St Patricks Cathedral Dublin – The History of the Building

St Patricks Cathedral Dublin – The History of the Building

St Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick’s Cathedral is one of Europe’s most important and historical buildings as Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is uniquely placed on the European timeline of evolution. In the new millennium St Patrick’s Cathedral is as important as it was in the 1220 period when it was constructed. Today one if more likely to view tourists and DIT Graduates alighting from St Patrick’s rather than the Dukes, Lords and Ladies of earlier history, however, the architectural beauty of St Patrick’s is as arresting today as it was all those centuries ago when it became a focal point for religion and worship. It is also worth noting, and as can be seen from the short video here (, that it was the Guinness family who financed a great restoration of St Patrick’s Cathedral.

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The History St Patrick’s Cathedral Building

St Patrick’s present Cathedral building, in terms of shape and size, dates from 1220-1259. It was constructed on the site of an ancient well (which was supposed to have been used by Saint Patrick himself). The building replaced an earlier (probably wooden) church. The fabric itself was made from local limestone and imported stone from Bristol.

An artist impression of the Cathedral and area (1500)

St Patricks Cathedral Dublin - The History of the Building

St Patrick’s was elevated to Cathedral status by Archbishop John Comyn but the credit for the construction must go to Archbishop Luke who held the position from 1219-1260. He was actually blind by the time the work was complete, so he never saw the full fruits of his efforts. Luke built a Gothic cathedral in a cruciform shape; with the main body of the church known as the Nave resembling the long part of a cross, the top of the cross known as the Choir, with the arms of the cross known as the Transepts. It is believed that the design for Saint Patrick’s was based on Old Sarum Cathedral, near Sailsbury in England.

St Patrick’s Cathedral building constantly evolved over the course of the next 700 years. In 1270 the Lady Chapel (later to be known as the French Chapel because of its connection with the Huguenots/ see, also, Huguenots graveyard in Stephen’s Green) was added. In 1316 a violent storm blew down the spire of the building and in 1362 the Cathedral suffered substantial damage after an accidental fire. In 1370 repairs to the nave and the tower were carried out under the direction of Archbishop Minot. (The tower was later named Minot’s Tower). This structure also collapsed (1394) destroying much of the west end of the Cathedral in the process. Eventually the tower was rebuilt but was never renamed. This version still survives today.

Religious transformation: Following the English Reformation Saint Patrick’s became an Anglican Cathedral and modifications were made to its interior to suit new theological changes. Many statues were removed from alcoves and rich decoration was stripped from ceilings such as the Lady Chapel. The turbulence of the period led to neglect of the fabric and the Cathedral suffered further during the reign of Edward VI. The Cathedral was demoted to the status of a parish church and also saw use as a court house and for a short period as a university. The building was restored to cathedral status in 1555 under Queen Mary and some money was allocated for repair and restoration. In 1560 one of the first public clocks in Dublin was added to the tower and in 1700 a Spire was added.

At the start of the 19th century the Cathedral was once again in a dire state of disrepair. The north transept of the Cathedral (which was used as a separate chapel) was deemed unsafe for use. An effort was made by Dean Pakenham to raise funds for necessary repair however this did not come close to the quantities of funds needed. The Cathedral was handed a lifeline by Benjamin Lee Guinness who wrote a letter to the board in 1860 offering to bear the total cost of the restoration. However his sole stipulation was that he be not interfered with by the Cathedral board in this work. Between 1860 and 1865 the Cathedral was closed for massive restoration and repair. Work concentrated on the nave and the transepts. A new ceiling was added to the nave. (Previously visitors could see up into the roof space of the building.) As a result the height of the west window was reduced. The floor of the nave was raised to the same level of the Choir. Probably the greatest interior change to the building was the removal of the wooden screens which separated the nave, choir and transepts. Benjamin Guinness did not feel that these were in keeping with a post reformation Cathedral where the clergy and congregation were treated as equals. In 1865 the Cathedral was reopened in an elborate ceremony at which Benjamin Guinness was presented a book of thanks compiled of signatures from representatives of the Cathedral and from citizens of the city. Overall Guinness spent approximately 150,000 pounds on the restoration of the building.

In the new millennium work continues on an almost daily basis to ensure that the Cathedral does not fall into a state of disrepair again. Funding for this work is generated from the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the building each year. In October 2012 the Cathedral’s Lady Chapel closed for over a year to allow for a major restoration of the area.

The Cathedral Tower

St Patrick’s Cathedral, the original spire was blown down in a storm in 1316. The following year the Cathedral was set on fire during the Bruce Wars and many precious objects were looted in the confusion.

In the aftermath of a more serious fire in the nave in 1362 repairs were commissioned by Thomas Minot, Archbishop of Dublin. Minot also built a 147-foot tower at the North-West angle of the Cathedral, employing 60 men in its construction. It is made of Irish limestone, with walls ten feet thick.

Most refer to The Tower as Minot’s Tower today, although Minot’s original Tower collapsed in c.1394, taking part of the North Nave Aisle with it. Therefore a second rebuilding was required at the end of the fourteenth century. The four western bays in the North Nave Aisle, which, for an unknown reason, are higher and wider than the rest, were also built around this time.

Minot’s Tower, first floor, may have originally served as a library. On the next floor is the Ringing Chamber. The Cathedral Tower now houses a peel of bells donated by Edward Cecil Guinness in 1897. The bells hang in the fourth floor of the tower, two floors above the Ringing Chamber.

It is shown that some of the first public clocks in Dublin had been installed in the third floor of Minot’s tower by 1509. This raised the Cathedral to the same status of public building as Dublin Castle. The time is shown on two copper dials, eight feet in diameter, on the West and North-facing sides of the tower. The granite spire, 101 feet high, was designed by George Semple and added to the top of the tower in 1749.

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