The most popular tour offered by Tommy’s New York is the Catacombs by Candlelight Tour. This 90-minute guided walking tour takes you deep within the heart of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, providing a remarkable behind-the-scenes look into this historic structure and its surrounding grounds. The tour company, which you may recognize for the slogan “Take a Walk with Tommy’s New York,” also runs the Little Italy Official Neighborhood Tour and the Chinatown Official Neighborhood Tour.
Catacombs by Candlelight History and Background Information
Work on the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral was begun in 1809, and the sanctuary was consecrated in May of 1815. At the time it was built, the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral stood as the largest such facility in all the United States. A great deal of the interior of the cathedral was destroyed during a terrible fire that occurred in 1866, but the resilient community of worshippers that held the site dear rebuilt the structure and it opened anew in 1868. Since the completion of the new, current St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in 1879, St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral has reverted to being a parish church. It was designated a New York City Landmark in 1966, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and declared a “minor basilica” in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI. The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral still possesses a 2,500-pipe, Henry Erben-designed pipe organ. It dates to 1868 and is considered by experts to be a musical treasure.
What to See on a Catacombs by Candlelight Tour
The Catacombs by Candlelight Tour takes you to parts of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral typically off-limits to visitors. These privileged spaces include two exterior walled cemeteries—so, as you plan your tour apparel, keep in mind that about half the tour is conducted outside the church—and the narthex located below the church’s sanctuary. One of the highlights of the Catacombs by Candlelight is without a doubt having the opportunity to view these decaying landmarks by, well, yes, candlelight. As you proceed through the catacombs themselves, your guide will project historic photographs and more on the walls, creating a powerful, informative, and spooky experience.
The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is where a significant number of prominent New Yorkers of the nineteenth century are buried. Notable individuals interred here include Bishop John Connolly (New York’s first resident bishop), General Thomas Eckert (who worked as a telegrapher for Abraham Lincoln), and various members of the Delmonico family (the acclaimed restauranteurs).
For all the rich details of its illustrious past, the thing the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is arguably best known for in modern times is serving as the filming location for one of the most famous scenes in movie history: the legendary Corleone christening scene. The iconic and unforgettable scene in The Godfather was shot right here within the walls of the church. And that’s not the Basilica’s only claim-to-cinematic fame: influential film director Martin Scorsese grew up near here, and several of his greatest works have deep ties to the area. In fact, the production for Mean Streetsinvolved shootings scenes here, too.
Tips for Taking the Catacombs by Candlelight Tour
- Catacombs by Candlelight Tour is included on several money saving tourist passes including the New York Pass, Go NY All-Inclusive Pass and NY Explorer Pass
- An all-too-common mistake first-time visitors to New York make is mixing up the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This popular Tommy’s New York tour explores the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, located in Little Italy. It can be found at 266 Mulberry Street, just a couple blocks from the New Museum. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the famous attraction on 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, is not visited during this Tommy’s New York tour.
- As you prepare to visit the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, it’s important to keep in mind that the site remains an active church facility. Thus, your Catacombs by Candlelight Tour may be subject to change due to various religious services, funerals, or other church-related observances that may occur.
- If you plan on using a Go City attraction pass as your admission ticket to the Catacombs by Candlelight Tour, you’ll still be required to provide credit card information to reserve your place. You may change or cancel that tour reservation up to two hours before your scheduled departure time—meaning your credit card will only be charged if you fail to cancel according to these terms.