Early morning fire destroys church housing New York’s Liberty Bell

Early morning fire destroys church housing New York’s Liberty Bell
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire that erupted from a building next to Middle Collegiate Church on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 in New York. The historic 19th century church in lower Manhattan was gutted by a massive fire early Saturday that sent flames shooting through the roof. (Duke Todd via AP) (AP)

NEW YORK — A New York church built in the 19th century that housed the city’s Liberty Bell was ravaged by a fire early Saturday morning.

Officials said the fire started at a vacant five-story building and quickly spread, engulfing and gutting the Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village as flames popped through the roof and completely destroyed the Gothic structure, WABC reported.

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“We are devastated. We are gutted like our building is gutted; our hearts are crushed like our doors are crushed,” Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis said. “But we know how to be the church, and we know that God is God, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

The building where the fire started had been vacant since February because of an accidental blaze earlier in the year. A third building was also damaged by the fire. All of its occupants were able to evacuate safely. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries. Fire marshals said faulty electrical wiring caused the blaze.

The church was built in 1892, its third location in Manhattan since 1729. The church is the oldest congregation of the Collegiate Churches of New York, which dates to the 1620s when Dutch settlers came to the island.

The church’s bell tower housed New York’s Liberty Bell, which rang in the birth of the nation in 1776 and has since marked the inaugurations and deaths of American presidents. It has also tolled in remembrance of those killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Lewis believes the bell survived the fire, but is not sure. The church’s Tiffany stained glass windows were destroyed.

It is unclear what church leaders will do about the building, but the 1,300 congregants will continue to worship.

“Our church has been worshipping digitally since March 15,” Lewis said. “And that’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.