Touring New York’s first St. Patrick’s Cathedral
NEW YORK — For St. Patrick’s Day, New York hosts one of the world’s biggest parades.
And as the marchers head up Fifth Avenue, they always pass by St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
But long before that cathedral opened in midtown Manhattan, a different church named for Ireland’s patron saint welcomed the parade downtown. New York’s original St. Patrick’s Cathedral was dedicated in 1815.
Its history includes attacks by anti-immigrant mobs; support from a former Haitian slave; and a scene in “The Godfather.” Daily tours offered by Tommy’s New York tell these stories and more, starting in the cathedral’s graveyard and ending with a candlelit visit to its catacombs.
The church, known as St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, is at Mott and Prince streets. One of its most curious features is a brick wall surrounding the property that dates to 1834. Irishmen armed with muskets were once stationed behind that wall to fend off mobs of American-born, immigrant-bashing Protestants called Nativists.
One of the cathedral’s biggest early donors was Pierre Toussaint, who was a Haitian immigrant, former slave and successful hairdresser. (His clients included Alexander Hamilton’s wife.)
He dedicated himself to caring for orphans and is now being considered for sainthood.
In the 20th century, Irish parishioners were replaced by Italians. Martin Scorsese was an altar boy, and the baptism scene in “The Godfather” was filmed there.
The parade was held Saturday, but you can tour Old St. Pat’s anytime you visit New York.
A view of the catacombs at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on a Tommy’s New York Catacombs by Candlelight tour.