The Cathedral of St. Patrick (commonly called St. Patrick’s Cathedral) is a decorated Neo-Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral church in the United States. It is the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and a parish church, located on the east side of Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York, directly across the street from Rockefeller Center and specifically facing the Atlas statue.
The land on which the present cathedral sits, sold by the city’s aldermen in 1799 at a quit rent, was purchased at auction for unpaid taxes in November 1828 by Francis Cooper, who conveyed it to the trustees of St Peter’s Church in the city that still lay far to the south. The trustees intended it for a Catholic burial ground. The site at 50th Street and Fifth Avenue contained a “fine old house,” which was then fitted with a chapel of St. Ignatius. The school closed in 1814 and the Jesuits sold the lot to the diocese. In 1813, the diocese gave use of the property to Dom Augustin LeStrange, abbot of a community of Trappists (from the original monastery of La Trappe) who came to America fleeing persecution by French authorities. In addition to a small monastic community, they also looked after some thirty-three orphans. With the downfall of Napoleon in that year, the Trappists returned to France in 1815, abandoning the property. The property at this point was designated for a future cemetery. The neighboring orphanage was maintained by the diocese into the late nineteenth century. Some of the Trappists resettled to Canada and eventually founded St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.
Bishop DuBois reopened the chapel in 1840 for Catholics employed at the Deaf and Dumb Asylum and in the general neighborhood. A modest frame church was built for the parish of St. John the Evangelist and dedicated 9 May 1841 by the Rev.John Hughes, administrator of the diocese. Tickets were sold to the dedication to ease the parish’s debt level, managed by a lay Board of Trustees, but to no avail and the property mortgage was finally foreclosed on and the church sold at auctioned in 1844. The stress is said to have contributed to the death that year of the church’s pastor, the Rev. Felix Larkin. The experience was blamed on the management of the trustees and this incident is said to have played a significant role in the abolishment of the lay trusteeship, which occurred shortly thereafter. The young and energetic Rev. Michael A. Curran was appointed to raise fund for the devastated parish, and shortly fitted up an old college hall as a temporary church. Fr. Curran continued raising funds to buy back the church during the Great Famine in Ireland, eventually succeeding and taking the deed in his own name. “The site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, hence, came to the Church through the labors of this young priest and the self-denial of his countrymen and not by the fight of the city.” The debt was finally all paid for by 1853 when it was clear a large church was needed and the site was selected as appropriate for the new cathedral.
The Diocese of New York, created in 1808, was made an archdiocese by Pope Pius IX on July 19, 1850. In 1853, Archbishop John Joseph Hughes announced his intention to erect a new cathedral to replace the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in downtown Manhattan. The new cathedral was designed by James Renwick, Jr. in the Gothic Revival style. On August 15, 1858, the cornerstone was laid, just south of the diocese’s orphanage. At that time, present-day midtown Manhattan was far north of the populous areas of New York City. Work was begun in 1858 but was halted during the Civil War and resumed in 1865. The cathedral was completed in 1878 and dedicated on May 25, 1879, its huge proportions dominating the midtown of that time. The archbishop’s house and rectory were added from 1882 to 1884, and an adjacent school (no longer in existence) opened in 1882. The towers on the west façade were added in 1888, and an addition on the east, including a Lady chapel, designed by Charles T. Mathews, was begun in 1901. The
stained-glass windows in the Lady Chapel were designed and made in Chipping Campden, England by Paul Vincent Woodroffe between 1912 and 1930. The cathedral was renovated between 1927 and 1931 when the great organ was installed and the sanctuary enlarged.
The cathedral and associated buildings were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
The original pipe organs, built by George Jardine & Son in the 19th century, have been replaced. The chancel organ, in the north ambulatory, was made by the St. Louis, Missouri, firm of George Kilgen & Son, and installed in 1928; it has 3,920 pipes. The grand gallery organ, by the same company, was installed in 1930, and has 5,918 pipes. The combined organs, totaling 177 stops and 9,838 pipes, can be played from either of two five-manual consoles installed in the early 1990s to replace the original Kilgen consoles.
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