Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 31, 2004
Holy Trinity's unmatchable claim
Classical church is Irelands oldest post Reformation Catholic cathedral
Most Holy Trinity -- June 6
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Not the most impressive building, Most Holy Trinity in Waterford nevertheless has a claim that can't be matched. It's the oldest post-Reformation Catholic Cathedral in Ireland.
The church, of unusual design, is only 200 years old, its beginnings the result of gradual easing of the notorious Penal Laws of the 16th and 17th centuries on the English-dominated island. Its name celebrates a most basic tenet of the faith, the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
By 1693, restrictions on the practice of Catholicism had been relaxed to the point where a simple chapel was allowed to be built near the present cathedral, although the faithful had been surreptitiously attending Mass for 33 years in an old store. It was another 100 years before a project as demanding as the building of a cathedral could be attempted.
Full of stories
The church, of Classic design, unusual for Catholic cathedrals, reflects the background of architect John Roberts, a non-Catholic who had recently completed a new Anglican cathedral in Waterford. The story is told of how he met his end when he arrived early for work at the building site one cold day, fell asleep and succumbed to a cold he contracted there.
The triangular pediment of the cathedral, supported by eight cut stone Ionic pilasters, suits the church's name The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity. On it, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are portrayed in bas-relief flanked by adoring angels.
A basic tenet of the faith, the doctrine of the Trinity was established early when Jesus told the disciples that "the Father will send you another Advocate - that Spirit of Truth" (John 14:16-17). Then, in 326 at the Council of Nicea, the belief was codified in the Nicene Creed. Its recital, instead of the more familiar Apostle's Creed, is recommended for use on special feast days, particularly on Holy Trinity Sunday (June 6 in 2004).
The cathedral proves to be surprisingly large and impressive inside. It's lavishly ornamented even with Vatican II alterations undertaken in 1977. Most striking to many is the forest of stately Corinthian columns that defines the aisles and complements 10 large chandeliers, a gift from Waterford Crystal.
There are several altars, partly the result of the addition of the present sanctuary in 1854. They are dedicated to Our Lady and St. Joseph, and there are shrines honouring St. Therese and St. Oliver Plunkett. Saints portrayed in the many stained glass windows include St. Patrick. It's significant that the famous prayer attributed to Ireland's patron, St. Patrick's Breastplate is "an invocation of the Trinity."
And, naturally enough, the Trinity is illustrated above the main altar in a large symbolic triangle that adorns the triangular front of the baldachino. It's inside a circle and bears the words Unus Deus (One God) while the sides of the triangle contain the names of the persons of the Trinity - Pater, Filius, Spiritus.
13 bishops consecrated
Waterford has been a bishop's seat since 1096 and after a merger in 1363 is known as the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore. Over the years, the cathedral has been the venue for the ordination of hundreds of men to the priesthood and has witnessed the consecration of 13 bishops within its hallowed walls.
Today, Holy Trinity shares a parish with nearby St. Patrick's Church, another unique historical treasure. Between the two, seven Masses are held on weekends. There are three Eucharistic celebrations, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and recitation of the rosary daily.
After Mass, visitors will find a number of eating places adjacent to the cathedral on Barronstrand St. and lots of shopping opportunities around busy John Roberts Square in this old city core.
"Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit . . .".