St Paul’s Chapel

It seems fitting that, considering my love for historic churches, my first post here in New York City would be about a church.

St Paul’s Chapel is an episcopal temple located on Broadway street, right in the center of the “triangle of power” as I call it: Political, economic and religious power. Built in 1766, it is very close to Federal Hall (where first U.S. president George Washington took his oath); the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street are located nearby. In such a short distance from one another lie these witnesses of the history of this young republic as it unraveled. In this area a wall was built by slaves of this Dutch colony in the mid 17th century to defend itself from the English, pirates and Native Americans –the name of one of its streets, Wall Street, derived from this historical fact. When the English finally came, the Dutch surrendered without firing a gun and New Amsterdam became New York in 1664. It was in Wall Street that the slave market was founded in the early 1700s and almost a century later, with the American Revolution behind, as New York became the capital of this young United States (title transferred from Philadelphia), Wall Street became the center of finance as well.

Going back to our church, St Paul’s Chapel is part of the Trinity Parish of Wall Street, and considered a “chapel-of-ease”, for those who did not want to hike all the way to Trinity Church. We, modern dwellers, might think this a bit strange as both buildings are very close, but we have to put ourselves in the shoes of people back then, when these temples were outside of the city, in nature and there was no underground and you must walk everywhere.

Strolling around Manhattan, my initial aim had been to visit Trinity Church, but as I walked around the Oculus/ World Trade Center area, I “ran into” this lovely church and I decided to visit it instead. Buildings are so tall over here, the spire dwarfed among the high-rise towers and tall tree branches, so it was the very familiar sight of tombstones that made me stop and look. The church courtyard looked so much like the ones I am accustomed to seeing in England, I had to go and investigate. The back of the church and cemetery faces the old site of the Twin Towers (where the impressive Oculus is now) and a path leads you toward the church. And what a building it is! As soon as I entered, my trained eye recognized the building as a typical English Georgian church. It reminds me a bit of St Swithun’s Church in Worcester, England (also fashioned in the Georgian style typical of the 18th century).

St Paul’s Church is quite beautiful, with a cream-colored interior, a gallery, a simply decorated pulpit and gorgeous crystal chandeliers, made in 1802. Sadly, no pews.

Featured photo above: The Bell of Hope, which is located near the back entrance to the church. It is a gift from St Paul’s Chapel’s “sister” church St Mary-Le-Bow in London. The bell, presented in 2002, is rung every September 11. Another bit of my beloved England in the New World.

St Paul's Chapel NYC

Taking a photo in New York City without cars and people: It’s not going to happen. This is the front of the church, which faces Broadway.

As the city grew and its border was pushed farther up, the Chapel began to accommodate the new immigrants that were arriving from the rest of the world.

St Paul's Chapel NYC

The interior of St Paul’s Chapel. What a beauty. I do wish the church had pews, though.

The building survived the Great New York Fire of 1776 and 9/11, which happened literally across the street.

St Paul's Chapel NYC

I am a huge fan of chandeliers in churches. I find them to lend a very distinguished touch. These were added in 1802, then removed in 1857 and returned in 1925 after being fitted for electricity.

St Paul’s Chapel had a role during 9/11. It was here that Ground Zero recover workers ate and rested for about nine months after the attack. Below, the chapel has a memorial installed in a room with photos of the victims and other memorabilia.

St Paul's Chapel NYC

Police and firefighter patches from all over the country, and abroad.

The other name of St Paul’s Chapel is “The Little Chapel that Stood” due to its strength to survive disasters and attacks. But in the past buildings were constructed to last, unlike today, I am afraid.

St Paul's Chapel NYC

Corinthian-styled columns inside the Chapel.

Below, the simple, but elegant-looking pulpit.

St Paul's Chapel NYC

Love the decoration on its ceiling.

Below, something different. While in an English church you would find the royal coat of arms, we are in an American temple now and below you see the Great Seal of the United States of America, adopted by Congress in 1782. A young republic was just born. St Paul’s Chapel is actually the place where first President George Washington came to pray after being sworn.

St Paul's Chapel NYC

The bit of glare does not show this bird properly. Some people think it’s a turkey, and we don’t really know, but it is definitely not the eagle that was adopted as the official bird later on.

Between the cranes, high-risers and tree branches, it might be easy to miss this church at first, if you don’t pay attention. This is the back of it, which faces the old site of the Twin Towers.

St Paul's Chapel NYC

It is difficult to envision what this place must have looked like, two centuries ago, before it was surrounded by high-rise buildings. The Wikipedia page of the Chapel includes some images to give an idea.

A number of important personalities were buried here, including Monsieur Étienne Nicolas Marie Béchet, Sieur de Rochefontaine, who later anglicized his name to just Stephen Rochefontaine. He came to fight during the American Revolution from France. Later, he was appointed Chief Engineer of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. I find interesting that the tombstone of this New Yorker was, after all, written in his mother tongue.

St Paul''s Chapel NYC

As I read above, he had been appointed by King Louis XVI as Adjutant General of the Army of Santo Domingo and once the King died, moved to America. I wonder how he felt about monarchies, since after all he fought against one.

The churchyard is a small, quaint corner that contrasts with its status as the stage of one of the most dramatic episodes in American history.


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