The third and final performance of our New York City tour will be a concert in St. Paul’s Chapel, an Episcopal chapel located in Lower Manhattan. It is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan and the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City.
A chapel of the Parish of Trinity Church, St. Paul’s was built on land granted by Anne, Queen of Great Britain, designed by architect Thomas McBean and built by master craftsman Andrew Gautier. The chapel was completed in 1766.
The chapel survived the Great New York City Fire of 1776 when a quarter of New York City (then confined to the lower tip of Manhattan), including Trinity Church, burned following the British capture of the city after the Battle of Long Island during the American Revolutionary War.
George Washington, along with members of the U.S. Congress, worshipped at St. Paul’s Chapel on his Inauguration Day, on April 30, 1789. Washington also attended services at St. Paul’s during the two years New York City was the country’s capital. Above Washington’s pew is an 18th-century oil painting of the Great Seal of the United States; adopted in 1782. Other presidential worshipers have included Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
The rear of St. Paul’s Chapel faces Church Street, opposite the east side of the World Trade Center site. After the attack on September 11, 2001, which led to the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, St. Paul’s Chapel served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers at the WTC site.
For eight months, hundreds of volunteers worked 12-hour shifts around the clock in the chapel, serving meals, making beds, counseling and praying with fire fighters, construction workers, police and others. Massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists and musicians also tended to their needs.
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. While the church’s organ was badly damaged by smoke and dirt, the organ has been refurbished and is in use again.
The fence around the church grounds became the main spot for visitors to place impromptu memorials to the event. After it became filled with flowers, photos, teddy bears, and other paraphernalia, chapel officials decided to erect a number of panels on which visitors could add to the memorial. Estimating that only 15 would be needed in total, they eventually required 400.
Rudolph Giuliani gave his mayoral farewell speech at the church on December 27, 2001.
[Exterior photo: Flickr, Patrick Ashley]