Anyone visiting the World Trade Center Memorial, in New York City, should plan to stop at St. Paul’s Chapel too. It is easy to overlook amongst the towering skyscrapers. The chapel is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use. The chapel opened in 1766 and was built by the Episcopal Parish of Trinity Church Wall Street as a rural outreach extension at the time, before the Revolutionary War.
There is so much history here, you could spend a couple of hours exploring the cemetery and enjoying a respite inside. The first President of the United States George Washington even called this his home church for a couple of years.
When the chapel was first built, farmland and orchards surrounded it and was sometimes called the “country church.” A rural outpost from Trinity Church that is three-tenths of a mile away. A long ways when you usually walked to get there across unpaved paths.
The major craftsman was Andrew Gauthier and it was constructed in a Georgian Classic Revival style of architecture. The chapel was considered to be the most elegant and imposing church in the city. It is the only remaining Colonial-era church in Manhattan. The steeple was added in 1794.
Survived Two Major Events
- In 1776, over 500 buildings burned to the ground in Lower Manhattan. This included the chapel’s parent church, Trinity Church. This little chapel was amazingly saved by a bucket brigade. For the next several years the chapel served as the primary Episcopal Church in Manhattan until Trinity Church was re-built (1790).
- On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center which was just across the street from the chapel, collapsed. The chapel served as a base for ground zero workers, a place to rest, eat, and receive medical care. Again the chapel not only survived, but it did not even have one broken window. The chapel re-opened to the public at the end of 2002. One of its nicknames is the “Little Chapel That Stood.”
Bell of Hope
In 2002 on the anniversary of the September 11, attacks, the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury presented the Bell of Hope to the people of New York. The bell was created by the same company that cast the Liberty Bell and London’s Big Ben, England’s renowned Whitechapel Foundry. The bell’s pedestal base was built locally from eastern brownstone, and directly beneath the bell inlaid on the pedestal is a brass footprint of the World Trade Center Towers.
The bell is rung every September 11, symbolizing the triumph of hope over tragedy. It is also rung on other special occasions.
New Organ in 2018
The organ at the chapel is a three-manual Noack organ. The chapel offers organ concerts weekly at 1 pm on Thursdays. On the calendar of events they call it “Pipes of One.” The best organists from around the country are invited to come to play here.
Unusual Night Services
In 1904, there were a large number of people that worked near the chapel that got off work after two in the morning. To reach out to these workers the chapel offered 2:30 am services for “Night Workers.” The church wanted to make sure that services were available to all.
Today (April 2020)
St. Paul’s is a center for worship and the arts, and a community of reconciliation, and a place of pilgrimage for all people. They offer many services including “Brown Bag Lunch Ministry” which hands out free lunches to those who need a meal daily. Even during Covid-19 if you let the guard know you need a meal he will help you.
In 2016, a major renovation happened to repaint and repair the chapel. A lot of time was taken to discover what the original color of the walls would have been. It is a wonderful place to come in and rest during a busy day if you live in New York City or visiting.
During Covid-19 the chapel offers daily live-stream services at 12:05 pm Monday through Friday, and 11:15 am on Sundays.
Over a million people visit St. Paul Chapel per year.
The chapel is located at 209 Broadway, between Fulton St. and Vessey St. There are several subway stops to choose from including the E-Train at World Trade Center station.
Across the street, you will find the Oculus. This is a major transportation hub for Lower Manhattan. There are 10 subway lines that stop there – A, C, J, R, W, Z, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The Oculus is an amazing architecturally interesting stop all on its own. Like Grand Central Terminal, it has become a top place to go inside and take a selfie. It is also part of the Westfield World Trade Center shopping mall.
Other Places to See
The observation deck – at the new World Trade Cente – Freedom Tower – has spectacular views. Be sure to get your tickets online prior to going. The observation deck is called – One World Observatory.
9/11 Memorial and Museum – a beautifully designed memorial to 9/11.
St. Paul’s Chapel is one of the most amazing historical buildings and grounds in Manhattan and is so close to so many other landmarks. Take the time to stop and visit this iconic little chapel – the oldest public building in Manhattan.
Cover Photo Credit – Benjamin KRAFT, CC BY-SA 2.0