Relics of New York
Inspired by my new novel, ‘The Relic Master’
New York City may not be Rome, but that doesn’t mean it lacks for relics. And Rome has a slightly unfair advantage, since it’s been around since the eighth century B.C., and New York (originally New Amsterdam) really only got started in the 1630’s.
For your consideration, here are five relics right here in the greatest city in the world:
1. St. Datian. Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, 173 East 3rd Street (East Village).
Saint … who? According to the church’s website, Saint Datian may (or may not) have been the jailer of St. Vincent. According to the legend, he converted and was then martyred by the Romans. His bones arrived here in 1892, courtesy of a wealthy Italian lady. Urban legend bonus: they may actually be the bones of a policeman who died defending the collection boxes.
2. St. Frances Cabrini, known as Mother Cabrini. St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, 701 Fort Washington Avenue, upper Manhattan.
One of my favorite saints. An Italian-born nun, she came to the U.S. in the late 19th century to help the great wave of Italian immigrants and opened many orphanage and schools. Died 1917, canonized 1946. Most of her body is at the shrine. An arm is in Chicago. If you want to view her head, you’ll need to go to Rome. Apparently everyone wanted a piece of her.
3. Padre Pio. Church of Saint John the Baptist, 210 West 30th Street.
Padre Pio is said to have received the stigmata, which is to say, crucifixion-like wounds on the palms and feet. These periodically bled. (Relics are not for the faint of heart.) Here you’ll find displayed a bloody sock, a scab (warned you), a bit of hair and fountain pen.
4. Pierre Toussaint. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Fifth Avenue.
Pierre was born a slave in Haiti. His owners brought him to New York in 1797, fearing a revolution. They were smart to do so, since the revolution took place shortly thereafter and was extremely sanguinary.
Pierre was freed in 1807 and became a hairdresser to New York’s society dames. (As Cindy Adams would say, “Only in New York, kids.”)
He was a benefactor of the original St. Patrick’s in modern-day NoLita. He was buried in its churchyard, whose wall protected it from attacks by violent anti-Catholic mobs. His remains were moved to the crypt below the main altar in the new St. Patrick’s.
5. Peter Stuyvesant’s Pear Tree (or what’s left of it). New York Historical Society. 170 Central Park West.
You don’t have to be Catholic to leave behind a relic. Peter Stuyvesant, the famously grouchy governor of New Amsterdam who surrendered the city to the English in 1664, planted a pear tree on his farm, at what is now the intersection of 13th Street and Third Avenue. The tree lived to a ripe old age, until some idiot in 1867 ran his carriage into it, toppling it. One can only hope he got a ticket.