Saint Paul’s Church

Ninth Avenue and 60th Street

Text and Photographs by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Natural History special issue

Part of City of Stars photo essay.

A shot of the church from across the street, with two belfries.

Ninety feet above the floor of this Catholic church is a dark blue ceiling with the night sky painted on it. The stars of this particular sky were the ones visible at midnight, January 25, 1885, the day the church was dedicated. The constellations are accurately portrayed and—dare I say it?—more realistic than those in the celebrated starry ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. Indeed, the original designers succeeded in their intent to make a church that feels like it has no roof at all.

The cosmic motif extends beyond the ceiling to the hemispheric cupola of the altar, where dozens of blue-gray stars are embedded in its curved gold surface. Toward the back of the church, on the exact line of the main aisle, is the baptistry, with gold stars embedded in its stones. These stars, as well as those of the altar, serve decorative purposes only and do not represent real patterns on the sky. They nonetheless complete the heavenly atmosphere that the churchgoers enjoy.

A golden, tiled, starry, half dome above the altar with marble columns supporting the dome.
Tilework around the baptistry with stars in the floor.