Old St. Patrick's Cathedral

Art & Culture | History

Welcome to New York's first Cathedral

Old St Patrick's Cathedral

About Old St. Patrick's Cathedral

 & why it made the Carpe City list

The cornerstone of Old St. Pat’s was laid in 1809, and the Church officially opened in 1815. Now, the corner of Mott and Prince is the heart of Soho, but in 1809, this was the country. New Yorkers lived south of Canal, and the Cathedral was literally called “the new church out of town.” This might have been a country church, but it was a big deal from the get-go!

The Cathedral was designed by Joseph Mangin, one-half of the duo who created New York City Hall, and it was the largest church building in the city. Stylistically, it’s cool, too: it was one of the first Gothic Revival churches in America.

You can’t see that original facade because it was destroyed in a fire in 1866 and replaced by the more muted brown stucco you see before you. Still, the stunning interior was rebuilt according to the original design, which remains to this day. So, go in and bask in the glory!!

There are also some impressive individuals associated with Old St. Pat’s. The most famous is likely The Venerable Pierre Toussaint. A Haitian-born leader and philanthropist born into slavery, Toussaint became one of the most respected black leaders in New York City. He was noted for his extraordinary philanthropy and service, setting up an orphanage and helping raise funds to build Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Toussaint is a candidate for canonization with the Catholic Church and has reached the level of “Venerable,” the second step in the process. He was initially interred here at Old St. Pat’s – but was moved to “New” St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue. He is the first layperson to be buried in the crypt there!

Other associations with the Cathedral include Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American Saint. She worshipped here. Then, more recently, Martin Scorsese served as an altar boy at Old St. Pat’s while growing up in Little Italy. Later, he featured the Church in several scenes of his movie “Gangs of New York.”

Speaking of remarkable people, you can tour the catacombs below Old St. Pat’s! It’s an atypical slice of old New York and one of the most unique tours we can think of!

These days, the Church serves a diverse community and offers services in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Carpe City Trivia

Fun facts:

Ok, this is New York City's first Cathedral, but it's not New York City's first Catholic Church.

The first Catholic Church in New York City is "St. Peter's Church" on Barclay Street, dating back to 1785!

By: Lucie Levine

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