St Canice’s Cathedral (also known as Kilkenny Cathedral) has been a site of Christian worship for more than 800 years.
The ghost of Dame Alice Kyteler is said to appear on a staircase under the western window of St Canice’s Cathedral. Click here to learn more about Dame Alice and the witch trial.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Historians believe that there were at least three earlier churches on this site, but there is no evidence that St Canice (c. 520 – 599) founded a church here. He did establish a monastery at Aghaboe – the seat of the bishop of Ossory (transferred to Kilkenny, c.1120), but records are not clear on his role in establishing this particular cathedral. The imposing round tower which stands beside it does however suggest that the site was considered important, even if St Canice played no part in it.
Bishop Hugh de Mapilton is credited with overseeing the first phase of the current building’s construction with his successor, Bishop Geoffrey de St Leger, continuing the work. It is believed that the original cathedral was completed in 1285.
In 1332, part of the cathedral roof which had been repaired using a penance payment from William Outlaw, son of Alice Kyteler collapsed during a storm. The lead used was too heavy and caused the central tower (belfry) to collapse causing significant damage to the choir and side-chapels.
In 1650, Oliver Cromwell captured Kilkenny. The Cathedral was taken over, tombs were defiled and the great building was used to house the army’s horses. It was left as a roofless shell for more than a decade. Following the expulsion of Cromwell and his army, Bishop Williams began the mammoth task of overseeing the restoration of the cathedral. When Charles Vignoles arrived as Dean of the cathedral in the 1840s, the building was in a state of disrepair. His work to restore the cathedral and to add his own preferred gothic style caused considerable consternation, especially with the incumbent bishop, Bishop O’Brien. It would be seven years spent in exile before Vignoles could return to begin his work, in partnership with a local architect, Richard Langrishe, to create the building we see here today.
It is believed that the 100ft (30 metre) round tower that stands alongside St Canice’s Cathedral was built in the 9th Century. Excavations suggest that the tower’s foundations are less than three feet deep. The tower is open to the public and the views from the top are breathtaking, but the climb involves steep ladders and narrow spaces so do be prepared.
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