St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, formally known as The National Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Patrick, Dublin or in the Irish language as "Árd Eaglais Naomh Pádraig", founded in 1191, is the larger of Dublin's two Church of Ireland cathedrals, and the largest church in Ireland. Unusually it is not today the seat of a bishop, as Dublin's Church of Ireland Archbishop has his seat in Christ Church Cathedral, with Saint Patrick's being (since 1870) the National Cathedral for the whole island, drawing chapter members from each of the twelve dioceses of the Church of Ireland. Saint Patrick's is headed by a Dean, an office which has existed since 1219, the most famous holder being Jonathan Swift.



In 1192, John Comyn, first Anglo-Norman Archbishop of Dublin, elevated one of the four Dublin Celtic parish churches, the one dedicated to St. Patrick, beside a holy well of the same name and on an island between two branches of the River Poddle, to the status of a collegiate church, i.e., a church with a body of clergy devoted to both worship and learning. The new collegiate church fell outside the City boundaries, and this move created two new civic territories, one under the Archbishop's temporal jurisdiction. The church was dedicated to "God, our Blessed Lady Mary and St. Patrick" on March 17th, 1192. [Bernard, 1924: p. 8]

Comyn's charter of 1191 or 1192, which allowed for a chapter of thirteen canons, of which three held special dignities (as Chancellor, Precentor and Treasurer), was confirmed by a Papal Bull (of Pope Celestine III) within a year. The thirteen prebendaries attached to the church were provided with archepiscopal lands.

Over time, a whole complex of buildings arose in the vicinity of the cathedral, including the Palace of the St. Sepulchre (seat of the Archbishop), and legal jurisdiction was divided between a Liberty controlled by the Dean, around the cathedral, and a larger one belonging to the Archbishop, adjacent.

While it is not clear when precisely the church was further raised to the status of cathedral, a unique move in a city with an existing cathedral, it was probably after 1192, and Comyn's successor as Archbishop, Henry de Loundres, was elected in 1212 by the chapters of both Christ Church and St Patrick's, this election being recognised by Pope Innocent III. See below for more on the question of status. Henry granted a number of further charters to the Cathedral and Chapter between 1218 and 1220, and one of these in 1220 created the office of Dean to head the Cathedral [Bernard, 1924: p. 9] , the right of election being allocated solely to the canons of the Chapter.

The basis of the present building, as noted, the largest church in Ireland, was built between 1191 and 1270, though little now remains of the earliest work beyond the Baptistry. Much of the work was overseen by the previously mentioned Henry of London, a friend of the King of England and signatory of the Magna Carta, who was also involved in the construction of Dublin's city walls, and Dublin Castle.

An order from King Henry III in 1225 allowed the collection of donations from across the island for reconstruction for a period of four years, and the work, in the Early English Gothic style, lasted at least until rededication in 1254. The Lady Chapel was added around 1270 [Bernard, 1924: pp. 9-10] .

In 1300 Archbishop Ferings of Dublin arranged an agreement between the two cathedrals, the "Pacis Compostio", which acknowledged both as cathedrals and made some provision to accommodate their shared status [Bernard, 1924: pp. 73-74] . For more, see "Status" below.

From the mid-1300s, and for over 500 years, the north transept of the building was used as the parish church of St Nicholas Without (i.e. the part of the Parish of St. Nicholas outside the city proper).

The tower (Minot's Tower) and west nave were rebuilt between 1362 and 1370, following a fire.

From the very earliest years there were problems with seepage of water, with a number of floods, especially in the later years of the 18th century, caused by the surrounding branches of the River Poddle - even in the 20th century, it is reported that the water table was within 7.5 feet of the floor [Bernard, 1924: p. 10, note 3] . This situation ensured there would never be a crypt or basement area [Bernard, 1924: p. 10] .

After the English Reformation (an uneven process between 1536 and 1564 but at St. Patrick's, effective from about 1537), St. Patrick's became an Anglican Church of Ireland Cathedral, although most of the population of the surrounding Pale remained Roman Catholic. During the confiscation process, some images within the cathedral were defaced by soldiers under Thomas Cromwell, and neglect led to collapse of the nave in 1544.

Under King Edward VI, St. Patrick's Cathedral was formally suppressed, and the building demoted back to the status of parish church. On April 25, 1547, a pension of 200 marks sterling was assigned to "Sir Edward Basnet", the Dean, followed, some months later, by pensions of £60 each to Chancellor Alien and Precentor Humphrey, and £40 to Archdeacon Power. The silver, jewels, and ornaments were transferred to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church. The King designated part of the building for use as a court house, and the Cathedral Grammar School was established in the then vicar's hall, and the deanery given to the archbishop, following the transfer of the Archbishop's Palace to the Lord Deputy of Ireland. In 1549, it was further ordered that the walls be repainted and inscribed with passages from the scriptures.

In 1555 a charter of the joint monarchs Philip and Mary restored the cathedral's privileges [Bernard, 1924: p. 13] and initiated restoration and a late document of Queen Mary's reign, a deed dated 27 April 1558, comprises a release or receipt by Thomas Leverous, the new Dean, and the Chapter of St. Patrick's, of the "goods, chattels, musical instruments, etc.," belonging to the Cathedral, and which had been in the possession of the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church.

In 1560, one of Dublin's first public clocks was erected in "St. Patrick's Steeple".


By the early 1600s, the Lady Chapel was said to have been in ruins, and the arch at the east end of the choir was closed off by a lath and plaster partition wall. There was also routine flooding and a series of galleries was added to accommodate large congregations.

During the stay of Oliver Cromwell in Dublin, during his conquest of Ireland the Commonwealth's Lord Protector stabled his horses in the nave of the cathedral. This was intended to demonstrate Cromwell's disrespect for the Anglican religion, which he associated with Roman Catholicism and political Royalism.

After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, repairs to the building were begun.

In 1666, the Cathedral Chapter offered the Lady Chapel for the use of French-speaking Huguenots who had fled to Ireland, and after some repair and preparation works, it became known as "L'Eglise Française de St. Patrick". A lease was signed on the 23rd December 1665 and was renewed from time to time until the special services ceased in 1816, when the Huguenots had been fully absorbed into the city population.

In 1668 the roof, in danger of collapsing, was taken down, a new roof being completed by 1671. Buttresses were erected and the west window was replaced with a perpendicular window. Then, in the 1680s, the choir was reformed.

In 1688-90, during the Williamite War in Ireland, James II and his fellow Roman Catholics briefly repossessed St. Patrick's. James attended Mass services there with his Jacobite supporters for a time, however, the victory of the Protestant Williamites in this war meant that the cathedral was restored to Anglican ownership in 1690 when James abandoned Dublin after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne.

Dean Swift and the 1700s

Throughout its long history the cathedral has contributed much to Irish life, and one key aspect of this relates to the writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, who was Dean of the cathedral from 1713 to 1745. Many of his famous sermons and "Irish tracts" (such as the "Drapier's Letters") were given during his stay as Dean. ["History of St. Patrick's Cathedral" by Monck Mason]

His grave and epitaph can be seen in the cathedral, along with those of his friend Stella. Swift took a great interest in the building, its services and music and in what would now be called social welfare, funding an almshouse for poor women and Saint Patrick's Hospital.

The Choir School, which had been founded in 1432, supplied many of its members to take part in the very first performance of Handel's Messiah in 1742.

In 1769 the cathedral spire was added; it remains one of Dublin's landmarks.

In 1792, divine service was temporarily suspended due to the poor condition of the south wall, then two feet out of perpendicular, and of parts of the roof.

Knights of Saint Patrick

From 1783 until 1871 the cathedral served as the Chapel of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick, members of which were the Knights of St. Patrick. With the dis-establishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871 the installation ceremony moved to St. Patrick's Hall, Dublin Castle. The heraldic banners of the knights at the time of the change still hang over the choir stalls to this day.

The 19th century and restoration

By 1805, the north transept was in ruins and the south transept was in a poor condition; urgent work was carried out to the nave roof, held up by scaffolding.

In 1846, the post of Dean of Saint Patrick's was united with that of Dean of Christ Church, a situation which lasted in law until 1872.

An attempt at major restoration began under the direction of Dean Pakenham (Dean, 1843 - 1864), limited by poor economic circumstances. The Lady Chapel was restored, the floor (then raised several feet) reduced to its original level and other urgent matters were at least partly addressed.

In the mid-19th century, a Celtic cross was found buried near the cathedral. This has been preserved and it is thought it may have marked the site of the former holy well.

The major reconstruction, paid for by Benjamin Guinness, in 1860-65, and inspired by the fear that the cathedral was in imminent danger of collapse, means that much of the current building and decoration dates from the Victorian era; medieval chantries were removed among other actions, and few records of the work survive today.

Though the rebuilding ensured the survival of the Cathedral, the failure to preserve records of the scale of the rebuild means that little is known as to how much of the current building is genuinely mediæval and how much is Victorian pastiche. Guinness (a brewer) came in for gentle criticism when he donated a stained glass window of 'Rebecca at the well'; its motto read: 'I was thirsty and ye gave me drink'. His statue is outside the south door.

The other great change for the Cathedral occurred in 1871, when, following disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the newly-independent church in general synod finally resolved the "two cathedral" issue, making Christ Church the sole and undisputed Cathedral of the Dublin Diocese, and St. Patrick's the National Cathedral.

Today - National Cathedral

Today the cathedral is the location for a number of public national ceremonies. Ireland's Remembrance Day ceremonies, hosted by the Royal British Legion and attended by the President of Ireland, take place there every November. Its carol service (the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols), celebrated twice in December, including every 24th December, is a colourful feature of Dublin life.

The funerals of two Irish presidents, Dr Douglas Hyde and Erskine Hamilton Childers took place there, in 1949 and 1974 respectively. At President Hyde's funeral, the whole of the Irish government and opposition contingent, bar Noel Browne and Childers, stayed out in the foyer of the church. This was because at the time of the funeral, the Holy See forbade its members from entering churches that were not Roman Catholic. Because President Childers died in office, his state funeral was a major state occasion. The attendance included the King Baudouin of the Belgians, the Vice-President of the United States, Spiro T. Agnew (representing President Nixon), Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom), British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and former prime minister Edward Heath.

In 2006, its national prominence was used by a group of 18 Afghan refugees seeking asylum, who occupied it for several days before being persuaded to leave without trouble.


There is almost no precedent for a two-cathedral city [Although in Zaragoza, Spain, the cathedral shares its role with a key church, half the Diocesan Chapter being based at each location, and the Dean moving between them every six months.] , and some believe it was intended that St Patrick's, a secular (diocesan clergy who are not members of a religious order, i.e. under a rule and, therefore, 'regular') cathedral, would replace Christ Church, a cathedral managed by an order.

A confrontational situation persisted, with considerable tension, over the decades after the establishment of St. Patrick's, and was eventually settled, more-or-less, by the signing of a six-point agreement of 1300, "Pacis Compositio". Still extant, and in force until 1870, it provided that:
* The consecration and enthronement of the Archbishop of Dublin was to take place at Christ Church - records show that this provision was not always followed, with many Archbishops enthroned in both, and at least two in Saint Patrick's only
* Christ Church had formal precedence, as the mother and senior cathedral of the diocese
* Christ Church was to retain the cross, mitre and ring of each deceased Archbishop of Dublin
* Deceased Archbishops of Dublin were to be buried alternately in each of the two cathedrals, unless they personally willed otherwise
* The annual consecration of chrism oil for the diocese was to take place at Christ Church
* The two cathedrals were to act as one, and shared equally in their freedoms

Over the following centuries, the two cathedrals functioned together in the diocese, until in the period of disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the current designation of one as the "cathedral of Dublin and Glendalough", and one as the "National Cathedral", was developed.

Dean and Chapter

The Cathedral is headed by the Dean, and governed by the entire Chapter, originally 13 in number and having been as many as 30, now numbering up to 28, whose foundation, and whose members' rights, derive from the charter of 1191, as approved by Pope Celestine in 1192.

The members of the Chapter, which today represents in part the whole Church of Ireland, hold one of four "dignities" or special offices, or one of 24 prebends (22 regular, 2 ecumenical), as noted below. One prebend is reserved for the Archbishop of Dublin, an unusual arrangement which is only actively used for elections of the Dean.

Of the 13 original prebends, several were later re-allocated, new ones created to replace them, and later, yet further prebends were designated. For many years, the Chapter comprised the four dignities, the archdeacons of Dublin and Glendalough and twenty four prebendaries, but the archdeacons ceased to be members based on those offices in the late 19th century.

The offices, prebends and their current holders

* Dean: from 1220 to 2007, the Dean held the prebend of Clondalkin (a prebend since 1191), and churches at Kilberry, Clonwanwyr (Cloney) and Clonardmacgory (Tullaghgory), all later in the Parish of Kilberry. In 1228, the Church of Tallaght was attached to the Deanery. At July 2007, the Dean is Robert B. MacCarthy.

* Precentor: the Precentor was given the prebend of a portion of Lusk in 1191, and in 1218, the churches of St. Andrew in Dublin, and Ardree. After several changes, a portion of Lusk was left. At July 2007, the Precentor is the R.C. Reed.

* Chancellor: from 1218 to 2007, the Chancellor held the prebend of Finglas (from the 1191 charter), and the churches of St. Martin's (Dublin) and Killachegar, though the latter ceased by 1280. By 1280 also, St. Martin's no longer provided revenue but St. Werburgh's replaced it. At July 2007, the Chancellor is W.D. Sinnamon, Rector of Taney.

* Treasurer: this office originally held the church of Clonkene and the prebend of St. Audoen's (Dublin), as well as the rectory of St. Mary's (near Dublin Castle). Ballymore-Eustace later replaced Clonkene, and part of Lusk, St. Audoen's. Treasurer at July 2007 is Hubert Cecil Mills, Rector of Killiney.

* Taney: this prebend, relating to an ancient rural diocese, originated with the 1191 charter, was given to the Archdeacon of Dublin about 1275, and became independent in 1883, when the office of Archdeacon of Dublin ceased to hold a place in the Chapter. At July 2007, the Prebendary of Taney is R. Warren, Rector of Tralee (Ardfert Diocese), while the current Rector of Taney is a member of the Chapter by way of another prebend.

* Newcastle, County Dublin: this is a prebend since at least 1227, and was held by the Archdeacon of Glendalough from 1467 to 1872, when that Archdeacon ceased to be a member of the Chapter. At July 2007, the Prebendary of Newcastle is I.M. Ellis, Rector of Newcastle (Dromore Diocese).

* Kilmactalway: this was made a prebend circa 1366, was attached to the office of Precentor for a time, and became independent in 1467. Prebendary of Kilmactalway at July 2007 is M.S. Ryan, Tuam (Tuam Diocese).

* Swords: Swords has been a prebend since the original charter of 1191. At July 2007, the Prebendary of Swords is W.G. Neely, Rector of Keady (Armagh Diocese).

* Yagoe: this has been a prebend since 1191, and was for over 600 years in the patronage of senior Irish aristocrats. The Prebendary of Yagoe at July 2007 is M.C. Kennedy, Rector of Lisnadill & Kildarton (Armagh Diocese).

* St. Audoen: after over 200 years as an adjunct to the Treasury, this became an independent prebend in 1467. The Prebendary of St. Audeon at July 2007 is J.P. Barry, Rector of Comber (Down Diocese).

* Clonmethan: Clonmethan has been a prebend since the 1191 foundation. At July 2007, the Prebendary of Clonmethan is J.O. Mann, Rector of Malone (Connor Diocese).

* Wicklow: attached to the Archdiaconate of Glendalough from the early 1300s to 1467, this has since been independent. Prebendary of Wicklow at July 2007 is K.J. Smyth, Rector of Newtownards (Down Diocese).

* Tymothan: a manor estate, rather than a church, was attached to the Archbishopric until 1247, and has since been independent, though until Disestablishment, often vacant. At July 2007, the Prebendary of Tymothan is D. Williams, Rector of Kinsale (Cork Diocese).

* Mulhuddart: Mulhuddart has a history intertwined with the prebend of Castleknock, the two having been designated from at least 1230. J.M. Catterall, Mostrim (Ardagh Diocese), is Prebendary of Mulhuddart at July 2007.

* Castleknock: with a history intertwined with the prebend of Mulhuddart, this has been designated since at least 1230. At July 2007, the Prebendary of Castleknock is J.N. Battye, Rector of Cregagh (Down Diocese).

* Tipper: this has been a prebend since at least 1227. Prebendary of Tipper at July 2007 is R.S.J. Bourke, Rector of Kingscourt (Meath Diocese).

* Tassagard: this has been a prebend since at least 1227. The Prebendary of Tassagard at July 2007 is L.D.A. Forrest, Dean of Ferns Cathedral (Ferns Diocese).

* Dunlavin: this has been a prebend since no later than 1227. At July 2007, the Prebendary of Dunlavin is A.H.N. McKinley, Rector of Whitechurch (Dublin Diocese).

* Maynooth: a prebend since 1248, the right of presentation was long held by a lay person. Prebendary of Maynooth at July 2007 is V.G Stacey, Rector of Dun Laoghaire (Dublin Diocese).

* Howth: Howth was one of the founding prebends, and at any early stage, the Archbishops removed the prebendal church from Ireland's Eye to Howth village. The Prebendary of Howth at July 2007 is W.P. Quill, Rector of Derg & Termonamongan (Derry Diocese).

* Rathmichael: this has been a prebend since 1227 at latest. At July 2007, Prebendary of Rathmichael is T.R. Williams, Rector of Holy Trinity and St. Silas with Immanuel (Connor Diocese).

* Monmohenock: originally part of the "Economy Estate" which supported cathedral operations, this became a lay-appointed prebend but was a regular prebend by circa 1227. The Prebendary of Monmohenock is P.H. Lawrence, Rector of Julianstown and Archdeacon of Meath (Meath Diocese).

* Tipperkevin: Tipperkevin actually comprised two prebendaries from the early 1300s to circa 1600, lying in the remote parts of County Dublin later separate from the main county, between Kildare and Wicklow. At July 2007, the Prebendary of Tipperkevin is J.W. Crawford, Vicar of the St. Patrick's Cathedral Group of Parishes (Dublin Diocese).

* Donaghmore: this was a prebend from at least 1267. The Prebendary of Donaghmore at July 2007 is R.T. Gillian, Rector of Aghalurcher (Clogher Diocese).

* Stagonil: named as a prebend in the Papal Bull of Celestine III, this does not seem to have functioned independently until 1303. The Prebendary of Stagonil at July 2007 is W. Beare, Dean of Lismore Cathedral (Lismore Diocese).

* Cualaun: after the impedance of the Prebend of Tymothan, and following a gap, from 1317, this prebend without a church provided a seat for the Archbishop of Dublin at the Chapter, used only at the election of a Dean. The Prebendary of Cualan at July 2007 is therefore J.R. Neill.

* Clondalkin: transferred from the Dean in 2007, as one of two newly-authorised posts of Ecumenical Canon, this is now held by the Roman Catholic cleric and academic, Enda McDonagh.

* Finglas: transferred from the Chancellor in 2007, as one of two newly-authorised posts of Ecumenical Canon, this is now held by the Methodist Minister, Kenneth Newell.

Ecumenical Canons

As noted above, in late June and early July 2007, Saint Patrick's appointed two ecumenical canons, one Presbyterian and one Roman Catholic, who can be invited by the Dean to say Morning or Evening Prayer in the cathedral, read Holy Scripture and assist at baptisms, marriages, funerals or celebration of Holy Communion, as well as participating in the meetings and decisions of the Chapter.

Friends of Saint Patrick's Cathedral

The Cathedral is supported by a volunteer organisation, with both subscribing (annual and five-year) and Life members, who perform various tasks and contribute materially to the work and fabric of the Cathedral. In addition, there are a range of voluntary groups performing specific tasks, such as bell-ringing, welcoming of guests and cleaning.


The cathedral, which generally receives no State funding, welcomes all, with a chapel for those who come simply to pray and a small fee for those who wish to sight-see. The Cathedral website mentioned in 2006 that visitor numbers had reached around 300,000 a year. There are a range of publications and other items in a gift shop, some of which are now available directly "via" the Cathedral's website.

Points of Note

Legend has it that Saint Patrick's was the origin of the expression " [] chancing your arm" (meaning to take a risk), when Gerald, Earl of Kildare cut a hole in a door there, still to be seen, and thrust his arm through it, in an effort to call a truce with another Earl, James of Ormond, in 1492.

Choir School and Grammar School

The Choir School continues and although originally all-male, now also admits girls; a Cathedral Girls' Choir was founded in 2000 and sings once or twice a week. The girls are mostly drawn from either the choir school or St. Patrick's Grammar School, which provides a secondary education. It is no longer compulsory for grammar school pupils to be in the choirs although many of the girls are and a few boys (fewer as they are no longer allowed in the choir once their voices break). Choirboys were considered professional singers and were actually paid weekly for their services. They also sang at weddings for the more well off and received payment for this too. They received free education. While non choirboy students had 2 months' holidays during the summer, half of the boys were on duty every day during the summer and had to attend choir practice and 2 services each weekday, one service on Saturday and 2 on Sunday. This arrangement persisted until 1998.

Cathedral Group of Parishes

As part of a reorganisation of city-based parishes (many with long histories), several were attached to each of the Dublin cathedrals. The Saint Patrick's Cathedral Group of Parishes has one other operational church, St. Catherine and St. James, Donore Avenue (formerly St. Victor's), which is the working centre of the parish.


Bernard, J.H. (Provost of Trinity College Dublin and former Dean of St. Patrick's); The Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick, A History & Description of the Building, with a Short Account of the Deans; London: G. Bell and Sons, 1924


ee also

* Deans of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

External links

* [ St. Patrick's Cathedral website]
* [ St. Patrick's Cathedral (Photo Gallery)]

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