A few months ago, around Christmas time, I found myself fighting the holiday crowds of midtown, cursing myself for being so close to the Rockefellar Christmas Tree when I only had an hour for lunch. At some point I hopped up on an open expanse of deep stairs that allowed a few strategic darts to get ahead of the herd in front of me as it nearly slowed to a stop.
Then the other day, I again found myself at the concrete steps that wrap around fifty-first and fifth. I wasn’t facing a time limit, but I have already developed the unavoidable New York need to move quickly at all times and again I used the steps to squeeze around sluggish shoppers and sky gazing tourists who clogged side walks.
I’m glad the expletives in my head were kept silenced as I looked up and finally took notice of the soaring gothic columns. These steps are those of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest Roman Catholic Cathedral in the US. Its grey, intricate stone work stands in stunning contrast to the sleek black buildings that surround it yet somehow, in the hustle in bustle of midtown Manhattan, it can be easy to miss. I’m sure that somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it was here, but on this particular afternoon, I finally decided to take a look.
I’m not one to seek comfort in churches. To be honest, I typically find them creepy with those ancient faces passing judgement as I forget the words to the prayers I learned as a child. But no matter your spiritual background, St. Patrick’s undeniable beauty has the power to inspire the faithful and silence the skeptic and even I couldn’t help feeling uplifted by its beauty.
The gothic columns at the entrance are intimidating with their heigh and grandeur, but the interior is surprisingly welcoming. The expanse of simple benches spotted with bowed heads, the countless stained glass windows and the rows upon rows of twinkling candles all contribute to the calming effect of this holy landmark. Even the noise from families of five with their neck-strapped cameras and antsy children seems muted in the vast hall and you can easily find nooks of silence.
It’s an unexpected haven amidst the jungle of Manhattan and after experiencing its surprising presence in the middle of an otherwise typical afternoon, I will never again walk by without looking up.