The font was discovered in 1890 when ground on the north side of the cathedral was being levelled in connection with restoration work; it may even be the original font for the church. Made out of a solid block of granite, roughly dressed and now much weather-beaten it stands about three feet six inches high, the top (in which the basis is cut) being about twenty-four inches by twenty and about six inches deep. It was at some stage lined with lead, traces of which still remain, and was never perforated with a drain, as is customary with medieval and later fonts. Its appearance would suggest extreme antiquity and local tradition has it that within it Saint Laurence O'Toole (later the last great pre-Norman archbishop of Dublin) was baptised in 1123. It has to be admitted, however, that some authorities have suggested that it is an object put to use as a font rather than that having been its original purpose.
On a late afternoon in summer, as the setting sun shines through the west window, the whole building glows with colour and the Victorian encaustic floor tiles glisten as though covered with water. You may not be able to enjoy this experience on your visit but the view towards the high altar is still as fine as you will see in any of the medium-sized of the Irish cathedrals. High up in the lantern of the central tower you may be able to pick out windows of Saint Brigid (left) and of Saint Conleth (right). Note also the fine oak roof of nave, transepts and chancel. Its appearance may suggest recent restoration whereas it is now more than one hundred and twenty years since it was renewed.
The west window is a memorial to Archbishop Edward Benson of Canterbury and depicts scenes from the lives of Saint Patrick (left), Saint Brigid (centre), and Saint Columba (right). The Saint Luke window is a notable modern piece of glass and a memorial to George Frederick Graham, Dean of Kildare from 1938-1952.
At the back of the nave lies the Chapter Room and in front of it a bog oak cross, made by a cathedral chorister from local 3,000 year old bog oak.
The crossing refers to the area under the central tower where the four parts of the church meet. This significant space, with its lofty lantern windows, adds immeasurably to the impact of the building. Here are the stalls for a choir and for the cathedral's canons when they attend - each with their own named seat. The stalls have been made moveable and the whole area can quickly be converted into an open space for music and drama. In this general area lies the bishop's throne from which she presides on diocesan occasions.
The north transept contains the cathedral's celebrated three-manual Conagher organ built in 1896 and the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, usually known as the Lady Chapel. This chapel is used for weekday and holyday services. Locally made traditional crosses of Saint Brigid from rushes feature in the Lady Chapel. The modern windows depict, from left to right, Saint Paul, Christ in Majesty, and Saint Peter.
The South Transept
Above the entrance door to the south transept features the somewhat unusual sight of a skull and crossbones and the date 1708 (though the 1 and the 7 have almost weathered away). A similar stone is to be seen inside and both may have come from graves where they symbolised that "in the midst of life we are in death”.
With the suppression of the priory by Henry VIII and its resultant destruction the tomb disappeared for almost three hundred years. In the early nineteenth century stone from the priory was used in the building of Newbridge military barracks. It was thought that at this time the mensa (top) of the tomb and other fragments were rediscovered and built into a wall at the ruined priory. There they remained for a further one hundred and fifty years suffering erosion and casual damage until 1971. In that year, however, the fragments were brought to the cathedral and, under expert guidance, reconstructed as far as possible. Some fragments of the tomb are still noticeably missing but what remains is of immense importance. On top lies the bishop in full canonicals; on the endpiece below his head is a carving of the Ecce Homo (Our Lord as the man of sorrows and surrounded by the instruments of the passion); at the opposite end is a crucifixion with the Blessed Virgin and Saint John; on the sides are the remaining figures of apostles and saints. The cost of the reconstruction was borne by the seventh Duke of Wellington (head of the Wellesley family) and valuable assistance was given by the County Kildare Archaeological Society.
Not unnaturally monuments of the Fitzgerald family, earls of Kildare and later dukes of Leinster, are to be found in the cathedral; the remains of their burial vault lies outside the east wall of the chancel. Details are to be found on the individual monuments.
The Reverend R. S. Chaplin window is a memorial to one who, as a young boy in 1871, gave the first subscription to the work of restoration of the cathedral.
Inside the south transept there is an exhibition area and the cathedral shop. Notable features here include the Wellesley altar tomb. It is by far the most important of the monuments in the cathedral. Walter Wellesley, Prior of Great Connell, was also bishop of Kildare for ten years before his death in 1539 and burial in his priory.
The high altar dominates the whole sanctuary by its frontals for the different seasons of the Christian year - some richly embroidered and others finely handwoven. Behind are seats for the Bishop and her assistants (usually members of the Chapter on some special occasion), when celebrating the eucharist.
The episcopal effigy on the right side is of a bishop fully vested, reputedly Ralph of Bristol, Bishop of Kildare from 1223-32 and builder of the medieval cathedral.
Behind the effigy lies a chair which is reputed to have belonged to Turlough O’Carolan, the renowned 17th-18th Century blind Celtic harper.
The east window with its eucharistic imagery, as a memorial to the prime organiser of the 1896 restoration, the county surgeon, Dr. R. S. Chaplin, appropriately also has scenes of Christ healing.
In the sanctuary there is an increasing richness of the floor tiles both in colour and design.
Stained Glass Windows
For further factual information and photographs of St Brigid’s Cathedral’s stained-glass windows click on the button below.