During the rejuvenation of Trinity Church, worship is being held in both St. Paul’s Chapel, five blocks north, and All Saints Chapel, an addition to the Trinity Church building dating from 1914. While most people are familiar with chapels like All Saints--smaller worship spaces off of a main nave--St. Paul’s Chapel is a better representative of the many chapels that have been part of Trinity parish through the years.
The term “chapel” has its root in the Latin word for cloak, cappa, which was used to describe the sanctuary in the Marmoutier Abbey in Tours where the cloak of St. Martin of Tours was kept as a relic. (Legend holds that, as a young soldier, Martin came across a poorly-clad beggar and used his sword to split his cloak in two to share with the man. Soon after, Martin had a vision of Jesus that confirmed his decision to follow Christianity.) Cappella is the diminutive of cappa, which became chapele in Old French. Today, “chapel” is used to indicate a smaller worship space within a larger building or institution, like All Saints; or a worship building that is subordinate to a parish church, like St. Paul’s Chapel.
In 1748, fifty years after Trinity’s founding, the city’s population had more than doubled to 11,717. New York sprawled north to modern day City Hall Park. It was growing difficult to accommodate all the Anglicans in the city, and worshippers were facing longer commute times.
That year, Trinity built its first "chappel-of-ease for the encouragement and convenience” of its growing congregation. St. George’s Chapel was opened in 1752, with a grand procession from Trinity to the new chapel on Beekman Street. Fifty-two charity scholars (40 boys and 12 girls) processed, and Dr. Barclay, rector, preached on a passage from Leviticus: “Reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.” St. George’s would remain a chapel until 1811, when a mutual agreement with Trinity made it an independent parish.
St. Paul’s Chapel--one of two remaining chapels in Trinity parish today--was founded for similar reasons in 1766. Situated at the corner of Broadway and Vesey streets, near what was then the northern edge of the city, St. Paul’s survived the Great Fire of 1776 and became the center of Anglican worship in the city during the Revolution and in the decade following.
Over the years, St. Paul’s Chapel has served the community in many ways. Volunteer Fire Company 14, known as “Columbian,” was headquartered in the chapel from 1780 until 1812, after which it was located in the churchyard, at the corner of Church and Vesey streets. Company 39, known as “Franklin” or “Old Skiver,” was headquartered at the opposite side of the churchyard, at the corner of Church and Fulton streets, from 1812 until 1820.
As New York grew (and grew), Trinity Church responded by using its resources to construct both chapels-of-ease for parishioners in ever more distant neighborhoods, and later by building mission chapels in struggling areas of the city. Trinity created twelve chapels around the city, stretching from Church of the Intercession at 155th Street to St. Cornelius, a military chapel on Governor’s Island. With the exception of St. Paul’s Chapel and St. Cornelius, Trinity’s chapels had all become independent parishes or were absorbed into other organizations by 1976.