Manhattan Churches, Shrine Featured in Sacred Sites Tour


Three churches and one shrine in Manhattan were chosen to participate in the 12th annual Sacred Sites Open House organized by the New York Landmarks Conservancy July 23-24.

The four Catholic edifices, all located in Manhattan, were St. Mary’s, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and St. Frances Cabrini Shrine. Additionally, another Manhattan church of the Byzantine-Ruthenian rite, St. Mary’s on East 15th Street, also took part in the tour.

People had to contend with the hot summer weather to tour the houses of worship.

Ann Friedman, director of the Sacred Sites Program, said, “We expected nobody to get out there. People were so game and cheerful. They were happy to participate. The feedback was positive, and we were excited how interactive New Yorkers are.”

The Manhattan locations were among 80-plus houses of worship open to tours across New York state over the two days. 

“There is a hunger among religious communities to share their story, share their space and share what they do with the general public, not just their parishioners. It’s something they were eager to do and honored to be asked to participate,” Ms. Friedman said.

“It’s great to be welcomed inside to hear the history and see the architecture and art.”

“The sacred sites program recognizes religious architecture as some of our most significant designs and it also embodies ethnic and cultural history, and tells the story of our neighborhood,” she said. “These buildings are special.”

The four landmarks date back to the 1800s. St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier are Jesuit-run parishes, two of 66 such parishes in the United States. St. Frances Cabrini herself found the land in 1899 that was purchased and now houses her remains at St. Frances Cabrini Shrine.

St. Mary’s, on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan, will celebrate its bicentennial as a parish in 2026. The church was the first one in the archdiocese named for the Mother of God, and it houses the first Catholic church bell in New York.

St. Mary’s had its first in-person tour as part of Sacred Sites Open House. The parish had a virtual tour in 2020.

New York Landmarks Conservancy partnered with the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative to have a tour at St. Mary’s. Carolyn Ratcliffe of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative gave the tour at St. Mary’s. Only seven of the 23 registered participants turned out due to the heat.

“Considering the heat, it went really well,” Ms. Ratcliffe said. “The heat kept people away. People obviously are interested in it and did turn out for it. The church is beautiful.

“I think about the history,” she said. “Churches, synagogues and other houses of worship represent part of the culture of the people who made New York City. The buildings still exist because people care about them and they are an integral part of the history of the city.”

New York Landmarks Conservancy will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023, and Ms. Friedman said plans are under way for a 13th Sacred Sites Open House, which is being planned for the spring. Before this year, the Sacred Sites Open House was held in the spring.