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St. Patrick's Cathedral, which opened in 1879, now

St. Patrick's Cathedral, which opened in 1879, now draws more than 5 million visitors each year. (Credit: Getty Images )

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Secrets of St. Patrick's Cathedral

5th Ave, New York, NY 10022

More than 5 million visitors each year step foot inside St. Patrick's Cathedral. They come to pray and light candles, attend mass or simply tour the impressive Gothic-style cathedral, which opened in 1879. But few may know some of the history and mysteries surrounding "America's Parish Church," or the secrets hiding behind the walls, in the attic or some just in plain view.

amNewYork went on a special tour of this New York landmark, from the crypt to the bell tower. Here's what we learned.

This beautiful stained glass window is one of

Credit: Tara Conry

The windows no one can see

This beautiful stained glass window is one of two inside the cathedral that very few people have ever seen. They are located behind the cathedral's Gallery Organ, but are not viewable from any pew, not even those in the choir loft, nor the altar. They're also not visible from outside the building, which is why they are so dark. The only way to see them is to climb a hidden staircase to one of the passageways that run the length of the cathedral, behind the walls.

There's a sense of spiritual meaning behind the secret windows. "Gothic cathedrals are all about giving glory to God," said Kate Monaghan, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of New York. "Even if we don't see it, God sees it."

St. Patrick's Cathedral might have opened sooner had

A Civil War work stoppage

St. Patrick's Cathedral might have opened sooner had it not been for the Civil War. Construction started in 1858, but was stalled for five years because of the war. The workers needed to go fight and the war also put a financial strain on the entire country, which directly impacted the project. In fact, money was so tight that Monaghan said the archdiocese had to settle for a plaster ceiling. Although most of the cathedral is marble, despite popular belief, the ceiling is not.

There are so many animals hiding all around

Credit: Tara Conry

A menagerie of animals

There are so many animals hiding all around St. Patrick's -- on the statues, in the ceiling architecture and stained glass windows, and in the decorative accents on the altar -- that searching for them is reminiscent of a "Look and Find" or an "I Spy" book. The next time you visit, see if you can spot the dolphin, the pelican, the dragon, the cats and a mouse. The animals are meaningful, of course. The image of a mother pelican with blood trickling from her beak as she feeds her young is based on a legend that in a time of famine, a mother pelican would draw blood from her own chest to feed her babies. The church uses it as a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the nourishment of the Eucharist.

The cathedral keeps detailed records of everyone who

Credit: Tara Conry

A famous private wedding

The cathedral keeps detailed records of everyone who says "I do" within its walls. If you look at the third-to-last entry on this page in one of the cathedral's many "Marriage Register" books, you may spot a familiar name. On April 3, 1920, author Francis Scott Fitzgerald (better known as F. Scott Fitzgerald) married his bride, Zelda Sayre. He was 23. She was 19. But they didn't actually tie the knot in the cathedral. They instead did so in the adjoining rectory.

There's Agnes, Helena, Godfrey and Alphonsus. Each of

Credit: Tara Conry

The bells have names

There's Agnes, Helena, Godfrey and Alphonsus. Each of the 19 bells located in the cathedral's north tower has a name and a unique Latin inscription. They're named after saints and no two bells are the same. They vary in size, with the smallest weighing 173 pounds and the biggest 6,608 pounds, and each plays a different note.

Today, a keyboard is used to control the bells, but before they were electrified in 1952, it was the job of the bell ringer to climb up the tower and manually create melodies. New Jersey resident Montell Toulmi was the most dedicated bell ringer, controlling the chimes for 44 years until he died on May 5, 1946.

The cathedral's crypt, located underneath the high altar,

Credit: Tara Conry

Holy hairdresser

The cathedral's crypt, located underneath the high altar, is the final resting place for all of the archbishops who have served in New York, including Rev. John Hughes, the visionary behind St. Patrick's. But there's one non-clergyman buried here, too.

Pierre Toussaint was a Haitian Catholic slave born in 1766. He gained his freedom and became a very popular hairdresser for New York's elite, but used his money to help the poor. He's considered one of the first Catholic philanthropists in New York. In 1996, Pope John Paul II declared him "venerable," one of the steps to becoming a saint.

The hidden staircases leading to the cathedral's attic

Credit: Tara Conry

The graffiti

The hidden staircases leading to the cathedral's attic and two towers are covered with "graffiti." With the exception of this depiction of the Twin Towers, the markings are mostly names and dates that go as far back as the 1920s. Some have been painted on the walls, most have been carved with a sharp object and others have been written in the dust on the cathedral's windows. According to Monaghan, the signatures mostly belong to firefighters, who have left their mark while conducting safety inspections.

No two snowflakes are the same and that

Credit: Tara Conry

The Garden of Heaven

No two snowflakes are the same and that also applies to the architectural "bosses" that adorn the ceiling of the cathedral. Each of the 300 has a unique nature design. Some feature flowers, leaves or grapes, and there's even one that depicts an owl. See if you can find it. Together they make up the Garden of Heaven.

Unless you've been in the cathedral's sanctuary, you

Credit: Tara Conry

Hats off

Unless you've been in the cathedral's sanctuary, you haven't seen this secret. And unless you knew to look up, you've still might have missed it. Hanging from the ceiling above the cathedral's high altar are a collection of red hats. The ornate wide-brimmed, tasseled hats are called galeri. In the past, these hats were bestowed to new cardinals by the pope, but the tradition was discontinued in 1969.

A building's cornerstone -- the first foundation stone

Credit: Tara Conry

The missing cornerstone

A building's cornerstone -- the first foundation stone placed when erecting a structure -- is usually clearly marked, sometimes with the name of the architect or the date the stone was laid. It's also traditionally located at one of the front corners of the building. But that's not the case at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The location of the cathedral's "cornerstone" remains a mystery. It was one placed on Aug. 15, 1858, by the Rev. John Hughes (pictured above), New York's first archbishop and the man who conceived the cathedral. Monaghan said the stone allegedly contains a metal box, where Hughes deposited a list of the names of the first 100 people who donated to the fund to construct the cathedral. As St. Patrick's continues to undergo a massive restoration, she said the diocese is trying once again to locate it.

The cathedral seats 2,400 people and conducts seven

Credit: Tara Conry

The private altar

The cathedral seats 2,400 people and conducts seven masses on weekdays and eight on Sundays. If you're looking for a more intimate setting there's actually a smaller, more private altar where priests conduct services upon request.

The majority of the organ system's pipes, which

Credit: Charles Eckert

There are nearly 9,000 organ pipes

The majority of the organ system's pipes, which total 8,600 and are located throughout the cathedral, are above the entrance. The pipes range in size from a few inches to 32 feet and can be controlled from two locations: above the entrance and behind the altar.

It's common to see visitors to St. Patrick's

Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

Too many candles

It's common to see visitors to St. Patrick's lighting prayer candles. But in the days immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, so many people were lighting candles in the cathedral that the heat from the flames was causing the glass candle holders to shatter.

If you're dreaming of walking down the long

Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo

Who can get married here?

If you're dreaming of walking down the long aisle of St. Patrick's wearing a white dress and cathedral veil, you (or your groom) must be a parishioner living in the Archdiocese of New York. The same rule applies for baptisms.

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