Did You Know There Was More Than One St. Patrick’s Cathedral In NYC?

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Photo: By Jean-Christophe BENOIST (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Everyone has heard of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. However, do you know there are actually two of them in New York? The first, located at Prince and Mott Street is now the Basilica of St. Patrick’s. It was built in 1809 and was the first Catholic Cathedral in the Archdiocese of New York. The architect who designed the “newer” 5th Avenue Cathedral was a New Yorker named James Renwick, Jr. It was an ambitious project that would take millions in cash and lots of grueling labor to see through fruition. In 1858, work began on the new Cathedral. Not long into construction, the job was held up due to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860.. All the workers were off fighting to save the Union and money was tight. Much of the available church funds were used for the distribution of charity through Catholic relief organizations, During this time many New Yorkers, including Irish immigrants, were suffering. In the mid 19th century there was a backlash against the waves of Irish Immigrants settling in the New York area in the wake of the potato famine than overtook Ireland between the years of 1845 and 1852. Due to sudden arrival of the Irish, there were actually signs hung in the windows of shops, restaurants, and offices clearly stating “No Irish Need Apply”.

Many of those men, not desired by employers, showed their worth on the battlefield, and many lost their lives during the Civil War. When these men came home from the war, many continued in government service, employed by the New York City Police and Fire Departments. Now, men and women of diverse nationalities proudly march wearing a uniform in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Despite the cost, the construction of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral was supported by the New York Catholic Community. The Irish women who gained employment as domestics chipped in some of their meager wages to help with the St. Patrick’s Cathedral building fund. The church played a large role in the lives of immigrants from many countries, and the legend of St. Patrick, who “drove the snakes out of Ireland” is one of the first lessons in the history of Saint’s lives for many cradle Catholics.

After decades of delay, In 1879 St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets opened its doors to the public. Intricate marble designs can be seen all through the Cathedral; however, contrary to the stereotypical image of Roman Catholic cathedrals, the ceiling in St. Patrick’s is just plaster, not marble due to the project’s financial shortfalls.

New York Natives and tourist alike of all religious backgrounds marvel at the Gothic Revival style spires as well as the extraordinary artwork contained within. The floor near the main sanctuary shows a mother pelican feeding her young with the blood of her body. This is in tribute to Christ’s blood sacrifice on the cross. To the right of the main sanctuary, the Altar of the Sacred Heart is graced with a huge image of The Virgin of Guadalupe. Our Lady of Guadalupe also known as The Virgin of Guadalupe has a huge devoted following, particularly among those of Mexican descent. Many go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to light a candle for a loved one or personal intention. In the days following September 11, 2001, so many people came to light a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that it created a fire hazard.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Photo: Bartek Roszak Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stpatrickscathedral.jpg#filelinks

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote “The Great Gatsby” was married to his beloved Zelda in a small ceremony on site, at the St. Patrick’s Rectory. You, too, can get married at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Like any other Catholic church wedding, you just need to be an area parishioner to receive sacraments, including marriage, at that location.

Famous Catholics are entombed in crypts at St. Patrick’s. The Archbishop Reverend Fulton J. Sheen, whose show “The Catholic Hour” broadcast on radio from 1928 to 1952. rests there. Another famous Archbishop, Michael Corrigan, who after the death of Cardinal McClosky in 1885 was installed as the third Archbishop of New York in 1886, has a lasting connection to St. Pat’s. Archbishop Michael Corrigan spent his career supporting schools and seminaries, and oversaw much of the continued maintenance and restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral until his death in 1902. His crypt lies under the stairs in St. Patrick’s. On August 15, 1897, Archbishop Michael Corrigan blessed the nineteen bells of St. Patrick’s while a crowd of thousands flanked 5th Avenue to hear his address. In 1952, the bells sound was electrified and “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” resounded through the midtown streets. The bells all have names, and they each peal in different note tones, as seen on this chart.

St Patrick’s Bells Chart

Author’s Note: My mother-in-law Roseann Franco (nee McGee) often travels from her home in Connecticut to visit the graves of her husband and all of the family relations buried in New York, including Archbishop Corrigan, who is her third cousin. Although she wasn’t born in time to meet him, she grew up hearing many stories about him from her mother, as they were a close-knit Irish-American family.

During the sixties and early seventies, the family affection for the memory of Michael Corrigan remained. Roseann aka “the lady in the hat” often brought one of her five children, David, who was born with a congenital heart defect with her to pray. David had a pacemaker since he was five years old. They, like many New Yorker’s, were praying for healing as well as the strength to deal with navigating the medical maze of hospitals and treatments. For over a century, people from diverse backgrounds have gone to St. Patrick’s in search of solace and hope. Roseann and her Dominican-American husband Frederick Franco, their children, and extended family were frequent visitors to the Cathedral. David, who was not expected to survive through childhood, recently celebrated his 50th birthday. When asked about his early visits to the St.Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue, his voice was rich with emotion as he related what it was like going up to the huge gates around the altars with all the candles lit and visiting the crypt area where his distant relative is buried. He says that those early visits to St. Partick’s with his mom were “amazing” and are forever ingrained in his early childhood memory.

Old St. Patrick's Cathedral

Photo: By Jim.henderson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mott Street was built between the years of 1809 and 1815. The old St. Patrick’s Cathedral   is also famous as a burial spot for Pierre Toussaint, a former Haitian slave who became a well-known New York hairdresser. They say the devout Catholic local celebrity liked it there so much he has never abandoned the building and is said to still show up from time to time. Bishop John Dubois, the third New York Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York, is buried beneath the entrance way. Various paranormal experts say he likes to make his spiritual presence known, to help guide his flock into the church. Traditional Catholics will say that is all “stuff and nonsense” as catechism says all of the faithful go to heaven and stay put. Still, the memory of these incredible individuals is as much a part of the Cathedral legacy as the buildings themselves.

Whatever your religious beliefs, there is no doubt that the two “St. Patrick’s” hold a treasure trove of history, mystery, and fine artwork for the ages. Both buildings hold both daily and weekend masses, some that are bilingual masses in Spanish and English. For more information on The Basilica of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, please visit https://oldcathedral.org/ To find out more about America’s Catholic Church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue, including maps, activity schedules, and a virtual tour please go to. https://saintpatrickscathedral.org/


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