30 June 2009

Petertide ordinations in Cork

Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral ... three deacons were ordained the cathedral last night (Photograph: Charlie Cravero)

Patrick Comerford

Traditionally, Anglicans refer to ordinations at this time of the year as “Petertide ordinations.” For the last few weeks, I have been attending ordinations and licensings in cathedrals and churches throughout Ireland. But, as yesterday was the Feast day of Saint Peter, last night’s ordinations in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork was a truly “Petertide” occasion.

Three new deacons were ordained in Cork last night by the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross: the Revd Anne Skuse, the Revd Adrian Moran and the Revd Patrick Burke. And Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral was a truly splendid setting for the occasions.

Before we processed in, the Revd Peter Hanna, from Inishannon, reminded me that he too had been ordained deacon in this cathedral on Saint Peter’s Day ... 21 years ago.

Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral has been described by Peter Galloway as “a magnificent and startling creation in the French Gothic style,” and is unique in Ireland because of its style and design. It is the most richly decorated and one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the Church of Ireland.

Saint Fin Barre, who has given his name to the cathedral in the southern capital, is closely associated with an early monastic settlement at Gougane Barra, at the sources of the River Lee. Local tradition says that the site of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral has been a place of worship since the seventh century, and that his monastic school was one of the five principal monastic schools in Ireland until the 10th century. However, no trace of the early foundation remains, and there are even few traces of the mediaeval buildings.

A square stone font, some carved heads, a piscina, and a carved doorway -- now inserted in the south boundary wall – are all that survive from the mediaeval cathedral. The oldest communion vessels still in use include a silver gilt chalice (1536) and a silver chalice and patens made by the Cork Huguenot goldsmith Robert Goble (1712).

The mediaeval cathedral was severely damaged during the siege of Cork (1689-1690) when it came under fire from the nearby Elizabeth Fort. Bishop Peter Browne laid the foundation stone of a new cathedral in 1735. That was a small plain classical building, incorporating the tower and spire of the earlier cathedral.

In 1865 the mediaeval cathedral was demolished because it was felt to be inadequate for the needs and the dignity of a cathedral and the size of the diocese. However, the fine entrance gate to the 18th century cathedral was preserved.

The present cathedral was built by William Burges, who was appointed the architect for a new cathedral in 1862, following a competition which had 63 entries. The requirements of the competition included a stipulation that the new building should not cost more than £15,000, and Burges, who was only 35 at the time, was criticised by other architects because the costs of the towers, spires and carving were not included in his estimate. In the end some £100,000 was spent on the building.

The foundation stone for the new cathedral was laid by Bishop John Gregg in 1865, and the cathedral was consecrated on Saint Andrew’s Day, 30 November 1870, although the towers and spires were not completed in 1879.

Burges designed the overall iconographic scheme for the cathedral windows, and maintained control over all stages of the work. He also designed all the sculpture, mosaics, furniture and metalwork. Because of this, the cathedral preserves a remarkable unity of style throughout.

Sitting in the chapter stalls, between Archdeacon Robin Bantry White and a past archdeacon, Bishop Michael Mayes, I found myself gazing up at the window in the north transept with its wonderful depiction of the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.

Outside, on the pinnacle of the sanctuary roof, the Resurrection Angel is made from copper and covered with gold leaf. It was a gift from Burges to the cathedral and in many ways has become a symbol of the city itself.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin.

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