Sunday, March 7

Lambscaping Makes Historic Cathedral Courtyard An Animal Farm


This is the story of some very curious caretakers at a cathedral in New York City. In the city that never sleeps, green spaces can be all but impossible to come by. And when they do exist, those who take care of them are charged with a very rare task in the midst of the hustle and bustle of city life. Gardeners in the United States report spending $47.8 billion on lawn and gardening retail annually, though the concrete jungle where dreams are made of got more creative with their spending.

What better beings to take care of those green spaces than those that spend their days chowing on the delectable green grass? Sheep were obviously perfect candidates for the job, and have been inhabiting the courtyard of Manhattan’s Basilica of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the past few years.

These lambs of God were charged with the task in 2014 when Monsignor Donald Sakano jested with the cathedral’s retiring groundskeeper:

“I joked, ‘What do you expect me to do now, get sheep?’ The second I said it I thought, ‘That might be a good idea,’ even though I knew nothing about sheep-keeping here in New York City,” he recounted.

Naturally, they went about acquiring sheep to wander the grounds and keep the grass trimmed. All the while, bringing a bit of rural life that Manhattan rarely sees.

Now, the current three new skittish upstate NY ewes will be the fifth group of sheep to tend the cathedral’s grounds. Which, for all their grazing, must be a delicious gig. Named after New York City streets — Houston, Prince, and Spring — the sheep can be found nibbling tufts of grass together at the cathedral. In a world where people are thinking about saving that extra 10% to 25% on energy bills by having airtight windows, other places are having a literal flock mow the lawn with their teeth. Do ewe have faith? You can check them out on the old cathedral Instagram page, too. What a time to be alive.

The Basilica raised more than $5,000 to keep the sheep this year. They have a staff of five to six people around to make sure they are adjusting well to going from upstate to downstate. New York City can be an intimidating place. For the fourth year running, they’ve been a pleasant piece of elsewhere plopped in SoHo.

“They’re the stars. It’s a really fun thing for the neighborhood. There’s nothing else like it in the city,” says one excited parishioner.

Amazing graze, how sweet the sound.

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