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Words of Bishop Denis at Mass celebrating the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow

Anniversay of Dedication of Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow 29.11.22

We cannot consider this Cathedral without remembering the Penal Days, when Bishops and priests and people had to gather in places of refuge. The history of this building takes us back to the end, after three centuries, of the Penal Laws against the Catholic Church. We hear these days much about ‘the decade of centenaries’, let’s go to a centenary earlier and at the end of that particular decade we find the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the great liberator of that time Daniel O’Connell.

But there were others, Bishop James Doyle (JKL), was viewed by many historians as the outstanding bishop of the nineteenth century. He was a church reformer, a prolific political writer and a prominent social activist. He appeared before many British Parliamentary committees making the case for Catholic Emancipation. The impressive marble statue, carved by John Hogan in Rome, captures the bishop with one arm aloft and the other resting on the shoulder of a figure symbolising Ireland. Bishop Doyle laid the foundation stone of the Cathedral on March 18th 1828, the last year of the Penal Laws. In 1833, the fifth year of Catholic Emancipation, the building, apart from the sacristy, was completed.

We all know Carlow Cathedral is small as Cathedrals go. It grew out of a humble chapel, part of that building has been incorporated into the walls. It has been a worthy Mother Church of this diocese since 1833. It’s dedication was performed by JKL on the first Sunday of Advent, 1833. The building cost £9,000. It has been renovated several times, the most recent being 1997. The architect in 1828 was Thomas Cobden; at the more recent renovation in the 1990’s it was Richard Pierce. The Cathedral is regarded as Cobden’s most outstanding church building. He s also responsible for Carlow College, St. Patrick’s, next door.

The external façade is granite, with its graceful tower, inspired by the Beffroi tower in Bruges. The tower rises to 46 metres and incorporates typical Cobden features and decorative flourishes. What I see when I approach this Cathedral are the graves of the Bishops, most recently Jim Moriarty (and also Laurence Ryan, Patrick Lennon, Tom Keogh, Patrick Foley and Matthew Cullen). As I enter the front porch I see the coat of arms of the diocese ‘Tolle, Lege’, the two dioceses united in 1678. On entering the Cathedral I notice it’s width and I think of the working document these days for the continental stage of the Universal Synod ‘Enlarge the space of your tent’ (Is. 54:2).

As I walk up the aisle I see the resting place of JKL just below the altar sculpted by Michael Hoy. The altar is the centre piece of this Cathedral, indeed of every church. I see the chair, restored to use after an absence of one hundred years back in 1997. I see the sculpted piece depicting the Holy Family thought to be by John Hogan. I see the tabernacle, the ambo, the baptismal font, the Stations, the Sanctuary Lamp (made originally for Lough Derg), the aumbry by the artist Michael Burke but most importantly I see you the people, the parishioners who make this Cathedral what it is. This tent, our tent, your tent framed by the oak timbers from Oak Park.