What I found so fascinating about St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on 141st is the visual evidence that I saw of a connection between the church and the American government. Never have I seen a statue of one of the Founders of the United States on the lawn of a church. There may be a reason why Alexander Hamilton, an Episcopalian himself, is placed here. Nearby, sits the Hamilton Grange, the only home that Hamilton ever owned, where him and his family spent two years before his death.
The Hamilton Grange has been relocated twice and presently sits near the church in St. Nicholas Park. It was originally located north of its present location, when the city decided to redraw its street grid in 1889. St. Luke’s, looking to move uptown from Greenwich Village, bought the property that same year. The church then moved it to its current location. At one point, the church even used the home for services until it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Even on the front door of the church, there is a quote, which states, “Democracy…is a government by all the people, for all the people” (Theodore Parker in 1850). I wonder how the Hamilton sculpture, the presence of the Hamilton Grange nearby, and the quote on the door fit within the church and its attitudes towards the government.
In a 1993 NY Times article, many members of the community sought to make sure that the Hamilton Grange was not moved by the city government:
“There are people who very much want to see the house restored as it was back when it was built,” said the Rev. Johan Johnson of St. Luke’s, who is actively fighting the move. “But I don’t think they are looking as much at the preservation of the neighborhood. To move the house would be to tear the fabric of this community.” It is clear from this quote that the church and the Hamilton Grange are a vital part of the Harlem community and its history.
This picture is of the back entranceway to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on 141st Street and Convent Avenue. What struck me about this doorway is the contrast of the beautiful mosaic of St. Luke in the pediment above the doors and the Theodore Parker quote about democracy displayed across the double doors. The deeply religious image on the pediment and the seemingly secular quote displayed across the double seemed incongruous to me. Even more interesting is that the author of the quote is Theodore Parker, a Unitarian Transcendentalist preacher and thinker who advocated for what he referred to as an “industrial democracy” which would create the most religious society possible by emphasizing the spiritual perfection of every person. Much like Adam Clayton Powell did, Parker combined his political and theological views in order to create a theory to better society. Another interesting fact is that in the courtyard to the left of the door was a statue of the Alexander Hamilton (see below). This is not surprising as the church was located in Hamilton Heights, where the American Founding Father once owned a large portion of land. This church is truly a testament to the history of Harlem and its importance within the American political and religious narrative.