Built thanks to the financing of the industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., the church was designed by Henry C. Pelton and Charles Collens who were inspired by the 13th century Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France and is located at one of the highest points in New York City, overlooking the Hudson River. Construction began in 1927 and about three years later, on October 5, 1930, the first mass was celebrated. Its almost 120 m high bell tower makes it the tallest church in the United States and the 33rd tallest in the world. Containing 74 bells by Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon, the 20-ton Bourdon bell is the heaviest and probably one of the largest in the world, while the smallest weighs just over four kilos (10 pounds).
The 66 m long and 27 m wide nave is 30.5 m high and can accommodate over 2,000 worshippers. There are no transepts and side chapels, which is unusual for a Gothic church of this size.
The pulpit has welcomed speakers such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who preached his famous sermon on the war against Vietnam, “Beyond Vietnam”, then Nelson Mandela, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, with an intervention after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Marian Wright-Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund who advocated the need to provide quality health care to all children, Pastor Tony Campolo former spiritual advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton and the same President who delivered a speech here on August 29, 2004.