New York City’s Tree of Hope

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I first saw the Tree of Hope during the 2003 Christmas season. At that time I worked at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan. Every evening as I walked around the former site of the World Trade Center to the subway that would take me back to Brooklyn, I passed by that tree, located in the northwest corner of the old graveyard of St. Paul’s Chapel.

The spruce was lit not with strands of conventional Christmas lights but with green, red, and white spotlights from the ground that illuminated the many snow-white doves perched on its branches.

While a nice gesture, the little tree only made me more aware of the emptiness on the other side of the street. In my mind, no tree, no matter how beautiful, could possibly fill the void left by nearly 3,000 people and the majestic structures in which they worked.

The following spring I became a member of Trinity Church, which owns St. Paul’s Chapel. And that November found me at the start of another Christmas season, the fourth since 9/11. As usual, the approaching holidays brought with them feelings of warmth and happiness but also a deepening of the ache that never completely goes away. That year, however, my view of the Tree of Hope was different, for I knew much more of its story.

Haven at Ground Zero

St. Paul’s Chapel dates back to before the United States’ Revolutionary War and is the oldest building in continuous use in Manhattan. It survived the Great Fire of 1777—which was set by the British to punish New Yorkers for their support of the rebels and destroyed most of what was then New York City—because the neighboring residents formed a bucket brigade and successfully kept the flames from harming the building.

After George Washington was inaugurated a few blocks away on Wall Street, he stopped at St. Paul’s to pray. For more than 250 years the chapel has served as a quiet place of prayer and meditation for workers and residents of New York City’s world-renowned financial district.

Because of its purpose as a place of ministry to its community, as well as its close proximity to the Trade Center site, St. Paul’s played a central role in the rescue and recovery efforts following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Weary rescue workers and volunteers found there a desperately needed place of rest. Doctors and massage therapists came to soothe aching muscles. Singers and musicians came to soothe aching souls. The pews of the chapel became temporary cots for people unwilling or unable to return to their homes to sleep. The marks they made on the pews while they rested are still there.

This ministry continued until workers removed the last piece of Trade Center wreckage at the end of May 2002. Throughout that time, the staff of St. Paul’s received thousands of cards, letters, banners, and other gifts sent to them from people all over the world. Visitors and passersby left their own messages of thanks and encouragement on the gate surrounding the chapel.

Once the cleanup was complete, it became clear that St. Paul’s had quite a story to tell. A temporary exhibit titled “Out of the Dust: A Year of Ministry at Ground Zero” opened in September 2002, and in March 2004 it recorded its one-millionth visitor. In May of that year, a permanent exhibit opened, and that summer more than 20,000 people visited it each week.

I walked through this exhibit three times, once by myself the day after it opened and twice with visitors from out of town. It’s filled with pictures and personal testimonies of the people who benefited from St. Paul’s ministry, as well as many of the items the chapel received from so many people across the globe. I’m never able to experience it without a strong mix of emotions. I feel such grief at the tremendous pain brought to my neighborhood and my entire country. But I’m also filled with amazement at the utter selflessness of my community and the remarkable strength I have witnessed since I first began working downtown. 

A Miracle

What makes the story of St. Paul’s truly amazing is that, by all logic, the chapel should not be standing today.

On Sept. 11 more than 2 billion pounds of steel came crashing to the ground. The crash was so powerful it registered on the Richter scale. Everything inside and below the WTC buildings was smashed beyond recognition. Every window facing the Trade Center was blown out. Every nearby building suffered damage, some beyond repair. The destruction seemed endless. We now know that the total amount of energy released by the impact of the planes, the explosion of jet fuel, the massive fires burning inside the towers, and finally the towers’ collapse equaled the power of a small atomic bomb.

It wasn’t until Sept. 14 that anyone was able to inspect what was left of St. Paul’s. Miraculously, where workers expected to see a pile of rubble, they instead found a completely intact chapel. Not a window had been broken (one was cracked). Not an inch of the walls or the roof had been compromised. The building’s structure was as sound as it had ever been.

Inside a six-inch layer of dust coated everything, which did wreck the pipe organ, but otherwise nothing had been damaged—with one notable exception. The giant sycamore tree that had stood in the northwest corner of the graveyard—on the spot where the Tree of Hope now stands—had been knocked over in the collapse.

People say that tree was responsible for saving the chapel. For a long time I resented the idea. How, I thought, could a single tree—no matter how massive—possibly have saved a tiny building from the collapse of two skyscrapers? Why do people always feel the need to explain away a miracle?

I found myself thinking about that tree more and more. And suddenly I realized I’d been missing the point.

The very fact that the force of the collapse was enough to knock down such a large tree made the complete survival of St. Paul’s all the more remarkable. It was almost as if all the power and fury of the disaster surrounding the church had somehow been directed at that one tree. While much larger, newer buildings suffered massive structural damage, tiny St. Paul’s Chapel was barely touched, leaving it available to provide desperately needed support to those working tirelessly to clear the Trade Center rubble. One tree, sacrificed to save the church.

Another Tree

The much smaller spruce tree planted in the sycamore’s place is once again lit with spotlights and decorated with snow-white doves. As we gather to turn on the lights and begin another Christmas season, we sing the traditional carols that since 9/11 have more poignant meaning. I’m not yet at the point where I can sing “Joy to the World” and truly feel it in the present, and I don’t expect to reach that point in the near future. But at Christmas we celebrate the birth of a tiny baby who had within him the power to save all of humanity. And I know there will finally come a day when sin and sorrow no longer reign—all because of another tree, another sacrifice.

About the Author

Rachel Snyder is a member of Trinity/St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan.

See comments (42)


Hi, thought you would find this interesting. It talks about the tree you are mentioning here. It's a biblically significant tree.


THE HARBINGER details the prophetic fulfilling of the short Sycamore tree with a mightier towering Spruce tree. It is a SIGN of what is to come, and we must educate all believers to turn to GOD, to seek GOD, to humble ourselves and seek righteousness. ISAIAH 9:10

I'm curious what kind of tree? In reports it has been a cedar,pine and now spruce? I really would like a for sure.

Just finished reading The Harbinger. Fascinating. Couldn't put it down. The book explains about the Sycamore tree and the significance of replacing that tree with a different type tree.....and much, much more. Also the historic significance of the Church. It's where George Washington and the leaders of our government dedicated America to God and submitted it to God's protection. Highly recommend it to everyone.

Thus fulfilling Isaiah 9:10 "The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with smooth stones; The sycamores have been cut down, But we will replace them with cedars."

Haven't finished the book yet but here's some verification: The Pine family (Pinaceae)includes pines,true fir, cedar, spruce, larch, dougfir, etc. The Norway spruce = *Picea abies* (messed up in The Harbingers, pages 92, 93.) and is, as you can see, included in the above plant family. Also, buttonwood tree is *Plantanus occidentalis*. . .the American Sycamore. (The latin names should be italicized but I don't know how to do that here.)

Let us turn and pray for mercy.

There is much more to this miracle, it appears. On Sept 12, when it was still impossible to inspect this sight, Sen. Tom Daschle quoted a little known scripture from Isaiah 9:10 "The bricks have fallen,we will rebuild with dressed stone. The sycamore tree that has fallen we will replace with cedar." Please read "The Harbinger" by James Kahn.

People forget. In Israel the same thing happened. The Jews were in trouble with disobeying God. They were destroyed by the assiayians. But the jews didn't learn their lesson. They stood upon the rubel and said "we will rebuild, with better stone, and replace the sycamore tree with an everygreen." (something better). Isiah 9:10

Be carefull going against God.

President George Washington and the first congress of the United States, Deciated the New Nation US to God, where, at ground zero.At the exact spot were the towers fell. And ask yourself has this nation turned against God, I say yes. Just like Isiah 9:10, We stood at ground zero and boldly said, "We will rebuild."

I find this article most fasinating after just reading "The Harbinger" by Johnathan Kahn; considering this was written 7 years before The Harbinger. This can only be God pointing America back to it roots. That is to put our trust in the God who gave America favor in the beginning of its formation.

God is good,loving and merciful. He is giving us a warning. Please read the book, "The Harbinger", by Jonathan Kohn. The LORD is sending us a warning to repent and return to him.

Read "The Harbinger"
Thanks for your perspectives and historical information. - JL

I am almost finished reading The Harbinger. God has been calling America to turn back to her Judea-Christian roots. As a nation, we need to repent and turn back to the Living God. He is about done with us.
2 Chronicles 7:14

Very interesting article. I am currently reading the Harbinger. I can't seem to put is down and was interested in getting facts regarding the sycamore tree at ground zero. Your article put it all together. It too bad America won't heed to God warnings. Thank God that he is so loving and patient. I pray for a revival.

Found article in researching Harbinger material. Fascinating. So when are the Christians in this country going to repent? Warnings are loud and clear. 2013 will be 40 years since abortion became legal and the Freedom tower will be completed. God forgive us.

Very interesting is a book that I am reading entitled "The Harbinger" and it is about an ancient mystery which happened in the Old Testament. "The bricks are fallen down but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars (sycamore)" Isaiah 9:10 And what happened next? Is this what will happen tt America?

The book is written by Jonathan Cahn and what concerns me is that I have met this gentleman and heard him speak. I trust what he says.... Hmmmmm makes one wonder

Here it is 3-2-12 and I am just reading your article and its touched me. I am reading,right now, the book "Harbinger". It is also touching me deeply. But your understanding of the tree that saved the chapel was very poinent and meaningful. I believe,as I'm sure you do, that if America is to be saved, we must turn in repentance,faith and worship to the only one Who gave His life on another tree, Jesus the Christ, for our redemption, salvation and deliverence. Thank you for this beautiful article....and may. GOD save America from our national sins and from our enemies.

I too am reading the Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn. Amazing how the prophetic warning to Israel as they opposed God during the time of Assyria is directed to America during this time. The aligning of their warnings and what we've been experiencing here is alarming. We need to pray, repent and spread the Word of God before it's too late for America.

You answer to this miracle is in the Book The Harbinger by Johnathan Cahn

Isaiah 9:10-11

Yes, we must remember that we were founded on the words, "In God We Trust". We must return to our faith in God, get back in the Word of God, the Bible. Revive our spirits to listen to the Holy Spirit. Repent of our personal sins and the sins of our nation. Then lets do what we were founded to do, "In God We Trust".

Just doing some casual background research (it's so easy to rely on what other people say and not do any legwork). About that sycamore/pine thing..the sycamore (P. Occidentalis) belongs to the family Platanaceae. There are a total of 12 different species of it. Pinacea is a family (Picea albies is the Norway Spruce planted at Trinity/St. Paul's and belongs to it). There are a total of 238 species of Pinacea. Maybe pine trees are just easier to get. Maybe the St. Paul's janitor/groundkeeper was like please don't make me rake any more. Wait.. what's that.. i hear something.. it's the Illuminati! Ahhhh! Help! (just kidding. i'm totally fine. and no, this is not the Illuminati just writing that i'm fine just for obfuscation.) J. Cahn.. you've been served!

All that has been done to rebuild following 9/11 is fullfilling a prophacy,& not a pretty one! Read Isaiah chapter 9 verses 9and 10. Then for further insight into this strike on America read The Harbinger. Our nation is repeating a Biblical calamity. We have already fulfilled verses 9&10, by setting the quarried cornerstone and replacing the fallen sycamore with a conifer (cedar).

I suppose you know by now that the destruction of the sycamore tree and the replanting of the cedar tree was the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (Isaiah 9:10) -- not to give hope to the nation, but to pronounce warning. Read The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn.

I just read The Harbinger by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and the Prophetic connection to this tree and the other 8 harbingers are strange.

sin and sorrow will no longer reign because of a tree? i think you better spend more time inside the chapel instead of looking at the tree.

Please read "The Harbinger" by Jonathan Cahn about the sycamore tree, Ground Zero, St Paul's Chapel and what it all means for America's future.

There is nothing more to be said. It was all expressed so eloquently.

Just finished reading "The Harbinger". Unbelievable story! Especially to discover that immediately after his inauguration our first President, the Senate and House of Representatives all gathered for prayer to commit the nation to God in St Paul's Chapel! He is our only hope! (II Chronicles 7:14)

Read "The Harbinger" by Jonathan Cahn, and learn the "real" miracle!

You probably have heard this but I just finished the book called "The Harbinger" and it will tell you Bibically what the tree story is and how it relates to Isreal and the US. I am thankful, sounds like you became a Christian and asked Jesus into your heart. That is wonderful and now Christmas holds a whole new meaning.

Just finished The Harbinger and it is an eye opening book concerning the destruction of Israel and what is happening here in America. It is truly amazing how things have repeated themselves and continues to. I think everyone should read it(along with the Bible, of course!) and heed the warnings sent to us from God through the prophecies and this book as a vehicle of getting them to us. I never had a clue( as I think most people are also clueless) concerning 9/11 as to the real nature of it. I remember hearing some pastors declaring it was a judgement from God right after it happened and I remember agreeing then. Now I know it was !!!!

Patricia Sometimes we use Christianese and it's hard to make sense of it. Tree is a synonym for cross, where Jesus died to take away the sins of the world. When our Jesus returns, all who have received His free gift will be together in love forever. Hope to see you then!
Have you heard of or read "the Harbinger" by Jonathan Cahn. The Chapel and the tree and itheir biblical significance are discussed there also, extensively.
I agree Ann. I have just finished reading it. I also thought 9/11 was a judgement of God...turns out it was another warning of judgment to come!
Patricia, I think she's referring to Jesus' sacrifice on tree. You should read the Harbinger and 2 Chron 7:14. Unless and until we humble ourselves and pray an d ask God to be apart of our nation once again, we will be judged harshly for the sins we have committed as a nation, removing God from virtually every fact of our lives and worshipping the material world!

I just finished reading "The Harbinger," in which I learned about St. Paul's Chapel. Surely God was -- and is -- in this place. I hope to visit the chapel and Ground Zero soon.


The Erez Stone (The Harginger p. 76) was returned to Innovative Strone in Long Island and dedicated on 9/11/2009 to the heroes.

The company closed in Nov. 2011 per the Long Island Business News.


Harbinger   Stone  (should have worn my glasses)

I believe our coountry U.S.A. has turned away from the LORD. HE has warned us and we do not hear. We continue to elect officials tha tallow murder of innocent babes in the womb and allow homosexual to marry. Our children need to be taught the truth of the LOVE GOD has for all people and the loving forgiveness our LORD JESUS CHRIST died and raised for.

what happened to the ten northern tribes of Israel when the Asserians came back? they took them over the Caucasus Mountains they settled acrossed what is today Europe thus they called them Caucasians. Some of the ancestors then coming to America. the largest two tribes of the ten being Ephreum and Manasses <meaning forgetful> we are a forgetful people. spellingis awful but i do hope you get the point