The spectacle which accompanied the Solemn Dedication of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the 24th August 1873 was one of the most lavish and theatrical that Armagh had ever seen. It was estimated that 20,000 people thronged the building and its surrounding lands to witness “snow-white surplices gleaming along an endless line of some four hundred priests, the richly embroidered copes and jewelled mitres of twenty Prelates sparkling in the sunshine, with a former Prelate, now a Prince of the Church, Cardinal Cullen in the place of honour, the many thousands of the laity covering every available inch of the ample grounds, and, towering over all, the gigantic frame of the Cathedral”. It was, we are told, “a demonstration of the strong, vigorous life of Catholic Ireland such, indeed, as had not been seen in Armagh since the funeral of old King Brian [Boru]”. As a religious spectacle, it was stunning in its richness; as a piece of political propaganda it was incandescent. Nothing could better express the magnificent resurgence of Catholic Ireland after nearly 300 years of persecution than this soaring monument to its reassertion of position and legitimacy. Comparisons with the great pre-Norman Celtic feasts of old were made. Musical odes were written extolling its virtues and poetry penned expressing its significance. The mood was summed up by Aubrey de Vere who composed a Sonnet which was read at the feast following the religious dedication:
This day the crime of ages stand reversed.
This day, with kinglier front and port more high,
St. Patrick’s towers invoke their native sky,
His second temple lordlier than his first;
Orient once more, a vanished Hope hath burst
From night’s black realm; in Stygian pageantry
The stormy wrecks of Penal days go by
Like ghosts remanded to their bourn accurst.
Ho, Watcher on the summits! Cry aloud,
How speeds the dawn! What promise gilds the East!
A voice responds – thy voice, great Patriarch-Priest,
I see a race baptized as in the cloud:
I see a nation round an altar bowed;
I see God’s people share his Marriage Feast.
The message could not have been clearer: Catholic Ireland had come home. The persecutions of the Penal Laws were in the past and once again Irish Catholics could reassert their dominance over the land. The Established Church of Ireland and all its attempts to evangelise the Irish populace in the way of Anglicanism had been dealt their death blow.
The Cathedral was cast by the Irish episcopacy as a building which at once asserted the power of the Roman Church but which was also imbued with a keen sense of uniquely Irish national identity and pride. The Cathedral’s principal architect JJ McCarthy had expended great efforts in persuading the Irish hierarchy of the nationalistic aspects of his Gothic revival. During the early 1840’s McCarthy became closely associated with Charles Gavan Duffy, an influential Irish Nationalist and editor of the Nationalist The Nation newspaper. Duffy and his associates in the Young Ireland movement (of which McCarthy himself was a prominent member) espoused a revival of Irish Nationalism as much through culture and antiquarianism as politics. McCarthy can only have been greatly pleased when in 1846 The Nation reported that “an architect, who has since built more Celtic churches than any man of Irish birth since the Goban Saor taught our ancestors to construct the round towers, told me that he caught the first impulse to revive the Irish Gothic in ecclesiastical buildings from The Nation”. The architect was, of course, McCarthy. This imprimatur from the most influential Nationalist publication of the time combined with the association of Gothic architecture with Celtic cultural nationalism was an most important nexus in fashioning the Cathedral as a source of national and nationalistic pride. It was a strange assertion, however, in circumstances where it seems clear that McCarthy’s precedential references at Armagh were almost exclusively English and French, a fact which would not be lost on later commentators.
McCarthy had lived to see his great Cathedral completed. But by this time, his reputation as an architect had begun to take a distinct downturn. Early in his career, McCarthy realized that aligning the Mediaeval revival with the Catholic and Nationalist political and cultural resurgence would create a potent socio-cultural mix which would be irresistible to the emerging Catholic clergy. Furthermore, rather than dogmatically press the absolute truth of his principles upon an uncultured, unwilling and pro-Roman clergy as Pugin had done (with little success) in the early 1840’s, he instead introduced his principles by means of rational argument and practicality, compromising minor principles where this was necessary to ensure the overall survival of the Ecclesiological movement
But in his beginning was indeed his end; for it was this very willingness to compromise his principles that eventually led to the destruction of his reputation. After the great Ecclesiologial triumphs of the 1840’s and 1850’s which reached their urban apogee with St Saviour’s, Dominick Street, Dublin and their rural peak with Holy Trinity in Cookstown (both of which adhere strictly to Pugin’s ecclesiologist “true principles” and the latter of which is a virtual carbon copy of St Giles, Cheadle), McCarthy began increasingly to allow his taste and principles to be guided by the clergy he had originally sought to evangelize. No one can begin to imagine Pugin slavishly measuring the façade of Sant’ Agata dei Goti in Rome in order to build an entirely incongruous copy at Clonliffe in Dublin, but McCarthy did precisely this in 1873.
As Armagh demonstrated, McCarthy flourished in adversity. When, by the 1870’s, funds were more readily available, McCarthy’s style became decadent and over decorated. Gone is the “rude and simple but massive and solemn” country parish church based on St Giles’ found at Cookstown. Instead we often find an over decorative and incongruous fussy French Gothic structure such as that utilised at St Patrick’s Dungannon which could almost be by an entirely different architect. In compromising his principles to this extent, McCarthy had allowed his reputation to flounder. It is perhaps no wonder that his obituaries are so begrudging, The Builder acidly commenting that “it would be an exaggeration to say that [McCarthy] was a great architect” and attributing the spread of the Gothic Revival in Ireland (bizarrely) to Francis Johnston.
It was also clear that, magnificent as the building he had left at Armagh was, it was unfinished. Several unfortunate compromises had been adopted in the interior primary among which was the screening off of the South transept to form a combined Sacristy and Assembly Room for Diocesan purposes. Archbishop McGettigan continued to make such improvements as funds and his health allowed. Many of these improvements were carried out at the Primate’s own expense. Further murals were commissioned in the Lady Chapel and the ceilings were stencilled. In 1875, he commissioned a unique set of 14 Stations of the Cross from Herbert & Co. of Liverpool which were cast in plaster and erected around the walls of the Cathedral.
In the same year, a three manual, thirty-three stop pipe organ was built in the Western gallery by William Telford with a Barker lever action. It was dedicated in June 1875 with a performance of Haydn’s Imperial Mass. At this point, the gallery, as designed by McCarthy, was of wood.
In 1879, Primate McGettigan commissioned the great East window from Earley & Powell of Dublin, the upper sections showing the Crucifixion and the two lower panels around the spires and crockets of the reredos showing St. Patrick preaching to the natives of Ireland and using the shamrock as a demonstration of the nature of the Holy Trinity and the story of the fawn from the Book of Armagh which had so successfully been propagandised by the builders of the Cathedral as evidence of the legitimacy and Divinely ordained nature of the site of the Cathedral (see Part I of this post).
Following this work, Primate McGettigan shifted his attentions to the exterior of the Cathedral, constructing a spectacular seven-terrace flight of stone steps leading to a piazza at the West door from the City. He also built a rather ungainly if not simply ugly residence for the Armagh Archbishops, Ara Coeli, to the rear of the Cathedral in 1877. In 1884, a sacristan’s lodge was added to the opening flight of steps.
When Archbishop McGettigan died in December 1887 after some years of failing health, the Cathedral had seen the passing of five successive Archbishops and the expenditure of the unprecedented sum of over £70,000 during a period when Irish Catholics had endured unimaginable poverty, famine and strife. It was a monument to tenacity and devoted poverty. But by the late 1880’s, the climate in Ireland had changed. A thriving Catholic middle class had, for the first time, emerged in Ireland and there had been an increasing surge of political and cultural nationalism. These new Catholic monied classes had begun to make significant inroads into the old Protestant Ascendancy dominance of civic and financial life in Ireland and they were keen to mark their place in the ascendant with lavish monuments of their piety and munificence and thus fashion for themselves a strong position in Irish civic life. The concept of Irish nationalism shifted suddenly away from outward-looking European ideals of statehood and instead, this new Catholic ascendancy centred its vision of the Irish nation on shared culture, language and most of all Roman Catholic religion. The Irish episcopacy were swift to capitalise on this new mood, providing a moral foundation and a visual nexus for the fashioning of the new Ireland whilst at the same time cementing themselves into an unmovable position at the heart of Irish political and civic life which would survive until the mid 1990’s. The Cathedral of JJ McCarthy may well have been a monument to triumph over poverty, religious oppression and adversity, but this new class wanted nothing less than a lavish statement of their new found wealth, self-determination and dominance. At the same time, the Irish episcopacy wished to demonstrate that it had fully shed the illegitimacy and grinding poverty of the Penal Church to become the legitimate and true Church of the Irish state in stark contrast the swiftly decreasing influence and increasing financial hardship of the former Protestant state church following its disestablishment in 1871.
Thus, despite the great sums already expended upon the Cathedral project, the new Primate, Michael Logue, embarked on its most ambitious transformation to date. Logue’s rise to the See of Armagh had been meteoric and the tireless energy of his episcopate unprecedented. Born in very modest circumstances as the son of a blacksmith in 1840, the year Primate Crolly had laid the foundation stone of the Cathedral, he proved to be an exceptional scholar, becoming fluent in Irish, Latin and Greek before the age of 14 and gaining first place in the Entrance Examination for the Royal College of St Patrick at Maynooth at the age of only 16. In 1866, he accepted the Chair of Theology at the Irish College in Paris from where he was ordained a priest on 22nd December of that year. He returned to his native diocese of Raphoe in 1874 and was made a Doctor of Divinity. Two years later he became the Dean of Maynooth College and Professor of Irish, which position he exchanged in 1878 for a chair of Dogmatic and Moral Theology. At the age of 39, he was consecrated Bishop of Raphoe in July, 1879 and soon became well known for his superhuman effort in fund-raising, amassing the huge sum of £40,000 mainly from Irish-Amercian sources for famine relief in his Diocese in 1879. When Primate McGettigan’s heath began to fail in early 1887, Logue was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh and succeeded to the Seat of St. Patrick only nine months later. It was a position he would occupy for over 35 years. On the 19th January 1893, the apotheosis of the See of Armagh was reached when Pope Leo XIII created Logue Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Pace, thus making him the first Archbishop of Armagh raised to the College of Cardinals in its history. It was an honour felt as keenly by the citizens of Armagh as the Primate himself.
As though to mark this event of great personal, national and historical significance, Cardinal Logue almost immediately concentrated his energies on improving the Cathedral he had inherited. His first act was to deal with the sacristy and hall occupying the screened off South transept, an ungainly compromise left by McCarthy. Logue commissioned the architect William Hague, who had also taken over McCarthy’s work at Maynooth, to construct a Synod Hall and Sacristy to the rear of the Cathedral, linked to the main body of the building by means of a curved cloister.
The removal of the wooden screens across the South transept gave rise to an opportunity to consider the interior of the Cathedral as a whole. When the Cardinal came to Armagh, he found the interior still comparatively empty; what fittings there were seemed, according to the 1904 guide, “but temporary makeshifts unworthy of the noble and enduring edifice; while previous attempts at decoration, such as painting &c., were not only of a perishable nature, but had already, owing to damp and other causes, succumbed before their time”. The Cardinal complained of the “weak and beggerly elements” of interior decoration and there was a belief that “visitors who had approached the Cathedral filled with admiration for the beauty of its exterior, were…disagreeably surprised, not to say disedified, at the comparative shabbiness and poverty of the interior”. The Cardinal’s plans to remedy this defect turned the Cathedral into an almost unimaginable Gothic fantasy of marble, mosaic and carved wood. The projected costs of his planned beautification were utterly extraordinary by contemporary standards, as the Cardinal planned to add exotic and rare materials from around the globe, fashioned by the most skilled artisans from mainland Europe to his Cathedral.
in 1899, His Eminence judged the time was ripe. On the 20th of August he issued his pastoral on “The National Cathedral”, exhorting the people of Ireland to assist in creating a Cathedral worthy of its place in Irish religious and political life by fund raising for his building fund. From this Pastoral came the idea of the “National Cathedral Bazaar” of 1900, inspired by Primate McGettigan’s successful bazaar of 1865. First prize was to be a gift from the Pope of an ivory carving. Second prize was a landau and two well bred carriage horses for which the Primate was to pay himself. Messrs Hague and McNamara of Dublin were appointed to prepare plans for the beautification of the interior of the Cathedral.
Mainly as a result of the charm and persuasiveness of Cardinal Logue, the Bazaar was an unparalleled success, raising the record sum of £30,000. At his own expense, Cardinal Logue travelled to Italy with William Hague to study the interiors of its great Cathedrals seeking inspiration for the works at Armagh and visiting marble quarries and mosaic workshops. He persuaded several prominent Italian painters and sculptors to come to Armagh to work on the adornment of the Cathedral. Alas, when he returned, he was dismayed to discover two major stumbling blocks for his plans. His architect William Hague died shortly after his return from an Italian marble quarry to select marbles for the Rood Screen that he had planned to construct at the Crossing. Furthermore, a structural survey of the building had revealed faults with the spires of the building. More seriously, the aisle roofs were found to be structurally unsound and liable to collapse. George Coppinger Ashlin, former partner of Edward Welby Pugin, was appointed architect and his firm (which became Ashlin and Coleman in 1903 after he went into partnership with his pupil Thomas Coleman) oversaw the remaining works. Ashlin suggested that McCarthy’s original aisle ceilings be completely renewed. Originally a sloped, wood panelled structure supported on stone angel corbels according to Medieval precedent as filtered by Pugin, the aisle roofs were reconstructed with stone groining concentric with the nave arcade, and springing off the cap level of the piers. This work was in Bath stone with moulded transverse diagonal and intermediate ribs springing off the wall columns, and moulded caps, bases and corbels, bonded into the old walls. The intersections of all the ribs had carved foliated bases. Whilst this work may have enhanced the lavishness of the interior, it greatly compromised the architectural unity of the interior and its ecclesiological correctitude, and the aisle roofs now seem somewhat at odds with McCarthy’s triumphant hammer beam roof over the nave which once again takes its precedent from earlier work than that of the stone groining below it, again emphasising the architectural conceit seen on the exterior where Duff’s sixteenth century work forms a foundation for McCarthy’s fourteenth century works.
The complete renewal of the aisle roofs made a significant inroads into the funds raised by the Bazaar and much of the remaining fund was dispersed in paying off past debts still owed on the construction of the exterior. Cardinal Logues tireless enthusiasm was not however dimmed and he became a frequent visitor, at his own expense, to the quarries of Carrara and the homes of wealthy Irish expats across the world whom he hoped could fund his ambitious plans.
His lavish use of Italian and other rare marbles in adorning the interior was unique in Ireland and has rarely been equalled anywhere in the world. The 1904 Guide expends an entire chapter merely providing a glossary of the myriad varying and exquisitely rare marbles and semi-precious stones which were used in the interior. Redolent with poetic sounding names such as Breccia Corallina, Mandolato, Fior di Persico, Occhio di Pavone and Diaspro della Corsica, the Guide descends into purple prose in its sensuously licentious description of the exquisite rarity, beauty and touch of these finest marbles.
The first of these marble additions was the great Rood Screen, designed by William Hague just before his death, executed in workshops in Carrara and shipped to Ireland where it was installed by Italian sculptors in 1899. The material used in its construction was statuary marble of finest ivory white, and some of the richest specimens of coloured marbles in the Cathedral were to be found in the panelling and shafting. The Screen filled the entire 30 ft. breadth between the two great eastern pillars of the crossing and rose to a height of 36 ft. It consisted of 5 bays divided by clustered columns of richly toned Rosso di Verona marble. In two of the bays, the lines of the arches with their cuspings were continued down, meeting below to form an oval frame for two carved angel figures. These statues stood on octagonal pedestals of violet and purple Pavonazzetto marble. The lower portions of its pinnacles were decorated with small, finely executed statues of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and the Irish saints standing on shield-bearing corbel angels, and surmounted by angle shaped and carved canopies.
Rising above the central bay was a sculpted Crucifixion group. The figures of the group stood on a pedestal brought up from a double-staged ground-work, semi-octagonal in shape, and with small flying buttresses. Over and above all was an octagonal canopy, with crocketted angles and carved sides and pinnacles.
In front of Hague’s Rood Screen, Ashlin and Coleman constructed their High Altar, again of finest statuary marble from Carrara inlaid with Jasper, Lapis Lazuli and other rare semi-precious stones. The altar frontal itself was formed of a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper carved in alto relievo from the finest statuary marble by Cesare Aureli (1844-1923), a Roman sculptor of great repute. The finished work excited great attention when it was unveiled, the 1904 Guide enthusiastically extolling “the snowy purity of the material, the wonderful relief and delicate flourish of the figures, [and] the marvellous perfection of detail” of the composition, each figure in which was “an apostolic biography in stone”.
Over the Altar Table there was a reredos and super-altar with the Tabernacle at the centre. The Tabernacle was richly carved and elaborate in design, the door having clustered columns in the jambs with seed ornament between, while the archmould is deeply moulded and carved and surmounted with a gable having perforated cresting and terminating with carved finial. Octagonal turrets flanked the Tabernacle at each side, having panels of tracery inlaid with specimens of Breccia Traccagnina. The Altar was extended at both sides with carved panels and two adoring angels and its steps were of white Sicilian marble.
Ashlin and Coleman closed the Crossing by constructing two side screens of finest statuary marble, 30ft wide, across the north and south transepts and statuary marble communion railings inlaid with Breccia di S Votaleat the Nave. The side screens consisted of quatrefoil columns and moulded arches, having gables with finials and open tracery between. The Cathedra throne projected in three divisions at the second bay on the North side with canopied niches, having crockets and pinnacles and surmounted by a marble spire. The centre of the throne was carved with the arms of the cardinal in statuary marble. The entire crossing was paved with inlaid marbles, designed in squares with quatrefoil panels and crosses and centred on a pietra dura representation of the Cardinal’s armorial bearings.
The work at the crossing was completed by the construction of an unimaginably exuberant pulpit at the South West pier, the work of the Roman sculptor Paolo Medici who was to later carry out work at St Patrick’s New York. The 1904 Guide glowed “the beauty of its workmanship, together with the size and elaborate nature of its design, afford an exquisite example of architectural composition as yet unequalled in this country”. Composed of statuary marble inlaid with rare coloured marbles, its plan was octagonal, with angle niches containing statues of the Evangelists, St. Patrick and St. Brigid, the canopies above the statues being groined and carved. The panels between the statues were filled with inlaid traceries. The canopy of the pulpit, rising to a height of nearly 36 ft. was carved in Austrian oak painted white and inlaid with coloured enamels and gold leaf.
The overall effect of this work at the crossing was almost overwhelming in its licentious lavishness. In its use of the finest rare marbles and fine sculpture, the work was unparalleled in the British Isles. It was, however, a far cry from anything Pugin, Duff or McCarthy could have imagined for this space (Pugin in particular was highly critical of the blocking up of Cathedral Crossings in Ireland) and its strongly Italian flavour was greatly at odds with the strictly ecclesiologist English Decorated style imprinted on the interior by McCarthy and with the increasingly nationalistic congregation who more and more wished to see the promotion of an Irish national style inspired not by European precedent but native example.
The exuberant Italianate marble works were continued throughout the Cathedral. McCarthy’s reredos of Caen Stone with pillars of Armagh, Connemara and Down marbles was retained at the East end, creating a Lady Chapel behind Hague’s Rood Screen which now completely blocked it from view in the Nave. However, the lower portions of the reredos were enriched with with marble inlays in a diaper pattern with fleur de lis in a vibrant variety of coloured Italian marbles. A new Lady Altar and tabernacle was constructed before the reredos from finest statuary marble at the huge cost of £1,500, donated solely by one parishioner, a Miss Anne Jane Close. The antependium contained three bas-relief groups, the work of the eminent Roman sculptor Michele Trepisciano (1860-1913) showing “The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin in the Temple”, “The Assumption” and “The Coronation” recessed in separate panels with cusped heads, and columns of Breccia di Seravezza antica and Breccia Corallina marbles. The tabernacle, inlaid with Corsican Jasper, was in the form of a cube topped with a roof of fish scale carvings and finished with two large statuary marble standing angels. Elaborate marble screens were erected after 1905 to the North and South of the space, enclosing the Lady Chapel from the side aisles and Side Chapels.
To the North and South of the Lady Chapel, Side Chapels were erected to St Joseph (North) and St Brigid (South), closing the aisles at the East. these were fitted, as with the window above, off centre, reflecting the rather awkward architectural compromise necessitated by the transition from Duff’s lower walls to McCarthy’s work, and this feeling of unbalance was exacerbated by the symmetrical groining of the aisle roofs. The St Joseph Altar was the most elaborate of the two, being carved from statuary marble inlaid with other Italian marbles and with two panels carved in high relief showing “The Holy Family” and the “Death of St. Joseph”. These were topped with carved canopies, pinnacles and perforated cresting.
By contrast, St Brigid’s Altar was marked by its simplicity of design, reflecting, according to the 1904 Guide the attributes of simplicity and perfect beauty associated with the virgin patroness of Ireland. Carved from inlaid statuary marble, the reredos was arcaded with moulded panels and filled with inlaid tracery rather than a pictorial subject. The altar was topped with pierced cresting and finished with pinnacled niches to either end inlaid with Lapis Lazuli. Large panels of green Cipollano marble were inserted into the reredos to reflect the national colour of Ireland.
In the space created by the removal of the sacristy screen in the South transept, a sumptuous altar was erected to the Sacred Heart, once again the gift of the Close family, at a cost of £1,400. The Altar front had an arcade divided with triple columns having carved caps with foliated panels containing emblems of the Passion. The panel heads were cusped, moulded and crocketted and terminated in an ogee gable. Small niches were introduced between the panels with standing angels bearing scrolls. The main niches had groined canopies with pinnacles, ogee gables enriched with crockets, finials and carved bosses. Statues of St John the Evangelist and St Catherine of Siena and the Sacred Heart were carved by Cesare Aureli and placed in the larger niches.
Finally, to the West end, McCarthy’s wooden gallery was replaced with a three-bay marble screen of white marble supported on quatrefoil pillars of Portasanta marble and inlaid with Brocatello marble. The organ itself was rebuilt to suit the newly enlarged space and a new Austrian oak organ case was designed and built.
The aisles of the Cathedral were paved in mosaic of a intricate celtic knots interspersed with Shamrocks, a rare concession to Irish design in the Cathedral scheme.
The most striking and lasting of Cardinal Logue’s legacies to the Cathedral were, however, the scheme of mosaics he commissioned to adorn every inch of blank wall in the Cathedral. Significant thought was given to how best to deal with the decoration of the walls of the building. Primate McGettigan had instituted a scheme of stencilled decoration on the walls and roof, and murals were painted around the crossing and at the Lady Chapel. However, as a result of the damp climate in Armagh and poor ventilation in the building, these had significantly deteriorated and by 1904 were in dire need of replacement. When considering the matter, it appeared that the expense of re-plastering the walls in such a manner as to resist condensation and the cost of re-painting would of necessity be very great, while in a comparatively short time there might be the same trouble and expense in renewing it. It was therefore decided to adopt a mosaic decorative scheme, the initial great cost being defrayed by the future saving on repainting a mural scheme. The material employed was Italian pottery of various colours in dice-shaped cubes with glass cubes for the gilt portions to prevent tarnishing and to give greater lustre. The sections were put together in two workshops in London and were carefully glued, face downwards, on strips of paper. These were then applied to a fresh coating of special cement on the walls in a manner resembling the hanging of wallpaper. The paper-bearer having been then softened and washed away, the true face of the mosaic was laid bare, and the final process of closing and levelling applied. The scheme was one of the most ambitious ever undertaken in the British Isles and took over two years to complete. The results were spectacular and are one of the greatest surviving triumphs of Armagh. Every inch of wall was lavished with floriated ornament, angels and scenes from the lives of the saints. As the 1904 Guide purred, “the mosaic all over the Cathedral has that wonderful quality of good paintings, that, in changing hours and lights it furnishes an endless series, of surprises, at one time, the crisp, clear, sparkle of a frosty morning, at another, the warm, misty glow of a perfect summer’s eve”. Such a scheme was then unique in Ireland.
In the Lady Chapel, the spandrils immediately over the arcade have medalions, with gold ground, containing emblems from the Litany of the Virgin outlined in black, whilst a celestial host of angels congregate around the great East window. At the end of the South Aisle, pictorial mosaics show St. Brigid founding her monastery in Kildare, St. Brigid healing the lepers, St. Brigid receiving the veil from St. Mel, St. Brigid before the King of Leinster, St. Brigid herding the cattle of the Druids. Crossing the Lady Chapel are large representations of St. Columbkille and St. Patrick before coming to St. Joesph’s Chapel where The Flight into Egypt, Dream of St. Joseph, Presentation of Child Jesus in the Temple, Espousals of St. Joseph and Presentation of the B.V.M. in the Temple are depicted.
The spandrils over the nave arcade are filled with medallions of the patron saints of twenty dioceses: St. Patrick, St. Finian, St. Mel, St. Macartan, St. Eugene, St. Malachy, St. Coleman, St Fedlimin, St. Admanan, St. Laurence, St. Conleth, St. Edan, St. Kyran, St. Jarlath, St. Matthew, St. Brendan, St. Asic, St. Moredach, St. Nicholas, St. Brigid all of which are executed in colour on a gold ground. Immediately over these, in the clerestory, are the arms of the dioceses of Ireland in their various colours on a shield, arranged in panels supported by carved angels holding them.
At the Crossing, the six spandrils over the great arches are inlaid with mosaic figured subjects in gold and colour representing “The Good Shepherd”, “The Resurrection”, “Christ and Magdalen” and “The Ascension”. The one facing towards the Nave contains a splendid picture of St. Patrick converting and baptising the Irish. The cartoons for these especially fine mosiacs were executed by Earley of Dublin and were completed in Italian workshops.
The spandrel over the entrance door from the Tower on the south side contains the Arms of Cardinal Logue and that on the North Aisle, the arms of Pope Leo XIII. The Baptistery in Tower, also the porches, are lined with mosaic. The Baptistery contains two large subjects, “The Baptism of Our Lord” and “St. Patrick and the two Princesses at the Well of Clebach”.
To complete his scheme of decoration, Cardinal Logue commissioned the Italian painter, Oreste Amici (1872-1930), who had been trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Rome, to paint the entirety of McCarthy’s hammer beam roof in an Italianate style.The ceilings are painted in oils, the prevailing shade adopted for the ground colour throughout being of a soft terra-cotta to harmonise with the colour of the wall mosaic. The panels have foliated ornament in cream colour and gold relieved in various shades of subdued colour outlined in black. The ribs are picked out in gold, the hollows being in red. The groining over the clerestory windows in the nave is similarly treated, the groups, interwoven with ornament on a gold ground, representing incidents connected with the Irish Saints from the time of St. Patrick to that of St. Laurence O’Toole.
The crossing is elaborately decorated with foliated ornament and gold relieved with colour, and the scale of the work is arranged to blend harmoniously with that of the mosaic work in the spandrils underneath.
Above the Lady Chapel, the overall colour scheme shifts to a blue emphasis with roundels containing heads of further Irish saints.
With the internal works reaching conclusion in Spring 1904, thoughts turned to the solemn rededication of the Cathedral. The date chosen, 20th July, was Providential, marking not only the reopening of the Cathedral but also Cardinal Logue’s episcopal silver jubilee. Solemn consecration was to take place on this day with a grand festal celebration of the rededication planned for the following Sunday. As a set piece of political-religious propaganda, the rededication could not have gone better. On May 23rd, Pope Pius X wrote to Cardinal Logue to state that he was specially deputing one of the most distinguished Cardinals of the Papal Curia – His Eminence Vincent Vannutelli, Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina and Archpriest of the Patriarchal Liberian Basilica Rome, to attend as Legate a Latere at the Consecration. As the 1904 Guide purred, “Catholic Ireland felt itself rarely honoured, in its old ecclesiastical capital, by a mark of interest and distinction not granted by the Sovereign Pontiff, even on most notable occasions, to great Catholic nations of Europe”. It was a definitive imprimatur on Armagh’s primacy in Ireland and the resurgence of the Catholic church there. The ceremony itself was of unparalleled majesty rivalling anything done by the Protestant civic authorities in Dublin. The solemn consecration took place over five hours according to an ancient rite stretching back to the ninth century. Fifteen special trains were laid on to bring the congregation to the Cathedral on the Sunday morning and the ceremony itself and its following banquet were attended by thousands of onlookers.
The works of Cardinal Logue can easily be criticised by the modern eye. They could be seen as overly lavish, frothy and vulgar. Arguably they added another layer to the already complex conceit of the Cathedral’s architecture by creating within McCarthy’s sometimes unhappy compromise between the English Perpendicular and French Early Decorated Gothic, a florid Renaissance Italian interior. In his indiscriminate architectural eclecticism, the Primate had adopted all the worst excesses of high Victorian vulgarity. However, whilst McCarthy’s compromise to the exterior can look awkward or conceited, somehow the 1904 interior worked. There was not an inch of the gloom expected in such an ecclesiastical building and the visceral assault on all the senses occasioned by attending a solemn, incense drenched, gorgeously robed and sung Mass within this high Victorian jewel box must surely have been utterly overwhelming, the glowing white vision of the High Altar transporting the congregation heavenward in thought. As a piece of pure religious theatre, the interior as completed in 1904 could not have been more effective. Thus, once again, against the odds and at variance with orthodoxy, the conceit was a successful one, creating an other-worldly space of unimaginable many-layered beauty which simultaneously spoke of the wealth, power and magnificence of the Irish Catholic Church and its place at the heart of global Catholicism in a way that no viewer could ignore. What it perhaps did not speak of was anything inherently Irish and, in attempting to drown any thought of the Penal vicissitudes of the Penal Church, the interior had perhaps divorced itself from the congregations who created it. This dichotomy was noted as early as 1906 when Stephen Glynn wrote of the new Cathedral: “today Ireland is full of churches – all of them built within a hundred years…but here at Armagh is the greatest monument of them all – planted as if in defiance to dominate the country round and outface that older building on the lesser summit [the Protestant Cathedral]. It is the costliest church that has ever been erected within living memory in Ireland; and not that only. It is in good truth a monumnet not of generous wealth like the two great Cathedrals of Christ Church and St Patrick’s in Dublin, but of devoted poverty: the gift not of an individual but of a race, out of money won laboriously by the Catholic Irish at home and in the far ends of the world. So viewed, I question whether modern Christianity can show anything more glorious; yet in other aspects the new St Patrick’s Cathedral must sadden the beholder. The stone of which it is hewn…is Irish: but the ideas which shaped the fabric are pure Italian”. These concerns were to congregate in a gathering storm centred around how the Cathedral and in particular its lavish and inherently foreign interior fitted in with developing narratives of Irish nationalism which were focused on shared Celtic culture and inherently Irish Catholicism. These narratives were concentrated on a the principle of an unending struggle against a colonial oppressor and they were centred on the ideal of a uniquely Irish oppressed church gathered around the mass rock and an impoverished clergy, rather than on a lavish foreign Cathedral and a powerful Romanised episcopacy. But for now, the Cathedral was at last complete and Cardinal Logue could rest upon his laurels, having created the perfect stage set upon which the power and wealth of the Irish Episcopacy could be played out in unparalleled sumptuousness for as long as that vision of the Irish episcopacy was to survive. His last act before his death in 1924 was to inaugurate a musical Carillon of Bells, the largest in Ireland, fitted within the north tower.
The Cathedral played host to a host of national events, none more emotive than the Armistice Day Mass celebrated for the 5th Division of the Belgian Free Army which had arrived in Northern Ireland to train following the liberation of Belgium in 1944, in May 1945. But by the 1963, with the death of Cardinal D’Alton, a new world had dawned and thoughts once again turned to how the Irish Catholic Church might fashion itself in this new modern Ireland through its use of the architecture of Armagh Cathedral. There were now two Irelands divided by a political border as well as by religion. The primacy of Armagh over the entirely of the island remained, but the city was now stranded in Protestant dominated Northern Ireland. The Irish Catholic Church wished to adapt to these new circumstances whilst also ensuring that they were in tune with the greatest seismic shift in Catholic thinking and practice since the Reformation: the Second Vatican Council which was opened by Pope John XXIII on 11th October 1962. The results of this refashioning were as polarising as they were definitive.