ST. ANNE'S CATHEDRAL | BELFAST

By Zozimuz

ST. ANNE’S CATHEDRAL - MAY 2015

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In an attempt to increase tourism, Belfast City Council designated a number of cultural quarters at the beginning of the new millennium, and it was then that the Cathedral Quarter was born, The area is named after St. Anne's Cathedral. The church was built between the years of 1899 and 1904 and enjoys a central setting on Donegall Street, beside Ulster University.

This week was the first time that I got the opportunity to see the inside of St. Anne’s Cathedral and to be honest I think that it will be the last time.

I am not religious so in theory it should not worry or bother me that the place had the feeling of a commercial enterprise rather than that of a ‘house of god’. Upon entering the building the interior struck me as being styled in the manner on a modern art gallery rather than a cathedral but in a way it could be described as attractive or even beautiful but it totally lacks atmosphere.

Before I visited Belfast I checked some tourist guides and they all indicated that entry to the cathedral was free but that donations were appreciated. When I went into the Cathedral much of of the centre was cordoned-off as some work was in progress.

There was a merchandising section not far from the entrance and this was manned by a lady who was having a conversation with two people who were either guides or church officials, they were dressed in blue. I was nearly at the altar when I was approached by the lady who explained that there was a nominal fee which needed to be paid before I left.

While I would describe the place as attractive and bright I did not find it in anyway interesting but this could because I am not at all comfortable with a church that features military artefacts as a major attraction.

I took a few photographs and then went to pay the ’nominal fee’ and I was more than surprised when I was informed that the cost of entry was £5.00.

St Anne's Cathedral, also known as Belfast Cathedral, is a cathedral of the Church of Ireland in Donegall Street, Belfast. It is unusual in serving two separate dioceses (Connor and Down and Dromore), yet being the seat of neither (it is geographically in the Diocese of Connor), it is therefore not a cathedral in the truest sense of the word, a cathedral being a church housing the seat of a bishop.It is, however, titled as such. It is the focal point of the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast.

The first architect was Sir Thomas Drew, the foundation stone being laid on 6 September 1899 by the Countess of Shaftesbury. The old parish church of St Anne by Francis Hiorne of 1776 had continued in use, up until 31 December 1903, while the new cathedral was constructed around it; the old church was then demolished. The Good Samaritan window, to be seen in the sanctuary, is the only feature of the old church to be retained in the cathedral. Initially, only the nave of the cathedral was built, and this was consecrated on 2 June 1904.

In 1924 it was decided to build the west front of the cathedral as a memorial to the Ulstermen and women who had served and died in World War I. The foundation stone for this was laid by Governor of Northern Ireland, the Duke of Abercorn on 2 June 1925 and the completed facade, to an amended design by the architect Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson, was dedicated in June 1927.

In the meantime, the central crossing, in which the choir sits, was built between 1922 and 1924. The Baptistery, to plans drawn up by the late W H Lynn, who had assisted Sir Thomas Drew, was dedicated in 1928, and the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, with its beautiful mosaics depicting Saint Patrick, was dedicated on 5 July 1932, the 1500th anniversary of the arrival of St Patrick in Ireland.

Edward, Lord Carson, the leader of the Unionist cause at the time of the Home Rule Crisis, was buried (with a state funeral) in the south aisle of the cathedral in 1935. In 1941 the cathedral was almost destroyed by a German bomb, which caused extensive damage to surrounding properties. In 1955 work began on the construction of the ambulatory, at the east end of the cathedral. This work was dedicated in 1959, but it was not for another ten years that it was possible to begin work on the north and south transepts. The Troubles and inflation led to long delays and major problems with the financing of this work.

The south transept, containing the Chapel of Unity, and with the organ loft above, was dedicated in 1974, and the north transept, with the large Celtic cross designed by John MacGeagh on the exterior, and housing the Chapel of the Royal Irish Rifles, was completed in 1981.

In April 2007 a 40-metre stainless steel spire was installed on top of the cathedral. Named the "Spire of Hope", the structure is illuminated at night and is part of a wider redevelopment planned for the Cathedral Quarter. The base section of the spire protrudes through a glass platform in the cathedral's roof directly above the choir stalls, allowing visitors to view it from the nave.