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Medieval Slumber Party Turns St. John the Divine Into a Magical Getaway

By Emily Frost | June 12, 2013 6:57am
 The Cathedral is hosting kids all night for a medieval-themed party.
Cathedral of St. John the Divine Hosts a Medieval Slumber Party
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Children who daydream about knights and princesses have the chance to bring those fantasies to life this Friday night at an all-night slumber party under the arches of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Inside the candle-lit 121,000-square-foot church at West 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, the largest gothic cathedral in the world, court jesters, lords and other characters lead children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old on a magical medieval adventure.

"Everyone is speaking to you like it’s medieval times," said Ambika Cooper of Brooklyn, who went to the May 24 sleepover, one of five in the 2012-2013 season, with her 6-year-old son.

They were greeted by a man on stilts.

"It’s the land of wonder...the magic is right away there," she said.

The sleepover was all her son could talk about in the weeks leading up to the event, said Cooper, adding that it was his first ever. And when he arrived, he jumped into the action immediately, joining other kids in elaborate medieval getups on a scavenger hunt that twisted through the large nave of the cathedral. 

The sleepover festivities, which costs $135 per participant, kick off at 6:30 p.m. Friday and end at 8 a.m. Saturday. St. John the Divine provides a "healthy snack" of granola and fruit, along with juice and coffee and tea, on Friday night, followed by a bagel breakfast on Saturday morning.

The church can accommodate up to 75 individuals per sleepover, and an adult must accompany every three kids.

As part of the live entertainment, kids learn medieval songs and dances and create gargoyle clay creations, according to the church.

There's also a play at the end of the night, in which characters put on a show for the audience. A princess will spar with a magician, a knight will escape his betrothed and a lowly squire will rise to glory.

One little girl at the church during Cooper's trip got so caught up in the drama of the interactive play that she leapt up and tried to attack the "bad guy," Cooper recalled.

"It was just fabulous," she said. 

The kids then went "berserk," dashing around the dark space with flashlights — "their own bit of magic," she said. 

The romping ends at midnight as kids and weary parents climb into sleeping bags to fall asleep to the soothing sound of a bedtime story, according to the church. 

Children and parents sleep on cots using sleeping bags and pillows they must bring from home, according to the church. Air mattresses are not allowed.

Cooper said her son can't wait to go back.

And unlike some kids' activities where you have to fake enthusiasm, Cooper said the night "was actually really a pleasurable experience because of the joy in the kids."

Cooper acknowledged her luck in knowing about this "great New York secret," but said that she's since told all her friends about the festivities.

Parents interested in signing up for the June 14 event should call (212) 316-5819 or email nightwatch@stjohndivine.org.