NEW YORK, N.Y. – Manhattan’s oldest church is getting ready to celebrate its 250-year history, which includes worshippers ranging from George Washington to those who searched for victims following the Sept. 11 attacks.
St. Paul’s Chapel in Lower Manhattan is best known today as the “Little Church that Stood,” having survived unscathed as the World Trade Center towers came down across the street.
A monthslong interior renovation of the Episcopal sanctuary will be unveiled on its anniversary date Oct. 30, along with a “9-11 Chapel of Remembrance” area for quiet reflection that also contains artifacts of the attacks.
Tuesday, a weather-resistant statue of St. Paul was to be lowered by crane to a spot outside the chapel where the original had stood. The original has been restored and will be moved inside and unveiled on the anniversary date.
St. Paul’s, the chapel of the Parish of Trinity Church several blocks south, is Manhattan’s last remaining colonial structure. It was built in 1766 as a “Chapel of Ease” for the “uptown” parishioners of the expanding city, then at the tip of Manhattan.
It was known best in colonial times for surviving several fires, the most devastating of which was the Great Fire of 1776 that consumed a quarter of lower Manhattan. A fire bucket brigade saved the chapel but Trinity, built in 1698, was turned into a pile of rubble.
“That is why Founding Fathers like George Washington wound up worshipping at St. Paul’s regularly,” said Anne Petrimoulx, the archivist for Trinity and St. Paul’s.
In sprucing up for its 250th anniversary, the chapel’s blue ceiling and pink walls, rendered during an earlier restoration in the 1960s, are being covered in white dove and natural cream traced back to the mid-1800s — the earliest colour conservationist could find.
Conservators took about 1,000 samples from various locations — columns, balconies, ceilings and walls — “and wound up finding the earliest colour they could,” said project manager Luke Johns.
The church’s remarkable historical artifacts also have been restored in recent years. They include an 18th-century painting of the Great Seal of the United States and the oldest monument in New York, commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1776, to an American revolutionary war hero, Gen. Richard Montgomery.
But it is equally renowned for its long ministry including religious services for printers getting off work in the wee hours of the night in the early 1900s and opening a business lunch club for women when the female workforce was relatively small. Today, most remember it for providing meals, beds and counselling to rescue workers after 9-11.
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