- To mark the 150th anniversary of the dedication of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, a new icon of Saint Patrick (pictured) has been prayerfully and lovingly written by the Redemptoristine sisters of Drumcondra in Dublin – see video presentation below
- “Saint Patrick, intercede for Ireland!” – homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin during 7.30pm Evening Prayer to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral
There’s a beautiful Latin hymn that is sometimes sung on the anniversary of the dedication of a church:
Locus iste a Deo factus est: This place was made by God!
Every time I visit this beautiful cathedral of Saint Patrick, look up at the splendid ceiling and see the colourful light spilling in through the stained glasses windows, I cannot help thinking: “This place was made by God”!
People who come here – of various Christian traditions, other faiths, even people who profess no particular faith or belief – are touched by the beauty of this place, because the Cathedral points us to something beyond our senses: to the Transcendent God, ‘Three in One and One in Three’, who is Truth and Beauty itself.
Visiting Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is not like entering a museum or art gallery. This is the Lord’s house; it is a living space of prayer which is deeply sacred. For a century and a half, people have come here to lift their hearts and minds to God: in praise and thanksgiving; in sorrow and petition and intercession. I think of all the baptisms, the first communion and confirmation ceremonies, the weddings and funerals that have taken place here. Imagine the millions of prayers that have been offered up here in times of joy and sadness; worry and happiness. I think of all the candles lit quietly in prayer, and faithful people asking God’s help with important relationships, decisions or exams; placing their hopes and fears before God.
The foundation stone of the Cathedral was laid by Archbishop William Crolly on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1840. There is a plaque just here on the sanctuary steps which commemorates that joyful moment for the Catholics of Ireland. That was like a renaissance moment after Catholic Emancipation – to have our own Cathedral here in Armagh, the see of Saint Patrick, after centuries of discrimination and exclusion. No wonder twenty to thirty thousand people turned up for the occasion!
But sadly, within a few years, the Great Famine hit Ireland and work on the new cathedral had to be suspended; the funds raised were distributed for the relief of the poor – Archbishop Crolly himself died of cholera in Drogheda on Good Friday in 1849. His body was taken back here to Armagh and he was laid to rest near this very spot in his unfinished cathedral.
It wasn’t until six years later, at Easter 1854, that the construction recommenced under the leadership of Primate Joseph Dixon, with a new architect and a revised design. But Primate Dixon himself died unexpectedly before the work was finished and it fell to Archbishop Daniel McGettigan to complete the Cathedral. He declared Sunday 24 August 1873 as the day of opening and dedication. Massive crowds from all over Ireland, and beyond, gathered in Armagh for the occasion.
Our Cathedral that day would have looked very different to what we are used to today. The structure was the same of course, but much of the decoration and adornment had yet to be added. Subsequent years and decades would see the addition of the stained glass windows, the Stations of the Cross, the great Telford organ, the amazing mosaics, the painted ceiling, the marbles and carvings, the carillon of bells. Outside the Cathedral, here on Sandy Hill, the famous terraced steps, the sacristy, the synod hall and the gate lodge would all come later, as would the bishop’s residence and offices at Ara Coeli.
It must have been very moving on that day of dedication to witness the anointing of the first altar of this Cathedral with Chrism: the altar, a symbol of Christ, the Anointed One, Christ the High Priest, who offered the sacrifice of his life on the cross for our salvation.
The walls of the cathedral were also anointed with Holy Chrism during the dedication, at twelve places; the candles you see lit along the walls this evening mark the spots where Archbishop McGettigan anointed the building.
Since 1873, the people of God in the Archdiocese have continued to restore, decorate, and maintain this beautiful cathedral. It has been rededicated on several occasions after major works in 1904; 1982, 2003. This weekend we thank God for the skills of the craftsmen and women who have worked on the Cathedral over the years, and for the generosity of countless people in Ireland and around the world who contributed during hard times, making great sacrifices to hand on this sacred space to us. Huge generosity came from the Irish diaspora, especially in America and Canada, and locally too from many of our Protestant neighbours.
Of course, no matter how splendid a Church building may be, we should always remember that the Church is made up of people – “living stones, making a spiritual house” (1Pet 2), and Christ is the cornerstone and sure foundation of the Church. One day this beautiful Cathedral will eventually fall into ruin or be replaced. What is really important is we keep alive the faith and hope that this place represents and hand on the faith to our children and grandchildren. Wouldn’t it be a shame if this beautiful Cathedral ceased to be a living house of prayer and ended up as simply another interesting tourist stop for visitors to Armagh.
That depends on us – to be like our patron, Saint Patrick, who saw himself as an ambassador for Christ. Saint Patrick was a faithful and fearless witness who said he simply couldn’t be silent about God, and wanted to shout out aloud about all that God had done for him here in the land of his captivity. For Patrick, being a missionary was a ‘holy and wonderful work’, something for which he was prepared to suffer insults, falsehoods, opposition, imprisonment, and, if necessary, even willingly give up his life.
During the past few weeks, at Masses on the top of Croagh Patrick, and on the Hill of Slane, I recalled the dream of Saint Patrick’s in which he heard the voice of the Irish people calling out: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” Tonight, here in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral city of Armagh, I call out once more: Saint Patrick, intercede for Ireland! Come and walk once more among us. Inspire in us a determination to work for the renewal of faith, hope and love here in our land.
In a few moments, I will bless and dedicate a new icon of Saint Patrick which has been prayerfully and lovingly written for the Cathedral by the Redemptoristine sisters of Drumcondra in Dublin. I ask that we all pray before the icon for the grace of God – the Three in One, and One in Three – to raise up strong ambassadors, witnesses and missionaries for Christ from among us. Our need is great, for sadly, many sons and daughters of Ireland are drifting away from the practice of the faith; some may even have abandoned God.
Dear friends, now it is our turn to shout aloud the message of salvation and share with others the difference that a foundation of faith makes to our lives. The best way to win souls for Christ these days is to witness ‘heart to heart’, to speak the truth with love and attract others to God by the example of our lives.
Brothers and sisters, like Saint Patrick we cannot, and should not be silent about God’s love. We have work to do! The work of Saint Patrick – to rekindle the flame of faith in our own hearts, in our families, our diocese and across the whole of this island – north, south, east and west. Thanks be to God for our faith, for our hope in the Risen Christ, and for the love and charity that brings us all together this evening in this splendid Cathedral of which we are rightly so proud.
Locus iste a Deo factus est. This is the Lord’s house. Thanks be to God.
Saint Patrick, pray for us.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
- Video presenting newly commissioned icon of Saint Patrick to mark the 150th anniversary of the dedication of Saint Patrick’s, Cathedral, Armagh St Patrick’s 150 – Icon of St Patrick – YouTube
- Sister Angela reflects on new icon marking the 150th dedication of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh:
This week marks the 150th anniversary of the dedication of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, and includes the unveiling of a new icon which has been written by Sister Angela of the Redemptoristine Community Drumcondra, Dublin. Sister Angela explains her writing of the icon in the following way:
“Saint Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland, stands with his hand raised in the gesture of blessing. He holds the Cathedral of Armagh cradled in his arm in a gesture of protection, symbolic of his vocation as special intercessor for the people of Ireland and the Archdiocese of Armagh.
The Shamrock, distinctive sign associated with Saint Patrick, recalls the divine life and the Union of the Trinity into which we are called to participate.
The lamb’s wool pallium, is a symbol of the service of authority – the yoke of Christ which is easy and its burden light.
Green is the colour of hope, newness of life. Saint Patrick brings the light of Christ to a people who dwelt in darkness (Isaiah 9:2). In iconography it often denotes where life begins. New life begins in Christ.
Saint Brigid is clothed in her monastic veil and cloak with a red mantle, the colour of love and vitality and sacrifice. She and Saint Malachy are pillars of faith and examples for those seeking to follow Christ.
Saint Malachy’s blue robe denotes the mystic life, and recalls the visions and miracles attested to him.”
Sister Angela continued, “In writing this icon, continuous prayer was offered for a renewal of faith in the hearts of the people of Ireland, that all our lives may be filled with the light of Christ. Prayers of thanksgiving were also offered for all those who are ‘light bearers’ and ‘enlighteners’ in our lives and for those who have been missionaries to us in any way. Praying before the icon helps to open our hearts and minds ever more to Christ, especially in deep gratitude for those who, like Saint Patrick, show us the way to Christ.”
The marking of the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral will conclude this Sunday, 27 August 2023, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, as the chief celebrant for a Mass of Thanksgiving in Saint Patrick’s, Armagh. All are welcome.