The Church of the Ascension in the City of New York was founded in 1827. Its first church building, on Canal Street just east of Broadway, was consecrated in 1829 and burned to the ground in 1839.
The present edifice at Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street, the first church on Fifth Avenue, is one of the earliest churches designed by the English-born architect Richard Upjohn (1820-1878), who was working on plans for Trinity Church, Wall Street, at the same time. The cornerstone was laid in 1840 and the church was consecrated on November 5, 1841.
During the years 1885-1889, the interior of the church was remodeled. Galleries on the north and south were removed. The chancel was decorated as we see it today, a memorial to William C. Rhinelander and Mary Rogers, his wife, given by their daughters. The work was done by McKim, Mead and White under the general direction of Stanford White (1853-1906).
The sculptured angels over the main altar are the work of Louis St. Gaudens (1854-1913).
The main altar and the two angels in the mosaic were done by D. Maitland Armstrong.
The painting of “The Ascension of Our Lord” above the main altar is the work of John La Farge (1835-1910). It was executed on canvas in place and completed in 1888. It stands in the first rank of modern mural decoration in America. John La Farge also designed four of the stained glass windows (described below).
The freestanding altar, given in 1983 by Esther D. Hamilton in memory of Catherine B. Fair, was designed by a Polish-born architect, Andrej Ryczek, and made by Lewis Epstein and Alex Tweedie, woodworkers from Boston.
The Holtkamp organ was installed in 1967 and has served the parish well for over 40 years. It has 4,500 pipes, 67 stops, and 81 ranks distributed among the pedal, great, swell, positiv, and solo divisions. Eclectic in conception, the organ is adapted to the needs of organ literature of all periods. Its tonal quality is greatly enhanced by the excellent acoustics of the church building.
(Learn more about the church’s new organ currently under construction in France and given in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Florence Manton, long-time members of the parish.)
The choir stalls, designed by McKim, Mead and White, were made by the J.&R. Lamb Studios. They were given in 1885 by Euphrasia Leland and Emma Leland Wesson in memory of their sisters, Louisa Leland Limbert and Adelaide Leland.
The baptismal font, given by the St. Agnes Society in 1891, was cleaned and repaired in 1983, when a new brass cover was designed and made by Rambusch Studios.
The eagle lectern is a memorial to the Rt. Rev. Gregory Thurston Bedell, second rector of the parish, and was given by his former parishioners in 1898.
The three panels on the front of the side altar were designed by Helen Maitland Armstrong in 1930. The wood used was taken from the sedilia formerly placed there in memory of Francis and Euphrasia Aguilar Leland.
The cross above the side altar was brought from Italy and is a memorial of Earl Hulbert Aldrich, given by the Rt. Rev. Donald Bradshaw Aldrich, D.D., sixth rector of the parish.
The pulpit, given by Meta Nielson in memory of the Rt. Rev. Manton Eastburn, first rector of the parish, was designed by Charles F. McKim and carved by Joseph Cabus in 1884.
Two paintings by Edwin H. Blashfield hang in the rear of the church. On the north aisle is
“The Angel with the Flaming Sword,” which was painted in Paris in 1890-1891 and shown at the Salon of 1891 and at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. It was given by the artist and his wife, Grace Hall Blashfield, in 1935, in memory of the Rev. E. Winchester Donald and the Rev. Percy Stickney Grant. On the south aisle is “In the House of the Carpenter.” It was lent in 1939 and became the church’s property at the death of the artist’s widow in 1947.
(North side, from the Fifth Avenue end.)
1. The Weir memorial, J. Alden Weir (1852-1919), artist. Subject: “An Incident in the Flight into Egypt.” Given in memory of Anna Dwight Weir (1862-1892) and Julian Alden Weir (1888-1889).
2. The Reynolds Memorial, Joseph Lauber (1855-1948), artist. Subject: “Christ’s Admonition to Thomas.” Given in memory of James Van Beuren Reynolds and Frederick Henry Reynolds.
3. The Rhinelander Memorial, Frederick Wilson (1858-1938), artist. Subject: “The Women at the Sepulchre.” Given in 1894 in memory of Julia Rhinelander (deceased 1890). Design executed by Tiffany.
4. The Grosvenor Memorial, Frederic Crowninshield (1845-1918), artist. Subject: “Angels at the Sepulchre.” Given in memory of Jasper Grosvenor (1794-1857) and Matilda A. Grosvenor (deceased 1885).
5. The Davies Coxe Memorial, John La Farge, artist. Subject: “The Good Shepherd.” Given in 1910 in memory of Davies Coxe (1862-1908).
(South side, from the Fifth Avenue end.)
1. The Southworth Memorial, John La Farge, artist. Subject: “Mary Magdelene, Joanna, and Mary the Mother of James at the Sepulchre.” Given in 1890 in memory of Emily Martin Southworth (deceased 1888).
2. The Tailer Memorial, D. Maitland Armstrong (1836-1918), artist. Subject: “The Child Jesus Found by His Mother in the Temple.” Given in 1895 in memory of Robert W. Tailer, Jr.
3. The Leland Memorial, John La Farge, artist. Subject: “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple.” Given in memory of Francis Leland (1807-1885) and Euphrasia Aguilar, his wife (1816-1879).
4. The Neilson Memorial, D. Maitland Armstrong, artist. Subject: “The Annunciation.” Given in 1886 in memory of John Neilson (1799-1851) and Margareta, his wife (1807-1877).
5. The John Cotton Smith Memorial, John La Farge, artist. Subject: “Nicodemus Coming to Jesus by Night.” Given in 1886 in memory of the Rev. John Cotton Smith, D.D., third rector of the parish.
1. The Longstreth Memorial (north and south above the chancel), Henry Lee Willet (1899-1983), artist. Given by Mrs. N. Lucas Longstreth in 1963: two windows on the south side in memory of her parents, William E. and Jennie Pratt Lucas; two windows on the north side in memory of Harriet Baum. Design executed by Willet Stained Glass Studios.
2. The Lothrop Memorial (above the third bay arch on the south side), John Humphreys Johnston, artist. Subject: “The Vision of St. John.” Given in memory of Sarah Davis Lorthrop.
3. The Muhlenfels Memorial (above the fourth bay arch on the south side), Henry Lee Willet, artist. Given in memory of Alice Mary Muhlenfels in 1963. Design executed by Willet Stained Glass Studios.
4. The Goodness Memorial (above the fifth bay arch on the south side), Nancy Howell (born 1955), artist. Subject: “Let the Children Come to Me.” Given in memory of Donald Roy Goodness, Jr. (1954-1978) and dedicated in 1999. Design executed by the Gil Studio.
5. The Loomis Memorial (above the third bay arch on the north side), John Humphreys Johnston (1857-1941), artist. Subject: “The Two Marys at the Sepulchre.”
6. The Sinaly Memorial (above the fourth bay arch on the north side), Colum Sharkey (born 1922), artist. Subject: “Consider the Lilies of the Field.” Given in 1989 by Marguerite W. Sinaly in memory of her parents, Adolf Stephen Sinaly and Caroline Pierce Oliver Sinaly, her brother Adolf Sinaly, her sister Lavinia Scott, and her brother-in-law Howard Scott. Designed and executed by Willet Stained Glass Studios.
Front vestibule windows
1. The Jackson Memorial (south wall), D. Maitland Armstrong, artist. Given in 1911 in memory of Mary Louise Jackson by her husband, H.H. Jackson.
2. The Catherine B. Fair Memorial (north wall). Given in memory of Catherine B. Fair (deceased 1973) by Esther Hamilton. Design executed by Rohlf Studios.
Five windows consisting of 123 illustrations depicting incidents from the story of Creation to the story of Judas Maccabeus. They were given in 1941 by Susan Alfreda Cox in thanksgiving for the life and ministry of the Rt. Rev. Donald Bradshaw Aldrich, D.D., sixth rector of the parish (1925-1945). They were designed and executed by G. Owen Bonawit.
Given in memory of Mark Thomas Cox and Emily Maria Cox by their daughter, Susan Alfreda Cox, in 1933. The twelve bells, made in Loughborough, England, range from middle C to the second E above the diatonic scale of C, also the raised fourth and flat seventh (F# and B-flat). The memorial tablet in the vestibule for the tower bells was designed by Ruth Brooks.
In 1957, the Municipal Art Society and the New York Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians named the Church of the Ascension as nationally important and worthy of preservation because of its architectural value, sculpture, stained glass, and painting. In 1988, the church was declared a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.