The Anglican Church has designated St. Patrick’s as The National Cathedral of Ireland. According to legend, c. AD 450, the iconic Saint Patrick first baptized new Christians at a well near the current St. Patrick’s Cathedral site. In AD 890, the first written record of the site mentions King Gregory of Scotland visiting a church there. In 1192, John Comyn, the first Anglo-Norman archbishop of Dublin elevated the existing church to collegiate status, which meant there was a body of clergy devoted to learning and worship. While it is not certain when the church was established as a cathedral, the most likely dates are between 1212 and 1223.
The building of the current cathedral lasted from 1220-1270. The original spire was blown down during a storm in 1316. In 1317, while the Bruce wars were raging, the cathedral was set on fire and many precious objects were looted amidst the confusion. After a more serious fire in 1362, Archbishop Thomas Minot built a 147 foot tower. This tower collapsed in 1394 so another tower was built at the end of the 14th C. One of the first public clocks in Dublin was installed in the third floor of Minot’s tower in 1560. A granite spire, 101 feet tall, was added to the tower in 1749.
Due to the location on the River Poddle and its surrounding branches, the cathedral has been subject to flooding, especially in the later years of the 18th C. The rising flood table ensures there will never be a crypt or basement. The English Reformation reached St. Patrick’s in 1537 when soldiers of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister of King Henry VIII, defaced images in the cathedral. Due to neglect, the nave collapsed in 1544. When Oliver Cromwell was in Dublin during his conquest of Ireland, he stabled his horses in the nave, showing his disrespect for the Anglican Church. After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, repairs began in earnest.
One of the Cathedral’s most notable Deans was the Dublin born writer, Jonathan Swift, the author of “Gulliver’s Travels”. He was elected Dean in 1713 and served until 1745 and he is buried in the Cathedral. The combined choirs of Christ Church, Dublin and St. Patrick’s Cathedral sang the first performance of Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” on April 13, 1742. In 1901, Celtic gravestone slabs dating from the 10th C. were found at the entrance to the park next to the Cathedral. One of the slabs covered the site of an ancient well, possibly the one used by Saint Patrick to baptize the new Christians.