Added on 12/08/2014
The library in Belfast Cathedral has been a hive of activity in recent weeks as a group of interns from Queen’s University delve into the colourful past of the cathedral and its antiquities.
Students Gemma Kernohan and Elinor Rowing are each spending a month cataloguing all the books in the library collection, while Dr Thérèse Cullen is focusing on St Anne’s beautiful stained glass.
Gemma and Elinor are arranging and cataloguing every book, ancient and modern, in the library’s extensive collection, and Thérèse is writing a fresh history of each of the 42 features stained glass windows to produce a booklet with photographs of each window.
Their internship is co–ordinated by the Revd Janice Elsdon, one of the clergy team in the cathedral, who took up an offer from Queen’s University.
The cathedral looked at areas where such research support would be beneficial and Gemma, Elinor and Thérèse all successfully applied for the internship. Their posts are funded by Queen’s.
Janice said: ‘This scheme enables valuable work to be done for the cathedral while providing an opportunity for those involved to gain valuable work experience and to extend their skill base.’
Thérèse has just finished a PhD in Irish Studies at Queen’s. Originally from Dublin, she has a degree from the University of St Thomas and St Paul in Minnesota and a Masters in Theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Thérèse returned to Ireland to do a second Master’s degree in Theology at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast and then the PhD at Queen’s.
‘I love this work,’ said Thérèse. ‘I love the research and going through the archives. I will be producing a guidebook giving the history of the windows and how they were added at different periods in the cathedral’s history. I am sifting through the information I find and freshening it up.
‘The most interesting find so far is discovering the layouts drawn for the windows in the north and south transept by the original stained glass glazier, Mr Powell from Whitefriars. It seems the windows were changed before they were put in.
‘There is also no sequential order to the windows depicting the prophets, because when the glazier sent them over the windows were just put in by someone local. Mr Powell asked the Cathedral Board to take them out and put them in order, but the Board decided against it.’
Thérèse said the oldest stained glass, the Good Samaritans’ window, had been bequeathed to St Anne’s in the late 1800s and had come for the old church which stood on the site of the present cathedral.
While Thérèse’s work takes her into the body of the cathedral, Gemma and Elinor are fully ensconced in the library on the first floor of the cathedral halls.
Gemma, from Ballymena, has finished her second year studies in History. ‘I have always had an interest in reading and books, but the history here is so important,’ she said.
‘The books had already been placed in categories, so we are now listing them on a spreadsheet including as much information as we can such as the author, the title and the ISBN number if they have one, though many of the books are much too old for this.
‘At the end of this, the whereabouts of each book should be much easier to find.’
Gemma said most of the books are in very good condition. She was delighted to come across texts referred to by her history lecturers which she has never actually seen before!
‘This library is a great resource, especially for theology students, but there are plenty of general books which the public would find interesting. It is a very comfortable library, people should definitely come in and use it,’ Gemma said.
Elinor, who will be starting the third year in her archaeology degree after the summer, agreed. ‘Libraries like this are a really rich source of information on a specific subject. You would not find this number of religious books in most libraries, and most of the text is well preserved,’ she said.
‘There are so many rare books, I hope that once they are catalogued there will be more people visit the library.’
Elinor, who is hoping to do a Post Graduate course in Library Sciences, said the internship was a constructive way to pass the summer break. ‘I am loving it here,’ she said.
‘Rare books can be absolutely stunning, and can turn up some interesting stuff. They can be funny too, especially spellings and old surnames. A portrait in a book on Irish music and bards, dated 1779, had us all in hysterics!’
Elinor has been painstakingly cataloguing some fragile books stored behind glass in the library, wearing her white gloves and turning pages with great care.
‘The oldest book I have found dates back to the early 1500s,’ she said. ‘It is easy to be distracted by the contents of the books. It isn’t hampering my work, but books are to be read and shared, and knowledge is to be passed around. It is a very interesting environment.
‘This library contains some very rare books. It is a time capsule of the period.’
Photos: Thérèse Cullen, Gemma Kernohan, Elinor Rowing
For further information contact Karen Bushby, Press Officer, St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, on 07766 103880 or email Karen@belfastcathedral.org
Saint Anne’s Cathedral