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St. Paul’s Chapel : The Oldest Surviving Church Building In New York

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Travel Attractions – Visit To The Oldest Chapel in New York, St. Paul’s Chapel

St. Paul’s Chapel, is an official historical landmark and one of the most important buildings in New York City. It has visitors traveling from all over the world to view it.

St. Paul's Chapel

The chapel hosts numerous religious and other events of various faith & traditions throughout the year. The chapel was originally constructed as an Anglican church, but is now a multi-faith venue that hosts Hindu, Catholic, Christian services every week. It is available for private prayer and meditation every day.

HISTORY OF ST. PAUL’S CHAPEL

Columbia University is the fifth-oldest institution of higher education in United States and the oldest one in NYC. It was founded by George II as King’s College in 1754.

The University was founded as an Anglican institution and thus, since its inception, the school’s most important feature was a chapel. Before moving to Lower Manhatan in 1760, classes were initially conducted at Trinity Church schoolhouse on Broadway and Wall Street.

Columbia University

Since 1760 it remained there until it was relocated to Park Avenue and 49th Street in 1857. Charles McKim, an architect, designed a master plan of Columbia in 1894, which comprised an impressive library and a chapel that was strategically located to the east.

Although initially the chapel was not included in the plan due to no funding, it was later included when two wealthy philanthropists, Olivia Egleston Phelps Stokes and Caroline Phelps Stokes, offered to fund the chapel in memory of their parents. However, their only condition for the funding was that their nephew, I. N. Phelps Stokes (fondly known as Newt by his friends), design the building.

Newt, during his long career has designed institutional, residential, and commercial buildings throughout the country; but he justifiably considered St. Paul’s to be his masterpiece.

The construction of St. Paul’s Chapel began in 1904 and was completed in 1907. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the chapel as a landmark in 1966.

DESIGN

Exterior Design:

Newt created St. Paul’s Chapel, making it a dynamic adaptation to Northern Italian Renaissance architecture. The use of yellow and white marble added to the highlights and the grandeur of the building.

The dome is the most striking feature of the exterior which has beautifully designed 16 arched windows. The dome’s roof is covered in green ceramic tiles, and it’s crowned by a terracotta lantern.

Visitors enter St. Paul’s Chapel through a columned portico, above which is carved the Latin phrase Pro Ecclesia Dei (For the Church of God).

Interiors of St.Paul Chapel

The chapel’s main entrance is located within an enframement, which is appropriately decorated with grape vines. The motto of Columbia, In Lumine Tuo Videbimuslumen (In Thy light Shall We See Light) is carved above the doorway.

Interior Design:

The Latin cross plan layout of the chapel runs 120 feet from the entrance to its end. The central dome is at an impressive height of 91 feet. Newt designed a unique interior that highlights the beauty and strength of the structural materials.

Holy Cross at St.Chapel

He carefully selected the salmon-colored Roman brick and designed subtle symbolic detail (vines, figs, shells, etc.) cast in tinted terracotta. The most prominent terra‑cotta features are insignias of the four Apostles in the center of the crossing arches, the work of sculptor Adolph Weinman.

So successful was the use of the brick, terra cotta, and tile at St. Paul’s that, in 1907, the Craftsman Magazine declared that the chapel was “an epic in clay.”

Newt also designed the chapel floors. The marble fragments were laid in intricate patterns that resemble those found in Early Christian churches in Italy.

Interior Furnishings:

Newt took great care in selecting the chapel’s furniture. He preferred movable chairs to sitting on pews. The intricately inlaid pulpit, choir stands, and other chancel or apse furniture were commissioned by Florentine artisans Mariano and Figli Coppede. 

The bronze chandelier, lighting fixtures, as well as railings were all provided from one of America’s top manufacturers of custom designed lighting and metalwork, Edward F. Caldwell & Company.

Interiors of St.Paul Chapel

St. Paul’s Chapel also has one of New York City’s finest musical instruments, a 94 rank Edward M. Skinner instrument that replaced the smaller original organ in 1938.  The organ contains 5,348 pipes, which are located below the dome in chambers within the choir. The extraordinary acoustics of the chapel highlight the incredible sound of this historic organ. 

The chapel also has a beautifully voiced bronze bell that was donated by the Class 1893 to St. Paul’s. The bell is still manually rung, and it calls the University community home to many of its most important gatherings. It bears the inscription “To ring out through the ages for truth justice and liberty.”

STAINED GLASS

Newt requested that John La Farge, a well-known stained-glass artist, design the chancel windows using rich dark colors that would blend with bricks and tiles. The window features St. Paul preaching at a Classical temple of Athens crowned by the Parthenon in the background. 

The Parthenon reminds visitors that they are at Morningside Heights which is a neighborhood known as “the Acropolis Of New York.” It is appropriate that the chapel is named for Paul, since he was considered the most important teacher among early Christians.

Stained Glass windows

Maitland Armstrong created 16 windows for the dome. These windows feature family coats and arms. They were gifted to Columbia graduates like DeWitt Clinton. William Rhinelander, Nicholas Fish.

The transept windows created by Henry Wynd Young Jr., and J. Gordon Guthrie, depicted great teachers from the Old Testament and the New Testament. These windows may be medieval, but they are most likely 19th century copies of medieval windows.

RESTORATION

The restoration work began in 2017 with the dome’s exterior. Walter B. Melvin, architect of Columbia, worked to replace the green roof tiles using new tiles. 

St.Paul Chapel

It was necessary to waterproof the building, clean its facades and restore the stained-glass windows within the dome. Interior work included cleaning and restoring the vaults and domes. This allowed for the dramatic rediscovery by the Guastavino tiles of their varicolored surfaces.

Do take a tour of this beautiful St. Paul’s Chapel. You can also take a virtual tour until you visit the chapel in person.

FAQs About St. Paul’s Chapel

Is St Paul’s Catholic or Protestant?

It can be difficult to identify because of its confusing name. St Paul’s Church was a Catholic church until the Reformation. However, it has been Anglican since the 16th century and is Protestant.

Which is the oldest church in New York?

St. Paul’s Chapel is currently part of the Parish of Trinity Church and is the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City.

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