I HAVE passed this spot in the few times I made it in the area, mainly to check out Ground Zero of the World Trade Center and the developments of the memorial as it was constructed, to change trains or shop in one of my favorite stores nearby. I never took notice of this small religious structure. Not until Tonypet and Jonah, my designated tour guides, brought me inside. I found out what a big role this small place of worship is in the lives of the Americans in the past and the present. Big things do come in small packages.
Saint Paul’s Chapel, an Episcopal chapel of the Parish of Trinity Church, is the oldest surviving church building and the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City. It is located in Lower Manhattan in the Big Apple, on 209 Broadway, between Fulton and Vessey Streets. Almost two centuries since its completion in 1766, the Georgian architecture styled building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
Among the chapel’s famous worshippers were several presidents of the US—George Washington (along with the members of the US Congress during his inauguration in 1789), Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush— and many more distinguished personalities— George Clinton (the first governor of the New York), Governor George Pataki, Prince William, Lord Cornwallis, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani.
The most prominent names in history may have worshipped in the halls of this chapel may have lifted the place into prominence, but what is more interesting is how St. Paul’s Chapel has survived a couple of catastrophes in the history of NYC (and the US)—the Great New York City Fire of 1776 when a quarter of the city was burned during the American Revolutionary War, and the September 11, 2001 attack of the World Trade Center that led to the collapse of the Twin Towers. With the chapel’s rear faces Church Street, opposite the east side of the WTC site, it’s a miracle that not a single window was broken when the towers collapsed. It was a sycamore tree— the miracle sycamore— on the northwest corner of the property that was hit by debris sparing the Chapel, as Church history declares.
For eight months after 9/11, St. Paul’s Chapel served as a place of rest and refuge for the volunteers numbering by the hundreds, working in 12-hour shifts 24/7 serving meals and making beds, counseling and praying, attending to their medical needs, etc.
Today, the Chapel is one of the popular tourist destinations in the Big Apple. Showcased within the sanctuary are the memorial banners, an extensive video history of the 9/11 event, and a couple of exhibited works that call attention—the "Healing Hearts and Minds", an exhibit consisting of a policeman's uniform covered with police and firefighter patches sent from all over the world, and hung from the upper level over the pews is the "Thread Project", a composition made up of several banners, each of a different color, and woven from different locations from around the globe.
Memories of the past live inside the St. Paul’s Chapel. Whether you’d like to check out George Washington’s pew or view the 9/11 memorial installations, this is one place worth checking out. It’s a very short walk from the 9/11 Ground Zero Museum.
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