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Visiting Belfast Cathedral, Belfast, Northern Ireland: Romanesque solidity, built from 1899 and inaugurated in 1904

Updated on July 5, 2012
Flag used in the Police Service of Northern Ireland's logo
Flag used in the Police Service of Northern Ireland's logo | Source
Front of St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast
Front of St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast | Source
St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast.
St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. | Source
Autumn colours, at St Anne's Cathedral, corner of Donegall Street and Talbot Street, Belfast
Autumn colours, at St Anne's Cathedral, corner of Donegall Street and Talbot Street, Belfast | Source
Map location of Belfast
Map location of Belfast | Source

Maturing monumentality

Belfast Cathedral (1), in Donegall Street, Belfast, was begun in 1899 and inaugurated in 1904.

Some history and features

Its main architects were Sir Thomas Drew (1838-1901) (2) and Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson (1867-1949); the latter worked on the west front as a memorial to the fallen of Northern Ireland in World War One (3).

Its style is Romanesque, which, as many North Americans will be aware, underwent somewhat of a revival in the late 19th century. Thus, here at the Cathedral we see rounded arching and conical (or semi-conical) turrets, as features which characterized a resurgence of interest Romanesque architecture. (Although my efforts to spot the rustication common to many neo-Romanesque buildings did not bear fruit, some illusion of this common feature is arguably somewhat retained at the Cathedral because its use of interspersed brick in varying stronger and softer colours can give visitors at least some apparent impression of Romanesque-style rustication.)

A huge Celtic Cross at the north transept was completed in 1981. A spire, 40 metres tall, was added in 2007.

Two women, Gertrude and Margaret Martin, made the Cathedral's series of poignant mosaics to designs by Sir Charles Nicholson; this was accomplished over a period of seven years.

Interestingly, the marble flooring of the Cathedral has a somewhat undulating appearance in places; this is because the Belfast soil is subject to sinking: a problem faced by other, prominent Belfast structures also, such as the Albert Memorial Clock (which leans slightly). Bombing caused during World War Two left damage not all rectified until several years after the War; and more recently 'the Troubles' heightened funding challenges to the Cathedral's structural upkeep and ongoing refurbishment.

Past choristers at the Cathedral have gone on to serve in St Paul's Cathedral, London, England, Westminster Abbey, London, England, and St George's Chapel, Windsor, England, bearing witness to a strong musical tradition.

July 5, 2012


(1) This Church of Ireland building is officially known as St Anne's Cathedral, although it is not unusually also referred to simply as Belfast Cathedral.

(2) Sir Thomas Drew trained under the distinguished Belfast architect Sir Charles Lanyon; included in his creations was the Graduates' Building of Trinity College, Dublin, and he also worked on St Patrick's and Christchurch Cathedrals, Dublin.

(3) Among other works by Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson included Portsmouth Cathedral.

Also worth seeing

In Belfast itself , other noted sights include: the Albert Memorial Clock Tower; Belfast City Hall; the ornate Belfast Technical College; the Harbour Commissioners' building; Church House, Belfast Castle; Queen's University Main Building; and many others.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Belfast International Airport, at Aldergrove, where car rental is available. Please note that facilities mentioned may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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