Faith & The British: Pt 3 – St Anne’s, Belfast

The next Cathedral we shall be examining is the only Cathedral we had time to explore inside during our trip to Northern Ireland, making it quite special. It’s called St Anne’s, and is located in the centre of the Northern Irish capital city…

St Anne’s:

Location: Belfast, Belfast City (historically County Antrim), Northern Ireland

Status: Cathedral

Faith: Church of Ireland

Constructed: 1899 – 1904

Architect: Sir Thomas Drew (1838 – 1910), Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson (1867 – 1949)

Belfast 4

St Anne’s Cathedral is a stunning building in the heart of the city centre, only a few minutes from the other major attractions in the city, such as the City Hall, the brand new Shopping Centre and the Albert Memorial Clock. It is relatively new compared to some of the more historic Cathedrals across the UK, as it was around this time, at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, that Belfast was becoming an important city in the then United Ireland as part of the UK, as a major industrial Victorian City. When Southern Ireland (now the Republic of Ireland) was partitioned from the North in 1921, and eventually became independent a year later, Belfast became the capital of the new area known as Northern Ireland, and at the start of the 20th century it was the largest and most productive shipyard in the entire world, and famous as the shipyard that built the RMS Titanic.

The buildings history began in 1899 when the foundation stone of the Nave was laid by the Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (1869 – 1961). The Nave was designed by Sir Thomas Drew, and completed by 1904. The main entrance is part of the West Front, and it was the second area of the building to be built, between 1925 and 1927, using a new architect, Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson. It was dedicated to to the men and women who died in World War I, which ended only a decade earlier.

St Anne’s is visible all over the city, thanks to one very distinctive feature, which unusually is both inside and outside at the same time…

Anne 2

If you look at the very top of the Cathedral in the previous picture you can see a tall metal spire protruding from the roof. This can also be seen inside the building, as it sticks out from the ceiling in the very centre of the Cathedral. This is a new addition, installed in 2007. It stands 40 metres tall, and is made out of stainless steel.

The section sticking out into the main body of the Cathedral is surrounded by a glass panel, but aside from that it goes straight out through the roof. The spire is known as the “Spire of Hope”, and at night it is a shining beacon across the city, which is emerging from a period of unrest to become a centre of peace across the world. Whilst it isn’t the first thing you will see as you enter the building via the front entrance, I had to start with it as it is my favourite part of the building, and a great way that modern architecture can be incorporated into an old building to make it even more beautiful, as it transcends two centuries linking the architectural heritage of the Victorian Era with the modernist talents of the new world.

Anne 1

This is the view that greets you as you enter though the main entrance, and the tip of the spire is visible underneath the central arch, high above the Central Crossing, in the centre of the Transept. This section was the next to be built, between 1922 and 1924.

The entrance is at the West End, whilst the other end, visible past the arch, is the East Apse and Ambulatory. This central section, the Nave, was the only part of the Cathedral constructed when it was opened in 1904. It contains a window called “The Good Samaritan Window” which is actually part of the previous Parish Church, also called St Annes, from the 1770’s, which the Cathedral was built around. The Church was then demolished, although the Window was saved.

Anne 3

Just off to the right of the main entrance is the Baptistry, so named for the Font in the centre, where Baptisms are traditionally carried out. The roof of the Baptistry is in the form of a dome, beautiful painted with a starry sky complete with golden stars around the top edge.

This section was added in 1928, and its counterpart off to the left, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, followed in 1932. This second room contains some stunning mosaics, showing Saint Patrick to mark the 1500th anniversary of Patrick arriving in Ireland.

Anne 4

Moving into the South Transept, you can gaze in awe at the enormous Organ, sat high above the Chapel of Unity. This area was completed in 1974, and of course sits opposite the North Transept, which contains both a Celtic Cross and a Chapel, completed in 1981.

At the far end is the East Apse and Ambulatory I mentioned earlier, and you may have noticed that they, along with the Transepts are made out of a different stone to the Nave. These sections were only built from 1955 onwards, when the main Ambulatory was built. The Transepts followed a decade later, completing the main structure of the building. Remarkably, even though Belfast was heavily bombed by the Germans during World War II, the Cathedral survived virtually undamaged, even though all of the surrounding buildings were in ruins. It would seem that faith really does conquer all as St Pauls Cathedral in London achieved a similar miracle during the Germans attack on London, standing defiantly amongst the flames of the surrounding buildings. This link illustrates how lucky St Anne’s Cathedral was during the bombing.

Anne 5

This area is the South Aisle, with the Central Aisle on the right and the North Aisle on the other side of that. You can see the towering columns that hold up the roof here, as well as some of the flags representing Britain on the wall, which are, looking left to right:

1) Red Ensign (1801 onwards) which is used by the Merchant Navy, commercial ships registered in the UK, who are an important part of the British Economy, hence the term Merchant Navy.

2) Blue Ensign (1801 onwards) which is used by ships and organisations associated with the UK. Both the ensigns were brought into use during the 17th century when the English Flag was in the top corner, until 1707 when England and Scotland united, so the Union Jack (minus the diagonal red stripes) was put on instead. England and Scotland united with Ireland in 1800 so the St Patricks cross was added, resulting in the present designs.

3) Royal Air Force Ensign (1921 onwards) used by the Royal Air Force.

4) The Union Flag (1801 onwards) which is the British National Flag, with the red cross of England, combined with the Scottish Saltire and the St Patrick’s Cross to create the Union Flag.

5) White Ensign (1801 onwards) flown on British Naval Ships. Unusually compared with the other ensigns, instead of the main portion of the flag being white it instead features the St George’s Cross, which is the national symbol of England.

All but the White Ensign are permanent flags on the sides of the Cenotaph in London, a monument in Whitehall as the primary War Memorial of the United Kingdom. The White Ensign was however featured from 1920 (when the Cenotaph was unveiled) until 1943 when the Air Force flag replaced it.

Set into the left hand wall are more Stained Glass windows, which are highly detailed and let the sun shine through in different colours across the building.

Anne 6

Looking back up the Nave you get a great view of the West Window, sat high above the entrance, and made up of three stunning Stained Glass Panels. Each one is 25 feet tall and 5 feet wide. On the left window is David (10th C BC – 9th C BC), the father of Solomon (970 BC – 931 BC) who is shown in the Right Window. Solomon was the builder of the First Temple in Jerusalem, around the 10th century BC, although there is no actual evidence that it ever existed. David is referenced in the bible as the David who beat Goliath, and he was also the King of Israel. In the centre window features Christ himself, surrounded by angels, with the Lamb of God at the top of the window, and the Water of Life at the bottom. The detail on all three windows is incredible, and they really stand out from wherever you look at them.

Sadly the next feature I want to mention was whited out by the bright sun outside, but just inside the main entrance is a special pattern on the floor, in the shape of a circle, two feet in diameter. It is made up of 32 distinct pieces, each of which represents one of the 32 counties of Ireland, 6 of which make up Northern Ireland, and 26 of which make up the Republic of Ireland. It serves as a reminder that although the people of Ireland are spread between two countries they are united under one Church, on one island.

St Anne’s is a fantastic Victorian Cathedral, in Northern Ireland’s most important City, the centre of shopping, leisure and tourism for the country. It’s a very calm place to visit and is one of at least 2 Cathedrals in the city, the other being St Peter’s which was built in the 1860’s and characterised by the twin towers/spires at the front. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit St Peter’s but it is a must for our next trip to the city. You can read all about Belfast itself in my dedicated post here.


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