St. Paul’s Chapel is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use from the time it was opened in 1766. Nestled among the skyscrapers of the Wall Street financial district, St. Paul’s was the church where President George Washington worshipped when New York was the first Capital of the United States.
History and architecture
St. Paul’s Chapel has seen a great deal of important American history in the centuries since it was built.
The chapel was originally founded by the congregation of Trinity Church to accommodate parishioners living on the northern outskirts of the city. It was consecrated on October 30, 1776.
On September 21, 1776, a great fire of suspicious origins raged through Manhattan, destroying Trinity Church and many other buildings. St. Paul’s Chapel was saved from destruction by a bucket brigade from the Hudson River.
The steeple of St. Paul’s Chapel was added on December 1, 1794, making the chapel more prominent in the growing city.
Inside, the chapel’s simple elegant hall has the pale colors, flat ceiling and cut glass chandeliers reminiscent of contemporary domestic interiors. In contrast to the awe-inspiring interior of Trinity Church, this hall and its ample gallery were endowed with a cozy and comfortable character in order to encourage attendance.
The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960
After September 11, 2001
For more than a year after the World Trade Center attacks, the chapel’s fence served as a shrine for visitors seeking solace. People from around the world left tokens of grief and support, or signed one of the large drop cloths that hung from the fence. In the months following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the chapel became a center for the workers and volunteers to wash up, get something to eat or drink, nap on the pews or on cots, and receive relief in the form of free chiropractic care, massages, and, of course, spiritual counseling. .The church survived without even a broken window. Church history declares it was spared by a miracle sycamore on the northwest corner of the property that was hit by debris.
The tree’s root has been preserved in a bronze memorial by sculptor Steve Tobin. The Chapel, which amazingly suffered no damage, reopened to the public in fall 2002.
Daily services are conducted for business people and visitors. Regular concerts for the public are also held in the church on weekdays. St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard together were designated a New York City Landmark in 1966.
Today St. Paul’s Chapel is again a Chapel of Ease as an entirely new residential district grows up around it.
The churchyard is a shady oasis in the hustle and bustle of the Financial District and office workers and executives alike can be seen at lunch hour studying moss-covered tombstones