Church Destroyed by 9/11 Reopens 20 Years Later as Memorial

by Amy Myers
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 03: People attend a ceremony with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America for the resumption of construction on the new Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center on August 03, 2020 in New York City. On September 11, 2001 St. Nicholas was the only other building besides the Twin Towers to be completely destroyed during the terrorist attack. Saint Nicholas Church, which began services in 1922, was named after Agios Nikolaos, the Patron Saint of Sailors. Before the Covid-19 outbreak halted all non-essential projects statewide for months, construction at the church was set to resume in the spring. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It’s been 20 years since the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed and 3,000 lives were lost on 9/11. Since that tragic day, New York and the entire nation have continuously ensured that the men and women who died on that day will be remembered forever. Part of that mission was to reconstruct the beloved church beside the World Trade Center.

Prior to its destruction on 9/11, the Greek Orthodox Church stood for 80 years at 155 Cedar Street. The house of worship came into existence when several Greek immigrants moved to lower Manhattan in the late 19th century. Originally, the group of newly named Americans purchased a small row house previously used as a tavern.

Since 1916, the establishment became a community center and then a beloved symbol of Greek heritage in the U.S. According to the official site of St. Nicholas, it was often the first stop for new immigrants from Greece after the Statue of Liberty.

Now fully reconstructed, the church is proud to reopen its doors as a shrine in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11. On Friday, New Yorkers will have a chance to welcome back the haven for spirituality with the lighting of the National Shrine. Although, visitors may have to walk a few steps to the east to see it.

According to Father Alexander Karloutsos, the church had two options: stay at its original location or be rebuilt at 130 Liberty Street. The church chose the latter for its 9/11 shrine for a couple of reasons. First, the shrine would be closer to the 9/11 memorial at 180 Greenwich Street. Secondly, it follows the Greek Orthodox tradition to face east “in anticipation of another resurrection.”

Church Finds Ship Remains Prior to 9/11 Shrine Construction

On that fateful day in 2001, the terrorist attacks on World Trade Center Tower 2 caused the church to collapse. Thankfully, at the time, no one was in the building. Still, the loss of the church only added to the heartbreak of that day as few relics could be recovered from the rubble.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, though, the reconstruction efforts revealed a fascinating discovery. In July 2010, workers found the remains of an 18th-century ship at the church’s location. St. Nicholas was known as a patron saint for sailors. Many believed this to be a sign that their efforts to reconstruct the church were righteous.

Although the church is a symbol of Greek heritage, Karloutsos clarifies that visitors of all faiths and walks of life are welcome in the church’s doors as it also commemorates the victims of 9/11.

“This is going to be a witness to the spirit of St. Nicholas, the spirit of Santa Claus,” Karloutsos shared with CBS. “St. Nicholas is the one that embraces and loves and affirms humanity and life itself.”