The Medieval Review 10.05.12

Crawford, John and Raymond Gillespie,. St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin: A History. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2009. Pp. 424. $70 hb ISBN 978-1-84682-044-1. .

Reviewed by:

Colum Hourihane
Princeton University

This, according to the authors, is the first comprehensive volume to deal with Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin since William Monck Mason's work of 1819. [1] The book consists of five chronological divisions beginning with the medieval cathedral and ending with the contemporary building. Written by nine authors, it highlights in detail the history of this unusual and long neglected building.

Since the medieval period, Ireland's capital city, Dublin is unique in that it has had two cathedrals both of which belong to the Church of Ireland. Both lie within a stone's throw of each other. Of these the better known and certainly the most studied has been Christ Church Cathedral (founded c. 1030). Saint Patrick's Cathedral's claim to public fame has largely been its association with Jonathan Swift who was elected dean of the cathedral in 1713. It is a building which the authors clearly point out has reinvented itself due to changing circumstances throughout its long history. This volume attempts to redress that imbalance and attempts to bring it from its medieval status of being literally outside the walls to a position of importance well within the public consciousness. This volume cannot hope, as Raymond Refaussé states in a succinct and clearly written introduction, to cover every aspect of the building but it certainly makes a valiant attempt to deal with its history. The major focus is the pre-1870 history, the date of its disestablishment when it became a national cathedral. The origins of the medieval building are uncertain and it was possibly a place of worship dedicated to Saint Patrick in the early Christian period. This may have continued during the Viking period when it lay outside of the city. We first know of a church dedicated to Saint Patrick in the twelfth century (1191). It was first elevated to the status of a prebendal church and its path to cathedral status was begun by Henry of London, archbishop, with the new cathedral being consecrated on Saint Patrick's day in 1254. It has always been a secular rather than a monastic church, unlike its companion, Christ Church cathedral.

The first division, The Medieval Cathedral, has five essays, three of which were written by Howard B. Clarke and the remaining two by Michael O'Neill and Alan J. Fletcher. These cover such topics as the cult, church and collegiate building before c. 1220 (Clarke), the cathedral, close and community, c. 1220-c. 1500 (Clarke), external influences and relations, c. 1200-c. 1500 (Clarke), the architectural history of the building (O'Neill), and liturgy and music (Fletcher). These essays admirably attempt to contextualize the building in its hinterland and surroundings. One of the most important issues here is the cult of the site before it formally became a cathedral and the first essay in this collection is a synthesis of existing literature on Saint Patrick as much as it is on the site itself. It is a good summarization of the saint and the site and all is viewed against what is known of the cathedral--an angle that has not hitherto been studied. The second essay moves the reader into the history of the cathedral proper. Individual parts of the structure are discussed in relation to function and the whole structure is contextualized against the surrounding churches and buildings in the immediate environment. The third essay looks at external relations and influences of the building from its designation as a cathedral. It is not the building that is discussed here as much as the important figures in its history and the difficult position that Saint Patrick's had as it was officially outside of the city walls. The third essay in this section deals with the architectural history of the building and is a good analysis of its external relations with Old Sarum. Even though Dublin is Gothic in style, its plan is closely based on the Romanesque building at Old Sarum. Questions as to why this small Romanesque building, which was abandoned in favor of Salisbury, were to influence the building in Dublin remain unsolved and unanswered. Here, the efforts of the editors and authors have not been matched by those of the picture editors and the images are unsatisfactory. Small in size, little of the detail is visible--the page of twenty seven stiff leaf and moulded capitals is unsatisfactory, as none of the detail is visible--but this is a minor aside. The final essay in this medieval section is an analysis of the medieval liturgical and musical traditions of the building. Even though documentary evidence of the real nature of the liturgy and music used in the cathedral is lacking, the author makes a valiant attempt to recreate it against the architectural history of the preceding section. Parallel structures for Old Sarum are also brought into play and even though the author is at pains to point out the tentative nature of his conclusions they are convincing. This medieval section, consisting of some one hundred and fifty one pages, is a volume in itself and approaches the material in an interesting, legible and well-organized chronological manner. Unity between the various sections is maintained at all times and it is clear that the editors as well as the authors made every effort to link the various parts into a satisfying whole.

The remainder of the volume examines the post-medieval history of the building and brings the reader up to the twentieth century. Even though the introduction clearly states that this volume will not cover every aspect of the history of the building it does makes efforts and the volume more than justifies its claim to provide a near definitive history. Every period is covered in significant detail and the material is examined against the English background and the complicated medieval history of Dublin itself. As much as it would have been desirable it would not have been possible to deal more extensively with the architectural history given the confines and aims of the volume, to be a history of all parts of the building and not just its structural history. Both the editors and the authors have provided significant primary sources and new analyses to justify this volume being seen as the successor to Monck Mason's volume of some ninety years earlier. Both the general public and medievalist have long avoided this building--seeing it largely as a post-medieval structure and the editors and authors deserve to be congratulated for bringing attention to one of the major and neglected buildings of medieval Ireland and placing it alongside that of Christ Church Cathedral.

----------------- Notes:

1. Mason, William Monck, The History and Antiquities of the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick near Dublin, from its foundation in 1190 to the year 1819 (Dublin, 1819).