31 December 2018

Ten cathedrals I have
visited in 2018

The Blue Crucifix … an icon by Adrienne Lord in the north transept of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

In previous years, in my end-of-year reviews at the end of December, I have often summarised the year’s events in my life, as well providing my own commentary on the year in news, sport, and church life.

However, newspapers and television stations provide substantial summaries of the past year at this time of the year, and the consequences of ‘Brexit’ and the Trump presidency have been devastating and depressing at one and the same time throughout 2018.

Instead, I have decided to end the year on note of celebration over the next few days, looking back at ten countries I have visited this year, ten cathedrals I have visited in Ireland, ten synagogues I have visited across Europe, and ten places I have visited in Ireland this year.

During the year, as Precentor, I tried to visit each of the cathedrals and former cathedrals in this diocese: Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway, as well as the former Saint Brendan’s Cathedral in Ardfert, Co Kerry, Saint Fachan’s Cathedral, Kilfenora, Co Clare, and the site of the former Saint Alibeus’s Cathedral in Emly, Co Tipperary.

I have presided at the Eucharist and preached in Saint Mary’s, Limerick, given a lecture on Prince Milo of Montenegro as part of the history programme marking the celebration of the cathedral’s 850th anniversary, and was invited to make a presentation to Stephen Cleobury after the concert in Saint Mary’s by the Choir of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

Needless to say, as Precentor, I am not a visitor in a cathedral where I am the precentor. But I have visited at least ten other cathedrals in Ireland in the past 12 months.

The Malabar community from Kerala in India at a special ecumenical service in Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

1, Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick:

As Ireland awaited the arrival of Pope Francis, I was invited to take part in a special service in Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick, in August to mark the opening of the World Meeting of Families.

The service of Solemn Evening Prayer was entitled Le Chéile le Críost and was led by Bishop Brendan Leahy of the Roman Catholic Church and Bishop Kenneth Kearon of the Church of Ireland. Other participants included the Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the Very Revd Niall Sloane, who read the Epistle reading, the Methodist minister in Adare, the Revd Ruth Watt, who joined me in leading the intercessions, and members of the Italian, Spanish and Polish community.

We were led in and out of the cathedral by members of the Malabar community from Kerala in India, carrying colourful parasols.

Inside the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

2, The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Ennis, Co Clare:

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the junction of Station Road and O’Connell Street in Ennis, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killaloe. It was designed by the architect Dominick Madden, who had been disgraced earlier in his career, accused of stealing furniture from the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, but who had been commissioned the previous year to design the new cathedrals in Ballina, Co Mayo, and Tuam, Co Galway.

Madden’s designs display a very simple form of Gothic that shows little of the influence of AWN Pugin. The interior was completed under the supervision of JJ McCarthy in 1861. The arcades and piers, the panelled ceiling and the gallery at the west end are his work, as were the altars and the reredos.

For many years, this was officially a pro-cathedral for the Diocese of Killaloe, and it was not dedicated as a cathedral until 1990.

The Ascension depicted in the East Window in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

3, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh:

I was in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, during this year’s General Synod of the Church of Ireland, when I was one of the hosts for the ecumenical guests. After a long day in London at a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel), I travelled to Armagh for the opening of the General Synod on Ascension Day [10 May].

At the opening Eucharist, I appreciated that the East Window in the cathedral depicts the Ascension.

The ruins of Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Ardagh stand on a site said to date back to the fifth century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

4, The site of Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Ardagh, Co Longford:

On the way back from Wineport Lodge near Athlone, Co Westmeath, in August, I visited the village of Ardagh, Co Longford, between Longford town and Edgeworthstown.

The ruins of Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Ardagh mark one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in Co Longford. These ruins are to the south-east of Saint Patrick’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, in a corner of the graveyard beside the road. Tradition says Saint Patrick founded a church at Ardagh in the mid-fifth century, around 454, although there is no historical or archaeological evidence to support these legends, and Saint Mel is regarded as the founder of the Diocese of Ardagh.

Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, on the evening David McDonnell was installed as Dean of Ossory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

5, Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny:

I was in Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, at the end of August for the installation of the Very Revd David McDonnell as Dean of Ossory, in succession to Katharine Poulton.

It was good to meet so many friends, colleagues and former students, and because I stayed overnight in Kilkenny, there was extra time to enjoy what I still regards as the most beautiful and interesting city in Ireland.

The deans of this cathedral in the 16th century included Edmund Comerford, who was also Bishop of Ferns, and his son William Comerford. Sometimes, someone who knows me only too well, says that at times she has to peel me out of Kilkenny if I am going to leave.

Inside Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, designed by John Roberts and built in 1773-1779 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

6, Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford:

Waterford is unique as an Irish city, not in having two cathedrals, but in having two cathedrals, one Anglican and one Roman Catholic, with the same formal dedication and designed by the same architect. On my way to Kilkenny last Thursday [30 August 2018], I stopped in Waterford to visit both cathedrals.

Both the Church of Ireland cathedral on Cathedral Square – Christ Church Cathedral, or more formally, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and the Roman Catholic cathedral on Barronstrand Street – Holy Trinity Cathedral, were designed in the neoclassical style by John Roberts (1712-1796), whose imagination gave shape to much of Georgian Waterford, and I visited both cathedrals on my way from Askeaton to Kilkenny for the installation of Dean David McDonnell.

During the demolition of the earlier cathedral, the mediaeval vestments missing since Patrick Comerford, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, left for France in 1651, were found in the crypt. In a gesture of ecumenical goodwill centuries before ecumenism became standard practice, they were presented by Bishop Richard Chenevix to his Roman Catholic counterpart, Bishop Peter Creagh, and they are now kept in the Museum of Treasures in Waterford and the National Museum in Dublin.

Inside Holy Trinity Cathedral, Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

7, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Waterford:

The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity on Barronstrand Street, Waterford, was also designed by John Roberts (1714-1796), the great architect of Georgian Waterford, and is the oldest Roman Catholic cathedral in Ireland. Both cathedrals are part of the Georgian glory of Waterford, and Holy Trinity Cathedral is an important landmark on Barronstrand Street in the heart of the city.

John Roberts had built Christ Church Cathedral, the new Anglican cathedral on the site of Waterford’s mediaeval Gothic cathedral, in 1773, and this was finally completed in 1792. A year later, in 1793, Roberts was invited to build a new Roman Catholic cathedral on the site of the old Penal chapel and an adjoining plot of land on Barronstrand Street provided by the city corporation.

The cathedral was built in 1793-1796, making it Ireland’s oldest Roman Catholic cathedral. It was built while William Egan was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1775-1796) at a total cost of £20,000.

The Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles, Co Tipperary, was designed by JJ McCarthy and built in 1865-1879 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

8, The Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, Co Tipperary:

During one of my day-trips from Askeaton this year using publish transport, I visited Thurles, Co Tipperary, and the Cathedral of the Assumption, the Roman Catholic cathedral for Cashel, in July. This striking cathedral is unusual for its style and stands on the site of earlier chapels that at one time were the only Roman Catholic churches in Thurles.

The cathedral forms part of a group the other church buildings on Cathedral Street, including the Bishop’s Palace, the former seminary at Saint Patrick’s College, the presbytery and the neighbouring convents.

The style of this cathedral is informed by North Italian Romanesque architecture, and both the façade and the Baptistry are modelled on those at the cathedral in Pisa. The exterior was designed by the architect James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882), who claimed the mantle of AWN Pugin.

The Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Co Westmeath … a landmark building in the Irish Midlands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

9, The Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, Co Westmeath:

The Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, is a landmark building in the Irish Midlands. The campanile towers and the dome dominate the skyline and approaches to Mullingar, and the silhouette of the cathedral has become a symbol of Mullingar. This is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meath and it towers above the centre of the town.

Mullingar Cathedral is yet another statement by the Dublin-based architect Ralph Byrne of the confidence of Roman Catholicism in post-independence Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s, like his cathedral in Cavan and his strong emphatic churches in Athlone, Co Westmeath, and Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

I visited Mullingar Cathedral while I was staying at Wineport Lodge near Athlone in August. The cathedral was formally opened and dedicated on 6 September 1936, when, at the request of Pope Pius XI, it became the first cathedral in the world to be dedicated to Christ the King.

The works of art for which Mullingar Cathedral is most noted are the mosaics in the chapels of Saint Anne and Saint Patrick. These are the work of the Russian-born mosaic artist Boris Anrep, a celebrated artist and socialite, best known for his monumental mosaics at the National Gallery, Westminster Cathedral, and the Bank of England in London.

Visitors lost in the new labyrinth in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

10, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin:

For many years I was not a visitor to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, for I was a canon and a member of the chapter until I moved to Askeaton last year. But I visited the cathedral last week to see the new stone labyrinth in the redesigned grounds of the cathedral. Funding from Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland enabled the redesign and landscaping of the grounds.

Inside the cathedral, I also saw the heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole, which went on public display last month [14 November] following an ecumenical service of dedication and thanksgiving to mark the return of the heart of the city’s patron saint.

The saint’s heart was stolen from the cathedral in March 2012, but following a long-running police investigation, the heart was recovered earlier this year by the gardai after a six-year absence. The heart is now housed in the north transept in a specially designed art piece crafted by the Cork-based artist Eoin Turner.

I could have looked at the many cathedrals I have visited in England this year, including Lichfield, Birmingham and Westminster, or looked at ten cathedrals I have visited across Europe this year, including cathedral in Berlin, Seville, Venice, Torcello, Chania, Rethymnon, Thessaloniki, Perpignan, Elne and Gorizia. But this is just a taste of some of the cathedral I have visited this year.

This evening: Ten synagogues I visited in 2018.

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