Archive of the Month
The Muniments of St Patrick’s Cathedral
By Robert Gallagher
Although by no means complete, having suffered the ravages of time, including flood, fire and neglect, the scope of the muniments of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin is vast. The collection contains records from as early as the 13th century and continuing on to the present day. Since the transfer of the collection into the safe and permanent custody of the RCB Library in 1995, these have been accessioned as RCB Library C2 and organised into nine distinct record groups as follows: Volumes, Deeds, Maps, Plans & Drawings, Loose Papers, Photographs, Printed Material, Seals and Music. A detailed list of the collection can be found here.
The first group in the collection relating to St Patrick’s Cathedral, the volumes, is by far the largest portion of the muniments. Comprising over 300 items, these span the majority of the Cathedral’s history. The volumes cover a range of dates beginning in approximately 1190 and contain a variety of items as expansive as the dates they relate to. Examples include an extensive run of Chapter Act Books, commencing in 1643, Board Minute Books dating from 1872, various iterations of Account Books from as early as the 18th century, Attendance Books of the choir from as early as 1856, Visitors Books beginning in 1887 and even Scrapbooks, some of which were compiled by officers of the cathedral and staff members. There is also a Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials [RCB Library C2.1.15], which contains baptisms 1677–1868, marriages 1708–1840, burials 1687–1869 that took place in St Patrick’s and intermittent confirmations from the 18th and 19th centuries. This register has been published with an index and is available for purchase here.
The earliest item and one of the most significant is the Dignitas Decani [RCB Library C2.1.1], which is a large vellum volume of some 156 leaves collecting charters and other documents relating to the history of St Patrick’s Cathedral, that were gathered together to examine the rights and customs of the Dean and the Chapter.
The office of the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral was created circa 1219, when William FitzGuido was appointed by the Archbishop of Dublin, Henry DeLoundres (d. 1228) and the cathedral, to date, has been served by no less than 74 deans. The most famous and 50th dean was, Jonathan Swift (1667–1745).
Jonathan Swift was appointed dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1713, his appointment resulting after failed attempts to secure employment in England. This was due to his support of the then out of favour Tory party. It has been said that the appointment as dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral was in spite of opposition by Queen Anne, who apparently grew to dislike Swift after the publication of A Tale of a Tub. As well as championing issues of social justice, Swift was also renowned for his efficiency and administrative ability and as a result, many of the items in the collection are from his tenure. The Chapter Act Books provide an excellent example. A Chapter Act Book is a record of the procedures of a cathedral kept by the Dean and Chapter. One example dating from 1720–1763 [RCB Library C126.96.36.199], provides a good idea as to the business and duties of the Dean and Chapter at the time. This volume is written primarily in Latin, the ecclesiastical language of the time, but contains a table of contents surmising the entries in English at the back. Examples of entries include a nomination of ‘Jacobi Baylies’ to the Vicars Choral, the nomination of ‘Paulo Twigge’ as a minor Canon’ and the order for Joseph Blindell to take care of the clock of St Patrick’s Church ‘From this day forward [April 1780]’.
In addition to nominations and appointments, the Chapter Act Books contain information on the developing roles in the cathedral. For example, on page 65 of the Chapter Act Book 1720–1763 [RCB Library C188.8.131.52], an entry states that it is ordered ‘that the Places of Virger and Sexton be distinct employments’. They also contain information on lands relating to the cathedral, the Dean and Chapter. An entry on page 57 of the same Chapter Act Book outlines a leave perfected by the Dean, of the lands of ‘the Manor of Dean’s Rath, the Castle, Town and Lands of Deans’s Rath’ for 21 years from 25 March 1729. Entries and documents relating transactions involving property are a common feature in the collection. This is unsurprising given the cathedral’s prominent position and the authority of the Dean within the surrounding area.
The second record group is the deeds, containing some of the oldest items in the entire collection, dating from the 13th century. Much like the Volumes, the deeds contain a large number of items relating to the letting of lands and properties by and to the various Deans and Chapter members throughout the history of the cathedral. However, there are a few items that are of more obvious historical significance, the best examples being the deed 18 March 1474 [RCB Library C2.2.1] giving the support of Edward IV to the Dean of St Patrick’s, the Very Revd. John Alleyn (1466–1506), in a dispute with Archbishop Walton. The exemplification imposed a £20 fine on any Archbishop who contravened a statute whereby deans and canons were answerable only at a meeting of the Chapter.
Another example is a charter dated 2 September 1519 [RCB Library C2.2.2] by Henry VIII. This charter outlines the incorporation of the minor canons and choristers of St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Given the prominence of St Patrick’s Cathedral and the length of its existence, it is not surprising that the building and the lands surrounding it have gone through enormous changes in its lifetime. As such, it is to be expected that a large collection of maps, plans and drawings exist relating to the cathedral and the surrounding areas. The third record group is the extensive collection of maps, primarily from the 16th – 19th centuries, many relating to lands or properties owned by the cathedral, the Deans or other members of the Chapter. A typical example is a map dating from 1738, which illustrates a plot of land commonly known as ‘The Long Walk’ [RCB Library C184.108.40.206]. This piece of land belonged to Jonathan Swift during his time as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral and had been set to William White by Revd Dr Corbet in trust on behalf of the Dean.
In addition to the maps of the surrounding areas, numerous drawings and plans of the Cathedral, primarily dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, comprise the fourth group of records. This reflects the large number of restoration works necessary over the centuries to maintain the cathedral and keep it in satisfactory working order. An example can be found in the drawings of the artist Jonas Blaymires, who was paid for his series of views of the cathedral exterior. The collection is not limited to illustrations of the exterior however, and numerous rubbings and sketches of the interior and monuments are also recorded.
The fifth group is made up of miscellaneous loose papers, many of which were gathered together by cathedral officers or staff at different times. One example is a folder entitled ‘Swiftiana’[RCB Library C2.5.2]. This folder is a collection of papers and correspondence relating to Swift, with several transcriptions of letters sent by Swift during his time as Dean. Several of these transcriptions reproduce letters in which Swift outlines his displeasure with those attempting to undermine his position of Dean. Additionally, there are several copies of documents outlining the rediscovery of the grave containing the skulls of Swift and Esther Johnson (known as Stella), during the retiling of the floor of the cathedral in 1882.
The next group collects the photographs of St Patrick’s Cathedral, which were recently arranged into the following groups; CathedralInterior, Cathedral Exterior, Services, Choir, Dean’s of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Clergy & Staff, Very Revd Johnathan Swift and Miscellaneous. The photographs primarily relate to the 20th and 21st centuries, however there are numerous reproductions and facsimiles of items dating further back. These reproductions are primarily images of the interior and exterior of the cathedral itself at different points in its long history. The collection contains a broad range of subjects from portraits of Deans, services attended by prominent politicians and numerous photos relating to the cathedral choir. Like most of the muniments of St Patrick’s Cathedral, the photograph collection contains a number of items relevant to Swift, his works and his time as Dean of the cathedral. A novel example are the images of Terence Healy portraying the Very Revd Swift in a production of ‘Mr Handel’s Visit to Dublin’, by Maurice Davin–Power which premiered in St Patrick’s Cathedral on 29 September 1969.
The eighth section of the muniments is a collection of cathedral seals including those specific to the Deans and other notable Dublin residents. Perhaps the two most significant are the Guinness restoration medal, from the extensive restoration process funded by Benjamin Guinness in 1860–1865 [RCB Library C220.127.116.11] and the seal of the Very Revd. John West (1864–1889). West had earlier served as chaplain and secretary to Archbishop Richard Whately (1831–1863) which we featured in a previous Archive of the Month, here.
St Patrick’s Cathedral has been used as a venue for a vast number of dramatic performances, recitals and concerts throughout its history, and many of these are recorded in the muniments. The best example of the relationship between the cathedral and performances is found in the seventh section of the collection, the Printed Material. A series of programmes and fliers relating to the performances and recitals held in the cathedral from the 19th and 20th centuries have been compiled for example into a scrapbook, in a most remarkable collection.
The final section of items relating to St Patrick’s Cathedral is the collection relating to its music, for which it is famous thanks in no small part to its renowned choir. Events such as the Christmas Eve Carol Service have a national resonance and are exceptionally well attended. It is unsurprising then that the collection of music relating to St Patrick’s Cathedral is so vast that it requires a dedicated list, which is available on request from the RCB Library. Perhaps the most famous item in the repertoire of St Patrick’s Cathedral Choir which had its first performance during the tenure of Dean Swift, is Handel’s Messiah. In 1741 the cathedral choir was, rather unusually, given permission to perform in the premiere, after which the piece was swiftly absorbed into the repertoire of the choir and remains so to this day.
There have been numerous histories written on St Patrick’s Cathedral, most recently ‘St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin: A History’ edited by the late Canon John Crawford and Professor Raymond Gillespie. The 30th of November 2017 marks the 350th anniversary of the birth of Jonathan Swift. His history of the St Patrick’s Cathedral can be seen throughout the collection. In commemoration of his contribution, St Patrick’s Cathedral will be hosting a festival between the 23rd and 26th of November 2017. A full calendar of events can be found here. Visitors are also most welcome ot the library to consult the original archives at the RCB Library.
Further discussion about the documents from St Patrick’s Cathedral and what they tell us about Jonathan Swift in an interview by Miriam Gormally of Soul Waves Radio with Dr Susan Hood is available for listening here: http://www.soulwavesradio.ie/2017/11/23/jonathan-swift/