Sunday, 18 October 2015

St Malachy's ceiling

I feel quite an affection for St Malachy. He was the first native-born Irish saint to be canonised (though plenty followed him: I found a list of 331 Irish saints at Catholic Online)

Many of his achievements were in what we might now call ecclesiastical management. But he also had the lovely idea of planting apple trees throughout the country when famine threatened during the twelfth century. Healing miracles were ascribed to him. He enjoyed travelling, including across Europe. I think he'd be a welcome guest in anyone's living room. 

Here in Belfast it made sense to build a beautiful church in his name, and a foundation stone was laid in 1841, on 3 November, his official feast day. It was intended that this would be the Cathedral Church of Down and Connor. But just around then the Irish famine took hold. Funds which were due to be spent on making the church the biggest and most glorious ever were diverted to assist the starving. St Malachy would have understood and approved. 

The church that resulted, though, is still an amazing sight. It's most famous for its superb fan vaulted ceiling. CEB Brett, my favourite author on Belfast architecture, compares it to a wedding cake. It's unclear whether he intends this as a compliment.

St Malachy's narrowly avoided destruction during the Blitz of 1941, though many of the windows were shattered. This damage, as well as changes in the Markets area in which it's situated, caused gradual deterioration, and it was recently closed for over a year for restoration.

It's beautiful again now - pristine, Gothic, lacy, yet accessible. I suspect that St Malachy might raise an eyebrow, but would stride to the pulpit, eating an apple, to exhort us all to be kinder to the poor.

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