I am not a religious person, and therefore rarely step foot in places of worship in fear that the Sunday school nuns were right and I would, in fact, be smote by the hand of the Lord upon entrance. This past weekend, however, I set aside my fears of being incinerated by a bolt of Jesus lightning to show New York City‘s famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral to my visiting mother and aunt. And since I’m a kindly heathen, I decided to show the off the popular tourist site to my fellow travel freaks as well.
Despite my general aversion to churches, I admit there are a multitude of reasons to go to St. Pat’s when you’re visiting the city. For starters, just look at it:
It’s a damn cool building. Designed in the Decorated Gothic style of architecture, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built to replace the still-standing Old Cathedral further downtown. Construction began in 1858 but was halted during the Civil War, a time when New York City had bigger things to worry about than erecting a church. The end of the war marked the beginning of the second phase of construction, and the cathedral was finally opened in 1878.
The history of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral is an important aspect of why it’s a must-see monument because of the juxtaposition it presents. This 134 year old church stands on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st streets in Manhattan, directly across from Rockefeller Center and surrounded by some of the most expensive retailers in the world. To see spires, stained glass and crucifixes next to Saks Fifth Avenue and a Juicy Couture flagship is truly disorienting, but it represents the unique feeling of timelessness you experience in New York City — one minute you’re buying velvet lowrise sweatpants with the word “juicy” written across the rear, and the next you’re in Civil War Era Manhattan ready to munch on communion wafers at Sunday mass.
Despite my status as a failed Catholic I was able to enter the cathedral without turning into a pillar of salt or spontaneously combusting, which I’m happy about because I got to snap this picture of the indoor architecture without dying. As a fully functioning Catholic church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral offers daily masses as visitors like myself take photographs and tourists like my mother buy rosaries in the tiny gift shop. The massive space has also been the site of several high-profile memorial services for celebrities like Babe Ruth and Andy Warhol, and fallen American royalty like Bobby Kennedy.
Due to general wear and tear, a massive renovation has begun on the Cathedral that will take at least two years and cost around $175 million to complete. Unfortunately, the exterior will be covered in protective netting throughout the entire process so the jarring sight of a massive church sprouting up on bustling Fifth Ave will be less striking for a while. The inside will stay open during the process, however, so if you are in New York in the near future be sure to come in and say a few Hail Marys or Our Fathers.
And if you’re a sinner like me, just make sure to keep an eye out for rogue lightning bolts.