You don’t need to be Catholic to attend a mass and enjoy some extraordinary organ music
St Patrick’s Cathedral stands directly across the street from the Art Deco Rockefeller Centre, and it cuts a striking contrast. Built during the Civil War, it remains America’s largest Catholic cathedral. On Fifth Avenue, nestled among New York’s grandest skyscrapers, its twin spires make for a strange sight. At night, when the surrounding buildings light up like blinking switchboards, dramatic shadows play across St Patrick’s face — it’s perfectly Gothic.
Fresh from major renovations, now is the perfect time to visit. St Patrick’s is a fine example of Gothic revival splendour, both inside and out. Built of brick clad in marble, it takes up a whole city block and has a seating capacity of over 2,000. Through its colossal bronze doors you can see its intricate alter - designed by Tiffany & Co. - and in the gallery above sits a 7000-pipe church organ, above which gleams the famous Rose Window.
A Manhattan Mystery
For two years following its construction in 1858, one cornerstone was left open so that New Yorkers could leave offerings in it. It was sealed in 1860 — and then it went missing. Today, no one knows exactly where it is. Mysteriously, the then Archbishop John Hughes wrote that the cornerstone “in all probability, will never be disturbed by human agency” at the time it was sealed. Lord only knows what he meant by that.
Just below the altar, a pair of copper doors lead to a basement crypt. It has a black, speckled floor, light grey marble and a small kneeling prayer desk. The crypt holds the coffins of every New York cardinal, as well as the remains of Pierre Touissant, a former slave and philanthropist. He apprenticed as a hairstylist, and eventually became the most sought after hairdresser of high society women in New York before gaining his freedom and becoming a successful entrepreneur — though most of his money went towards the church and the poor. He was among the first African Americans to be declared ‘venerable’, a step towards possible canonisation.
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