|A Cathedral is the parish church of the
of a diocese and Waterford city has had a Cathedral since Norman
times. After the Reformation, the
old Christchurch Cathedral of the Normans passed forever from Catholic
hands. There were, however, two instances of repossession: the
Catholics occupied it for a few days when news reached the city of
Elizabeth's death and there was a longer occupation, of six years,
during the heady days of the Confederation of Kilkenny when it seemed
that Ireland was at long last going to control her own destiny.
But, when the Confederation collapsed in 1649 the Catholics were never
again to possess the cathedral. For the next century and a half
there was no Cathedral for the Catholics. Indeed, from 1650 till
1797 they were to have no Bishop resident in the city. The
restoration of the monarchy in England gave a little hope to the
Catholics of the city and they rented a small store as a Mass house.
This store was situated in
Barronstrand street, behind the present Granville Hotel and directly
opposite the present Cathedral. This store lasted as a Mass-house
until 1693 when the Corporation (Protestant) allowed the Catholics to
erect a simple chapel - provided it would be inconspicuous and not
offensive to the Protestants. The site given was partly the same
site where the present Cathedral stands. This site was behind the
houses on Barronstrand street because Catholics were not allowed to have a
street frontage for their chapels. The entrance to this chapel was
by way of a laneway leading from Keyser's street. Waterford's
Catholics worshipped in this chapel for a hundred years and it must be
remembered that this century was the century of the Penal Laws against
Catholics. Masses were celebrated very early in the morning
(around 5.00am) so as not to cause offence to Protestants on their way
to their own churches and the chapel was closed when when Mass was not
taking place. Catholics had to be very careful not to offend the
authorities in case their chapel would be closed down.
It was a fortunate day for the Catholics of Waterford when, in 1772,
Bishop William Egan (who lived in Clonmel) transferred Thomas Hearn, a brilliant and
dedicated priest, from the parish of Mothel to
Waterford. Through him, much hope was given and for nearly forty
years he was a powerful force, and figure, in the city. By 1772
times were improving for Irish Catholics and they were becoming more
confident and more organised. An important Catholic Association
had been founded in Dublin in 1760. One of its founders was a
Waterford man, Thomas Wyse of the Manor of St. John, who championed the
Catholic cause. Various Acts were passed in Parliament in 1772,
1778, 1782 and 1792, giving some relief to
Catholics. After nearly a century of the Penal Laws the Waterford
Catholics felt that the time had come to consider replacing the old Mass
House with a more dignified and fitting place of worship. In fact,
they decided to build a Cathedral.
In 1790 a petition from some prominent Catholics, including Edmund Rice,
was presented by Dean Hearn to the Corporation. This
a request to allow them rent some property adjacent to the Mass
House. This petition was successful and the land was rented for
999 years, at two shillings and sixpence per annum. The Dean
immediately began to demolish the Mass House and he set about building
the new Cathedral. The foremost architect in Waterford was John
Roberts and he had just completed the design of the new Church of
Ireland Cathedral. The Cathedral was to cost £20,000 - a huge sum
for the period - and all the money was raised from the pennies and
half-pennies of the poor. Roberts' Cathedral was a square shaped
building and the rear wall was situated where the sanctuary rails are
now situated. The High Altar stood against the rear wall.
The original plan called for a classic portico over the main entrance on
Barronstrand street but, because of worries about the foundations, which
are on marshy ground, it was never completed.
Over the years, alterations, additions
and improvements have taken place.
1826 A new organ, to replace the
original, was installed.
1829-37 The original rear wall was
removed and the sanctuary enlarged.
1854 A new High Altar was installed.
1855-72 The two side altars were
1870's A new organ was installed.
1881 The high
vaulted ceiling was elaborately decorated. The present
marble high altar was erected, though the new altar incorporates
the front of the altar of 1854. The great Baldachino was erected over the altar. This Baldachino is supported by five Corinthian columns - all with
1883 The magnificent Baroque pulpit,
the Chapter stalls and the Bishop's Chair were installed. They
were all designed by the London firm of Goldie & Sons and were
carved in oak by the French firm of Buisine & Sons, Lille.
1883-88 The stained glass windows, by Meyer of Munich, were installed.
1892-93 The cut-stone front, in
Ionic pillers, was added to the cathedral. The Mortuary
Chapel was also built.
The ten Waterford Glass chandeliers, a gift from Waterford
Crystal, were erected.