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St Patrick’s Cathedral Lady Chapel Opened After Conservation And Refurbishment

Posted on: July 10, 2013 4:24 PM
Photo Credit: St Patrick's Cathedral Dublin
Related Categories: Dublin, Ireland

[Church of Ireland] The Lady Chapel at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin was officially opened yesterday evening, Tuesday 9th July, 2013, by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan T.D.. following extensive conservation and refurbishment.

Constructed in the 1270s, the Lady Chapel is one of the oldest sections of St Patrick’s Cathedral, the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, and it had previously been closed to the public. The conservation project cost in the region of €700k and took over six months to complete. 

In line with the Cathedral’s commitment to boosting the tourism economy of Ireland, particular emphasis was placed on procuring craftspeople based in Ireland, both for the restoration and the development of new furniture for the Lady Chapel. During the course of the extensive renovation of this section of the Cathedral, certain sections of the stained glass were painstakingly dismantled, cleaned and remounted, and the stone work was thoroughly cleaned. 

The Dean of St Patrick’s, The Very Revd Victor Stacey said, ‘The refurbishment of the Lady Chapel has made us more ambitious at St Patrick’s. Although just complete, we can already see how the restoration of this unique space has rejuvenated interest in the Cathedral as a whole. From an aesthetic point of view, it demonstrated how careful restoration can illuminate the architecture and craftsmanship that makes the Cathedral one of the most beautiful in this part of Europe.’

Addressing the official opening, Minister Deenihan said: ‘The reopening of this Chapel represents a considerable addition to Dublin’s attractiveness to visitors and also represents St Patrick’s strong commitment to increasing the offering to visitors from the Cathedral. I would like to congratulate the Cathedral on the enormous amount of work that has gone into making this a reality.’

Cathedral Administrator, Gavan Woods, said ‘We are very pleased to have been able to bring the Lady Chapel back to its former glory so that it can now be enjoyed by the public. However, we know too well that self–financed restoration projects like this are much fewer because of the times we live in. Historic buildings which are open to the public can rarely maintain their fabric through their visitor income. This is a nervous time for our built heritage, which – without support – could fall into serious decline.

‘In a year that we’re benefiting so much from overseas visitors as a result of The Gathering and other initiatives, it’s important that we look at ways of sustaining these visitor numbers. Investing in our heritage is a wise, long–term approach that will deliver sustainable ways of attracting visitor numbers to this island.

‘The Lady Chapel at St Patrick’s Cathedral is now open to the public, and will be included in the official Cathedral tour from today onwards. In addition, the Cathedral intends to make the Chapel available to the wider community as a space in which to hold appropriate cultural events.”

Lady Chapel History

In the Cathedrals of Northern Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries it became common practice to build a chapel behind the high altar and dedicate it to the Virgin Mary. The Lady Chapel of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was built in 1270, by Archbishop Fulk de Saunford and like the rest of the building, was restored in the 19th century. 

From mid–17th to the early 19th century, the Chapel was known as the ‘French Chapel’ as it was used by Huguenots (French Protestant refugees) after they came to Ireland. One of these Huguenots, Dr Elie Bouhereau, was the first librarian of Marsh’s Library and is buried here.

The Chapels either side are dedicated to Saint Peter on the north side, and Saint Stephen on the south side. Other objects of interest in the Lady Chapel and the side chapels include the chair which is said to have been used by King William III at a service of celebration after his victory at the Battle of the Boyne. 

There are records of many interments beneath the floor of the Chapel. The tomb of an Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Tregury who died in 1471, can still be viewed. It was Tregury who gave, in his will, the first organ to the Cathedral. 

The window inside the gate of the South Choir aisle commemorates Annie Lee Plunkett, wife of Archbishop Plunkett, and daughter of Benjamin Lee Guinness. She was renowned for her charitable work, and is remembered here with a very appropriate text of scripture for her family: ‘I was thirsty and ye gave me drink’. 

The Lady Chapel now serves as a private Chapel space and today the majority of midweek services in the Cathedral take place here. It is also used by the Education Department for the purposes of Education Sessions during term time and for Choir rehearsals and for recitals. 

In September 2012, the Lady Chapel was closed for a major conservation and cleaning project which cost approximately €700,000. The work included an extensive cleaning of the space including all the stone work, monuments, stained glass and the floor tiles. The services of Irish craftsmen and women have been used throughout, highlighting the tremendous skills extant in this country. A new lighting scheme has been installed and the ceiling has been repainted. This necessary work has been funded through the income generated by our visitors and by the fundraising efforts of Friends of the Cathedral. New communion tables and seating have been designed and commissioned, again from an Irish manufacturer. 

Photographs of the restoration process are available at the following links: