Catacombs Offer History and Faith: Tour the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral’s Undercroft

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

by Jessica Easthope

It’s off the beaten path for New York City’s tourists and a stark contrast to the bright lights of Times Square.

But the catacombs beneath the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan lights the way toward a faith filled history lesson you won’t get anywhere else.

Tommy Wilkinson is the president of Tommy’s New York, the company that gives tours of this place eight times a day, five days a week, and he’s been doing it for six years.

“The stories that intersected here are real New York stories a lot of us of heard about, but had no idea it happened right here at the Old Cathedral,” Wilkinson said. “The stories are tales of immigration all the waves of immigrants that came through New York, all the Catholics that immigrated here from the early 1800s to current day have passed through the walls of old Saint Pats here.”

The catacombs are the final resting place of church leaders and some of Manhattan’s elite from the 1800s, names New Yorkers still hear today and figures that can serve as inspiration to anyone. 

“The families that are interred here and their influence on the shaping of not only Catholicism in New York City, but New York History is remarkable,” Wilkinson said.

As people walk through the dimly lit rows of sealed tombs a lot comes to light.

“We are not Catholic,” said one visitor at the Basilica. “But all of our children go to Catholic school, so we thought it would be quite an interesting place to learn more. It was nice to see something different and learn a little bit more about the church and the area as well. We don’t know anything about this part of New York. We know all about Times Square but this is very different.”

“It’s not the most touristy thing to do so I’m very happy we found this tour,” said another visitor. “It’s a hidden gem.”

For Wilkinson, spending his days below the surface, taking thousands a year on a deep dive of New York and Church history. The catacombs have rekindled the flame of his own faith, but he said it’s most rewarding when he sees the spark in someone else.

“I did have a guest that was so blown away that he became Catholic as a result and now he’s a congregant and he’s actually active in the church,” Wilkinson said. “That’s when you know that you’ve done more than what you set out to do.”

The city around old st pat’s is ever changing, but if you visit the catacombs you might come to find history repeats itself.