Mary's Cathedral is 145 years old
St. Mary's Cathedral stands out as a landmark on the
highest point of Kilkenny City. It is in Gothic style and
built of local limestone.
After 8am Mass on Sunday, August 18, 1843, almost 160 years
ago, the foundation stone was laid by Most Rev Dr Kinchella.
In the foundation stone was placed a sealed bottle containing
a copy of the Rules of the Christian Doctrine Society plus
a copy of the Kilkenny Journal, some silver coins and a
metal plate with an inscription commemorating the event.
The church is on the site of the old mansion, Burrells
Hall which was the earliest foundation of St Kierans
This week, 145 years ago, on Sunday, October 4, 1857 at
6.15am, the Cathedral was consecrated by Most Rev Dr Edmond
Walsh, Bishop of Ossory. The relic of St Clement, which
was brought from the Catacombs of Rome, was placed under
Our Blessed Ladys Altar and the relics of Saints Cosmos
and Damien were placed under the High Altar. After the Consecration,
the Bishop celebrated Mass in Our Ladys Chapel. He
was assisted by two priests from St Kiernans College,
Fr Brennan and Fr Hennessy.
On the night before the Consecration, Saturday, October
3, the Sacred Relics were placed in tents in the Cathedral
yard. All through the night and early dawn, with lights
burning around the relics, faithful guards kept strict vigil
until the time came for the removal into the Cathedral.
At the time the Kilkenny Journal reported on the vigil and
stated that throughout the night, Psalm and Prayer
broke like the song of angels up on the stillness of the
The Cathedral has three names - St Marys, the church
of St Kieran and the Cathedral of the Assumption.
Later, a small organ was installed and a stained glass window
was presented by Mrs Bryan from Jenkinstown. Another one
was presented by Mr Dan Cullen, a wealthy merchant who had
shops where the Post Office now stands. The sacristy was
then beneath the high Altar but in the latter part of the
nineteenth century many improvements were made. Dr Abraham
Brownrigg, Bishop of Ossory who died 74 years ago in 1928,
undertook the very considerable task of completing the work
which had originally begun on 1843.
After its renovation, the solemn opening of the Cathedral
took place 103 years ago on April 9, 1899, before a huge
congregation from all parts. Many distinguished bishops
attended,including His Eminence Cardinal Logue and Dr Walsh,
then Archbishop of Dublin . Mass was celebrated by Dr Donnelly,
Bishop of Canea and Rev Dr Healy gave a homily on the very
And I say unto you, that thou art Peter and upon this
rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall
not prevail against it.
Under the St Margaret Mary Altar is the wax figure of St
Victoria and the chalice which contains the preserved blood
of the saint. Both were sent by the Pope during the construction
of the Cathedral in 1845.
A brief history of St Victoria, a third century Martyr,
states that she was promised in marriage to a rich heathen
nobleman but she refused either to marry him or to sacrifice
to idols. Her lover was so angry at her for refusing him
that he gave her up to the authorities as a Christian and
a dagger was plunged into her heart at his request.
The Sacred Heart altar, statue and altar rails are credited
to James Pearse Marble Works, Dublin. James Pearse was an
Englishman and was father of Padraig Pearse, one of the
leaders of the1916 Rebellion.
The beautiful marble statue of the Madonna by the famous
sculptor, Benezoni, was presented by the ladies of Kilkenny.
The late Monsignor Murphy, Vicar Apostolic, who was administrator
in the St Marys Parish and later Parish Priest in
Gowran, stated that he met with an expert from London who
informed him that there were only two of Benzonis
statues in the world - one in Italy and one in St Marys
Cathedral. Both were priceless works of art.
Another work of art is the statue of the Little Flower.
It replaced a Calvary which is now in St Kierans College.
On the right hand wall can be seen two white marble plaques
which contain the names of all the Bishops from St Kieran
down to the last bishop, the late Dr Birch.
The mosaic work over the High Altar at the west wall gives
very interesting information. On the right is St Canice
holding a church and round tower in his hands. The late
Canon Carrigan states in his History of the Diocese of Ossory
that some of the round towers can be traced back to the
sixth century. The next work is St Kieran gazing at a bell
ringing of its own accord. After that there is the Pope
and St Patrick. The altar works are mainly Biblical.
At the Cathedral of the Assumption is also the Church of
St Kieran, one can also see a stained glass window of St
Kieran in the sanctuary. The bell, now under electrical
control, is and was known as St Kierans Bell. The
statue over the doorway leading into the Chapter Room is
the statue of St Kieran. Up to 1910 the leading soprano
in the Catholic Choir sang the sacred music from the tower
(where the purple windows can be seen) at the early Mass
on Christmas morning. That practice was discontinued as
it was thought to be too dangerous.
The Monstrance now used for Perpetual Adoration is a rare
gem of the past. It was handed down in the Bryan family
from Jenkinstown and was the most prized and valuable object
in the Diocesan Museum. In 1644 it was presented to the
Church by Dr David Rothe who was then Bishop of Ossory.
The construction of St Marys Cathedral began after
1843 and continued through the famine years, the years of
immigration, coffin ships, starvation and even despair because
of the many thousands of our people who died from hunger
and disease. But during that turmoil and adversity, the
splendid Cathedral continued to grow, thanks to the pennies
and other coins from our great grandmothers and grandfathers
who, perhaps, denied themselves many a frugal meal and who
made saintly sacrifices because they were a spirited people
and the backbone of the nation. Today we can bask in plenty
of sunshine and a thought should be given to the great men
and women of the past who received so little but worked
so hard for the glory of Faith and Fatherland.
In 1977, the Cathedral underwent many changes. Complete
new lighting and heating systems were installed. The floor
under the dome is beautifully elevated and richly carpeted
and floral decorations in brass containers are in excellent
harmony with the magnificent furniture. The new altar with
its bronze figures depict the following:
The Flight into Egypt, the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ,
the Miraculous Draft of Fishes, the Healing of the Sick,
the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper,
the Meeting of Martha and Mary, the Resurrection, Crucifixion
It was only fitting that on October 4, 1977, 25 years ago
and 120 years after the Cathedral was first opened that
the late Dr Peter Birch, Bishop of Ossory, should officially
open the Cathedral after its renovation by blessing and
consecrating the new altar.
Courtesy of Ray Cleere
and the Kilkenny People