The Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, is a rather special church: it is said to be the place where the famous St. Patrick, responsible for the Christianization of Ireland during the 5th century, was buried. Magnificent, and still in operation, this church attracts thousands of visitors every day, who come to pay their respects to the saint. A place not to be missed!
Downpatrick Cathedral was built in the 12th century to serve as an early Augustinian monastery, before being used as a living place by Benedictine monks, brought by John of Courcy, Norman knight conqueror of Ulster in 1177. At the time, the monks gathered there to practice their worship, to learn and to produce sumptuous illuminated manuscripts.
Unfortunately, a terrible earthquake destroyed the building in 1245. Despite some restoration work, it was burned by Edward Bruce in 1315.
Rebuilt several times, it was finally completely abandoned for two centuries before being completely rebuilt in the 18th century. The construction was based on old foundations and ruined walls, in order to preserve the historical character of the building. Numerous Celtic crosses were also preserved and integrated into the central nave, and Gothic towers were erected to turn the building into a cathedral in the true sense of the word.
It was finally inaugurated in 1818, and is still in use today.
Don’t hesitate to enter: the guided tour will allow you to discover inside a Latin cross plan, illuminated by a light subdued by coloured stained glass windows. The nave is impressive, and pays homage to Saint Patrick, through paintings, statues and numerous stained glass windows recounting the great episodes of the evangelization of Ireland. The guide will not fail to present you the saint’s journey, and to evoke the different stages that enabled him to Christianise Ireland.
Don’t miss the Celtic crosses, and the typically Gothic architecture of the building: it is a true splendour! Don’t miss either its 11th century granite baptismal basin, discovered in 1927 when it was used as a drinking trough. It was installed in the cathedral in 1931 and remains today one of the treasures of the building!
The icing on the cake: Down Cathedral is believed to be the presumed burial place of Saint Patrick. The latter would have been buried there many centuries before (March 17, 461), next to Saint Brigitte and Saint Columcille, two other great figures of Christianity at the time… Do not hesitate to go there! The tomb is located on the square in front of the cathedral, and takes the form of an enormous megalith placed there, surmounted by a commemorative plaque.