The long spanning history of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin actually dates back over a millennium ago, to the year 450 when St Patrick himself was said to have baptised the first of Ireland’s Christians. Since then, St Patrick’s Cathedral has reflected and been forced to shift with the political atmosphere of Ireland and of course played an integral part in the country’s religious practices. Between the rich history and the beautiful Gothic architecture, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin should be a must-see on any Dublin tourist’s list of things to do. That being said, even if you don’t have a chance to visit, seeing as St Patrick’s Cathedral is the the tallest cathedral in the country, it will become an inescapable landmark during your visit in Dublin so you might as well learn about the towers that will be in the background of many of your photos.
Although it is believed that the first church on the ground of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin was constructed in the 5th century, the cathedral you see standing there today was built between the years 1190 and 1270. Not too much is known about the location before St Patrick’s Cathedral was constructed, but it is believed that it was in a well at this location of St Patrick’s Close that St Patrick baptized Ireland’s first Christians. This cathedral was constructed to honour Ireland’s patron saint and serves as the National Cathedral for the Church of Ireland.
Though the construction of what would become St Patrick’s Cathedral began right next to St Patrick’s sacred baptism-well in around 1190, it would be John Comyn, who would become known as Dublin’s first Anglo-Norman archbishop, that would elevate the cathedral to a collegiate church in 1192.
Only a year or so after the church’s erection, Comyn would form the St Patrick’s Cathedral’s charter, in which he assigned the roles in the clergy. This allowed for thirteen prebendaries who would be given land to live on.
Seeing as the clergy members were living on the land surrounding the church, over the subsequent years a series of buildings including homes and legal jurisdiction offices were set up around St Patrick’s Cathedral. Although John Comyn was the true founder of St Patrick’s Cathedral, the church would not become known as a cathedral until Comyn was replaced with his successor Archbishop Henry de Loundres.
Under Henry de Loundres, who was elected as Archbishop in 1212, St Patrick’s Cathedral would become the marvel it is recognized as today. Henry de Loundres would follow in his predecessor John Comyn’s footsteps and gradually help to shape the cathedral’s clergy, introducing new charters and allowing for new canons and church offices.
Henry de Loundres would also oversee a good portion of St Patrick’s Cathedral’s construction and under his lead, the cathedral became the largest church in the country. In fact, it is the larger one of two Church of Ireland cathedrals.
This construction was aided by King Henry III, who was the King of England while Henry de Loundres was acting Archbishop. The two of them raised money through donations to help fund the significant work necessary to create the massive church buildings in the ornamental Early English Gothic style that St Patrick’s Cathedral is known for still today.
By the 14th century, Dublin’s churches were led by Archbishop Ferings who in 1311 helped found the Medieval College of Dublin on the St Patrick’s Cathedral grounds. Over the subsequent years St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin would endure many damages including fires and floods that would force repeated reconstructions.
Until the 16th century, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was a Roman Catholic Church. However, when the waves of the revolutionary English Reformation reached Ireland, the great Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was not spared. During battles throughout the 1530’s, English soldiers would not only deface holy Catholic images, but also collapse some of the cathedral’s infrastructure.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was officially ordained an Anglican Church in 1537. Over the years, following Saint Patrick’s Cathedral transition to Anglicanism, the mighty cathedral would lose much of it’s prestige and status, until eventually being demoted to a parish church.
All of the walls that still depicted Roman Catholic images were repainted and the King of England, then King Edward VI, ordained some of the church’s buildings as a grammar school. St Patrick’s Cathedral would maintain its low status as a parish church until 1555 where a charter restored many of the church’s freedoms, privileges and status which had been stripped by England’s monarchs.
Although the Dublin church was regranted its status and privileges, over the next century St Patrick’s Cathedral would continue to endure many damages similar to what it had seen just after the majority of the construction had been completed in the 14th century.
Its unideal location between two branches of the River Poddle meant that it was constantly threatened by floods, and by the beginning of the 17th century the once grand St Patrick’s Cathedral was essentially in ruins.
During 1642-1651, Britain endured the English Civil War. During this time, St Patrick’s Cathedral was in its worst shape in history. It was not until 1660, when the monarchy was restored in England that reconstruction finally began to repair the destroyed St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Renovations in the 17th Century
Over the course of the second half the 17th century, St Patrick’s Cathedral would undergo many renovations including an entire roof replacement. At the same time as these renovations, a portion of the cathedral was given to the Huguenots, who were French Protestants, who had fled and found refuge in Ireland throughout the 1600s.
The Huguenots inhabited the Lady Chapel building from 1666 until 1816 when the French Protestant group had finally assimilated into Dublin. Towards the end of the 17th century, St Patrick’s Cathedral shortly returned to Catholicism but after only a few years Anglicanism was restored.
Although the 1700s, similar to the centuries before, was marked by many renovations and restorations to the cathedral’s infrastructure, it was during the 18th century that St Patrick’s Cathedral started to have a notable cultural impact.
Between the years of 1713-1745, Dublin native Jonathan Swift was the acting Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral. During this time, he became the author of Gulliver’s Travels. Following his death in 1745, Jonathan Swift was actually buried in St Patrick’s Cathedral. At the same time as Jonathan Swift’s time as the cathedral’s dean, the St Patrick’s Cathedral’s Choir started to gain traction and took part in Handel’s first performance of Messiah.
By the start of the 19th century, parts of the St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin were once again in ruins. Through the subsequent years, the cathedral continued to fall apart, held together by temporary solutions such as scaffolding, due to the lack of economic funds or state funding. It was not until the second half of the 19th century that St Patrick’s Cathedral would receive its much needed reparations.
Many of the renovations were funded by Benjamin Guinness, who is the grandson of Arthur Guinness the founder of Guinness Brewery.
Throughout 1860-1865, the Dublin cathedral received major renovations in order to save the historic building from collapsing. However, this rushed reconstruction meant that many of the images, decor and records from the medieval structures did not survive. Although St Patrick’s Cathedral went through many renovations since its Dublin erection in 1190, it was this renovation in 1860-1865 where much of the history was lost, which explains why not much is known about this grand cathedral.
Today, St Patrick’s Cathedral is one of Dublin’s iconic landmarks and is visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year. Although it is the largest and the tallest cathedral in Ireland, it is not these architectural details that make this Dublin cathedral different from just about every cathedral in Ireland.
What sets it apart from the rest is that it doesn’t have a bishop as cathedrals do. Rather, it is led by a dean. The cathedral is not only a historical tourist attraction in Dublin, as it is still currently used to host national events such as Ireland’s Remembrance Day ceremony. It is also supported and funded by a volunteer organisation.
What To See When Visiting
Seeing as St Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Ireland, the church’s grounds offer plenty to see and do. The choir school, which was actually founded in 1432, is still active today and they perform every weekday. The Sung Martins group perform at 9am and the choral concert is at 5:30pm, so no matter what time you arrive you can catch one of the cathedral’s incredible vocal performances.
Don’t worry if you are more into history than choir music, since there are plenty of interesting things to see scattered around the cathedral’s infrastructures. As mentioned above, the Dublin cathedral holds the tombs of the famous Dublin born author, Jonathan Swift and his lover Stella. Though this is one of St Patrick’s Cathedral’s most visited attractions, there are many more artifacts that commemorate other people of importance throughout the cathedral.
There are items to commemorate the country’s first president, Douglas Hyde, and the famous composer, Turlough O’Carolan, who was actually a blind harpist.
One of the most iconic monuments in the Dublin cathedral, which truly encapsulates the country’s charm, is simply a hole in a door. The reason this specific hole in this specific door is so famous and beloved is because it is through this hole that Lord Kildare shook hands with enemy Lord Ormonde, almost losing his arm in the process.
Seeing as the cathedral is huge and every inch of the infrastructure is packed with rich historical significance, many choose to take a walking tour, which takes you through all of the history of this ancient location in only an hour.
Although you can read the history above, nothing will set in your mind the true significance of the history like learning about it from an expert that you can ask questions to, while standing in the location where it happened. The tour guide will go into detail about how the country managed to construct such an incredible feat of architecture that still stands today, despite all of the floods, fires and storms that led to so many renovations.
You will have a behind the scenes explanation about the different esteemed leaders and visitors of the cathedral as well as a brief history of those who impacted the country and cathedral’s history such as Oliver Cromwell.
No matter how in depth a tour guide can be, you can technically learn all of this information online. However, what you can only do on the tour is climb the spiral staircase that leads to secret doorways where you can get sprawling views of Dublin from the roof, explore the bell tower and get right up close to the stained class windows.
St Patrick’s Cathedral has played an integral part in Ireland’s, more specifically Dublin’s history for almost 1000 years. Much like the country’s history, St Patrick’s Cathedral has an intriguing history filled with power struggles, rich culture and overcoming even the worst tragedies. St Patrick’s Cathedral is unmissable for any Dublin tourist, quite literally unmissable since it is one of the tallest buildings in the city which can be seen from all of the streets around. Dublin is amazing – whether you are a Dublin history buff, an architecture lover, a church choir admirer, searching for holy church experience or just looking for nice gardens and sweeping views of the city, St Patrick’s Cathedral is a must visit destination.