We recently paid a visit to St. Mark’s during last month’s 5 Dutch Days 5 Boroughs festival, which celebrated Dutch culture and the city’s historical ties to the Netherlands. Rev. Michael Relyea, as associate pastor who has worked at the parish for 40 years, led us on a guided tour of the church’s rich history and many ongoing projects and programs.
In the West Yard, there is a curious burial slab marked Vault No. 95. The vault belongs to John Slidell, who died in 1854, but beneath his name is engraved “Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry.” Commodore Perry, famous for opening up Japan in 1854, spent a large part of his career at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He was second-in-command of the yard during the 1830’s, overseeing construction of the steam warship USS Fulton. In 1841, he was promoted to commandant, a post he held until 1843. Perry died in 1858 in New York City, and though he was meant to be buried at his family plot in Newport, Rhode Island, difficulties transporting his body caused him to be temporarily interred at St. Mark’s in the burial vault of his friend John Sidell. In 1866, his body was disinterred and moved to its current resting place in Newport.
The parish’s involvement in preservation has continued through its relationship with the Neighborhood Preservation Center, which is housed in the church rectory. The center provides resources for research and meeting spaces for organizations and individuals engaged in efforts to “facilitate and encourage citizen participation in the improvement and protection of New York City’s diverse neighborhoods.” The center is currently holding an online auction, which runs through December 7, to raise funds for its various programs. Among the items for auction are a trip to the oldest bath house in New York City, a gift certificate and cookbook from Veselka, a membership to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and four tickets for our Brewed in Brooklyn Tour for the 2010 season.
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery does offer occasional guided tours, but they do have an excellent self-guided tour of the church and grounds available on their website.
Correction: St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery is not the oldest building of continuous worship in New York City, but it sits on the oldest site, as there was a Dutch Reformed chapel where St. Mark's stands today. Many thanks to the keen eye of Rev. Relyea for spotting our mistake.
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