St Werburgh’s Church

St. Werburgh’s, built originally in the 12th century, is one of the oldest churches in Dublin.

Situated inside the walls of Viking Dublin, and beside the Wood Quay site, and was named after a Saxon Princess, Werburga.  Although there are other churches and monasteries named after this Princess, it is generally accepted that St Werburgh’s is the oldest.

The Revenue Choir held their Summer recital in St Werburgh’s Church on May 30th 2012. The performance was held as a fundraiser for “The Alzhiemers Society Of Ireland” with special guest, soloist Sarah Power.

A recording of Sarah Power rehearsing can be heard in the background. Press Play.

View 360º Panorama.

In the 1660s the church had a square tower, with a spire and weather-cock, also galleries and the Royal Arms, but the church was smaller than it is at present.  At the beginning of the 18th. century it became evident that the building had become dangerous from decay, moreover it was too small for the growing population.  A new church was built, and services were once more held there, although not much money had been collected and there was no organ or tower.  The Georgian interior of the church was designed by the architecht Isaac Wills (who is also credited with the design of St. Annes church on Dawson Street).  After about 10 years it became known that a James Southwell had left a bequest for a clock and 6 bells, on condition that the tower should be built within three years after his death.  This was done, and the bells were set up in 1748; although a friendly court action had to be taken before the bequest was handed over, some 20 years after his death.  The tower and dome were damaged by fire in 1754, and the spire was considered dangerous in 1510, when it was removed.  In 1836 the bells were taken down and the tower was demolished.

Handel may have played on the original organ, as he lived in this area, but the organ was destroyed in the fire of 1754.  After about 8 years an organ was bought from Henry Millar and installed in 1767.  Handel died c.1759, so he could not have played on this instrument.  The first public performance of “The Messiah” was in a hall in nearby Fishamble Street.

St.Werburgh’s was the Chapel Royal attached to Dublin Castle, and in 1767 the existing Royal Arms were carved on the west gallery, under the vice-regal pew in which the Lord Lieutenant sat when he came to qualify himself for his high office.  Viceroys were sworn into office there, and seats were reserved for the officers and soldiers until 1888.

The black and white mosaic pavement was laid down in the rebuilding and is one of the few remaining in the country.  The beautiful stucco work in the chancel is by Michael Maguire, and note the fine wood carving, gilt glory and dove, over the altar.

The magnificently carved pulpit was supposed to have been carved by the celebrated Jacobean wood-carver, Grinling Gibbons, but we believe this is not so, but by a student of his.   It came from the present Chapel Royal, discarded when Lord Carlisle decided he preferred one of Portland stone, and is among the treasures of old Dublin city

In the early 1700s parishioners bought their pews, and were allowed to sell them – when resigning – to other parishioners approved by the Vestry; the seller receiving two-thirds of the price, and the Vestry one-third.  The high square pews were remodelled in 1877, when the doors were removed.  In 1766 a resolution forbade any seat to be lined or hung with any kind of cloth or stuffing, to prevent vermin.

Watchmen were appointed in 1723 to oversee the parish and guard the dead, and prevent the inhabitants from selling or imbibing the forbidden liquor.  In 1726 badges were provided for the poor licensed to beg in the parish, and strange beggars were kept out of the parish.  This law was abolished in 1791.  The ancient fire-fighting equipment in the front porch remind us of the days when each parish had to look after the property within its boundaries.

Beneath the church are 27 vaults, which belonged by right and custom to the incumbents.  Chancellor Richard Bourne gave his vault to Lord Edward FitzGerald, son of the Duke of Leinster, who was buried there after his execution in 1798.  Lord Edward was a Leader of the 1798 Rebellion.  The man who captured him, Town-Major Henry Sirr, was buried in the adjoining graveyard in 1841.

Baptisms included that of Jonathan Swift, the great Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral (author of “Gulliver’s Travels”), born in Hoey’s Court in 1667.  There was also the adult baptism of O’Brien Bellingham (brother of the Baronet of Castle Bellingham), who in the same year married Anne Tandy, niece of the celebrated James Napper Tandy, another of the 1798 Leaders.  Burials included John Pepys, relation of the celebrated Diaryist.

In the centre aisle there is a bell with Napper Tandy’s name on it, which came from St.John’s Church where he had been a churchwarden.

Compiled by Rosemary Bourne.

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