The Other 9/11 Memorial in New York: St. Paul’s Chapel
The National 9/11 Memorial in New York is beautiful. It consists of two pools with huge waterfalls on the sides, placed in the footprints of the Twin Towers. The names of all 2.983 victims of the horrific attack are inscribed on the edges. It is a place to be quiet and remember those who lost their lives that day. But next to remembering the victims, I think it’s also important to remember the incredible job done by first responders and the strong and beautiful sense of community and support that developed right after the attacks. To get a better understanding of this, I would recommend to visit St. Paul’s Chapel as well.
St. Paul’s Chapel
St. Paul’s Chapel is located on Church street, opposite the East side of the World Trade Center site. And while everything around the chapel seemed to be damaged after 9/11, the Chapel survived without even a broken window. It is however not the first time this chapel survives a catastrophic situation. In fact, it is the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhatten! It was completed in 1766 and even survived the Great New York City Fire in 1776. Next to that, Alexander Hamilton, founding father of the U.S., marched in the yard as an officer during the American Revolutionary War, and George Washington, the first U.S. President, worshiped here on his inauguration day. So yes, this remarkable place (officially part of the Trinity Church on Wall Street) has been around for a while.
A Place of Rest and Refugee
Because the chapel is located literally across the street from the World Trade Center site, it played a major role in its aftermath. For months, it was used as a place of rest and refugee for first responders and a home to volunteers. As Presiding Bishop Jefforts Schori said: “St. Paul’s Chapel … opened its doors to the emergency responders, and volunteers appeared with food and socks, massaging hands and praying hearts. Volunteers continued to staff the chapel for months afterward, and prayers were offered as human remains were sought and retrieved in the ruins of the towers”. It is this bizarre tension between on the one hand the most evil side, and on the other hand the most beautiful and altruistic side of humanity, meeting at almost the same place, that touches me.
So the Chapel opened its doors and took care of the many responsers on the scene. Often working way over 12-hours shifts, these men and women came to the chapel to rest, sleep, eat, pray and find comfort. The signs of their stay are still visible today. The pews were damaged by fire fighters, police and emergency workers, as they napped while still wearing their boots and belts so they could immediately return to ‘the pit’. One of the pews is still in this state. A fireman’s uniform and some of the donated boots can also be found. Responsers often came in for new boots, as their soles melted on the burning ashes.
Next to the responders attributes, the chapel also shows a collection of outings of support and appreciation to the responders. There is an impressive pile of pathes from police and firefighting departments from all over the world. There are strings of thousands of Japanese origami cranes (for eternal luck). There are decorated paper hands. There are banners with encouraging words. And there is much more. An immensely strong sense of support for the NYPD and NYFD is expressed and can be felt throughout the entire chapel. There is also a special memorial place/table with dozens of pictures of those emergency responders who lost their lives that day.
What perhaps got to the me most, were the quotes and statements listed by either volunteers or responders. For months, and often 24/7, hundreds of volunteers helped at the church to support the responders. They offered them whatever they could: food, a place to sleep, new boots, therapy, a listening ear, etc. From the statements it becomes clear that their backgrounds, religions, beliefs, ideas and points of views varied. But especially in those difficult times, these people were able to accept each other. They looked at each other to find ways to help, instead of grounds to judge. I think this is something special which we should always remember.
Because the chapel is still so close to it’s pre-9/11 state, and just continued with its religious services, it doesn’t give you a museum feeling. You are standing at the place where it happened, and because of it’s (seemingly) original state, you can very well imagine what it must have been like back then. The responders and volunteers are gone, but 13 years later the feeling of support is still very much there. I would therefore totally recommend visiting this special place. The chapel is open every day from 10am-6pm and on Sundays from 7am. When planning a visit, take into account that religious services are still being offered, so you won’t always be able to just get in and walk around. St Paul’s Chapel is located between Broadway and Fulton Street and subway stations Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall (6), Chamber Street (E), and Broadway Naussau Street (A, C, 2, 3, 4, 5) are nearby. For more information, visit their website.
Have you been to the St Paul’s Church or are you planning to go? I would love to hear about your experiences! Feel free to comment below! If you liked this article, please share. Thanks!