In lower Manhattan, there is a relatively small chapel and graveyard, located across Church Street from the World Trade Center site and surrounded by tall buildings. It is known as St. Paul’s Chapel. Although visitors might be tempted to walk right by the chapel without going in, St. Paul’s is definitely worth a visit.
St. Paul’s Chapel has roots going back to the colonial period. Completed in 1766, the chapel is an example of Georgian architecture. It was built as a chapel-of-ease for parishioners of Trinity Church, also located in lower Manhattan, who felt that Trinity’s location was not always convenient. Both St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church are part of the Episcopal Church. (Episcopalians trace their roots to the Church of England.) Today, St. Paul’s is known as Manhattan’s oldest church building still in use. The stone and brown trim exterior presents a solemn image, especially with the weathered gravestones surrounding the chapel, but the interior is light and bright.
St. Paul’s Chapel has a special connection to the early political history of the United States. After George Washington’s inauguration as the nation’s first president in 1789, he walked to the chapel to pray. (If you recall from my previous post about Federal Hall National Memorial, New York City was the first U.S. capitol.) The chapel has a replica of Washington’s pew, as well as one of the earliest paintings of the Great Seal of the United States.
More recently, St. Paul’s close proximity to the World Trade Center site meant that the chapel played a special role in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Amazingly, St. Paul’s Chapel was not damaged when the World Trade Center towers came down – even the windows survived. (However, the interior of the chapel was covered in dust from the debris.) The chapel quickly became an important refuge for the recovery workers in the days and months following 9/11, with volunteers offering the workers physical and mental support. Because of its efforts and its location, St. Paul’s became a site for memorials to the victims of 9/11, as well as the host for messages of support for the recovery workers. Today, the chapel offers a continuing memorial to the victims, and visitors can tour exhibits showing photographs of the chapel’s role as well as messages of sympathy and hope from people around the world. It is a somber and inspiring experience.
Outside the chapel, visitors will find the Bell of Hope, which the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury presented to the people of New York City on the first anniversary of 9/11. One of the special things about this bell is that it was made by Whitechapel Foundry in England, also known for creating the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and Big Ben in London.
How can you get to St. Paul’s Chapel? It is located between Broadway and Church Street, with Fulton Street as the cross street. There are numerous subway stations located near the chapel, but here are the closest ones. Take the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, or Z trains to the Fulton Street Station, the R to Cortland Street, or the E to the World Trade Center station. If traveling from New Jersey, you can also take the PATH train to the World Trade Center stop.