06 February 2013

Strolling through the mediaeval capital of Ireland

Saint Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny on Tuesday night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

At the end of a working day at the Dublin and Glendalough Clergy Conference in Kilkenny today [6 February 2012], I was at a reception for the clergy in the Deanery beside Saint Canice’s Cathedral.

Earlier in the evening, we had taken part in Eucharist in the cathedral, at which Archbishop Michael Jackson presided.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had visited Saint Mary’s, the Roman Catholic Cathedral, which claims to preserve the body of the third century girl martyr, Saint Victoria.

The supposed body of Saint Victoria in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In fact, we know little about Saint Victoria. It is said that Victoria and her sister Anatolia refused importunate suitors. Both were jailed and starved by their suitors but persisted in refusing marriage. Anatolia was converted to Christianity and converted many people in Picenum before being denounced for her faith.

Anatolia was tortured and executed at Thora on Lake Velino in Italy. When her sister Victoria refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, she too was executed, perhaps at Tribulano, at the age of 14½. But her guard was converted by their example and he too was martyred.

Perhaps the story of these sister martyrs is no more than a pious myth, but they are commemorated in the some parts of the church on 23 December, and Saint Victoria’s body is on display in Saint Mary’s Cathedral here in Kilkenny.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny ... stands on the highest point in Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Saint Mary’s is built in Gothic style of local limestone and stands on the highest point in Kilkenny, on the site of an old mansion, Burrell’s Hall, the first centre for Saint Kieran’s College.

The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid in 1843 by Bishop Kinchella. In the foundation stone he placed a sealed bottle containing a copy of the Rules of the Christian Doctrine Society, along with a copy of the Kilkenny Journal, some silver coins and a commemorative plate.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1857 by Bishop Edmond Walsh of Ossory. At that ceremony, the new cathedral received relics of Saint Clement, brought from the Catacombs in Rome, and of the martyrs Saint Cosmos and Saint Damien.

But the wax most spectacular and publicly visible relic in the cathedral is the figure of Saint Victoria can be seen in the North Transept under the Saint Margaret Mary Altar. In front of this wax figure is a chalice that is said to hold the preserved blood of this early saint. Both were sent to Kilkenny by the Pope in 1845 while Saint Mary’s Cathedral was being built.

Perhaps, in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, Kilkenny Catholics needed another Victoria – however mythical – to expresses and assert a newfound confidence.

The cathedral also has a Sacred Heart altar with a statue and altar rails designed by James Pearse, the Birmingham-born Unitarian who was the father of Padraig Pearse, one of the 1916 leaders.

The cathedral suffered many unfortunate changes in 1977, so that the former sanctuary area now looks like a storage area for chairs, cushions and furniture.

Rothe House on Parliament Street, Kilkenny, this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

During my walk through this mediaeval city earlier in the afternoon, I also paid my nodding respects to the Langton House which had been a home briefly to previous generations of the Comerford family in the late 18th and early19th century, visited Rothe House, the home of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, and passed some delightful time, without measure or counting in the Book Centre on High Street.

In the Book Centre, I bought Professor Michael Olden’s new book with the beguiling title, The Life & Times of Patrick Comerford OSA (1586-1652), Counter-Reformation Bishop of Waterford and Lismore 1629-1652.

I pored over this volume in Mug Shot, a welcoming and delightful coffee shop beside Saint Mary’s Cathedral, in James Street, before making my way on up to Saint Canice’s Cathedral. Oh, the sweet delights of a double espresso where they know what they are doing.

Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, seen from the grounds of Deanery in Kilkenny in the late evening light (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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