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Sanctuaries

When it comes to word association, "path" and "New York City" orbit in different definitions. A quiet trail winding its way through a serene landscape is far from the image the canyons of Manhattan evoke.

But a path was what I needed on my first visit to New York in the aftermath of Sept. 11th. And a path, or at least its milieu, was what I found with the help of Edward F. Bergman's new book, "The Spiritual Traveler: New York City, the Guide to Sacred Spaces and Peaceful Places," (HiddenSpring, $22.)

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The book inspired an afternoon stroll along a 10-block loop in midManhattan last week. I visited six churches and one synagogue. At each sanctuary, descriptions by Bergman - of historic figures and events, architectural highlights with denominational nuances - introduced these spiritual sentries to my thought.

My start was auspicious. At Fifth Avenue and West 51st Street, across from St. Patrick's Cathedral (Roman Catholic), more than 500 uniformed fire- and policemen stood at attention. A memorial service was being held for those slain at the World Trade Center.

The stillness and sacredness of the events inside were reflected on the outside. Fifth Avenue was closed to vehicle traffic for three blocks. Pedestrians became silent as they approached the cathedral. For planning a simple walk to visit places of worship, the scene was the perfect inspiration.

In the midst of a bustling city, where a premium is always placed on speed, such stillness soothed like tranquil breathing after fright.

Three hours later, my footsteps ended at St. Thomas (Episcopal) on Fifth Avenue. A boys' and men's choir sang evensong. A time-free ending to a spiritual walk.

Ruth Walker's article (right), considers other ways the pace of life changed after Sept. 11.