Cathedral History:

‘Cottingham’s Cathedral’

Probably the most extensive restoration carried on in the Cathedral took place from 1834 until 1837, commissioned and largely paid for by Archbishop John George Beresford, a man of considerable wealth and generous benefactor to the Church and to education. The architect, Lewis Nockalls Cottingham (1787-1847), addressed the structural vulnerability of the Cathedral by restoring the nave walls to the perpendicular and removing the short wooden spire which can be seen on the seal of the Cathedral. He also re-opened the clerestory windows which had been blocked by Archbishop Margetson and restyled them in decorated Gothic, enlarged the choir windows and overlaid the timber vaulting with plasterwork.

Cottingham came to Armagh from his involvement in the restoration work in St Albans Abbey which had begun in 1832 and attempted to replicate in Armagh certain features which had impressed him in St Albans as when he erected a stone screen to separate the nave from the choir. This innovation would be in line with the influence on Cottingham of the ideas of Augistus Welby Pugin and the early Gothic Revival as were his restoration of the High Altar from the west end, where it had been relegated by Archbishop Stewart in the early nineteenth century, to its proper eastward position in the form of a stone altar backed by a reredos of canopied niches, also copied from St Albans.

Cottingham's Screen can be viewed on the left wall of the Regimental Chapel and Robing Room

Despite these features, however, many felt that, rather than providing a sense of medievalism, Cottingham’s work was too deliberate and precise and tended to eclipse the earlier features of the Cathedral. According to William Makepeace Thackeray, Cottingham’s Cathedral was ‘too complete…not the least venerable. It is as neat and trim as a lady’s drawing-room.’ Although the choir screen was removed in 1888, much of Cottingham’s work remains and, while his restoration did indeed suggest a new interior, the basic shape of the Cathedral is still as conceived by Archbishop O Scanlon in the twelfth century.

Want to learn more? Read about: Armagh’s
Two Cathedrals