21 July 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
53, Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh

Saint Colman’s Cathedral, the Gothic gem by Pugin and Ashlin, is the crowning glory of colourful Cobh and its harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I had planned to be in High Leigh these days for the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). But the pandemic means the conference has become a virtual event that began on Monday and that continues until later today.

Before this day becomes a busy day, with much of it devoted to the USPG conference, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning before the day gets busy to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This week’s theme of island churches continues this morning (21 July 2021) with photographs from Saint Colman’s Cathedral on Cobh, Co Cork.

Saint Colman’s Cathedral was designed by Edward Welby Pugin and George Coppinger Ashlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It could be said that Saint Colman’s cathedral crowns the harbour town of Cobh, standing on high precipice looking out across Cork Harbour.

This is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cloyne, which covering much of east and north Co Cork. Despite its mediaeval appearance, construction only began in 1868, and the cathedral was not completed for more than half a century, due primarily to steeply rising costs and revisions of the original plans.

The architects were AWN Pugin’s son and son-in-law, Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875), and George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921), who was born in Cork.

Ten years of extensive planning and fundraising in the parishes in the diocese were carried out before the cathedral was built. The Queenstown Cathedral Building Committee, made up of leading parishioners and chaired by the bishop, faced many complex problems.

During the planning years (1857-1867), the committee debated the style of architecture, the approximate dimensions of the planned cathedral, and providing a temporary church.

According to a plaque in the south transept, the total cost of the cathedral was £235,000. The project was supported financially by parishioners in what was then known as Queenstown and by prominent citizens, who are named in the parish records. The Building Fund also received substantial contributions from Australia and the US.

The draft plans by Pugin and Ashlin were approved by the Building Committee in November 1867. A new temporary parish church opened for worship by early 1868, The old parish church was taken down in February, the site was expanded and developed for building the cathedral, and Bishop Keane cut the first sod on 25 April 1868.

The sharply shelving hillside posed many problems for the contractors who did not have today’s machinery that makes site-development comparatively easy.

Bishop Keane laid the cathedral foundation stone on 25 July 1868, and laid the first stone of the main building on 30 September 1868. The stone had a container with a parchment recording in Latin details of the ceremony.

When the contractors had carried up the external walls to an average of 12 ft, Bishop Keane consulted the architects about having he plans more elaborate plans. The whole character of the work was changed, and, with the exception of the ground plan, none of the original plans were adhered to.

These extra works increased by many thousands of cubic feet of stone the quantity already provided for and substantially increased the cost. Bishop Keane did not live to see the completion of his cherished project, and he died in January 1874. His successor, Bishop John McCarthy, adhered strictly to Bishop Keane’s vision.

Eventually, because of extensive commitments in England and Ireland, Pugin and Ashlin agreed to divide their work, with Ashlin attending to their contracts in Ireland, including Cobh cathedral, while Pugin took responsibility for their projects in England.

Long after EW Pugin died in 1875, Ashlin took on the services of a young Dublin architect, Thomas Aloysius Coleman (1865-1950), a talented draughtsman, to assist in completing the project. Coleman, who helped to bring the cathedral to completion, later become Ashlin’s partner, and the partnership of Ashlin and Coleman continued until 1950.

The erection of the limestone spire – the last of the major external works – was to complete the cathedral’s graceful outline. The detailed drawings of Ashlin and Coleman showed an octagonal spire merging harmoniously with the quadrangular tower and its surrounding pinnacles.

The Cork firm of J Maguire began building the spire in 1911. For four years, stone masons worked to complete the gracefully tapering spire. The last scaffolding surrounding the spire was taken down in March 1915, and the work on the cathedral was virtually completed.

The clerk of works, Charles Guilfoyle Doran (1835-1909), supervised the project until he died on 19 March 1909, when the cathedral was almost complete. Doran was also a leading figure in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the Fenian Brotherhood.

The cathedral was finally consecrated on 24 August 1919 by the Bishop of Cloyne, Robert Browne, in the presence of the Archbishop Michael Logue of Armagh, Archbishop John Harty of Cashel and Archbishop Thomas Gilmartin of Tuam, with Archbishop Gilmartin celebrating High Mass.

Saint Colman’s is a gem of neo-Gothic church architecture by Pugin, Ashlin and Coleman.

The Gothic grandeur of the interior, the delicate carvings, the beautiful arches and the mellow lighting combine to life the human spirit.

The carvings recall the history of the Church in Ireland from the time of Saint Patrick to today.

The interior decorations include lists of the Bishops of Cloyne, from Saint Colman in the sixth century to Bishop William Crean, who became Bishop of Cloyne in 2013. The names include Thaddaeus McCarthy, Bishop of Cloyne (1490-1492), who died at Ivera in north Italy as he was returning to Ireland from Rome – he was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1895.

Three other bishops also died in exile: Robert Barry (1662) in Nantes; John Sleyne in Lisbon (1712); and John O’Brien in Lyons (1769).

The High Altar in Cobh Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The tower has a carillon with 49 bells, one of the largest in Europe, installed in 1916. An automated system strikes the hour and 15-minute intervals while it also rings the bells in appropriate form for Masses, funerals, weddings and events.

The carillon is also played on special occasions and generally every Sunday afternoon.

Each year on the anniversary day of the consecration of the cathedral, candles are lighted before the 12 crosses on the nave pillars that mark the places where the walls were first anointed with chrism.

Bishop Keane had the architects change the whole character of the work at an early stage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 13: 1-9 (NRSVA):

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!’

Inside Cobh Cathedral, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 July 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for open minds and sensitive ears, so that we may better listen to voices from the margins. May we work better to bring about justice for the oppressed.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The rose window and the organ in Cobh Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

An example of the interior decoration in the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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