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Historic New York chapel celebrates 250th anniversary

Posted on: October 28, 2016 3:17 PM
St Paul’s Chapel in Lower Manhattan, the chapel of ease of Trinity Church, Wall Street, celebrates its 250th anniversary on Sunday 30 October.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Takes Manhattan by Tony

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] It pre-dates the founding of the United States of America by 10 years; and was the church of the country’s first president, George Washington. Now, St Paul’s Chapel in Lower Manhattan, New York, will hold a special service this Sunday – 250 years to the day when, on 30 October 1766, it opened its doors as a chapel of ease for Trinity Church, Wall Street. It was built to accommodate the growing number of Trinity parishioners who were moving north. The chapel today is still used as a spiritual home for downtown residents, making it the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan and the only one to remain in continuous use since Colonial days.

The building survived the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre towers; protected from falling masonry by a sycamore tree which acted as a shield. The only harm being smoke damage to the organ pipes – since restored. For months after the attack the chapel served as a respite centre for emergency and rescue workers, with hundreds of volunteers helping to cook meals and offer counselling and prayers to the workers.

On Sunday, a special prayer service will be held at 3pm EDT (7pm GMT). Representatives from other faith communities in existence in Lower Manhattan in 1776 have being invited to attend, as have local dignitaries. A copy of the first sermon, preached on the same day 250 years earlier, will be on display.

The service will be flanked by two other events: a walking tour led by historian Barnet Schecter and a lecture by Dr Kenneth Jackson, who will speak on the history of the chapel. Sunday’s events will start a year of celebrations throughout the anniversary year.

To prepare for the anniversary, the chapel has undergone a significant restoration, which included the painstaking repainting of the interior. Some 500 gallons of “historically appropriate” natural cream, white dove and deep caviar pain has been used; and the chandeliers, crafted by artisans more than 200 years ago, have been rejuvenated.

The original late-18th century statue carved from tulip poplar, which overlooked Broadway from a niche on the outside of the chapel for more than two centuries, has been conserved and moved indoors to the southeast corner of the sanctuary; while its place outside has been taken by a weather–resistant resin replica.

“We are honoured to be stewards of St Paul’s Chapel,” the Rector of Trinity Wall Street, the Revd Dr William Lupfer, said, “Its longevity and continuity are reflections of the worshipping community’s deep faith, the lifeblood of any active parish. We welcome all to join us as we celebrate the chapel’s 250th anniversary on October 30 and throughout the coming year.”

Meanwhile, Trinity Wall Street have unveiled plans for a new 26-storey parish centre and commercial space at 74 Trinity Place. The “multifaceted design reflects extensive parish planning and nearly two years of intense engagement with the greater Lower Manhattan community in order to imagine what the new building should look like and explore the purposes best suited to Trinity’s congregation, ministry partners, neighbours, and the city,” the Church said in a statement.

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An architect’s rendering of the new parish centre and office space for Trinity Church, Wall Street, at 74 Trinity Place.
Photo: Pelli Clarke / Pelli Architects

Dr Lupfer said that the new building was “a statement of Trinity’s dedication to serving the people of this community, this neighbourhood, and the city of New York for a fourth century. Having been in conversation with our neighbours every step of the way, we are creating a dynamic, engaging home for Trinity’s ministry activities. This Parish Centre is a reflection of our core values and commitment to hospitality.”

The new building will act as a ministry and community hub for Trinity Church Wall Street, and combine a number of functions into one building to “help meet the present and future priorities of Trinity’s growing, active congregation and provide mission-driven services to the residents of Lower Manhattan,” the church said.

The new building will provide 310,000 square feet of accommodation. The parish centre will form the base of the building while the first nine floors will house gathering spaces, an education centre, a gymnasium, gallery and performance areas, family and youth spaces, and staff offices. Floors 10-26 will provide office space available on commercial leases.

“The new project forms an ensemble with Trinity Church and Churchyard, creating an enlarged public setting for the ministries of the church,” architect Pelli Clarke said. “The resulting design, emerging from a highly collaborative design process, is conceived of as a companion to the historic church building – a supportive and resonant element in a larger urban composition, a sacred and welcoming public space.

“When seen from Wall Street, the new parish building will form a contemporary backdrop for the historic church. With a façade of glazed panels set into a light metal framework, the design resonates with the intricate stonework of Trinity Church Wall Street, the Gothic Revival Episcopal landmark that has stood at the west end of Wall Street since 1846.”

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An architect’s rendering of the new parish centre and office space for Trinity Church, Wall Street, at 74 Trinity Place.
Photo: Pelli Clarke / Pelli Architects

Plans for the new building have been submitted to the civic authorities. It is anticipated that the ground-breaking ceremony will take place early in 2017, with completion of the project taking place in late 2019.