Artifact: St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Category: Early History / Medieval Dublin
source of photo: https://www.tripsavvy.com/saint-patrick-cathedral-1542294
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, www.stpatrickscathedral.ie/a-history-of-worship-on-the-site/.
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.