The Walking Tour  “Sacred Spaces”


“Sacred Spaces”


the East Village

(a walking tour)

What is sacred to you? 

    Music, dance, art, written word, theater, learning, human service, political reform, new or ancient traditions, spiritual community?  It’s all long been here, and your presence today adds to it. 

    At one time no other place on earth was so densely populated with such religious and cultural diversity as NYC’s Lower East Side.  It is here America’s greatest strength and best example to the world was formed: learning to live together, and respect each other. 

    Within a few square blocks we will walk to several churches, synagogues, temples, a mosque, a few surprises of what may be considered “spiritual”, and unique organizations that care.   Explore further, add to, and connect to what may be sacred to you.

Your Guide:    5th generation New Yorker Anthony Donovan      ( of the Lower East Side History Project.

Meet:   Currently tours begin at entrance of the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, on East 3rd St. between Ave A and B).   Lower East Side History Project tours are generaly based out of The Bowery Poetry Club on 308 Bowery, between Houston and Bleeker St.

When:   Private tours: Call/e-mail to arrange a time that’s good for you (groups of up to 15).  The scheduled tour is every first Tuesday of the month.   3:30PM.

Cost:   Lower East Side History Project asks a donation of 15 dollars per person.   Tours generally run about 2 hours, less if you wish.

For more information on this and many other great tours:  

    212-614-8702  or online:

       Here not only tolerance was developed, but those attending synagogues, churches, temples and mosques of all denominations and national origins, with all it’s birthing pains and challenging times, formed a genuine knowledge of, and respect for our differences, and each other.  It has enriched us greatly.   I ask, “What does sacred mean to you?”  For me it evolves around the spirit of compassion and service.

  Spiritual space was and is often first created in the privacy of homes, and remains personal experience for most.  Our organized religions do not own a copyright to this space, but the Lower East Side provides a vibrant history and diverse common ground where, perhaps America’s greatest strength has been created, tested and honed for centuries.

Here, within in a few square blocks we will connect our own hard earned fabric, personal histories, continuing to exemplify the hope of a world at one.   The Lower East Side.

FYI some personal background: 

As a boy in the fifties, I was asked to speak with my guardian angel every night.  So, I did.  I gradually left the church and stopped this personal communication, beginning with my first severe protestation and questioning to God, when at age ten my cat was killed.  Then a few years later, I started liking girls, which was evidently not holy.  

My family were dutiful Catholics, and one of my precious aunts was(and until 93 remained) a nun, who continually gave us the best example of one, by her shining light of loving others unconditionally, non judgement, service, and her daily prayer for us. 

In the early 1960’s a good friend brought me to a “Gospel service” at her Baptist Church.  People were flying down the isles, falling and fluttering on the floor, speaking in babble to the heavens, screaming ecstatic joys, demons releasing, the music had me swaying and clapping, juxtaposed to the required stillness demanded in the churches I knew before this.  

In 1967 I would have a near death experience in an earthquake in Venezuela.  I didn’t know how to talk about nor process it then, but something inside made me value life differently.

In the winter of 1968 my dad was facing a profound crisis of meaning and began searching outside “The Faith”.  He brought some of us along with him, fortunately.  The first stop was to my first eastern meditation class in Yorkville (upper East Side).   The concepts and experience of meditation clicked immediately.  It felt natural, and made sense.

Naturally, the immense power of some of the political and social movements and music of the 60’s was so gripping for so many of our spirits, helping us feel more connected to a larger community, and gave voice to our feeling more relevant to the changing life around us.  Yes, perhaps very naively but I felt often a strong moral force of joining something greater than ourselves, a higher calling, one that was changing the world for the better of all humanity, yes,, peace and brotherhood was filling our minds and hearts.  Yes, anti-war and anti-dishonesty called out, and yes, human rights for all and above all “give us some truth”.  In a church that rarely brought up the burning Vietnam War, or Civil Rights issues of the day, I like so many, would leave religion for a while, as it was being presented, as we experienced the institutions then.    

In the summer of 1970 I would volunteer at a hospital in Haiti, witnessing people dying from torture for political reasons, and children dying daily of starvation.  How could we live happily in a world where starvation and political torture was taking place?  This question has never stopped being asked within.  It is part of my spiritual quest.

Returning home and to my first semester of college, where large vats of good food were being tossed out at each meal, one of the things I did was to hitch hike to a lake deep in a state park in Iowa, take off all my clothes and walk naked, completely alone for 3 days, fasting, and asking nature and heavens to make me anew.   I was real hungry, cold, and broke.  Hitching back to a school, the kindness of a stranger without asking, immediately offered me a ride and some food.  Throughout my life, the kindness of humans kept returning to me as spirituality.  I’ve much to be grateful for.

For me 1970’s in NYC were a wonderful and exciting time of birth for interfaith meetings and services.   I feel so fortunate and thankful to have been exposed to such diversity.  Yogi’s, rabbi’s, priests, shamans, holy men from every tradition would come, gather, listen, teach, open to each other.  For me, it quenched the deepest curiosity, hope for a challenged world, tools for healing, and the great joy in experiencing our commonalities, our oneness, no matter how briefly, or eternally. 


Grace, Humanity, Spirituality, for me, perhaps mostly comes down to the individual beings, people, that cross our paths, often strangers that we’ll never see but a moment, that give us the gift, this gift of knowing that there is a community around the world, through any religion, nationality, ethnicity, culture, or place.  It is a community of common humanity, compassion, caring for others, joy of being, openness, kindness, belief, a sense of belonging, often when we least expect it.

This is humanities great strength. Through the competition for survival, the fears, the destitution, very hard times, deep losses, the inhumanity to each other, much of this was lived and tremendous “other centered” Spirit shared among the tough streets of the Lower East Side.  The new waves of peoples and cultures continue with fresh challenges, now more worldwide.

Let’s see what we can learn, and take a walk around.

(A.D., Fall 2008)