A historic church in lower Manhattan that houses New York’s Liberty Bell and whose congregation dates to the city’s earliest days was gutted early on Saturday by a massive fire that sent flames shooting through the roof.
The Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village burned before dawn after a fire spread from an adjacent five-story vacant building at around 5am. Flames shot from the roof and the church’s stately front window glowed from the blaze inside.
“We are devastated,” said the Rev Jacqueline J Lewis. “We are gutted like our building is gutted; our hearts are crushed like our doors are crushed. But we know how to be the church, and we know that God is God, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
The New York fire department said there were four minor injuries to firefighters and that marshals were investigating the blaze.
Built in 1892, the church is home to the oldest congregation of the Collegiate Churches of New York, which date to the Dutch settlement of the island in the 1620s, according to the church’s website. The Middle Collegiate Church had been in two other locations in Manhattan since 1729.
The bell tower houses New York’s Liberty Bell, which pealed to mark the birth of the United States of America in 1776 and has been rung for the inaugurations and deaths of American presidents and events such as remembrance of the 9/11 attacks.
Lewis believed the bell survived the fire but was not certain. Church minister Amanda Ashcraft told WABC the Tiffany stained glass windows were gone.
The fate of the building was unclear, Lewis said, but the ministry will continue.
“Our church has been worshipping digitally since 15 March,” Lewis said. “And that’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow.”