Friday, October 08, 2010

The Church at Ground Zero

Nice Times piece linked above about St. Peter's, a Roman Catholic parish church that stands a couple of blocks from the site of the Word Trade Center. About as many blocks, in fact, as Park51, the proposed Muslim community center.

The point to the story is that, when St. Peter's was built in 1785, Roman Catholics were considered a dangerous new addition to the Big Apple. After all, they were bound to obey a foreign ruler, had an uneasy relationship to democracy, and -- what with the Index and all that -- were generally inimical to the American way of life. Not to mention that the building was funded by yet another furriner, the king of Spain. So they were forced to move their building away from the downtown area, to a spot outside the city limits. Which is pretty funny, if you know the present-day geography, but was a big deal at the time.

Needless to say, things have changed, which is the other point to the story. But we especially like this reminder of just who the "real" New Yorkers were in those days:
On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after the church was built, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed by some in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens were injured, and a policeman was killed.
Wait, incensed? That sounds promising. Oh, no, our mistake. Angered. And probably scared. Because -- and this is the part worth remembering -- there was a time when some people thought it was un-American and even seditious to celebrate Christmas Eve.

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