SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Two gray church spires grow out of a bumpy plain of city rooftops along Park Street. The skyline is the same as it has been for the better part of a century until you look closer at Holy Trinity Church: There are slim copper crescents where, for 100 years, there had been crosses.
The six crosses were removed and replaced at the end of June. Four of them were massive: 600 pounds of concrete each, and more than 4 feet tall. The step was the last, and most visible, in the building’s change from church to mosque.
The transformation has been a series of careful choices aimed at balancing the forces of two religions in a neighborhood that is shifting. The North Side, once full of Italian and German immigrants, is increasingly home to new Americans who are refugees from countries where Islam is the dominant religion.
Even as the crosses were cut from the church spires on the outside, and 10,000 crosses were painted over on the inside, the new owners of 501 Park St. tried to leave what they could, and reuse what they couldn’t.
The wood from the pews has been repurposed to fix the floor, which is where Muslims sit to pray. Painters worked to make the minbar, the pulpit where the imam stands, blend in with the stonework. The name of the mosque is Masjid Isa Ibn Maryam, which translates to Mosque of Jesus Son of Mary. […]
Soule stood inside the mosque, his nearly 7-foot frame diminished by the vastness of the space. The 50-foot ceilings seem higher than they were when there were church pews and an altar inside the building. Painters, paid and volunteer, were up on ladders for weeks, painting over some 10,000 crosses, Soule said.
The crosses were turned into other designs, or, in some cases, covered over by gray paint so they blended into the walls.
Covering those 10,000 crosses was a small feat when compared with what it took to remove the crosses from the church spires. That took months of back and forth with the city’s Landmark Preservation Board, submitting and resubmitting plans for removing the crosses and storing them onsite, which the board required.
And it took much more money than Soule and the others on the North Side Learning Center board initially expected.
Inside the mosque, a hand-colored fundraising thermometer was taped to the wall for the better part of the past year. “Masjid Isa Cross Removal” is written across the top. The goal: $50,000.
Every week at prayers, Soule would make announcements and then beg, politely, for the rest of the money to finish the cross removal.
Finally, during Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holiday marked by fasting and self-reflection, a woman gave Soule a check for the balance, $15,000, and said, “Stop asking.” She wanted to remain anonymous, Soule said.