Saint Columb's Cathedral will not be open
to tourists until further notice
It was in the year 1613 that James I formed, by Royal Charter, the new County of Londonderry and that The Honourable The Irish Society was established to build the City. Paramount in their plans was the erection of the Cathedral and they immediately sent over from London a silver-gilt chalice (the 'Promised Chalice') and paten for the Church they hoped to build. The following year a bell was sent over from London with the legend: 'Fear God, Honour the King. Re-cast for Londonderry Steeple in 1614'.
Construction work began in 1628 and the stone which records completion is to be seen in the porch of the Cathedral:
"lf stones could speake
Then London’s prayse
Should sounde who
Built this Church and
Cittie from the grounde".
The Cathedral was built of stone from local quarries and skilled stone cutters and masons had to be procured. The old pillars and arches bear testimony to sound judgement and first-rate craftsmanship.
St Columb's is the first Cathedral in the British 'Isles to have been built after the Reformation and is a fine example of 'Planter's Gothic'. There was practically no change in the appearance of the building from 1633 to 1776 when the Bishop of Derry (the 4th Earl of Bristol) added 21 feet to the tower, and placed above this a very tall and graceful stone spire, making a total height of 221 feet, but about 20 years afterwards, his addition to the tower showed signs of giving way and the whole was taken down and rebuilt, the tower being completed in 1802 and the spire being added about 20 years later.
The nave however remained exactly as it was until 1825 when the South Porch was removed. In 1827 the eastern turrets were either rebuilt or else surmounted by domes; before this they appear with battlements.
In 1861/2 the interior of the Cathedral was entirely re-modelled, the old square pews were removed, and all the present oak work of the nave was provided, and the galleries in the aisles taken away. Many other improvements were made in the ornaments and furnishings of the building.
The addition of the chancel in 1887 completed the Cathedral on the plan of its founders - the foundations had actually been laid in 1633 and were discovered during building operations. The erection of the Chapter House in 1910 not only provided much needed accommodation for the clergy and choir, but also added greatly to the external appearance of the Cathedral.