Rorate Caeli

Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York

A new History Channel video on Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City has been released.  Just two minutes and fourteen seconds, it contains some rare photos and a host of interesting statistics.  It can be viewed here.

The cathedral is currently in the midst of an extensive restoration and cleaning effort.  For those who have visited it, Saint Patrick's is a memorable block in the heart of an extremely congested area of Manhattan.  With rare exception (including distracting TV monitors throughout the nave, a redundant table-altar in the sanctuary and a modernist Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton side altar) the cathedral has escaped the wreckovation craze following the Second Vatican Council.  Perhaps more traditional Latin Masses will be celebrated there soon, keeping with Cardinal Dolan's writings on restoring Catholic disciplines.

While on the subject of Saint Patrick's, here are two photos from the archives that will likely be of interest to fans of the cathedral.  The first is from 1912, when the Edison Light Company installed 40,000 lights after Archbishop John Farley was made a cardinal.  Notice the lack of buildings around the cathedral.  The second photo is a wedding from 1930.  Notice the massive high altar.  That was removed in 1942 for the current altar and baldacchino, which is now not even used (despite being freestanding!).  These photos are taken from the cathedral's Facebook page, which also contains other interesting historical images. 


  1. Thank you, very interesting and edifying pictures! The first one is quite a feat.

  2. Donnacha6:49 PM

    A wonderful view of the cathedral. It was a shocker to see the pre-conciliar photos; a reminder of what it looked like. I had forgotten how glorious the high altar was!

    As for a return of more EF Masses to the cathedral, I do not see it. When Cardinal Stickler's Pontifical Mass [in the mid 90's] had St. Patrick's at standing-room-only, with overflow crowds out into the street, the message out of the chancery was, "future Masses at other venues; not at St. Pat's." Proof of that is that Cardinal Stickler was never offered the cathedral for future Masses.

    Archbishop Dolan might be solid in many areas, but I do not see him as a fan of the EF.

  3. Why was the old high altar removed, Ken?

  4. Richard Malcolm: The official history of the cathedral says this: "1942 - The new Lady Chapel altar and new high altar and baldachin, more appropriate for a Gothic cathedral design, were consecrated by Archbishop Spellman."

    I have read that a chunk (yet not all) of the old high altar was moved to Fordham University in the Bronx, but haven't personally seen it to confirm.

  5. Here's Spellman's announcement of the replacement in 1941 (copied from the NY Times article here):

    “Before the Lady Chapel was constructed, the high altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was part of the back of the edifice.

    “With the completion of the cathedral building and the Lady Chapel [Completed in 1906—SJH], the high altar was no longer architecturally consistent with the general construction of the church.

    “This condition was realized always; but it was impossible to secure funds for a replacement. Now the generous offer of a devotee of the cathedral to provide this memorial has been accepted. The new altar will be architecturally beautiful and liturgically correct. It will be a crowning glory and perfecting of our cathedral which we love so much.

    “The consecrated table of the present altar will be preserved in the cathedral as a memorial of its contributors. The memory of these donors will be held in benediction and we shall continue to remember their souls in the prayers at the masses on the new high altar. Their names will be immortalized on a bronze tablet. It is hoped that the new altar will be ready for services within a year.”

    The new high altar contained when consecrated relics of the apostles and of Ss. John de Brebeuf, Charles Garnier, and Gabriel Lalemant, then only recently canonized.

    Spellman also replaced the temporary altar originally placed in the Lady Chapel with a new permanent altar (still used today though unfortunately modified.)

    The old altar was, in fact, moved to the Fordham University Church.

  6. Wow! I didn't know that the high altar was this massive! I have a rather extensive history book with extensive pictures about the cathedral. No pcitures of the old altar. The current baldachino is nice but the old altar is far superior. As an Los Angeles Catholic I'd be plenty happy the current high altar at St. Pat's when you compare it to our mahony modernist monstrosity.!

  7. Manhattan Trid1:27 AM

    The administration of the Metropolitan Cathedral is not particularly welcoming to traditionalists. On a happier note New York City's other Catholic cathedral, St. James in Brooklyn, recently hosted a Tridentine Pontifical Mass celebrated by Bishop Schneider. And they are open to other further celebrations.

  8. Reluctant Pessimist5:19 AM

    "The administration of the Metropolitan Cathedral is not particularly welcoming to traditionalists."

    How right you are, Manhattan Trid. The archiepiscopal incumbents are far less welcoming than Egan's lot, and they were in turn far less welcoming than O'Connor and his crowd. Cardinal O'Connor was no Tower of Faith to which Trads could rally, but he was the last archbishop of New York not actually hostile (covertly or openly) to them and their efforts.

  9. Gratias5:36 AM

    St. Patrick's is still beautiful. Please do not remodel it.

    Last year I took the red eye flight to NYC and was roaming the streets of Manhattan very early. Attended the 7:00 am weekday mass. We were mostly men, all suited up for work at some bank or other. What I liked was that the mass was short, and that for the sign of peace everybody stayed at their own pew and with hands clasped in prayer attitude just pointed to their nearest neighbor. No touching at all!

  10. "Perhaps more traditional Latin Masses will be celebrated there soon, keeping with Cardinal Dolan's writings on restoring Catholic disciplines."

    I would like to know more of these writings.

    Can anyone elaborate or point me to a useful link?

  11. Samuel J. Howard -- Many, many thanks for those four New York Times links. I learned about 20 more things from the articles. It was also amusing to read the sub-headline from one of them: "Spellman Presides in 3-Hour Pageant at Consecration Before 3,000 in Edifice".

  12. Hello Ken,

    That was a very different time from ours, I'm afraid.

    Many thanks also to Sam for providing that extra information on the old altar.

  13. At least the choir director has +Dolan's support-and this comes from a friend in the seminary there who knows her- in bringing back Gregorian chant.

  14. Bill Phelan1:56 PM

    It must be my nature but I deal with TODAY. St. Patrick's is to me a museum, a testimony to things past, before the Hermeneutic of Rupture. Now it stands for the Rupture and as Benedict XVI (and I)stand for the Hermeneutic of Continuity, I would not be upset if it was sold. Old churches are being sold/razed as the cost to repair them is prohibitive. Faith and salvation are most important! Enough of nostalgia.

  15. Bill Phelan, I think that you misinterpret Pope Benedict's use of the phrase "hermeneutic of continuity." The hermeneutic of continuity does *not* see old churches as museums but as living elements of our living tradition. this is a Church, not a museum. If you would like to experience it as a Church, come join the hundreds of people who pray there daily. Venerate the relics interred there. Receive the most holy Eucharist. This is a Church, for in the continuity of our tradition the old is not discarded but is ever ancient, ever new -- like the faith.

  16. In my own opinion the cathedral looked better after Spellman's renovation. Huge reredos are odd in a gothic cathedral. Yes, I know St Patty's is neo-gothic, but the emphasis in cathedrals was always on the altar and the bishop's chair. St Patrick's has a very nice Blessed Sacrament chapel which gives Our Lord due respect, quite unlike your average wreckovated parish.

    Kenneth Wolfe is right. The central part of the old reredo is now in the University Church of Fordham University.

  17. Bill Phelan9:15 PM

    @KSW: I understand Pope Benedict's meaning in the Hermeneutic of Continuity but you misunderstand my reference to St. Pat's being a "museum". If same-sex "marriage" can become law in N.Y. with only the weakest of protests by the Catholic hierarchy, if the most pro-abortion President can be invited to the Alfred E. Smith Dinner, if the Cdl/Abp of N.Y. can appear on the Stephen Colbert Show and gesture as though he was kissing Cobert's "episcopal ring", then that large edifice on Fifth Avenue is a museum filled with memories of when the Church in New York was Catholic.


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