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St Patrick’s Cathedral

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The history of St Patrick’s Cathedral is remarkably similar to that of its fellow-Anglican rival Christ Church up the road. It was built between 1220 and 1270 in Gothic style, but its roof collapsed in 1544, leading to a decline that included its use as a stable by Cromwell’s army in 1649. Its Victorian restoration, however, by Sir Benjamin Guinness in the 1860s, was more sensitive than at Christ Church, and it has a more appealing, lived-in feel, thanks largely to its clutter of quirky funerary monuments. Dublin has two Church of Ireland cathedrals because, in the 1190s, Archbishop John Comyn left the clergy of Christ Church and built his own palace and church here outside the city walls, and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of the city provosts.

To the right of the entrance in the harmoniously proportioned nave are diverse memorials to Jonathan Swift, the cathedral’s dean for 32 years, including his and his long-term partner Stella’s graves, his pulpit and table, and a cast of his skull – both his and Stella’s bodies were dug up by Victorian phrenologists, studying the skulls of the famous. The Door of Reconciliation by the north transept recalls a quarrel between the earls of Kildare and Ormond in 1492. Ormond fled and sought sanctuary in the cathedral’s chapterhouse, but Kildare, eager to make peace, cut a hole in the door and stretched his arm through to shake Ormond’s hand – so giving us the phrase “chancing your arm”. Nearby in the north aisle of the choir, a simple black slab commemorates Duke Frederick Schomberg, who advised William of Orange to come to Ireland in 1686 but had the misfortune to be slain at the ensuing Battle of the Boyne. His family didn’t bother to erect a memorial for him, so it was left to Dean Swift to do the honours here in 1731; in Swift’s words, “The renown of his valour had greater power among strangers than had the ties of blood among his kith and kin.”

In the northwest corner of the nave you’ll find a slab carved with a Celtic cross that once marked the site of a well next to the cathedral, where St Patrick baptized converts in the fifth century. Back near the entrance, you can’t miss the extravagant Boyle monument, which Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, erected in 1632 in memory of his wife Katherine who had borne him fifteen children, including the famous chemist Robert Boyle (shown in the bottom-centre niche). Viceroy Wentworth, objecting to being forced to kneel before a Corkman, had the monument moved here from beside the altar, but Boyle exacted revenge in later years by engineering Wentworth’s execution.

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