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Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, Waterford

A Cathedral is the parish church of the Bishop 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 petition was 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 erected.
 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 gilt capitals.  

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. 

1979 The ten Waterford Glass chandeliers, a gift from Waterford Crystal, were erected.        

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Copyright 2006 Waterford History