Six-alarm ‘heartbreaking’ hell tears famous Middle Collegiate Church in East Village


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Firefighters took eight hours to bring down a devastating six-alarm hell in the East Village that began Saturday morning and destroyed historic Middle Collegiate Church.

The six-alarm fire began at 4:48 a.m. on December 5 inside a vacant five-story building adjacent to the place of worship at the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 7th Street. The flames then quickly spread to the church, built in 1892 to house one of the first religious congregations in New York history.

The nearby Hopper Home, a shelter for 22 women run by the Association of Women’s Prisons, and the closed Café Mocha were also damaged.

By the time firefighters finally brought the blaze under control at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, much of the historic building had been completely destroyed – Tiffany stained glass windows blew, much of the roof collapsed. It turned out to be a heartbreaking sight for anyone familiar with the neighborhood and the congregation.

“Heartbreaking. Middle Collegiate is such an icon of the East Village. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked past and admired its humble beauty,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. tweeted Saturday afternoon. “We will do everything we can to help Middle Collegiate rebuild. “

The devastation reminded Senator Brad Hoylman of the 2019 fire at the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Throughout Saturday afternoon, members of the congregation, including the Reverend Jacqueline Lewis, Senior Minister of Middle Collegiate Church, combed through the ruins to salvage what they could, including paintings and parish registers dating from the 1890s.

December 5, 2020.Photo by Dean Moses

Passers-by could only gaze in shock at the historic burnt down church, now in ruins.

Photo by Dean Moses

Fire officials said the flames first developed on the first floor of the vacant building, then quickly spread to the upper floors and adjacent Middle Collegiate Church.

Firefighters work to extinguish a heavy fire that is spreading through the roof of Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village in a five-alarm fire on December 5, 2020.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell
Passers-by watch firefighters fight the Middle Collegiate Church blaze on December 5, 2020.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Within moments, flames could be seen from every floor of the vacant building and many of the church’s Tiffany stained glass windows. City council member Carlina Rivera reported on Twitter there is “significant damage” to the house of worship.

“Like I said, the Church is not a building, but this one has been there for us through so many things. People pray here, we cry as a community ”, Rivera tweeted. She encouraged residents to donate through the Middle Collegiate Church website,, to help them begin the long process of rebuilding.

Rivera noted that she was also working with the WPA to relocate the 22 women residing at the Hopper Home, who were temporarily taken to the nearby WPA family shelter.

“The damage caused by this fire goes far beyond the structural effects alone,” Rivera said in a statement. “But we know our East Village community is strong and we will be there by their side every step of the way in this recovery, as we can. As we begin this difficult work, I am inspired by the words of Reverend Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Chruch – someone I have considered a close friend and counselor for many years – when she said this morning that no fire can stop revolutionary love. . ‘ I will keep this spirit in my heart for the days and weeks to come as we continue our response and recovery. “

No civilians were reportedly injured, but the fire department said three firefighters were hospitalized with injuries that are not considered life threatening.

Firefighters receive instructions on site.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell
Fire Marshal Dan Nigro inspects the premises.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“Devastated and crushed”

Reverend Lewis expressed his grief over the destructive hell, but also his determination to rebuild and continue the mission of the church.

“We are devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary at Middle Collegiate Church has burned down. And yet, no fire can stop revolutionary love ”, Lewis tweeted. “We thank God that there was no loss of life. We know that God does not cause these kinds of tragedies, but that he is present with us and for us when we cry, present in the hugs and prayers of our loved ones.

Members of Middle Collegiate Church organized virtual services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Lewis wrote that this would continue on Sunday despite the tragic fire.

The roots of Middle collegiate church date back to 1628, when Manhattan was part of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. The church persisted even after the English took over the colony and renamed it New York in 1664; decades later, in 1696, it received a royal charter from King William III.

The current East Village Church shrine was built in 1892 and is home to what the congregation calls the Liberty Bell of New York, which rang on July 9, 1776 – five days after America declared independence from the Great -Brittany – from the original church sanctuary on Nassau Street in what is now the Financial District.

The bell has moved with the church over the years and traditionally rings to mark each inauguration and death of a US president.

Co-affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Reformed Church of America, today’s Middle Collegiate Church is proud to have “one of the premier multicultural and multiracial congregations in the United States” and to promote marriage and racial equality.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Middle Collegiate Church allocated 10% of its budget to programs related to the Black Lives Matter movement and allocated grants to help those in difficulty pay their rent or mortgages.

With reporting by Dean Moses

What remains of the vacant building.Photo by Dean Moses
The Café Moka emptied.Photo by Dean Moses


Martha J. Finley