Monday, February 7, 2011

The Church of San Salvatore - 359 Broome Street

photo by Alice Lum
Around 1880 a group of Italian immigrants formed the Episcopal congregation of San Salvatore. Services were held In Grace Chapel until 1885 when philanthropist and social worker Catherine Wolfe purchased the historic 1830’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Church on Mulberry Street.  The church had been used during the Draft Riots of 1863 as a shelter for the police. Wolfe, who “had become interested in work among the Italians,” according to The New York Times, paid $40,000 for the structure and spent another $5,000 in renovations.

As more and more Italians arrived through Ellis Island and settled in the neighborhood around the church, its importance grew. Services were conducted in Italian and social work for the mostly poor congregants was conducted from the building.

In 1897 came the news that the city intended to widen Elm Street, a plan that would necessitate the demolition of the Church of San Salvatore, which was by now a branch of the New York Protestant Episcopal City Mission Society.

On May 10, 1897 the church purchased the land at 359 Broome Street where Brooke’s Assembly Rooms stood. Long before the neighborhood had become an Italian enclave, Brooke’s was a gathering place for fashionable society; compared to the then-current Waldorf-Astoria, Delmonico’s restaurant or Sherry’s. Chronicler William Smith Pelletreau noted that the location was “in the very heart of the Italian community and is easily accessible to the Italians in the down town section of the city for many miles around.”

By May of 1901 the Brooke’s had been razed and plans were underway for the new church.

“The building will be in the English late perpendicular Gothic style,” reported The Times, “and the façade will be considerably higher than that of the present structure. A feature will be a large window which will be expected to light almost the whole interior. Quarters will be provided for extensive institutional work similar to that of St. Bartholomew’s, Grace Chapel and other parishes. There will be a gymnasium in the basement.”

photo Episcopal Diocese of New York Archives
The new church was dedicated in January 1903 by Bishop Potter. Pelletreau wrote that “The church has a seating capacity of eight hundred, and the average attendance at the Sunday school is about two hundred. There are three services on Sunday.”

“The services,” he said, “are entirely in the Italian language, the assistant vicar, Rev. Abraham Cincotti, being a native of Italy, and the needs and habits of the people are specially considered in every particular.”

A parish house was connected to the new church from which groups such as the San Salvatore Mutual Aid Society, Girls’ Friendly Society, Boys’ Surplice Choir, sewing and cooking classes, a Bible class and boys clubs were run.

photo Episcopal Dioces of New York Archives
San Salvatore was central to the lives of residents of Little Italy for decades. The New York Times commented on the traditional Maundy Thursday rites of the old country still being observed at the church in 1940. “Members of the Italian families of the neighborhood entered the church silently, placed under a twenty-foot cross their offerings consisting of small wheat and lentil plants, and then knelt in prayer.”

With time the Little Italy neighborhood changed. Chinatown spread into the streets once populated almost exclusively by Italian and Jewish families. San Salvatore eventually became home to Holy Trinity Ukrainian Church.  Over the years the parish house was demolished, the two small stone Gothic towers were lost and the beautiful rose window is sadly damaged.

San Salvatore today - photo Alice Lum
Yet today, as it did at the turn of the century, the church building at No. 359 Broome Street continues to serve the special needs of a group of worshippers far from their homeland. The charming building is a pleasant surprise on an afternoon’s walk.


  1. My great grandparents were married here in April of 1908 by Reverand Abraham Cinotti (mentioned in the article above) Thanks for the background on this beautiful building.

    1. Reverand Abraham Cincotti was my mom's Grandpa !

  2. Does anyone know if the church still has all the old baptism records?

  3. A picture of the building on Mulberry Street is located here

  4. Yet another picture of the predecessor church building on this page:

  5. My great Grand Father Alberto Pace was very connected to this church. Can you expand on his presence and connection with the San Salvadore mission.