St. Cyprian’s at St. Michael’s: Hidden Clues, Enduring Presence

On Wednesdays, Feast Days and Sundays, in the early morning, in St. Michael’s Chapel of the Angels, when the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, an unornamented brass offertory plate is used in the service.

St. Cyprian's Offertory Plate

On a Wednesday morning this past October, a small group of Altar Guild members and St. Michael’s early-morning-regulars who’d never noticed the inscription on the plate’s underside rim looked at it in surprise.

Reverse side of plate with inscription

The inscription is hard to read … and to photograph. (The maker’s mark, in the center of the plate, is illegible.)

St. Cyprian's plate, first half of inscription St. Cyprian's inscription, second half

Presented to St. Cyprian’s Chapel by B’hood of St. Andrew #1852 A. D. 1910

Before St. Jude’s Chapel was St. Jude’s, it was The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel.

As thousands of Anglo-Caribbeans poured into Manhattan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries looking for the stability of employment, home and community, their worship experiences were often peripatetic; it must have been disconcerting for worshippers whose liturgy has always presupposed both formality and traditional altar furnishings. Before St. Michael’s actually funded the construction of  St. Jude’s Chapel at 19 West 99th Street in 1921, the St. Jude’s congregation endured its own neighborhood migrations. Worship, Bible study and various guild gatherings took place in rented rooms up and down West 99th Street. Two floors of a brownstone were usually taken for one or two year leases: church activities took place on the lower floor and the Howard family – Rev. and Mrs. Howard and their three little boys, Floarda, jr., Sumner and Bertram – lived in three or four rooms on the floor above. The building where St. Jude’s stayed longest –  four years – was at 27 West 99th Street; the two rented floors were over a grocery store.

As the St. Jude’s congregation grew, special services, on Feast Days for instances, took place with increasing frequency in the Saint Saviour Chapel at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The congregation was grateful for the elegant and airy Gothic space, but the wear and tear of carrying all the equipment for each service to the Cathedral and back to West 99th Street in all weathers was tiring for Rev. Howard, acolytes, crucifer, choir members and worshipers. When the permanent St. Jude’s Chapel was actually built, it must have been – in addition to thrilling – a relief.

The St. Cyprian’s Chapel offertory plate no doubt traveled all over the Upper West Side: carefully carried by some trustworthy parishioner from one sacred space to another, it was part of worship at 177 West 63th Street, in various rented rooms on West 99th Street, up at the Cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue and 113th Street, and back again at 19 West 99th Street.

Before it became part of St. Jude’s history, the offertory plate was already an important part of St. Cyprian’s, as the inscription makes clear.

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew was established in 1883; by the turn of the century, it was already well on its way to becoming the international fellowship of men and boys that it is now, in the early twenty-first century.

Brotherhood of St. Andrew 2017 logo

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew began as a mission to homeless men in downtown Chicago; it describes itself now, in 2017, as “a world-wide ministry to men and boys in the Episcopal-Anglican Communion” and sponsors 357 branches in Africa, Japan, the Philippines, Haiti, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. By the early twentieth century, the Brotherhood had a hefty monthly publication, St. Andrew’s Cross, “a church paper for laymen, advocating definite prayer and personal service.”

1905 St. Andrew's cross

In the December 1905 edition of St. Andrew’s Cross, an issue most of which was devoted to the Brotherhood’s work throughout Canada, the editorial staff announced new chapters as part of its regular international administrative updates: St. Cyprian’s Chapel had just become Chapter 1852.

notice of 1905 St. Cyprian's Chapel Brotherhood of St. Andrew Chapter

The inscription on the offertory plate gives the St. Cyprian’s Brotherhood of St. Andrew Chapter number: 1852.

In 1910, five years after the St. Cyprian’s Chapter successfully passed its probationary phase, its members – men and boys of St. Cyprian’s – gave the offertory plate as a gift to the West 63rd Street Chapel they loved.

The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel was officially begun in that same year.

We don’t know when the St. Cyprian’s offertory plate became a permanent part of St. Jude’s collection of service items … but it seems to have been a part of St. Michael’s collection ever since St. Jude’s was closed in 1957.

Made in 1910, the plate has been in constant use ever since. It has been cared for and cleaned by clergy and Altar Guild members of three closely connected congregations – St. Cyprian’s, St. Jude’s and St. Michael’s – and has received worshipers’ thankful offerings in support of their church for more than a century.

November 23, 2017