subject. Choosing just fifteen for this list was a bit difficult.
There are definitely a ton that deserve to be here and aren’t. Did I leave any out that you would’ve included?
15 Religious Sites in NY
Jordanville, New York
1. Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville is a Russian Orthodox Monastery and one of the few in the area. With multiple chapels on site, visiting is a pretty serene experience.
Oneida, New York
2. Cross Island Chapel in Oneida is in the running for being the ‘Smallest Church in the World’. It attracts so much attention that it was even featured on Jay Leno’s show. Cross Island Chapel is surrounded entirely by a pond so you need a boat to get to it. A few couples a year get married at this church located in the owner’s backyard.
Bath, New York
3. The First Presbyterian Church of Bath features a sanctuary that is entirely designed floor to ceiling by the famed Louis Comfort Tiffany. Located right in the village of Bath, this display of color and design is one you’ll want to see in person.
Seneca Falls, New York
4. The Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls sits in a small Finger Lakes town with incredible history. The start of the Women’s Rights Movement took place just up the street from this church. Plus, there’s a connection to Seneca Falls with the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”. With its position on the water here, many joke that this is the most photographed church in New York State. It’s tough to deny that it looks magnificent!
Buffalo, New York
5. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo has some pretty amazing history and Tiffany glass, but also has one of my all-time favorite ceilings in its sanctuary!
Kiryas Joel, New York
6. To be fair, this building isn’t precisely a ‘religious site’. But, the entire village of Kiryas Joel in Monroe is inhabited almost exclusively by Hasidic Jews. For most residents, Yiddish is a first language and most of their signage is written in the ancient language. I was not able to find the synagogue even after asking directions and driving up and down what I thought was every street in the village, so, you get a photo of the school instead! (*Notice the bus driver*)
Mumford, New York
7. The First United Presbyterian Church of Mumford was once featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as having been constructed by petrified wood. While that’s not true, it IS possibly the ONLY church in the country to be constructed using bog limestone. The quarried all the bog limestone for this church from a spot just up the road.
Buffalo, New York
8. The First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo also has some pretty interesting glass pieces by Louis Comfort Tiffany and a pretty nice organ too!
Lewiston, New York
9. Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston is a newer site so it has less history. Still though, the Holy See has designated the shrine as a minor Basilica so it’s pretty noteworthy. Visitors can climb a set of stairs to the top of the dome above the sanctuary to a statue of Our Lady that overlooks the grounds.
Rochester, New York
10. The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Rochester was constructed in 1911 on East Ave. Most Rochesterians are familiar with the spectacular ceiling in the Eastman Theater, but most don’t realize that George Eastman got the idea for that ceiling only after seeing the sanctuary pictured here, just up the street from his house.
Rush, New York
11. The Wat Pa Lao Buddhadham (Buddaram) is a Vietnamese Buddhist society located just south of Rochester in the rural township of Rush. Unsuspecting drivers accustomed to farm fields, country homes and winding roads are suddenly greeted by a building and property that appear to have been picked up from a faraway land before being set down in Upstate New York.
Fonda, New York
12. This natural spring at the Shrine of Saint Kateri Tekekwitha in Fonda is the exact water that Saint Kateri was baptized in. Born and raised a member of the Mohawk tribe, she is the first Native American woman to have been baptized a Christian. Her birth place is just about 5 miles east and is the site of another interesting religious site, the Shrine to the North American Martyrs.
Naples, New York
13. St. Januarius Church in Naples was designed to match its surrounding Finger Lakes icon: the grape. The shape of the building is intended to outline the shape of an upturned grape leaf, while the stained glass windows are single colored, grape-shaped windows scattering the wall with each color representing a type of grape grown in the region.
Ellicottville, New York
14. Built in 1837, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicottville is the oldest church in all of Cattaraugus County!
Middletown, New York
15. The Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middletown has one of the larger collections of relics that I’ve ever seen, and the grounds are a real nice peaceful spot I like to stop and visit when I’m in the area. Mainly, I’ve always just really liked the shape of the lines in this ceiling in the chapel!
BONUS: Here’s a list I put together a while back that you may want to check out as well!
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens