By MAYA MITRASINOVIC
Tucked away just behind the Seton Park tennis courts, a small cave is vandalized and covered in rubbish. But this small rock structure is more than just a cave – it’s a cave. And it’s been there longer than Spuyten Duyvil Park itself.
He spiritually guarded Seton Hospital on the site from its construction in the late 19th century until its demolition in 1956. When the city stepped in to turn the site into what is now a park in the 1970s , the cave was allowed to remain.
But it has been a long time since the grotto made room for the Virgin Mary, or even a presentable appearance. Today is an afterthought. Neglected. A situation that a neighbor with a keen sense of history would love to change.
“I found the fact that the Parks Department unwittingly hid (the cave) behind the tennis courts really unfortunate,” said Stephanie Coggins, a community activist probably best known for her failed battle to save the century-old apartments from the Villa Rosa Happiness. near.
In its heyday, the grotto and hospital were operated by the Sisters of Charity of New York, a Roman Catholic organization now based on the campus of the College of Mount Saint Vincent. The hospital – and later the park – were named for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, America’s first such figure, who originally founded the Sisters of Charity.
The city has owned the land for more than seven decades, keeping it mostly under the control of the parks department. Yet the sisters still feel a special connection not only to the site, but also to the cave. While it once contained a statue of the Virgin Mary, this particular grotto was erected in memory of Mother Seton.
“The sisters have contributed so much to New York, and it’s only fitting that a park dedicated to Mother Seton should be carefully maintained,” said the religious group’s spokeswoman, Elena Miranda. “Especially the cave.”
Still, it would be nearly impossible to restore the cave to its former religious glory, especially now that it sits on public land. But that’s not what the sisters are asking anyway. Instead, they hope it can be restored as a historic monument – a small but meaningful reminder of this little piece of Spuyten Duyvil history.
“It’s a historic place in the history of New York and the Bronx, and I think it should be important not just for the sisters – because we have other ways to honor and remember Elizabeth. Seton – but I think it’s more important for Bronx residents to get in touch with the story of Elizabeth Seton, and who she was, and what there was in terms of the hospital, and how she served the neighborhood,” said Sister Donna Dodge, president of the Sisters of Charity.
The first change? Moved the cave behind the tennis courts.
“Since the park is named after Mother Seton and it was a cave for her,” Coggins said, “it should be moved and made into a focal point of the park.”
Additionally, the sisters would like to add a plaque or marker telling the story of Seton Hospital as well as Mother Seton’s influence here.
But doing all that work would require a commitment from the parks department, they said, in keeping it free of litter and graffiti.
“We appreciate the significance of this site and will be dealing with the graffiti in the coming days,” a Parks Department representative said. The Riverdale Press in a statement, adding that they would like anyone who sees the vandalized cave to report it via 311.
This is the first step. Moving it around and adding the historical education elements will take some help from Councilman Eric Dinowitz.
“We hope Councilman Dinowitz will engage in conversation with us about how we can restore the cave and protect it from vandalism in the future,” Miranda said. “It requires a conversation, and until we start to engage in that conversation, nothing will be done.”
They shouldn’t find much resistance from Dinowitz, however, saying The press he recognizes how important it is to manage public spaces, including the cave in Seton Park.
“It is crucial that we maintain and protect our open spaces and the historic elements that give our neighborhood its unique character,” the councilman said in a statement. “Outdoor space contributes to the dynamism and livability of our neighborhoods. As a former public school teacher, I also understand the importance of educating people about the significance and relevance of our district’s history. All of this is what makes the North Bronx so special.
And it can also highlight some of the vibrant history that has helped make Spuyten Duyvil what it is today.
“There was a reason someone left the structure there,” Dodge said. “So if you’re going to leave the structure there, why not just say what the structure was and make it look good for the neighborhood?”