|The Broadway entrance was intended to be the rear of the church.|
While today the five city blocks that separate St. Paul’s from Trinity may seem like an easy walk; in 1766 the site was well removed from the established city below Wall Street and had been a field of wheat prior to ground breaking.
Designed by Thomas McBean, the church was situated with its rear wall towards Broadway so that the front had a pleasing view of the river. McBean, who was a student of the renowned London architect James Gibbs, constructed the chapel from small, rough-faced field stones quarried on the site. Andrew Gautier was the master craftsman in charge of the construction. Window and door openings and corners were then trimmed in dressed brownstone that gave a sophistication to the otherwise rural feel of the structure.
|St. Paul's prior to the addition of the elegant 1828 wrought iron fencing in a still semi-rural setting -- NYPL Collection|
Inside were the clean, elegant lines associated with Georgian architecture. The painted woodwork of fluted columns and paneled arches that would be found in an upscale home of the period was used here. Fourteen Waterford cut glass chandeliers hung from the ceiling.
|Georgian woodwork and Waterford chandeliers grace the interiors -- photo by official-ly cool|
As picturesque as the view might have been, parishioners complained about the inconvenience of the entrance. Three years later demands were met when a carriage portico was added to the Broadway side. The roof line was extended to the property line where four graceful fluted stone columns upheld the deep pediment. A primitive wooden carving of St. Paul was inserted in a niche in the pediment and a balustrade graced the roof line above the cornice.
|Broadway bustles in front of the carriage portico where a primitive wooden statue of St. Paul stands in a niche -- NYPL Collection|
St. Paul’s Chapel escaped the flames.
As the American Revolution drew to an end, the ruins of Trinity Church still stood on Broadway at the head of Wall Street. On his Inauguration Day on April 30, 1789, George Washington attended services at St. Paul’s and continued to worship there for the next two years while New York served as the nation’s capital.
|In the 1850s, well-dressed Victorians visit Washington's pew beneath the north balcony -- NYPL Collection|
|Ivy covers most of the facade by 1897 -- NYPL Collection|
The chapel was not only a place of worship but a place of remembrance and in 1787 the first monument to a Revolutionary War hero was erected in honor of Richard Montgomery, sculpted by Jean-Jacques Caffieri. Pierre L’Enfant’s “Glory,” a neo-Baroque sculpture was installed and, outside, the ample graveyard received the burials of New York’s most elevated citizens.
Over a century later as a bronze tablet commemorating the centennial of Washington’s inauguration services was dedicated, the rector, Dr. Mulchahey, commented on St. Paul’s use as a place of memorials. Comparing it to Westminster Abbey in that regard, he said “I would not object to see these walls entirely covered with memorials of persons and incidents conspicuous in the history of the church and the State.”
|photo by Alice Lum|
|Skyscrapers had begun surrounding the churchyard in 1906 -- NYPL Collection|
On September 11, 2001 in one of New York City’s and America’s most devastating tragedies, terrorists struck the nearby World Trade Towers with airliners, collapsing them to the ground and murdering nearly 3000 innocent civilians. St. Paul’s emerged unharmed and was almost immediately turned into a place of refuge for recovery workers.
Outside, photographs of the missing were hung from the 1827 wrought iron fence, creating a heart-breaking wall of grief. Inside workers came to rest and sleep. Volunteers worked at the chapel for eight months, 24 hours a day in 12-hour shifts serving food, changing linens, offering counseling. To help the police, firefighters and construction workers recover, citizens from all walks of life came to St. Paul’s Chapel to offer their services: chiropractors, massage therapists, stress counselors, and even musicians.
Many of the memorial banners remain in the sanctuary and a number of exhibits are on display here. They remember those who, like the victims of the Titanic, “whether prepared to meet their God or not, were suddenly called upon.”
While the World Trade Center site still smoldered months later, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani chose St. Paul’s Chapel from which to give his farewell Speech on December 27, 2001. In the sanctuary where Lord Cornwallis, Presidents Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and George H. W. Bush once worshiped, President George W. Bush, Senator Hillary Clinton, George Pataki and Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani attended a memorial service on September 10, 2006.
|Memorial banners for the victims of 9/11 hang from the balcony -- photo by shipoffools.com|
St. Paul’s Chapel is the oldest existing church building in New York City. Of the surviving 18th Century buildings in Manhattan, the Landmarks Preservation Commission deemed it “undoubtedly the most notable both architecturally and historically.”
In designating the property a landmark, the Commission said it “represents the epitome of the Georgian period of architecture.”