This Cathedral is a must see on your visit to Derry as it is inexorably linked with so much of the history of this City.
St Columb’s Cathedral, in Planter’s Gothic style, was built between 1628 and 1633, around 10 years after the City Walls were completed, making it the first Cathedral to be erected in the British Isles after the Reformation. It is the oldest building in the City and the mother church of the Church of Ireland Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and the parish church of Templemore. It is dedicated to Saint Columba, the Irish monk who established a Christian settlement in the area in the sixth century.
Like the City Walls and many other buildings in the City, it was built by The Honourable the Irish Society, a London based organisation created by Royal Charter (James I) in 1613 to undertake the Plantation in the North West of Ulster. Further details on the Irish Society can be found in my separate tip “Roaring Meg and other cannons”. Just inside the cathedral you will see a tablet recognising the importance of London in the development of the City. It reads:
“If stones could speak. Then London’s praise should sound who built this church and city from the ground”.
The two guardhouses or watchtowers you can see along the City Walls (one either side of the Cathedral) were added, and the wall raised, in 1628 to provide added additional protection to the Cathedral which housed cannons on the top of its tower (pre current spire days – this was added in 1821) and which was of great strategic importance to the defence of the City and protection of the Plantation settlers who had recently arrived from England and Scotland.
The church played a critical role during the 1688-89 Siege of Derry. In addition to being a house of worship for Episcopalians and Presbyterians, the Cathedral’s tower served as s signalling station to those outside, including relief ships beyond the boom erected on the River Foyle by James II to stop food and other supplies from entering the besieged City. Throughout the siege a crimson flag, signalling distress, was flown from the Cathedral. Following the Siege the colour crimson was adopted as the commemorative siege colour and it became the colour of the Apprentice Boys Association.
Two of the Siege’s key leaders are buried within the Cathedral – Colonel Henry Baker and Captain Michael Browning as are a number of others who died in the Siege. Renovations to the Cathedral in 1861 disturbed a number of bodies and lead to a major outrage within the City and became the motivator for the construction of the Siege Heroes Mound which you can see within the Cathedral grounds and upon which I have written a separate review.
In the entrance hall to the Cathedral you will come across a hollow shell fired into the City on 10 July 1689 by James IIs forces who were encamped outside the Walls. Inside the shell, which landed in the grounds of what is now St Augustine’s Church, was an offer and terms for surrender of the citizens. The offer was rejected.
Since 1689 the Cathedral has hosted annual thanksgiving services to commemorate the Shutting of the Gates and the Relief of the City.
Do take time to visit the Cathedral’s Chapter House. Among the items on exhibit here are Governor Walker’s Bible (see my separate review on Governor Walker- The Walker Memorial Plinth – Royal Bastion), the 1689 keys and locks of the then four City Gates, various documents relating the Siege of Derry and portraits of William III (William of Orange).
Also within the Cathedral you will find a small display to the memory of Cecil Frances Alexander, perhaps not well known to readers until I mention that she was a famous hymn writer, most famous for writing Once in Royal David’s City, All Things Bright and Beautiful and There is a Green Hill Far Away. I have prepared a separate review on this great hymn writer.
St Columb’s Cathedral may also have inspired the writing of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace”. Again more about that in a separate review.
Photography within the Cathedral is not permitted.
Entry fee is GBP2 – this is waived if you have taken a Derry City Tours, city walking tour.
Opening Hours – Mon-Sat 9am-5pm. Sunday – Open for church services only – everyone welcome.
This entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Londonderry/Derry. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Amazing Grace – Newton and the Derry Link – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – The City on the Foyle.