On Friday 24 February 1865 (St Matthias’ Day), it was reported that nearly 4000 persons thronged into this Cathedral Church, for its reopening, following five years of restoration. The nobility and gentry were accompanied by the ordinary citizens of Dublin, many of whom had queued from 8.00 am for the 11.00 am service.
The evening service also had a full congregation. The details of the restoration and the ceremony of the reopening are well described in the columns of the Daily Express, of the following day. The Archbishop of Dublin preached on a text from Psalm 46 vv8-9, which includes the words: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: let the whole earth stand in awe of him.” There is much more could be said about the service which marked the conclusion of that phase of restoration.
One is always conscious of the hand of history as one enters this glorious building. We think of the craftsmen who built it; those who maintained it and added to its monuments.
In 1840’s Henry Packenham, as Dean, made a valiant effort to restore the then crumbling edifice.
Although he spent a large amount of his own money (or was it his wife’s), the intervention of the famine, thwarted his efforts.
It is possible that his generosity prompted Benjamin Guinness to make his offer to Dean and Chapter in 1860, to defray the cost of the entire restoration so long as he was given a free hand and had no interference from architects. Alexander Leeper in his handbook to the Monuments of St Patrick has this to say: “Among the most notable events in the history of the Cathedral Church, none can compare with its complete restoration which was effected by Benjamin Lee Guinness. That princely minded man, at his sole cost, and at an enormous outlay, renewed the dilapidated building within and without, and on St Matthias’ Day 1865 had the gratification of seeing his works completed.”
and he goes on:
“When the magnitude of the undertaking is considered, its unprecedented character, its costly and manifold details, and the steady perseverance with which this friend of the Church of Ireland, carried out his purpose of restoring the great cathedral, we are penetrated with a sense of thankfulness to God for putting into his heart the fruitful thought.”
The 19th century was still a time when illuminated addresses were in vogue, and Benjamin Lee Guinness received two.
The first from the Lord Mayor and aldermen on behalf of the citizens of Dublin, addressed a former Lord Mayor acknowledging his munificence, (a word used more than once) and referring to the auspicious occasion. It is a beautiful crafted address and response and warrants a complete study but again time does not permit.
What is more interesting to us here today is the address from the Dean & Chapter, because it is more modest and personal and seems to give a better insight into the person and character of Benjamin Lee Guinness.
Let me quote a few sentences:
“… We do not say much on such an occasion because we have watched through the years of reparation, not only what you have done, but the spirit in which you have done it, and we gather from this how distasteful to you would be any loud expressions of admiration and praise, even from those on whose good opinion you might set the highest value. Nor is there need for us to say much. So long as that house of God shall stand it will be told from generation to generation that when nothing short of absolute ruin threatened the noblest church if Ireland, a private citizen of Dublin arrested the progress of the fall, repaired the neglects of ages, and brought back to its original beauty this monument of the piety of other times. Nor less will be recorded that he accomplishing by his single munificence what had seemed too great a task for the whole church to undertake, did not appear to account that he had done any unusual thing or ought, which exceeded the limits of an ordinary liberality.”
Benjamin Lee Guinness replied modestly, concluding: “I pray the blessing of God may ever rest on that house of prayer, that multitudes of devout worshippers may continue for many generations to enter its courts with joy.”
There was talk of a memorial, but Benjamin Lee Guinness refused. He might have quoted Sir Christopher Wren, who said of St Paul’s Cathedral “for my memorial look around you.” However after his death the monument outside the south west door was created by John Foley in 1875. Benjamin Guinness may well have inspired Henry Roe to participate in a similar restoration of Christ Church Cathedral. Certainly he set an example for his sons, Edward Cecil (Lord Iveagh) and Arthur Edward (Lord Ardilaun), who supported further work in the lady Chapel and the provision of the new Willis organ, in addition to creating St Patrick’s Park and the Iveagh Buildings, supporting Marsh and the Guinness Choir fund, donating St Stephen’s Green and later Iveagh House to the nation etc. etc.
We rightly thank God for the past, and for our many benefactors of whom Benjamin Lee Guinness was most notable.
But time doesn’t stand still, and the work of maintenance and restoration is ongoing. The present phase began nearly 20 years ago. For a long time that work was mainly unseen – stopping the ingress of water, new gutters, heating, health & safety issues, work in the roof space to stop fire spreading, fire alarms. Visible restoration included the Wailes windows in the South Transept and the west end of the Cathedral, and surrounding stone work, the spire, the Minot tower and of course the Lady Chapel. Yet to come is the roof, complete cleaning of the interior and some re-ordering. Inspired by the past, we face the future with confidence, knowing that the God who has guided, provided and inspired in the past, will continue to do so.
“To Him be Glory in the Church, now and forever.”
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