Although St. Patrick’s Cathedral is not one of the oldest churches in New York City, and certainly not nearly as old as the famous cathedrals in Europe, it is still an interesting example of neo-Gothic architecture. The original St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built in Lower Manhattan in the early nineteenth century, but in the 1850s the archbishop determined that the city should have a grander cathedral, one more in keeping with the growth of the Roman Catholic community in New York City. The cathedral’s architect was James Renwick, and it was constructed between 1858 and 1879. (The American Civil War greatly affected the cathedral’s financing and construction schedule.) Although the location chosen for this new cathedral was barely part of the city in the 1850s, today St. Patrick’s Cathedral is situated in one of the busiest areas of Manhattan, bordered by Fifth Avenue on the West and Madison Avenue on the East, 50th Street to the South and 51st to the North.
The Cathedral’s bronze front doors are large and imposing, with intricate details of religious figures.
At the top of the door are Jesus and the Apostles.
The door panels include the following people:
- Top left: Saint Joseph, Patron of the Church;
- Top right: St. Patrick, Patron of the Church (and the Cathedral’s namesake);
- Middle left: Father Isaac Jogues, a Catholic martyr and saint who was the first priest to come to Manhattan Island in the seventeenth century (when New York was still a Dutch colony and Manhattan was known as New Amsterdam);
- Middle right: Saint Francis X. Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and known for her ministry to Italian immigrants to the United States;
- Bottom left: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, the first Native American woman to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church; and
- Bottom right: Mother Elizabeth Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity and first native-born U.S. citizen to be canonized (and referred to on the door panel as the “Daughter of New York.”
Here are close-up views of a couple of those panels, the ones for St. Patrick (with a little bit of Saint Francis X. Cabrini) and Mother Elizabeth Seton.
Inside the Cathedral, there is much to see. The white marble is striking, and the numerous stained glass windows allow in a lot of light.
There’s an imposing organ, which according to the tour has 7,855 pipes! (Not all are visible in this photo, obviously!)
There are numerous smaller altars along the sides of the Cathedral, dedicated to various saints.
There is this very different statue of Mother Elizabeth Seton. I found it interesting how it didn’t really fit with the other altars, but its simplicity was striking.
Even if you are not Roman Catholic (as I am not), a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral is interesting. The Cathedral also has a Tour app for Apple and Android devices – there are versions for adults or children, as well as a Spanish-language version. As a warning though, there may be times were a funeral or other religious service is going on, and the Cathedral may be closed to visitors during those times, especially if prominent people are attending and security is a concern. For other services, visitors are still allowed to come in but are directed to the aisles along the edges. I personally found it a bit disconcerting when I realized that a small funeral service was being held, and here I had been snapping photos across the nave! I was not alone though, as there were probably more than a hundred other visitors there at the time, doing the same thing. The funeral service let out not long after I arrived, thankfully, so I had not gone very far before I realized what was happening.
If you wish to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral yourself, the closest subway stations are the Fifth Avenue/53rd Street station (E and M trains), and the 47-50th Streets/Rockefeller Center station (B, D, F, and M trains).