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St Patrick's Church

Throughout the 1820's and 1830's there were a significant number of Catholics living in the Eastern Cape. Some were early settlers, and some were soldiers, but the the local Catholics had no priests to minister to their spiritual needs until the arrival of Bishop Griffith and Father Burke in Grahamstown in 1838. On Sunday 15 July 1838 the Bishop celebrated mass in Widow Mahoney's house, which was near the site of the present church. When the Bishop left in August of 1838, Father Burke reluctantly stayed behind to establish a mission centre. The long distances of up to a 150 miles, which Father Burke had to travel to reach his congregation, proved to be too physically demanding and time consuming for the priest and assistance was sent to Grahamstown in the form of a Father Murphy, recently ordained priest from St. Peter's College. Wexford. A short time after the arrival of Father Murphy, Father Burke died in his sleep. A number of the locals had suspected that Father Murphy played a part in Father Burke's death, however he continued with his work, and soon became known all over the Eastern Cape.

Serving as a catholic military chaplain, Father Murphy formed a close relationship with the 27th Inniskillings Regiment, who later helped with the construction of the St. Patrick's Church. The design of the church was provided by Major Selwyn who was the Commanding Engineer in the Eastern Cape, and the plans were drawn up by Mr Teeling, a clerk in the Royal Engineers. Indeed the Church, with its many castle-like battlements, shares a resemblance with Major Selwyn's Gothic Castle in Prince Alfred Street. The foundation stone was laid in July of 1839, and July of 1844, the church was consecrated by Bishop Griffiths and a large congregation which included the Lieutenant Governor, various civil and military officials and prominent citizens of Grahamstown.

A number of people have noticed a resemblance between the St Patrick's Church and Battle Abbey in Hastings, in England, which both display a strong military character. The old solid stone building which stands in Hill Street in Grahamstown, provided protection to people of the area, which included pupils of the Assumption Convent, who sought safety there during the Frontier Wars of 1846 and 1851. The Sisters of the Assumption Convent still stands at St. Patrick's today.

1847 saw St Patrick's Church being raised to the status of pro-cathedral, and the promotion of Bishop Aidan Devereaux to Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern Districts of the Cape. Bishop Devereaux was succeeded by Bishops Moran and Ricards, and when Bishop Strobino succeeded Bishop Ricards in 1839, he moved the seat of the Episcopacy to Port Elizabeth. Ricards ,with his friend Dr. Atherstone, was one of the men responsible for the identification of the first diamond discovered at the Cape in 1867, and the pane of glass on which he inscribed his initials can bee seen in the Observatory Museum. The diamond, known as the Eureka diamond is now kept in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. Bishop Ricards was also responsible for selecting the High Altar of St Patrick's Church, which was bought during a visit to Paris in 1886.


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