- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) Christmas services at the fire-damaged Cathedral of St. John the Divine may be relocated because of lingering environmental concerns, a spokesman for the century-old church said yesterday.
"We are trying to get back in the cathedral," spokesman Jere Farrah said. "That is still our number one option."
Earlier, the bishop, Mark Sisk, said worshippers could count on Christmas services in the Episcopal cathedral. But Mr. Farrah said church officials are awaiting final word from fire and environmental officials about whether reopening the church for the Christmas services was possible. Several other facilities have offered space to St. John's if it cannot reopen, he said.
The blaze at one of the world's largest churches broke out Tuesday in the gift shop. Investigators pointed to faulty electrical wiring as a possible cause.
The fire also severely damaged two 17th-century tapestries and left smoke and water damage. As much as 3 inches of water covered the floor of the nave.
Two other events were relocated because of the blaze. A concert today titled "A Cathedral Christmas," and tomorrow's performance of Handel's "Messiah" will be moved to an auditorium on the cathedral grounds, Mr. Farrah said.
The blaze was reported just before 7 a.m. Tuesday, but fire officials suspect that it may have been burning for some time before it was discovered. The cause of the fire remained under investigation yesterday.
Firefighters brought the fire under control after about 21/2 hours and were able to confine it to the gift shop next to the nave. The shop's wooden roof collapsed.
Church workers with mops and buckets removed most of the water from the church. The high altar did not appear to be damaged by water, but it was clouded in smoke after the fire.
Bishop Sisk said the damaged tapestries were two of the church's six Barberini tapestries depicting the life of Jesus Christ. They were made on the official papal looms.
"This is a big part of my world, taking care of these tapestries," said a distraught Marlene Eidelhut, director of textile conservation at the Manhattan church.
"The Last Supper" and "The Resurrection" were partly destroyed.
The remnants of the 17th-century tapestries will be cleaned, restored and put back on display, Miss Eidelhut said.
Mr. Farrah added that the stone structure of the church was "indestructible."
Large enough to contain two football fields, the cathedral boasts more than 150 stained-glass windows. Some painted-over windows with no extraordinary value were damaged, but not the stained-glass windows, Mr. Farrah said.
The first stone of the historic Gothic cathedral was laid in 1892. Sections have been added or expanded over the past century, but construction has never been completed.
Each day, thousands of people visit the cathedral, which hosts 30 services a week, Mr. Farrah said. Two services are held on Christmas Day, each typically attracting as many as 5,000 people.
Mr. Farrah said the gift shop sold books, crafts, jewelry and other goods, generating about $1 million a year to support church functions.
The building is in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on the edge of Harlem, a few blocks from Columbia University.
The Encyclopedia of New York City describes it as the nation's largest cathedral.

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