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NEW YORK >> Underneath the gold altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, two small copper doors, turned green by time, provide passage to the cathedral’s crypt, a sanctuary within a sanctuary.
On Tuesday, St. Patrick’s will host the funeral Mass for Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who died Thursday at age 82. After the service, the doors to the crypt will be opened so that Egan, who led the Archdiocese of New York for nearly a decade, from 2000 to 2009, can be entombed alongside his predecessors.
It is a ritual that is rarely undertaken in a part of the cathedral that is rarely seen.
Observed after Mass on Sunday, the crypt is small and, with its black, speckled floor, light gray marble and fluorescent lighting, it feels spare. A gold prie-dieu, or kneeling prayer desk, is one of the few obvious signs of the sanctity of the space. Its simplicity stands in contrast to the grandeur of the rest of St. Patrick’s, which is the seat of the archdiocese and in the midst of a major renovation that has cluttered the inside of the cathedral with an unsightly web of scaffolding.
Egan’s body will arrive at the cathedral on Monday morning, and a public viewing will be held starting at noon.
After the funeral Mass on Tuesday, Egan’s successor as archbishop, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, will say a final blessing in the crypt. He will be joined there by Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie, the rector of
St. Patrick’s; other church leaders; and members of Egan’s family.
The tombs inside the crypt are stacked one atop another, in a sort of marble checkerboard, and over the weekend preparations for the services were well underway.
The marble slab for Egan’s space had been taken to Domenick DiNigris Monuments in the Bronx, where the stone was being engraved with the dates that marked the beginning and end of his life and his tenure as cardinal, as well as the coat of arms he designed for himself. The interior of the tomb had been sprinkled with white plastic beads meant to help a coffin slide more easily into its stone resting place, Ritchie said. And the pallbearers who will carry Egan’s coffin had practiced bringing one down the stairway, to make sure they knew how many stairs they would have to navigate on Tuesday.
Egan will be buried next to his predecessor as archbishop, Cardinal John O’Connor. Along with archbishops, a handful of other notable Catholics are laid to rest in the crypt. Below O’Connor’s tomb is the one that holds Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian slave who bought his freedom in New York and became a great supporter of the church. Monsignor Michael J. Lavelle, a rector of St. Patrick’s from 1879 to 1939, is also entombed there, above Egan’s spot, because of his lengthy service to the cathedral.
While Ritchie, who knows the crypt better than anyone else at the church, has been rector for nine years, he does not think his tenure will rival Lavelle’s.
“I don’t expect to be buried here,” he said, with a wide grin. “I already have my plot picked out in the Bronx.”