Sunday, March 30, 2008

St. Paul's Chapel --"The Little Chapel That Stood"

Opened for worship October 30, 1766, St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel as part of the Trinity Wall Street parish which is five blocks south. It has witnessed the unfolding history of New York City and our nation. The above picture is a view of St. Paul's Chapel from Church Street, between Fulton and Vesey Street.
The picture below is taken from the small cemetery in the front churchyard of the chapel and looks out across Church Street towards the Ground Zero area which contained the World Trade Center complex including the Twin Towers. which was destroyed on 9/11. The buildings visible in the picture are that of the World Financial Center on West Street.

This stump is all that remains of a 100-year-old sycamore tree that once stood in the NW corner of St. Paul's churchyard. The tree was toppled on September 11, 2001, when the collapse of the Trade Towers sent tons of debris hurtling towards the chapel. Miraculously, this tree and others in the churchyard saved the chapel from damage, and not a single pane of glass was broken throughout the church. In 2005 the sculptor Steve Tobin worked with tree experts to preserve this tree stump, and he also created the bronze memorial sculpture based on the tree's roots which are on display in Trinity Church's front plaza, which I described in my prior blog post about Trinity Church.

Also in St. Paul's churchyard is "The Bell Of Hope" which was presented to the people of New York by the Lord Mayor Of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury on September 11, 2002, as a symbol of solidarity between the British and American people after the 9/11 tragedy. It was cast in the Whitechapel Foundry, which also cast the Liberty Bell and London's Big Ben.

The bell is rung every September11 to symbolize the triumph of hope over tragedy.

This modest plaque is in the entrance to the chapel and explains its enormous historical significance. (sorry about the flash glare but it was too dark in the vestibule to take the picture without it)

Andrew Gauthier built St. Paul's chapel, and it is an example of Georgian Classic-Revival style architecture. In 1766 it was surrounded by farmland and orchards, and it was considered a remote "country church" which accommodated parishioners living on the outskirts of town. The steeple was added in 1794, and many regarded the chapel as the most elegant edifice in the city at that time.

The "Glory" altarpiece is by Col. Pierre L'Enfant, The French architect who designed the city of Washington D.C. The white clouds and golden lighting represent the glory of God, and the Hebrew word for God, "Yahweh", is seen in a triangle above the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.

The organ case in the back of the chapel was built in 1804. The organ was rendered unusable after the dust of the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Fourteen original cut-glass chandeliers hang in the nave and galleries.
In the wake of 9/11 many people in Oklahoma City, remembering the devastation from the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building a few years earlier, felt a special camaraderie with the people of New York City. Pam Meyers, and her husband Alan, an Oklahoma firefighter, created the Oklahoma City Banner. They brought it to all of the fire stations and EMT units that were first to respond to the Murrah bombing and collected signatures and messages of support from the firefighters and emergency workers. Hanging in St. Paul's, this banner had a profound, comforting effect on many workers, and you can see it still hangs in the chapel in the picture below.

St Paul's contains the tomb of a hero of the American Revolution, Brigadier Richard Montgomery, who was the first officer killed in battle in 1775.

In the north aisle of the church is George Washington's pew box, where the first president worshipped after his inauguration on April 30, 1789. St. Paul's remained President Washington's church until the U. S. capital was relocated to Philadelphia in 1790.

After the tragic events of 9/11 St. Paul's, became known as "The Little Chapel That Stood." Within days of the terrorist attack, it launched a 24/7 volunteer relief ministry for the recovery workers at Ground Zero. It was home to an extraordinary eight-month volunteer relief effort and became a symbol of both the sorrow of the nation for those lost and the bravery and heroics of those who helped in the aftermath of recovery. St. Paul's opened its doors for tired and weary Ground Zero workers to rest and sleep in the Chapel. During the late-night hours, workers stretched out on cots or in the pews. In 12-hour shifts, people would serve meals, make beds, counsel, and pray with the firefighters, construction workers, police officers, and others. Medical personnel, massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists, and other volunteers helped to turn the chapel into a sanctuary for hope and healing for over 2,000 workers each day.

There are still many displays in St. Paul's as part of an exhibit that chronicles the ministry of the church after 9/11. Below is an altar on the south side in the chapel which is covered with pictures and messages about victims of the terrorist attack that were left by family members and friends.

Fire and police badges from around the nation and the world have been sent to the chapel as a sign of sympathy and solidarity with the firemen and police in the City of New York after the tragic events of 9/11.

Sue Lucarelli, an NYC teacher, and St. Paul's volunteer began a program to collect teddy bears for New York City school children to help them cope with the events of September 11th. She received so many teddy bears that she decided to bring some to the Chapel for the workers. In the midst of tragedy, the teddy bears provided many rescue and recovery workers with comfort.

On April 16, 2007, in a controversial move, St. Paul's removed the pews that were once on either side of the aisle in an effort to enhance the flexibility of the church for worship, music, and civic events. They were replaced by movable wooden chairs. 

The pews were used in the relief effort after 9/11 by recovery units, and they were scarred and scratched by their heavy boots and gear as they tossed and turned, trying to catch a few hours of sleep before returning to the pit of Ground Zero. Afterward, these scratches became symbols of both their service and the chapel's service, and the decision was made not to repair them. In this new renovation, two of the pews were left in the chapel as a memorial, and two will be donated to the future World Trade Center Memorial Museum to be put on display.

Below is the front of St. Paul's Chapel as viewed from Broadway. The empty gap of the sky behind it is a constant reminder to the people of New York of the tragic loss of the World Trade Center.

There are daily Prayers for Peace said each day at 12:30 pm in St. Paul's Chapel.

Next blog I'll walk by Ground Zero and the Engine 10 Ladder 10 Firehouse Memorial plaque for the 345 fallen firemen.  See that post on this link.

  Bookmark and Share


Rosie's Whimsy said...

Beautiful old church! An amazing story! Thanks!

:-) Rosie

Edie Marie's Attic said...

Hi Pat!
What a wonderful tour of St Paul's Chapel. I didn't know it was right across from ground zero. What a haven in the midst of tragedy. I'm enjoying your tour so much Pat. I can't imagine the sadness all of you in NY went through on 911 and after. I cried my heart out as did the rest of our country. And I will have my hankie ready for the next leg of the tour.
Love and hugs, Sherry

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing the story of this chapel..what an amazing part of our world that I didn't even know about.


Junie Moon said...

It's so important to remember this tragic time and this series you're writing is wonderful. The Bell of Hope just touches me so much.

Lisa's RetroStyle said...

Pat, I just wanted to pop in and say thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment, and for adding me to your blogroll...thank you so much. I'm in the middle of my work day...but I didn't want to forget...I'll be back later to read about St. Paul' have no idea how much self restraint that takes me! I can't wait to learn all about it. Later, Lisa B.

Barb said...

What beautiful photos!

Sorry for the spam but I'm letting everyone on the Heads Or Tails blogroll know that HoT has a home of its own! You can find it HERE. :)

Anonymous said...

What a touching and informative post, Pat. Thank you... I just want you to know that you are one of the people I chose to give a "You Make My Day" award to on my blog :)
My best wishes, Donna

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

This was SO great for me to read! I too just got back from NYC but I was unable to get to this church! I was told to not miss it but I just didn't have time. Thanks for showing me on what I missed, it was amazing.


Unknown said...

Thank you for this tour and tribute! I have only been to to Upstate NY, so I appreciate all of the glimpses that I can get.

Have a grand day!

Vee said...

Pat, you may have missed your calling. You are an amazing history teacher.

Today's post touches my heart. I hope that we never forget. Thank you for reminding me of the triumph of good and the beauty of loving service. Now I'm off to see the video about the pews being removed.

Tara said...


We lost a really wonderful firefighter friend from Engine very tragic! His firehouse lost a few more men...saddest funeral I have ever been to!

kari and kijsa said...

These are amazing photos and stories about New York!

Have a blessed day!

smiles, kari & kijsa

Mrs. B said...

Pat, I've enjoyed all these posts on NYC, but this one was just so touching. I got all teary eyed. Can't imagine what I'll be like after your Ground Zero post! Thanks for sharing these wonderful stories.

Lisa's RetroStyle said...

Oh, Pat...I'm so sorry for 9/11. I'm so sorry for all the scars that will never completely heal. I'm wondering Pat...being that you were/are a nurse did you work at ground zero after 9/11? Did you lose anyone you knew personally that day? Maybe I shouldn't ask...but I'm just curious. Maybe it will come up in a later post. I'll keep reading. Thanks again. I've fallen behind...I better catch up with the rest of the tour.

Rue said...

Hi Pat :)

I'm back reading your blog... I've missed so much! This tour gave me chills as I was reading it. Beautiful story about it.

reading more...
rue :)

Joanne Kennedy said...

Wow! I'm left speachless after reading this. Talk about a blessing!