While on my recent walk around Limerick I visited both St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Mary’s Church which are only a short distance away from each other ; very confusing to have two St. Mary’s in close proximity but the Cathedral is Church of Ireland (Anglican) while the other church is a Catholic one.
St. Mary’s Cathedral, or to give it its full title The Cathedral Church of St. Mary the Virgin, was founded in 1168 and built on the site of a palace belonging to the last King of Munster ; it’s the oldest building in Limerick still in continuous daily use. The west door is said to have once been the original main entrance to the palace though it’s now only used on ceremonial occasions ; a centuries-old tradition decrees that the bishops of Limerick knock and enter the Cathedral by that door as part of their installation ceremony. The Cathedral tower wasn’t added to the original building until the 14th century ; at 120ft high it contains a peal of eight bells and a stationary service bell which can be rung from the ground floor.
One of the features in the cathedral was a small opening known as the ‘leper’s squint’ in one of the walls of the north transept. In medieval times leprosy was common and believed to be highly contagious so lepers weren’t allowed into churches ; the ‘leper’s squint’ allowed them to see and hear services and receive Communion through the opening without coming into contact with other worshipers. There were so many interesting features in the cathedral that it would have been impossible to photograph them all and read all the information about them in the time I had so as I wandered round I just photographed the ones which intrigued me the most.
In contrast to the age of the Cathedral St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church is less than 90 years old, having been built between 1930 and 1932 on the site of a previously demolished church built in 1749 ; all that remains of the original church is a font and a plaque at the rear of the present church. While I’d found the interior of the Cathedral to be quite dark and a bit oppressive in many places the interior of this church was a complete contrast ; it was light and bright and had a much more airy feel to it.
Behind the high altar were six Venetian mosaics, each depicting an unnamed angel and with a verse of the hymn ‘Te Deum’ underneath. Above the mosaics were three stained glass windows depicting the Visitation, the Assumption, and the Annunciation, while on the ground the beautiful designs of the marble floor tiles were certainly worthy of a couple of photos.
Back outside in the bright sunshine I pondered on the two churches I’d just been in, and while the cathedral had much more historical interest it was the bright and airy church I much preferred. And who knows, I may well pay another visit the next time I go to Limerick.