St. Paul’s Chapel was built in 1766 and has been in business ever since. Constructed of local brick and very colonial in design, it looks almost out of place today surrounded by the urban skyscrapers that are its closest neighbors. George Washington worshiped there many times, as have other notables over the long history of this church. Its tenants have been interred for a long time, many over 200 years, in the peaceful church yard that surrounds the structure, enclosed and protected by a wrought iron fence. Given the price of New York City real estate, it is a good thing its historic status ensures that this church is protected from destruction by the local wrecking ball and more recent events show what it is apparently well protected by forces greater than the National Registry as well.
Ten years ago, the doors to the churchyard opened up to the awe inspiring sight of the World Trade Center, then New York’s tallest skyscrapers by a comfortable margin. A year after, they were no more, brought down by terrorists, and all the buildings in the area suffered major damage from falling debris-all except St. Paul’s Chapel which suffered not a single broken window despite the destruction that happened only a few hundred yards from its doors. Today the vista opens out on the construction of the new Freedom Tower (see photo below, right), a scene much different than before. Over the months that followed the 9-11 tragedy, St. Paul became a refuge for tired rescue workers who combed through rubble to find those few who survited and afterwards, to find the bodies of those who didn’t. There are churches sanctified by God and then there are those sanctified by the blood, sweat and tears of those who do great works in His name; such is the case here where the house of God became a beacon of hope and an oasis of peace to those who performed unimaginable tasks following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Inside the chapel, there are many poignant reminders of what this city went through during the dark days that followed-one of the cots rescue workers used to get rest between shifts; a policeman’s uniform covered with patches from police agencies all over; an altar covered with photographs of those who perished and much more. Walking through the exhibits, then looking across the yard at what is not there any longer brings it all into sharp focus and I only saw it happen on television. For those that lived through it, the experience will always be with them and the memories linger just below the surface.
The experience was a humbling one and it is one I am glad I that I got to experience as a part of this trip. made as a part of this trip. The hallowed feeling that this place has, the ground it occupies and the experiences that have unfolded literally at its doorstep make it a place that anyone going to New York City should make it a point to see and experience. Seeing it at Christmastime especially reminds me that hope exists for peace on earth and that living saints walk among us each day.
Rowan Derryth said:
Ethan, I’m really enjoying reading this. Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t offer some guidance:
1. WE NEED PICTURES!!
2. If you do not go to the Frick while you are there, I’m afraid I won’t be able to speak to again.
3. You should also go to MoMA, specifically to the design section. I’ll still speak to you if you don’t, but I’ll be disappointed.
Frick or no speak.