St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Artifact: St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Category: Early History / Medieval Dublin

source of photo:

From its origins as a small wooden church built by Normans, St. Patrick’s became a cathedral that would be home to various distinct religions. During the time of the English Reformation, when the Church of England separated themselves from the Pope and and the Roman Catholic Church, the cathedral was under the Irish Church. This would soon change in the mid 1500s when St. Patrick’s Cathedral became an Anglican church in the Church of Ireland. In these times of the sixteenth century and until the present day, the cathedral foundation consists of “retaining elements of the pre–Reformation faith and practice which they have rejected or lost ”, and the structural integrity of the building itself also holds many significant moments regarding the religious history of Ireland (Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Website). 

St. Patricks Church’s existence was first recorded in a Papal Bull in 1178 and again in the Royal Charter of 1192. At this time, it was a small Parish church that ministered to the needs of the Celtic population. The church was located outside the walls of Dublin and stood distinct from the Danish and Anglo-Norman churches inside the city. With the coming of the Anglo-Norman prelates in the late 12th century, Archbishop John Comyn, the first English Archbishop of Dublin, decided to raise the Church to a new dignity. After building himself a palatial estate on the near grounds, a place outside of the city where he would not be subject to the mayor’s jurisdiction, he raised the Church of St. Patrick to the rank of a Collegiate Church to be served by a college of secular clergy. In the early thirteenth century, a new charter was granted to St. Patrick’s by Comyn’s predecessor and the first re-building of the Church began. In the year 1220, after determining to place his throne at St. Patrick’s, Archbishop Henry of London moved to promote the church to Cathedral status, despite the fact that Dublin was already home to the established Christ Church Cathedral. The Cathedral practices both Protestantism and Catholicism and is still under the Church of Ireland. As told in a legend, historically when Saint Patrick served in the Cathedral, he would baptize new converts into Christianity. In more modern times, the cathedral has implemented all practices of these religions that have been adopted by history, giving freedom to its members to practice a spiritual path that is alluring to them.

As a vessel for religion St. Patrick’s Cathedral itself did not play a part in determining the religious/political sphere of the country, but was heavily subjected to the many changes that the religious wars between Catholic and Protestant monarchs brought. In the mid-1500’s, the Cathedral underwent a turbulent period as Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth all vied for the throne. Edward VI demoted the originally Catholic Cathedral to the status of parish church in favor of Protestantism. Queen Mary reversed this decision shortly afterward in 1558, restoring the building to its Cathedral status in the hopes of reestablishing Catholicism as the national religion. Three years after the Catholic restoration, Queen Elizabeth I deposed Queen Mary and reversed the Cathedral back to Protestantism. In the sixteenth century, in times of the Reformation, the Cathedral also adopted Protestantism and became one of the Protestant Churches. The Williamite Wars of 1688-90 led to a Catholic repossession of the Cathedral by King James, but this was also short-lived. When King William of Orange won the war, he restored the Cathedral back to its former Anglican status. 

Dublin is one of the few cities in the world to have two established Cathedrals, and this anomaly opened up the doors for hostility and suspicion between the two Cathedrals. Arguments arose in the sixteenth century surrounding St. Patrick’s finances: some thought St. Patrick’s should be turned into a University, while others fought for the income of the church to be spent on the reconstruction of another Cathedral. Political disagreements led to the abolition of St. Patrick’s Cathedral status in 1547 and 1650. Because of this tumultuous history, the structural integrity of the building has been at risk and in 1805, it was even suggested that the building should be completely replaced. The Church was rebuilt in the 1840s, but the restoration ran out of funds in the wake of the famine, so the restoration was finished in 1860 by Sir Benjamin Lee Guiness. The original structure was modeled on the Trinity Chapel at Salisbury. St. Patrick’s Lady Chapel was added after the original construction in 1250 and features a more sophisticated design in comparison to the original structure. Seeing as the building has gone through various changes and additions, little to none of the building is retained from its medieval past. 

Despite lacking architectural elements from this medieval past, the choir’s modern-day architectural design still points to religious power and holiness. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is known for its Gothic architecture, with many interpreting it as God’s strong, sturdy fortress. Specifically, the symmetrical arches of the arcades are said to “stamp a character of harmony” upon the cathedral (O’Neill 140). Moreover, the choir’s windows depict Jesus Christ at the center and the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. By centering on these biblical figures through stained glass windows, St. Patrick’s Cathedral both literally and figuratively shines light on their Christian significance. Lastly, the choir’s three arcades bring attention to the spiritual importance of the number three: the Christian trinity is architecturally manifested within the arcades themselves. The choir within St. Patrick’s Cathedral has clear architectural purpose in centering attendees’ focus upon the Church of Ireland’s core religious doctrine, figures, and history. Ultimately, this purpose is powerful enough that if someone were to enter and gaze upon the choir, they would immediately be able to grasp the important role St. Patrick’s Cathedral plays in understanding Ireland’s religious history. Because of this, the Cathedral is a national treasure to the Irish people and serves as a symbol of the country’s culture. 


“A History of Worship on the Site.” St Patrick’s Cathedral, 22 June 2016,

Rae, Edwin C. “The Medieval Fabric of the Cathedral Church of St. Patrick in Dublin.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 109 (1979), pp. 28-73.

“Restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.” The London Journal: And Weekly Record of Literature, Science, and Art, Volumes 41-42, 18 April 1865.

Bernard, John Henry. “The Early History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” The Irish Church Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 14, 1911, pp. 97–111. 

Lawlor, Hugh Jackson. “Jottings on the History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” The Irish Church Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 20, 1912, pp. 328–345.
O’Neill, Michael. “The Architecture of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.” Irish Arts Review Yearbook, vol. 11, 1995, pp. 140–141.


  1. Your annotation helped me a lot with my paper, as I was doing research on St. Patrick’s Cathedral and religion in Ireland. I’m honestly surprised that it took until the 1860’s to restore the Cathedral, it’s awful that it was almost lost despite all that it had endured and its role as a teaching and historical tool. Great job!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your annotation! I thought the practice of both Catholicism and Protestantism within the cathedral was particularly interesting. It’s also crazy that people wanted to completely replace the building. You guys did a great job!

  3. What a gorgeous cathedral with such a rich history. All I know about St. Patrick is his connection with the holiday and little pieces of the stories surrounding him, so it’s interesting to see this very physical connection to him and how it’s evolved since his lifetime. Really excellent and well-researched! I enjoyed your annotation!

  4. This annotation was fantastic, and I especially love the pictures you included in this annotation. The cathedral is wonderful, and it was nice to read about its rich history and the many obstacles it had to overcome. I was really captivated by the line that said “By centering on these biblical figures through stained glass windows, St. Patrick’s Cathedral both literally and figuratively shines light on their Christian significance” – in part because the picture above really emphasizes and brings to life this interpretation. Great work!

  5. Really well written and put together! I really enjoyed it!! I really like how you talk about the architecture and the meaning behind it. I was also particularly fascinated by the importance of the number three and how it is represented in the arcades. Love the pictures, as well, it looks magnificent! Great job guys!

  6. I really enjoyed reading about this! My group did our research on the 12th century crypt in the Christ Church Cathedral, and I remember reading a lot about this site when I was conducting the paper. It’s so interesting to see the similarities/differences between the two! I noticed how you mentioned that today the church practices both Catholicism and Protestantism, which is so fascinating given the rich and complicated history between the two. Your annotation was super informative and I enjoyed learning about St. Patrick’s Cathedral!

  7. Very informative annotation! I really liked how you traced religious history in Ireland through the vehicle of St. Patrick’s, and how the status and practice within the church reveal this complicated history. I find your analysis that the building didn’t create the political and religious conditions of the passing centuries, but was instead subjected to these changes, particularly interesting, especially as it seems that, at least in Dublin, St. Patrick’s served as something of a lightning rod for religious and political disagreements.

  8. Wery good and informative essay. Especially the impacts on society caused by the conflict between Catholic and Protestant beliefs that were going on everywhere around the world (in the mid 15th century) but especially in Ireland. The amount of influence church and religion have had on society throughout human history is ridiculous and needs to be addressed. Here you discuss what church meant to the people of Ireland and how it shaped society and molded Ireland the way it is now. Great paper guys keep it up!

    One minor thing to keep in mind and this is a small error (not really an error but a format issue). When you have work cited page and an MLA format paper, usually the last names of the authors of the works you cite must be in alphabetical order. So, in this case, Bernard, John Henry would be the second listed

  9. I love this annotation! This is very informative and because I have very little knowledge on churches in general, it is very interesting to learn about this church and its relations to religious/political conflicts during the 15th century. Of course, even when people vouch for separation of church and state, there was a large impact on the people by the church. This is very interesting. Thank you.

  10. This is a great tidbit of information about the cathedral. Although I have heard many times about St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I didn’t know about the complex history the was linked to it. I appreciate how your annotation linked the complexity of the cathedral to the complexity of Dublin’s religious history. I also like how you pointed to the style of the cathedral as reflective of history as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *