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St. Patrick...Two Cathedrals Two Continents

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Ireland

The present Cathedral building, in terms of shape and size, dates from 1220-1259. It was constructed on the site of an ancient well (which was supposed to have been used by Saint Patrick himself). The building replaced an earlier (probably wooden) church. The fabric itself was made from local limestone and imported stone from Bristol.

The building constantly evolved over the course of the next 700 years. In 1270 the Lady Chapel (later to be known as the French Chapel because of its connection with the Huguenots) was added. In 1316 a violent storm blew down the spire of the building and in 1362 the Cathedral suffered substantial damage after an accidental fire. In 1370 repairs to the nave and the tower were carried out under the direction of Archbishop Minot. (The tower was later named Minot’s Tower). This structure also collapsed (1394) destroying much of the west end of the Cathedral in the process. Eventually the tower was rebuilt but was never renamed. This version still survives today.

After the English Reformation, Saint Patrick’s became an Anglican Cathedral and modifications were made to its interior to suit new theological changes. Many statues were removed from alcoves and rich decoration was stripped from ceilings such as the Lady Chapel. The turbulence of the period led to neglect of the fabric and the Cathedral suffered further during the reign of Edward VI. The Cathedral was demoted to the status of a parish church and was used as a court house and for a short period as a university. The building was restored to cathedral status in 1555 under Queen Mary and some money was allocated for repair and restoration. In 1560 one of the first public clocks in Dublin was added to the tower and in 1700, a spire was added.

By the start of the 19th century the Cathedral was once again in a dire state of disrepair. The north transept of the Cathedral (which was used as a separate chapel) was deemed unsafe for use. An effort was made by Dean Pakenham to raise funds for necessary repair however this did not come close to the quantities of funds needed. The Cathedral was handed a lifeline by Benjamin Lee Guinness who wrote a letter to the board in 1860 offering to bear the total cost of the restoration. However, his sole stipulation was that he be not interfered with by the Cathedral board in this work.

Between 1860 and 1865 the Cathedral was closed for massive restoration and repair. Work concentrated on the nave and the transepts. A new ceiling was added to the nave. (Previously visitors could see up into the roof space of the building.) As a result, the height of the west window was reduced. The floor of the nave was raised to the same level of the Choir. Probably the greatest interior change to the building was the removal of the screens which separated the nave, choir and transepts. Benjamin Lee Guinness did not feel that these were in keeping with a post-reformation Cathedral where the clergy and congregation were treated as equals. In 1865 the Cathedral was reopened in an elaborate ceremony at which Benjamin Lee Guinness was presented with a book of thanks compiled of signatures from representatives of the Cathedral and from citizens of the city. Overall Guinness spent approximately 150,000 pounds on the restoration of the building.

The building today

Today work continues on an almost daily basis to ensure that the Cathedral does not fall into a state of disrepair again. Funding for this work is generated from the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the building each year. Major restoration works were carried out in the Cathedral’s Lady Chapel in 2012/2013, allowing visitors to get a glimpse back in time to what the space would originally have looked like. Soon, work will begin on giving the Cathedral a much needed new roof, to ensure that Saint Patrick’s Cathedral remains at the heart of Dublin for many years to come.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York

Laying the foundations of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, started around 1858.

The story of New York’s great cathedral mirrors the story of the city itself. Created to affirm the ascendance of religious freedom and tolerance, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built in the democratic spirit, paid for not only by the contributions of thousands of poor immigrants but also by the largesse of 103 prominent citizens who pledged $1,000 each. St. Patrick’s Cathedral proves the maxim that no generation builds a cathedral. It is rather, a kind of ongoing conversation linking generations past, present and future.

The cornerstone of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was laid in 1858 and her doors swept open in 1879. It was over 180 years ago when Archbishop John Hughes announced his inspired ambition to build the “new” St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In a ceremony at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Archbishop Hughes proposed “for the glory of Almighty God, for the honor of the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin, for the exaltation of Holy Mother Church, for the dignity of our ancient and glorious Catholic name, to erect a Cathedral in the City of New York that may be worthy of our increasing numbers, intelligence, and wealth as a religious community, and at all events, worthy as a public architectural monument, of the present and prospective crowns of this metropolis of the American continent.”

Ridiculed as “Hughes’ Folly,” as the proposed, near-wilderness site was considered too far outside the city, Archbishop Hughes, nonetheless, persisted in his daring vision of building the most beautiful Gothic Cathedral in the New World in what he believed would one day be “the heart of the city.” Neither the bloodshed of the Civil War nor the resultant lack of manpower or funds would derail the ultimate fulfillment of Hughes’ dream and architect, James Renwick’s bold plan.


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