St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been a majestic presence in Midtown Manhattan since the late nineteenth century. This striking Gothic Revival structure is considered the largest of its kind in North America, and it has been a National Historic Landmark since 1976. Millions of people pass through its doors each year, drawn by its architectural grandeur, religious significance, and historical importance to New York City.
History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York first acquired the land on which St. Patrick’s Cathedral stands today in 1813. At that time, the area was relatively rural in nature, located just to the north of the heart of New York City. Over the course of the next few decades, the site would be home to a school, an orphanage, and a small church. It wasn’t until the early 1850s that plans to build a grand cathedral on the property would come into focus.
James Renwick Jr., acclaimed as the brilliant architect behind such impressive structures as the Smithsonian Institution Building (the one nicknamed “The Castle”), Manhattan’s Grace Church, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art on the campus of George Washington University, was hired to design this new St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1853. The cornerstone of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was put into place in 1858, and it would open its doors to the public in 1879.
What’s at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
That St. Patrick’s Cathedral took over 20 years to complete, and cost millions of dollars to construct, is reflected in the many ornate flourishes of its elaborate design. The cathedral’s exterior is marble, and its most striking visual features, two towers topped by sizable spires, rise at their peaks to a height of approximately 330 feet. Within the northern spire, there are 19 bells that ring regularly throughout the day. Each one is named for a different saint of the Catholic Church.
Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral you’ll find numerous remarkable design elements. The cathedral’s nave contains busts of all the popes who have visited it. The sanctuary is monumental in size, with scores of stained-glass windows adorning its walls. St. Patrick’s Cathedral also contains two unique pipe organs. Taken together, they consist of almost 10,000 pipes in total.
The doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are open every day between the hours of 6:30am and 8:45pm, welcoming visitors from near and far alike. One of the best ways to experience St. Patrick’s Cathedral, though, is to take a guided audio tour of the site. This guided audio tour is available in five languages, and there’s even a version of it specially designed for children. It highlights notable areas within the cathedral, while detailing the history behind each one of these sacred spots.
For those visitors desiring to take home with them a little piece of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, there’s a gift shop found here, too. Open each day between the hours of 9:00am and 6:00pm, the St. Patrick’s Cathedral gift shop has a street entrance at 15 East 51st Street. It sells an assortment of books, candles, apparel, religious materials, and more.
Tips for Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- The St. Patrick's Cathedral is included on several money saving tourist passes including the New York Pass, NY Explorer Pass, Sightseeing Pass and TurboPass NYC.
- Though the cathedral itself is open longer hours, typically the guided audio tours are only available between the hours of 9:00am and 5:00pm.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral is an active church, meaning that, as welcome as all visitors are, actual worship services take priority. Keep this in mind as you plan your trip here, especially if you’ll be in New York City during the holiday season.
- Each year, St. Patrick’s Cathedral runs a concert series. This schedule includes organ recitals and choir performances. If you’re interested in trying to catch one of these special shows, be certain to consult the cathedral’s online calendar of events.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral is located across the street from Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rock Observation Deck. It’s also just a few short blocks away from the Museum of Modern Art, Radio City Music Hall, and SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. If you’re so inclined, you’ll easily be able to combine a stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a visit to any one of these other popular NY attractions.
- If you find yourself running short on time, or just don’t want to carry another bag with you around the city, rest easy knowing that you can shop the St. Patrick’s Cathedral gift shop online, too. There you’ll find essentially the same inventory as you would in person.