As it’s the height of summer and the tourist season is in full swing we are going to have to brave the crowds for our visit today .. what a contrast since the last time I brought you here at the height of the pandemic !
Righto, lets queue up and pay our admission fee and take a look around this magnificent building. Let’s start with the history … The first church on this site was dedicated here to “God, our Blessed Lady Mary and St Patrick”
on 17 March 1191 and after several years it was elevated to the status of cathedral.
From the very earliest years there were problems with seepage of water, with a number of floods, especially in the later years of the 18th century, caused by the surrounding branches of the River Poddle – even in the 20th century. This situation ensured there would never be a crypt or basement area.
What we see all around us was built between 1191 and 1270, though little now remains of the earliest work beyond the baptistry. An order from King Henry 11 in 1225 allowed the collection of donations from across the island for reconstruction for a period of four years, and the work, in the Early English Gothic style, lasted at least until rededication in 1254 and the Lady Chapel , located behind the main altar was added around 1270. Over time, a whole complex of buildings arose in the vicinity of the cathedral, including the Palace of the St Sepulchre and in 1311 the medieval university of Dublin was founded here. From the mid-14th century, and for over 500 years, the north transept of the building was used as the local parish church and the tower and west nave were rebuilt between 1362 and 1370, following a fire. In 1749, the cathedral spire was added by George Semple; it remains one of Dublin’s landmarks.
Throughout its long history, the cathedral has contributed much to Irish life, and one key aspect of this relates to the writer and satirist Johnathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, who was dean of the cathedral from 1713 to 1745. Let’s make our first stop to look at his grave and epitaph – in addition to his writing did you know that Swift took a great interest in the building, its services and music and in what would now be called social welfare, funding an almshouse for poor women and Saint Patrick’s Hospital.
Let’s take a look at the Celtic
cross grave slabs, these were found close by and date from the 11th century . It’s interesting to see how the traditional Irish high cross design with the sun disk is used in these carvings .Also, can you see the ancient wooden statue of Saint Patrick? This is hundreds of years old and it’s amazing to see how well it has stood the test of time !
Just across the main aisle is a very damaged door that dates from the late fifteenth century that has a rectangular hole hacked out of it . Here’s and interesting thing; do you know of the saying “ to chance your arm “ – taking a risk ??
This doorway is said to be the origin of this saying. During the battle between the Butler Fitzgerald family and the Earl of Ormond in 1492 there was a stalemate and siege. Negotiations for a truce were conducted through this locked door; and when a peace treaty was agreed a hole was cut in the doorway in order for the two sides to shake hands in friendship . Hence the expression – to chance your arm – both parties ran the risk of having their arm chopped off if they did not trust the other side !
Another piece of trivia- the nearby The Choir School, which had been founded in 1432, supplied many of its members to take part in the very first performance of Handel’s messiah in nearby Fishamble street in 1742.
Let’s head out into the Dublin sunshine to take another look at the exterior of this magnificent building that has stood the test of time and is one of Dublin’s landmarks. I do hope that you enjoyed coming along with me today. Until next time, Sláinte, Stephen.
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