110-06 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, Queens
Ground broken: 18 May 1938
Completed: 5 November 1939
Architects: Maginnis & Walsh
This week’s visit began with a bit of a false start. My original intention was to visit the Hindu Temple Society of North America and its complex in Flushing, Queens. But this project has taught me that I know far less about others’ faith and beliefs, even those I think I know something about in the Judeo-Christian tradition, than I realized. My experiences have also been richer at those houses of worship where I’ve been able to speak with someone, whether a tour guide or a lay member. When I got to the Hindu temple I knew I wasn’t quite ready to explore the house of worship of a major religion I know so little about. There were also signs reminding visitors that the temple is a house of worship and that clothing such as ripped jeans are inappropriate, and the jeans I was wearing that day are a bit worn in the knees. The last thing I want to do is be disrespectful to others’ beliefs or house of worship, so I decided to come back on a different day. (The Hindu temple is still on my list!)
So I took a walk. A long walk. A very long walk, in fact. My walk, plus a quick ride on a bus and the subway, eventually led me to Forest Hills, Queens. Forest Hills, together with Forest Hills Gardens, is one of my favorite parts of New York City, though my primary reason for heading that way was to pick up a book at the local branch of the Queens public library, whose online catalog assured me that I could find a copy of the book there. (I did.)
On my way to the library from the subway I looked east down Queens Boulevard and noticed a church, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. I had seen the church on prior visits to Forest Hills, where I had noted its beauty — it stands out even in this particularly beautiful neighborhood — and that the church and its school took up an entire city block. After a quick check on my phone of the church’s website, to make sure I would have time to explore the church before the Saturday evening vigil Mass, I decided to peek inside.
Our Lady Queen of Martyrs has the sort of thoughtful neo-Gothic architecture that belies its actual age. This is a neighborhood parish church, not a cathedral or basilica, and its small scale gives it an intimacy and warmth that can sometimes be hard to find at larger houses of worship. But it also has an attention to detail that makes it worth a visit:
- The stained glass is particularly brilliant, with vibrant hues of blue that make the windows come alive.
- The vault over the nave consists of richly stained wooden beams that add to the sanctuary’s warmth.
- A small, very intimate chapel — there are a total of six seats! — occupies a small wing that projects from the north end of the narthex.
- Detailed stonework punctuates the short wall that separates the apse and altar from the rest of the sanctuary.
- Perhaps my favorite detail was the Guastavino tile in the vaults over the narthex and aisles as well as over the transept crossing at the very heart of the church — one of the largest expanses of Guastavino tile I’ve ever seen.
Our Lady Queen of Martyrs was completed in a remarkable 536 days — 1 year, 5 months, and 18 days — from its groundbreaking on 18 May 1938 to its opening on 5 November 1939. Its design by prolific church architectural firm Maginnis & Walsh is based on Durham Cathedral in England, though as a church publication (PDF) notes, it “is not an exact copy of the Durham cathedral — it is much smaller, and certain architectural elements were simplified or eliminated in order to keep costs at a manageable level.”
This church may be smaller than its prototype, but its presence in this busy corner of Forest Hills is big. The adjacent Queens Boulevard is a whopping 11 lanes across at this point — 13 if you count parking and fire lanes — and the surrounding neighborhood is vibrant with shops, restaurants, and cafés. Passenger trains whiz by on the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line just two blocks south every few minutes all day every day of the week. But Our Lady Queen of Martyrs is a spot of beauty, warmth, and quiet — respite from the outside world.
Want to visit?
The church’s website lists worship services every day of the week. The website also has a considerable amount of information on the church’s history and architecture, including several PDF publications with a wealth of information and photos.