Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Architecture, Campus, and Renovation

Taking up the majority of a city block in SoHo is New York City's first cathedral, St. Patrick's. The cornerstone of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral was laid on June 8, 1809 and dedicated on May 14, 1815.

Campus Map of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral
1. St. Patrick's Old Cathedral

Built 1809-1815 (Architect: Mangin)

Rebuilt 1866-1868 (Architect: Engelbert)

Designated an NYC landmark, 1966

2. Convent and School

Built 1825-1826

Designated an NYC landmark, 1966

3. Cemetery Wall

Built ca. 1830s

Designated an NYC landmark, 1966

4. Old Chancery

Built 1858-1859 (Architects:


Designated an NYC landmark, 1977

5. Parish House

Constructed at various times from two separate houses during the 19th century

6. Youth Center

Built circa 1950

The original design for the cathedral was created by French born military engineer, Joseph Francois Mangin in 1809. Mangin worked with simple dimensions in order to achieve the classic look for the Cathedral. Because of the War of 1812, construction was slow and funds were limited. According to the cathedral's website, her sidewalls rise to a height of 75 feet, and the inner vault is 85 feet high. The church is over 120 feet long and 80 feet wide. At the time of dedication, the cathedral was the largest Catholic Church in the United States.

In 1838 after decades of use, Bishop John Hughes decided to complete many costly additions to the cathedral. The edifice was repainted and completely redecorated and one of the finest organs in New York City was installed. Housed in the back of the church, the organ still has its original cloth covered wires. Built by Henry Erben, the organ in Old St. Patrick’s is one of only a few in all of New York City. This 3-41 organ was given to the cathedral in 1866 and is still in use today.

Henry Erben's Organ

King Louis Philippe of France also gave stained glass windows to St. Patrick’s, but due to a measuring error, they were the wrong size for the cathedral. These windows were later installed in the Fordham University Church in the Bronx at the request of Bishop Hughes.

Two Gifts of King Louis Philippe

On October 20, 1866, a massive fire destroyed the interior of the Old Cathedral. After renovations, it reopened on March 17, 1868.

October 20, 1866

Henry Engelbert designed the interior of the church built after the 1866 fire. Engelbert was famous for his work in the French Second Empire style and was commissioned for several Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches throughout the city. Despite his previous works, Engelbert brought the cathedral back to its Gothic roots. He removed the two towers that stood on top of the cathedral and also removed the main window.

The Original Church Built in 1809

The Renovated Church Without the Two Towers (view from Mott Street)

As these renovations were taking place, Hughes decided to build a new cathedral to serve more Catholics in New York City. He purchased land on 5th Avenue and 51st Street and allowed the building to begin on what would be the modern day St. Patrick’s. Because these cathedrals were built during the same years under similar direction, there are many resemblances between St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. For example, the Gothic-style ceiling built by Engelbert during the Old Cathedral’s renovation is extremely similar to the ceiling of the new Cathedral, which was being built at the exact same time. The New York Times estimated the fire of 1866 cost the cathedral close to $150,ooo in damages, of which of $50,000 was covered by their insurance. Prior to the fire, the church was officially debt free in 1884, only to be set back another $35,000 in renovations to fix the damage.

Altar of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral


Also located on the campus is St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church. With only enough room for 11 people each mass, this tiny chapel was the first to serve the Russian Catholic community in New York City.

The Catholic grammar school located at 32 Prince Street between Mott and Mulberry Streets, was constructed in 1837 and was the first Catholic school in New York City. Previously, religious schools used church basements or parish halls to house their students. St. Patrick’s was the first to give their students a designated area to study.


To keep Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral updated for future generations, a lot of work is going to take place over the next five to ten years.

With the Parish House renovation already complete, the next major project taking place is the buttressing of the cemetery wall. Because the cemetery wall is a landmark itself, it can only be preserved. In order to do this, holes must be dug 35 feet below ground in order to buttress the wall and restore it to what it was in the 1830s and 1840s.

Chris Explaining the Renovation of the Wall

Upcoming Renovations:

The Cemetery Wall

- Plaque Commemorating Remains of First Priests Ordained for the Archdiocese ($5,000)

-Transparent Doors to Crypt ($30,000)

- Front Doors to the Old Cathedral ($50,000)

The Bell Tower ($50,000)

Illumination of the Mulberry Street Fa├žade ($25,000)

St. Patrick’s Garden ($15,000)





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