The Muniments of Swift’s Cathedral

Although by no means complete, having suffered the ravages of time, including flood, fire and neglect, the scope of the muniments of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, (Swift’s cathedral) is vast. The collection contains records from as early as the 13th century and continuing on to the present day. Since the transfer of the collection into the safe and permanent custody of the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin in 1995, these have been accessioned as RCB Library C2/ and organised into nine distinct groups of records, as follows:

  1. Volumes
  2. Deeds
  3. Maps
  4. Plans & Drawings
  5. Loose Papers
  6. Photographs
  7. Printed Materials
  8. Seals
  9. Music

Now for the first time the extensive hand-list or finding aid which provides access to the collection is available online to assist potential researchers who may wish to consult its rich and varied materials.

Timed to coincide with the Swift 350, to mark the 350th anniversary of the birth of Jonathan Swift (born on 30th November 1667 at Hoey’s Court, in the parish of St Werburgh, Dublin), the new online exhibition on the RCB Library website highlights particular aspects of the collection which relate to Swift’s tenure as Dean of St Patrick’s which he served for 32 years – from 1713 until his death in 1745. It also provides a link to the detailed hand-list available as a searchable pdf.

Popular print depicting the Very Revd Jonathan Swift at his cathedral, © RCB Library C2.7

These include the Chapter Act Books (commencing in 1643) that record the procedures of the dean and chapter. During Swift’s tenure as dean these became notably more extensive, as he was renowned for his efficiency and administrative ability. Another collection of particular interest includes in the miscellaneous loose papers section a folder of papers entitled ‘Swiftiana’ which was compiled in the late 19th century and features copies of specific papers and correspondence relating to Swift, as well as papers outlining the rediscovery of the grave containing the skulls of Swift and Esther Johnson (known as Stella), during the retiling of the floor of the cathedral in 1882.

Much of the work of organising the cathedral archive into a structured arrangement was carried out to facilitate the research for and publication of the cathedral’s most recent and comprehensive published history – edited by the late Canon John Crawford, and Professor Raymond Gillespie – St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin: A History (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2009), but more recently the collection has been expanded as new items continue to be transferred to the Library’s custody, and in particular the Library Administrator, Robert Gallagher, has completed a listing of the extensive  collection of the cathedral’s photographs, dating from the 1940s, and including some dramatic images of the cathedral’s interior and exterior, as well as many human interest pictures from numerous services such as the annual Remembrance Service, and the Christmas Eve carol service, that have a national resonance. The photographic collection also contains a number of items relevant to Swift and his legacy, including significant services commemorating his life, the display of his death mask and other items in the area of the cathedral designated as ‘Swift’s corner’, and even the dramatic portrayal of his life in a stage production entitled: ‘Mr Handel’s Visit to Dublin’ premiered in the cathedral as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival on 29th September 1969.

The photographs are further complemented by an extensive run of scrapbooks, which commence in 1884 that include a wide range of miscellaneous press cuttings, orders of service, and other memorabilia that flesh out not only Swift’s association with the Church of Ireland’s National Cathedral of St Patrick, but also many other stories of interest too.