Thursday, March 3, 2011

Trinity Church & St. Paul's Chapel: On Broadway btwn Wall St and Fulton

Trinity Church and St. Paul's Chapel (see left and right) make up Trinity Wall Street Episcopal parish.  Both churches are filled with and surrounded by history from the beginning of this nation through the tragedy of 9/11, and is an active parish today.

Trinity Church, which first opened in 1698 but burned in the "Great Fire" of 1776, was rebuilt in 1790 but had to be torn down due to heavy snow damage in 1839, and finally was rebuilt in 1846 for a third time to what you see today.  St. Paul's Chapel was first built in 1766 as a northern expansion of Trinity Church and is the longest continually used public building in the U.S. 

Trinity Church has beautiful bronze doors (see above left and right).  While the church is not the largest or the grandest in New York (see my posts on St. Patrick's Cathedral and St. John the Divine), it also has a spectacular stained glass window behind the main altar (see left) and a perfectly appointed altar in the All Saints' Chapel (see right).  It also has a museum, but when I visited yesterday it was out of commission due to some technical difficulties, but the security guard I spoke to said that is should be back up and running in a couple of weeks so check the website ( for details.  

However, some of the most historically significant parts of Trinity Church are actually outside in the cemetery.  In the south yard, there is a memorial for Robert Fulton (developer of the first commercially successful steamboat), the tomb of Alexander Hamilton (the first Secretary of Treasury and the man on the $10 bill) (see left), and in the north yard there lies the oldest gravestone (5 year old Richard Churcher) dated 1681 (see above right).

St. Paul's Chapel is just a few blocks north of Trinity Church, but many New Yorkers do not know much about St. Paul's.  It was the site where for the 9 months following 9/11 rescue workers took refuge, volunteers came from all over the country and the world to help relieve the devastation, and where people of all faiths bonded and helped one another after the devastation.  The interior of the chapel has been changed into a kind of museum with modern displays describing all of these things (which kind of diminishes the beauty of this historical site), but if you take the time to read and really look at the various displays, I assure you that you will be moved.  I certainly was.  The chapel also retains some incredible historical pieces as well -- George Washington came to worship after his inauguration as the first President and over that pew hangs an original 18th century painting of the Great Seal of the United States (see right); and George Clinton, the first NY State governor worshiped here back in the late 1770s and there is also a marked Governor's Pew.

Finally, if you go through the back doors, you will be face to face with the "Bell of Hope," a gift from the City of London to the City of New York, that is rung every September 11th.  And poignantly just beyond the bell, you will be facing west toward the "pit" where the twin towers once stood, and you can oversee the construction that is going on today at a feverish 24/7 pace.

While you could try to time your visit for the Trinity free tour at 2 pm or when the museum re-opens, I would simply recommend that you pick up the handy brochures offered at the front entrance of both Trinity and St. Paul's.  They are very informative, have detailed maps of highlights and provide a good overview of the history of both sites.

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