Exterior: The Façade
The church façade on Fourth Avenue is the crown of Murphy’s exterior design. Here the brick body of the church frames a decorative Art Deco screen of highly polished pink granite, which presents a beautifully articulated expression of the theology of our salvation coming to humanity from the Father, through the Son, by the action of the Holy Spirit.
The entire granite façade is deeply inscribed to create a monumental cross with a rose window at its center. Nestled between the arms of the cross are the symbols of the four winged creatures (Ezekiel 1:10 and 10:14) that have been used by theologians for centuries to represent the four evangelists. These are Matthew, a man because his gospel begins with the ancestry of Christ; Mark, a lion as he begins his gospel with the proclamation of Saint John the Baptist that we should prepare a way for the Lord; Luke, an ox since he emphasizes the atonement made by Christ in his passion and death; and John, an eagle for the majestic words with which he begins his gospel declaring Jesus to be the Word.
At the center of the window is carved in high base relief the dove of the Holy Spirit (all the other carving on the façade is shallow). From the Spirit radiates rays of light, which symbolize the Gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in Isaiah (11:1-3) to which the Latin Fathers added a seventh, piety. These gifts connected by Isaiah with the promised coming of the Messiah are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Placed within the design of the window are three Stars of David signifying the Father’s relationship with the Jewish people, through whom the Messiah comes into the world.
The bottom of the etched cross frames three bronze doors, which form the principal entrance to the church, with two limestone angels holding swords between the doors. The use of the same polished granite for the planters, completes the composition, providing a “base”, while a simple molding of the gable with a cross and dove designs crowns the entire facade.
Flanking the limestone screen are two “Romanesque” inspired lancet windows which provide light to the stairwells for the organ loft. The architect screens them over with a pattern of arching brick, which visually serves to allow the eye to pass over them and focus on the central part of the façade. On either side of the doors a pattern made of a double layer of diagonally set brick begins a course which runs entirely around the building and serves to carry the eye, as well as creating the feel of a base on the 82nd Street side.