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The "new" St. Patrick's Cathedral, on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Photo: Wikipedia.

17 Things to Know for March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

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The first official St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City dates back to 1766, led by the Irish militia. Since then, the annual procession of more than 150,000 marchers spanning 35 blocks has captured the spirit of Irish culture and heritage. The route stretches along Fifth Avenue from 44th to 79th Streets, waltzing by one of the City’s — and the Catholic church’s — strongest structures: Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick, is celebrated on March 17. In honor of that day, we give you 17 things to know about the eponymous cathedral that is “the nation’s largest Roman Catholic Gothic sanctuary.”

1) The iconic midtown sanctuary is actually the second site of the renowned Cathedral. There were only 200 Catholics and one priest in NYC when old St. Patrick’s on Mulberry Street was erected in 1809.

OldStPatricks

The “old” St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on Mulberry Street in Manhattan. Photo: Wikipedia.

2) Named for the patron saint of Ireland, old Saint Patrick’s was the first cathedral church for the Diocese of New York, the second Catholic Church in Manhattan, and only the third Catholic church in New York State. It was also the largest Catholic Church in the United States in 1815, when the cathedral was completed.

3) Joseph Francois Mangin, the architect of the old St. Patrick’s also designed Manhattan’s City Hall. James Renwick was commissioned to build the new, white marble Cathedral in 1853.

4) As a result of the 1845 potato famine, one million Irish emigrated to New York City over a 10-year period. The new St. Patrick’s was built in the mid-19th century with a seating capacity of 2,200 to celebrate and accommodate NYC’s growing Catholic community.

5) The cornerstone for the new St. Patrick’s was laid on the site of the old St. John’s Church by New York’s first archbishop, John Hughes, on August 15th, 1858 (Feast of the Assumption day).

6) That cornerstone was hand-cut by 22-year-old Irish immigrant, Cormack McCall, but has since been deemed missing in action.

7) The new St. Patrick’s structure takes up an entire city block between Fifth and Madison Avenues and 50 and 51st Streets.

8) The old St. Patrick’s was destroyed by fire in October of 1866; it was rebuilt and re-opened on St. Patrick’s Day in 1868. It stands today and is open to visitors and parishoners alike.

9) According to Msgr. Thomas J. Shelley, the new cathedral was “meant to be a statement in stone of the Catholic presence in a city that was then the capital of Protestant America.” The Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Cathedral officially opened on May 25th, 1879. The gothic cathedral was thereafter deemed, “The noblest temple ever raised in any land to the memory of St. Patrick, and as the glory of Catholic America.”

10) The Cathedral celebrated its Centennial anniversary with the completion of a second restoration in 1979 (the first, more comprehensive renovation was in the 1940s).

11) Pope Benedict XVI was the first Pope to celebrate mass at the Cathedral on April 19th, 2008.

12) A three-year, $177 million renovation of the cathedral was announced in 2012. Restorations include an entire cleaning of the marble exterior and cleaning and repair of more than 1,300 stained-glass panels. The third, yet “most extensive and essential restoration” St. Patrick’s has undergone is projected to be completed by December of 2015.

13) The restoration team at St. Patrick’s also includes a security consultant to address threat assessments and protective measures (the same firm has worked with the new World Trade Center).

14) More than 5.5 million people visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral each year.

15) The Cathedral has 21 altars and 19 bells, each of which are named for a different saint. The Stations of the Cross artwork was awarded first place at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

16) The eight erstwhile archbishops of New York State are buried in a crypt under the high altar: John Joseph Hughes (who inaugurated the Cathedral), John Cardinal McCloskey, Michael Augustine Corrigan, John Murphy Cardinal Farley, Patrick Joseph Cardinal Hayes, Francis Joseph Cardinal Spellman, Terence James Cardinal Cooke, and John Joseph Cardinal O’Connor.

17) New Yorkers said their goodbyes at the funerals of many notable residents — including Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Vince Lombardi, Ed Sullivan and Robert F. Kennedy — at St. Patrick’s.

The building is still open throughout the construction period (see a video of the process below). Visitors may attend a live mass on any day of the week; viewers may also tune in to a live virtual mass every Sunday at 10:15am, or join a guided tour.

Restoration Transformation from St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Vimeo.