by Joseph Zwilling and Mercedes Anderson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  December 4, 2018

Four elegantly crafted busts of the four popes to have visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral will now greet the cathedral’s five million annual visitors as they enter the north and south vestibules on Fifth Avenue. Papal visits are rare, defining moments in New York City’s history. From Papal Masses at Yankees Stadium to the iconic popemobile making its way to Central Park, no image is more indelibly linked to a papal visit than the pope’s arrival at the spiritual center of the city, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. These four busts of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis are intended to memorialize these historic visits, as well as their significance to the cathedral, the city and, the generations of people they encountered.

The busts of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II were installed in the south vestibule of the cathedral, situated at the 50 th street entrance and Fifth Avenue. Pope Paul VI was the first pontiff to have ever visited the United States and the West. He arrived in New York on October 4, 1965. That visit, though a brief 14 hours, started with a trip to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 55, 000 people lined Fifth Avenue for his arrival. Altogether, an estimated one million people saw Pope Paul VI on his inaugural visit to the United States. Pope John Paul II visited New York City early in his pontificate, on October 3, 1979; and, again, in 1995. During his first visit, he led a morning prayer service for consecrated religious men and women at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In 1995, Pope John Paul II famously surprised the crowds when, following another prayer service at the cathedral, he stepped outside and walked around the block to the cardinal’s residence. That year, Pope John Paul II also said Mass in New York’s Central Park where 125,000 faithful gathered to pray with the beloved pontiff.   

The busts of the two most recent pontiffs to have visited the cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis were installed in the north vestibule at the 51 st street entrance and Fifth Avenue. The millennial papal visits included a pope’s first visit to a synagogue on American soil by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. On that visit, Pope Benedict also celebrated a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that was open to the public. It had the distinction of being the first ever Mass celebrated in a church by a pope that was open to the public. Seven years later, the first pope from the Americas, Pope Francis, visited a newly restored St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and led a vespers prayer service the night before his visits to the 911 Museum, United Nations, and Mass at Madison Square Garden.

During his homily, Pope Benedict XVI observed of St. Patrick’s: “Like all Gothic cathedrals, it is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God’s creation.” PopeBenedict highlighted the role of art and architecture in expressing the lived experience of the faith through its structure and beauty. He, his successor, and predecessors – both of whom have been recognized as saints – are now a permanent part of the architectural and artistic splendor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the form of the four exquisitely created bronze busts in the vestibules of the cathedral.

The bronze papal busts were completed over the course of two years by internationally recognized local sculptor Carolyn Palmer. Through an elaborate process of sculpting, molding, and bronze casting, the likeness of each pope was recreated with artistic precision. The four bronze busts are situated on marble shelves at a height of approximately eight and a half feet from the ground in each vestibule. Each bust weighs approximately 250 pounds. They were designed by Ms. Palmer to fit the space, with their countenances facing visitors as they make their way into the cathedral.

Members of the press interested in learning more about the newly installed bronze papal busts and/or the sculptor Carolyn Palmer are asked to kindly contact [email protected].