Tour­ing New York’s first St. Pa­trick’s Cathe­dral

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - By Beth J. Harpaz Chicago Tri­bune

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.

BETH J. HARPAZ/FOR THE CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

A view of the cat­a­combs at St. Pa­trick’s Old Cathe­dral on a Tommy’s New York Cat­a­combs by Can­dle­light tour.

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