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History of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral

200th Anniversary Celebration

June 8, 1809 - Cornerstone was laid
May 14, 1815 - Dedication of Cathedral

For 200 years this venerable and beautiful church has offered Catholics as well as people of all ages, cultures, races and religious backgrounds the gifts bestowed upon it by God - faith, hope and love. After serving the new Diocese of New York as its first cathedral for seventy years, it become known as the "Old Cathedral" with the opening of a larger and more grand edifice uptown. Meanwhile, at the place where Mott and Prince Streets meet, in a community that has been known as Little Italy, NOLITA and SOHO, the church continues a ministry of worship and service to changing populations of people.

The cornerstone of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral – New York City’s first Cathedral Church - was laid on June 8,1809. Construction of the ‘home church’ for the bishops of the newly formed Diocese of New York took six years culminating in a dedication ceremony on May 14,1815. On that day the New York Gazette described the cathedral as "a grand and beautiful church, which may justly be considered one of the greatest ornaments of our city".

The very first bishop appointed by Pope Pius VII died in Italy before he could embark for New York. The next two bishops, John Connolly and John Dubois, worked arduously to establish a foothold for the struggling immigrant church. They are buried in the vaults below the old Cathedral.

New York’s fourth bishop, John Hughes, oversaw a breathtaking expansion of Catholic parishes and institutions, including Fordham University. He became the first Archbishop in 1850 and was known commonly as “Dagger John”, a name that originated from the way he inscribed a cross before his signature. His successor, John McCloskey, was the first and last cardinal to live on Mulberry Street, receiving his red hat in the old cathedral in 1875.

Meanwhile, the Sisters of Charity were active in the neighborhood and throughout the growing Archdiocese. On Prince Street they established an orphanage as well as a school which is known today as St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School, the oldest existing Catholic grammar school in the Archdiocese.

Designed by architect Joseph Francois Mangin, the cathedral’s exterior has great dignity in its restrained simplicity. The 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. Near the west wall stands the marble altar surrounded by an ornately carved, gold leaf reredos, composed of images of the Apostles.

At the opposite end of the church, in the choir loft, is one of less than a dozen such great instruments surviving in New York City. Built by Henry Erben in 1852 – and re-built in 1868 - it still used in liturgies today.

Beneath the church lies a labyrinth of well-kept mortuary vaults. Outside is a cemetery containing the graves and tombstones of many of our spiritual forbears from the 18th & 19th centuries. It is the original resting place of Pierre Toussaint, a Black New Yorker, born a slave in Haiti, whose cause for canonization (sainthood) is being considered in Rome. His body has been re-interred in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue.

On the night of October 6, 1866, St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street was destroyed by fire. The Cathedral was rebuilt within the four original walls that remained and rededicated on St. Patrick’s Day, 1868. With the new cathedral on 5th Avenue Street under construction, the architect James Renwick provided a similar design for the ceilings in both buildings. When the new cathedral was dedicated in 1879, the Archbishop’s “cathedra” (chair) was transferred there.

In 1966, St. Patrick's Old Cathedral was one of the first sites to be named a New York City landmark by the New York City Landmarks Commission. The brick wall surrounding the cemetery, St. Patrick's, St. Patrick's Old Cathedral School and St. Michael's Russian Catholic Chapel (Byzantine Rite) are also official landmarks. The rectory at 263 Mulberry Street - the past residence of two bishops, an archbishop and a cardinal - is listed on the National Registry of Historic Landmarks.

Today, St. Patrick's Old Cathedral is a church of the people, who generation after generation, helped build America. This historic church cradled the Irish, Germans, French and Italian communities as they made their foothold in this country. Today liturgies are celebrated in English, Spanish and Chinese as the parish embraces the surrounding area's young artists and professionals. Please join us as we embrace the future as we celebrate the past.

Your tax exempt gift will assist in the restoration of our historic buildings.


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St. Patrick's Old Cathedral 200th Anniversary Celebration