Restorations and Dean Vignoles
RestorationsAfter the Restoration of the monarchy, Bishop Williams (1641 and 61-73) returned to re-roof and restore the cathedral. In the 1750s Bishop Pococke carried out much work, but with more devotion to the Classical aspects than the Gothic. When Dean Vignoles arrived in the 1840s the cathedral was suffering from another of its cycles of neglect. He set about repairing and restoring it – Pococke's classification undone, roofs replaced and altered, choir screen removed, choir side- aisle arches re-opened and the present organ installed. A towering Gothic spire was proposed but never built. Choir stalls were added in 1900. More recently, dry-rot in the roof involved expensive work in the 1960s and '80s. The bell-chamber on top of the tower was remodelled as a low pyramid, and the oldboiler-house rebuilt to match the cathedral.
Dean VignolesThe present state of St Canice's Cathedral owes much to Dean Vignoles and his associates. When he came here, the Cathedral was in a very poor state. Most of the windows had been either shortened or built up entirely. The Classically-styled choir fittings did not have a happy marriage with their surroundings, and a wall completely cut off the choir from the nave. There were at that time the first stirrings of an appreciation of things Gothic, and Dean Vignoles, along with a local clergyman, James Graves, were in the forefront of a new wave of antiquarians. The Kilkenny Archaeological Society (which they founded) grew nationally, undertaking restorations of both Glendalough and Clonmacnoise.
At home he immediately set about clearing the grounds, the diggings being as much archaeological as functional. He uncovered the foundations of the previous Irish stone church, the remains of a hermit's cell against the choir wall, and fragments of Bishop Ledrede's great 14th century East window which had been destroyed by Cromwell. Inside he started to clear out some of the ‘junk' as he saw it, to find that his bishop didn't. There then ensued a running battle between them as to who had the authority in these things. Bishop O'Brien won the case in the Ecclesiastical courts, but Vignoles never accepted the ruling. This led to a dispute with his chapter, and eventually seven years exile in France.
On his return all seems to have been forgotten and he immediately started the restoration work that transformed the cathedral into what we see today. Much of the work was carried out by Richard Langrishe, a local man and for 60 years the Cathedral architect. The work was finally completed with the choir stalls in 1900, long after Vignoles' death in office.
We are particularly fortunate in the timing of this restoration and the calibre of the men behind it. All too many Gothic churches were restored in the late 19th century, by which time the modern Gothic concept had completely overwhelmed the medieval one. It is rare to find a church so sensitively restored to its original form and to have had such a pure original with which to start.
To find out more information on the Restorations and Dean Vignoles, contact St. Canice's Cathedral & Round Tower