NYC’s Historic Trinity Church

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Trinity Church has a long history interwoven with that of New York City. Originally part of the Church of England (becoming Episcopalian after the American Revolution), Trinity received its charter from New York’s colonial governor in 1697. Over the next 300+ years, 3 churches would ultimately be built, and the parish flourished on its Wall Street site in the city’s south end. The first church building burned in the Great Fire of 1776. The second building had structural problems, leading to the collapse of its support beams in 1838. The current building, designed by architect Richard Uptown, was completed in 1846. Today, its neo-Gothic architecture makes a striking contrast to the surrounding skyscrapers.

Even before you enter the front doors to Trinity Church, you will notice intriguing details. I found this small brass plaque embedded in the ground, commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the site in 1976. The church recently included an interesting story about the Queen’s visit on its website, complete with video. According to the story, Trinity Church’s original charter required the church to pay a token rent of one peppercorn per year to the English crown. No payments had ever been made, and when Queen Elizabeth visited Trinity Church in 1976, the church rector presented her with 279 peppercorns (the church’s age at that point).

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The church’s bronze exterior doors have intricately detailed panels. Some panels present scenes from the Bible or church history, while others illustrate early scenes from the city’s history.

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The interior of Trinity Church is beautiful, with its dark wood, sparkling stained glass windows, and high, arched ceilings. There are so many interesting details to explore.

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There is also a small chapel, All Saint’s Chapel, and numerous memorials to deceased parishioners.

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Exploring the cemetery surrounding the church, visitors get a real sense of Trinity Church’s connections to both New York City and United States history. You’ll find a number of prominent people buried in the cemetery – it’s fun to explore, looking for names you recognize. The most famous people’s graves have small signs next to them, providing more information. (I took some of these photos last winter when there was a little snow still on the ground, as you can see!)

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This first monument is to Captain James Lawrence, a naval hero from the War of 1812, who, as he was dying during battle supposedly ordered his men, “Don’t give up the ship!” (The New York Historical Society’s website has an interesting account of the naval battle, available here.) Like many of the graves of this time period, this one includes his wife, Julia Montaudevert Lawrence. I was surprised to read that his second-in-command, Lieutenant August C. Ludlow, was also buried in the grave.

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I liked the detail of Captain Lawrence’s ship, found on the side of the monument.

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Another famous parishioner buried in the cemetery is Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States (and currently popular because of the successful Broadway show, Hamilton).

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Close by is this monument to Robert Fulton, credited with building the first commercially successful steamboat in the United States in 1807. The steamboat traveled the Hudson River between New York City and Albany, New York.

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This ornate monument, designed by Thomas Nash in 1914, is known as the Astor Cross. According to the sign next to the monument, “[t]his ornate cross illustrates the genealogy of Christ according to St. Luke.” It was donated to the church in memory of Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor.

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Here’s the carving of Noah near the monument’s base.

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There are a number of other interesting monuments throughout the cemetery (you can discover them yourself if you visit), but I liked this one in particular. According to the informational sign, its the 1852 Soldiers’ Monument, designed by Frank Wills. The monument was dedicated to American soldiers who lost their lives while held as prisoners of war in the city during the American Revolution. It is believed that the soldiers were buried somewhere on the property.

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Because the parish is more than 300 years old, the gravestones in this cemetery are very old and worn. (Trinity Church ran out of space in the cemetery in the 19th century and has two other cemeteries in the city.) I enjoyed walking around and reading the more legible gravestones.

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If you are interested in visiting Trinity Church, you can easily get to it by subway. The church is located at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. Take the R or the 1 train to Rector Street, the 2, 3, 4, or 5 train to Wall Street, or the J or Z train to Broad Street.

If you visit Trinity Church, I recommend also visiting St. Paul’s Chapel, which is only a short walk away. I previously wrote about St. Paul’s Chapel, which is part of the Trinity Church parish, here.

14 thoughts on “NYC’s Historic Trinity Church

  1. Incredible! What a beautiful structure – and such a rich and varied history. I was so surprised to read that Hamilton rests here. My goodness, to think of the changes in the area this site has seen …

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    1. I found it absolutely fascinating – so many more interesting things in the cemetery as well, but I had to stop somewhere. The Hamilton connection was really interesting. Evidently he briefly served as the church’s legal counsel in the 1790s. It’s kind of funny, but everyone is trying to make a big deal of their Hamilton connections now that the Broadway musical is so popular. The church is hosting a “pop-up exhibit” about him on July 12. (https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/node/11912/)

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    1. Me too! The church architecture was beautiful, but the cemetery was really interesting. I like to see how people are described on the gravestones. The oldest gravestone was for a five year old child dated 1681, although it was pretty much illegible.

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  2. A lovely verbal and visual portrait of a church. I especially like the interior photos – stained glass, arching ceiling and organ. It reminds me a bit of Warsaw cathedral, and a tiny bit of the disproportionately grand church near my small Australian village.

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  3. That is as beautiful a modern church as I’ve seen in Europe. It’s a good job that you’ve paid up most of the rent arrears. I make it 40 peppercorns you still owe us though. No hurry. Next month will do.

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  4. I didn’t realize peppercorns had such value–I wonder what the meaning really is? Someone of the best art is to be found in old churches. I am not religious at all but I really like he art. Some of the altars are amazing. I too like looking at the old headstones. What people say on headstones is always very interesting.

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    1. I was reading about the peppercorns, and evidently during that era it was common to have rent terms of one peppercorn a year if the intent was basically to give something for free – they felt that there had to be some nominal amount in the contract, and a peppercorn was somehow symbolic.

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  5. Reminds me a little bit of Trinity Church in Boston. We went to a presentation by Rick Riordan held at the church during the Boston Book Fair a few years back. It is amazing to look at all the beautiful details in these old churches. They’re stunning.

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  6. Pingback: Art in the Details: Looking Up in the Financial District – Finding NYC

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