Wednesday, February 23, 2011

St. Patrick's Cathedral: 51st Street and 5th Avenue

St. Patrick's Cathedral offers by appointment only tours for 10 or more but not for individuals (probably too many would be interested and be too infringing on the practicing Catholics worshiping in the cathedral?) (to schedule a group tour, contact Roberta Shea at 212-355-2749 x409 or

When in 1850 New York became an archdiocese and Bishop John Hughes became an archbishop, he decided that a larger northern cathedral was needed to properly represent the increasing numbers, intelligence and wealth of the Catholic population in New York.  At the time, most people thought his ambitions were a "follly," as the area where the cathedral was planned was mostly wilderness, but Archbishop Hughes' prescience correctly predicted that one day this location would be in the heart of the City.  Renowned architect James Renwick was commissioned in 1853, the first stone was laid in 1858, and the cathedral was consecrated in 1911 (when it was estimated that to that point about $4 million had been spent).  The gothic style cathedral is clad in white marble but the City pollution makes it much darker (see photos above).

Northern Aisle
Northeast Crossing of Axis and Transept
This is the largest gothic style Catholic cathedral in the U.S. and although tourists abound, there is a quiet calm about the place.  Like most traditional cathedrals, the structure of St. Patricks Cathedral is in the shape of a cross, with a central east-west nave (see below left), side aisles (see above left), and a crossing transept forming the "arms" of the cross (see above right).

Central Nave
Front Door of Central Portal
The architecture and the stained glass windows (esp. the rose window on the west side) are absolutely spectacular, and even though I am not religious, the architectural detail and overall grandeur (and perhaps all the praying Catholics) instill a sense of awe.

While I would have preferred a guided tour that I am sure would have enriched this visit even more, I was glad that I took the time to really look at all the alters (each dedicated to one or more saints), The Lady Chapel (which was light and beautiful), and the amazing 20,000 lb. bronze west facing front doors (see above right).

Yes, there are a lot of Gothic style churches are plentiful in NYC, but really, this is a special place that is worth a visit.

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