Tag Archives: churchyards

St. Paul’s Churchyard

Rescue worker amidst debris in St. Paul’s churchyard following Sept 11, 2001 (FEMA)
Rescue worker amidst debris in St. Paul’s churchyard following Sept 11, 2001 (FEMA)

Located directly across from the World Trade Center site, St. Paul’s Chapel and churchyard stand in testimony to the church’s unique history and the special role it played following the events of September 11th, 2001.  The chapel, which is the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhattan, was built in 1766 by Trinity Church to serve Anglicans living in what was then the northern outskirts of the city. Erected on the west side of Broadway, the chapel was positioned to overlook the Hudson River, with a great yard extending out in front of it.  St. Paul’s is known for its pew set aside for George Washington, who worshipped at the chapel during the years that New York City served as the nation’s capitol.

St. Paul’s churchyard is bounded by Broadway on the east, Church Street on the west, Vesey Street on the north, and Fulton Street on the south. It contains about 800 gravestones, and 30 vaults lie under the churchyard and chapel. Revolutionary War hero Major General Richard Montgomery is among the prominent individuals buried there.  In 1818, over four decades after his 1775 death at the Battle of Quebec, Montgomery’s body was interred beneath the Chapel’s east porch, where a monument to him had been erected by Congressional order in 1776. Burials in the churchyard discontinued after interments in lower Manhattan were prohibited during the first half of the 19th century, although occasional interments were made in the family vaults into the early 1900s.

St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard, 1852 (Dripps 1852)
An 1884 view of St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard (NYPL)
An 1884 view of St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard (NYPL)

Building 5 of the World Trade Center stood just across Church Street from St. Paul’s, and the Twin Towers were one block away. When the buildings collapsed after the September 11th attacks, St. Paul’s churchyard was covered with dust and debris and a few tombstones were broken, but overall remained relatively unscathed. It is thought that the trees in the churchyard helped shield the chapel, which suffered no physical damage.  For eight months after the attack, the chapel served as a relief center for recovery workers working at the World Trade Center site and became an impromptu shrine for mourners.

Following a $300,000 restoration, St. Paul’s Chapel reopened to the public in August of 2002 and the churchyard reopened a year later. The restoration project included conservation of the headstones, which were vacuumed and washed to remove corrosive particulates that had been embedded in the surfaces from the dust storm that accompanied the collapse.  Two inches of ash-filled topsoil were also removed and replaced with new sod. Today, the chapel offers exhibits and memorials that tell its part in the September 11 story, and the historic churchyard provides a contemplative place to view redevelopment of the World Trade Center site.

The World Trade Center site across Church Street from St. Paul’s Chapel, 2008 (NYCityMap)
Tombstones in St. Paul’s Churchyard, 2008. (Mary French)

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; St. Paul’s Chapel; St. Paul’s Churchyard; Churchyards of Trinity Parish in the City of New York, 1697-1969 (J.V. Butler 1969), 54-78; Walks in Our Churchyards (J.F. Mines 1896), 130-151; “Polished Marble and Sacramental Scuffs,” New York Times, August 25, 2002; “At Ground Zero Oasis, a Path is Restored,” New York Times, Nov. 7, 2003; NYCityMap.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral Cemetery

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1836, with cemetery grounds located north and south of the church (Colton 1836)

When officials of the newly established Diocese of New York decided to build the city’s first cathedral in 1809, they selected a site at Mott and Prince Streets that was within the burying ground of St. Peter’s Church. St. Peter’s, the city’s first Catholic church, created the cemetery at the beginning of the 19th century when the graveyard around their church on Barclay Street became full. In 1801, they purchased several lots on the northwest corner of Prince and Mott streets, in the area that is now known as NoLita; an 1803 purchase of additional lots on the northeast corner of Prince and Mulberry streets enlarged the new burial ground.

When a portion of the cemetery was chosen as the cathedral site, provisions were made for the relocation of any graves within the building site to other areas of the cemetery.  Construction on St. Patrick’s Cathedral began in 1809 and was completed in 1815. Between 1811 and 1824, the church’s property was expanded further by the acquisition of adjacent lots, and the cemetery grew to its present dimensions, flanking the church on its north and south sides.  Additionally, a network of family crypts was built beneath the church. In ca. 1830, a 10-foot-tall brick wall was constructed around the boundary of the property to protect the church and cemetery from anti-Catholic violence that was prevalent during that period.

A depiction of the 69th regiment, part of New York’s Irish Brigade, marching down Prince  and Mott Streets next to St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in 1861. The southern portion of the cemetery, where some members of the regiment are buried, is shown. (NYPL)

Over 32,000 burials were recorded in St. Patrick’s Cemetery between the time that interments began to be registered in 1813 until the Catholic Cemetery on 11th Street opened in 1833. The 11th Street cemetery replaced St. Patrick’s Cemetery as the main burial ground for the city’s Catholic community, but occasional interments continued in the graveyard and crypts at St. Patrick’s into the early 20th century.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral became a parish church when the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown Manhattan was completed in 1879. The Old Cathedral was recently designated a basilica due to its historical and spiritual significance.  Its cemetery and vaults hold the remains of many of the city’s early Catholics, including those transferred from the graveyard at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street in 1836.  Most of those buried at Old St. Patrick’s are Irish, including several members of the 69th New York regiment, part of the “Irish Brigade” that fought in the Civil War.  The cemetery is also the original burial site of Pierre Toussaint, a former Haitian slave who is a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church; his remains were moved to a crypt at the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1990.

View of graveyard on the north side of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (Mary French)
View of graveyard on the south side of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (Mary French)

Virtual tour of the cemetery and crypts at Museum Planet.

Sources: Colton’s 1836 Map Of The City and County Of New-York; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1, 371-373; History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral;Centennial at Old St. Patrick’s,” New York Times, May 19, 1909; “Politely, A Cathedral Battles to Keep Modern Scrawling Off a Wall’s Historic Bricks,” New York Times, July 6, 2003; “Cathedral With a Past; Basilica With a Future,” New York Times, Dec. 5, 2010.

St. Peter’s Catholic Graveyard

The first Catholic cemetery in New York City, and in the State of New York, was around the original St. Peter’s Catholic Church in lower Manhattan.  In 1785, a group of Catholics in New York acquired an 110 x 125 foot plot on the southeast corner of Barclay and Church streets.  The first St. Peter’s church, a brick building of 48 x 81 feet, was erected on the site and the remainder of the property was reserved for a burial ground.

St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and the surrounding graveyard in 1807 (Bridges 1807)

The churchyard had become inadequate by the end of the 18th century, and in 1801 St. Peter’s purchased land at the corner of Prince and Mott streets to serve as a new burial ground.  Subsequent acquisitions expanded this property, which became the site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1809.  In 1836, St Peter’s began construction of a new, larger church on the same site as the old church and graveyard on Barclay Street.  The graves in the churchyard were removed at that time, and were reinterred in the graveyard adjacent to St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Prince and Mott streets.  Some remains were reburied under the new church building, which still stands today. According to a statement made by Vicar General William Quinn in 1883, remains that had been buried beneath the present church were disturbed during excavation work in the mid-1800s and were reburied at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

An 1831 view of the original St. Peter’s Church (Bourne Views of New York).
A present-day view of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church. (Beyond My Ken)
A present-day view of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church at 22 Barclay St. (Beyond My Ken)

Bridges’ 1807 Plan of the city of New-York; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1, 370; The Catholic Churches of New York City, 586-624; A Brief Sketch of the Early History of the Catholic Church on the Island of New York (copy of Bourne engraving); “Excited Roman Catholics: The Proposed Removal of Dead Bodies from a Cemetery,” New York Times Jan 4, 1883; “St Peter’s 108 Years Old,” New York Times Nov 27, 1893; “St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church 22 Barclay Street” by Beyond My Ken.

French Church of Saint Esprit Graveyard

The French Church of Saint Esprit in 1807, located near the northeast corner of Nassau and Pine streets. The graveyard can be seen at the rear of the church, extending to Cedar Street (Bridges 1807)

Founded in 1688 to serve French-speaking Protestants of New Amsterdam, the congregation of the French Church of Saint Esprit had their church near the northeast corner of Nassau and Pine streets from 1704 to 1831.  Their burial ground was to the rear of the church, extending north to Cedar Street.  An 1830 article in the New-York Mirror described the church and graveyard:

This antiquated building, which is the oldest religious edifice now in the city, was erected in 1704 by the Huguenots, or French protestants . . . It is built in the plainest style, being constructed of stone, and plastered on the outside, with a very steep roof, and monastic looking tower . . . The building, which is 70 feet in length and 50 in breadth, has a southwest aspect, fronting on Pine street, just below Nassau street, and the tower is in the rear towards Cedar street, where a few moulding tombstones are still to be seen in the cemetery, behind the law buildings. (New-York Mirror July 17, 1830)

This 1905 engraving from Samuel Hollyer’s series of Old New York scenes depicts an 18th century view of the French Church and graveyard (NYPL)

In February of 1831, the congregation sold the church building and property and moved to a new building at Church and Franklin Streets. The graves in the churchyard were removed, and the congregation had remains of those that had not been claimed by their families reinterred in a vault that they had purchased at the cemetery of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. The property at Pine and Nassau streets was subsequently developed for business purposes, as Gabriel P. Disosway described in 1865:

L’Eglise du Saint Esprit, the French Protesant Church in Pine street, opposite the custom-house, was founded in the year 1704 . . . In our day it has been demolished, its dead removed, and the venerable sacred place, like many others in our busy city, is now devoted to mammon. Lawyers’ offices, custom-house brokers, a restaurant and lager-bier saloon, occupy the once hallowed spot.

A high-rise building now occupies the site.  The congregation of the French Church of Saint Esprit worships today in uptown Manhattan.

Sources: Bridges’ 1807 Plan of the city of New-York; The Earliest Churches of New York and Its Vicinity (Disoway 1865), 121; The Huguenot Church of New York: A History of the French Church of Saint Esprit (John A.F. Maynard 1938) 231, 256.