Firefighters Save N.Y. Cathedral

NEW YORK -- Fire broke out Tuesday at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, heavily damaging an adjoining gift shop as flames shot from the six-story Episcopal church that has been under construction for more than a century.

Part of the roof of the three-story gift shop caved in but no injuries were reported. Fire officials said they expected widespread smoke and water damage throughout the building -- one of the world's largest neo-Gothic cathedrals.

The fire was brought under control within 2 1/2 hours. It had been largely contained in the gift shop area, outside the main sanctuary, fire officials said. The cause was under investigation.

The cathedral is home to many priceless artifacts, according to cathedral spokesman Jere Farrah, including a collection known as the Barberini tapestries, which date to the 17th and 18th centuries and were woven on the pope's official looms. Six of the tapestries were on display in the church, and officials said two of them may have been seriously damaged.

The cathedral is on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia says the church is the world's largest Gothic cathedral. The first stone was laid in 1892, but construction has never been completed, and work had continued until World War II. When construction resumed in 1982 after a 41-year break, jobless local youths were trained in old-fashioned stonecutting methods. Cathedral organist Dorothy Papadakos said the organ was the city's fourth largest and dates to 1910.

"We were going to do 'The Messiah' in two days," she said, "but I don't think it's going to happen."