Parish Church of St George, Belfast

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    St George's Church
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    St George's Church
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  • Parish Church of St Georges
    Parish Church of St Georges
    by suvanki
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    Parish Church of St Georges - Its History

    by suvanki Updated Oct 25, 2009

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    Parish Church of St Georges
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    The present church of St Georges was opened in 1816. This was the 3rd church to be built here. It has the title of being the oldest Anglican Church in use in the city of Belfast. I spent quite a bit of time wandering around this peaceful church. I was particularly attracted to its stunning stained glass windows (which I'll add to a later tip)

    The first record of the church is from the 1306 Papal Taxation Roll of the Dioceses of Down, Connnor and Dromore. It was one of a group of six chapeleries, that were part of the main church that served Belfast- The Church of Sancles (Shankill), which was near the present day St Matthews Church.

    However, it is believed that worshippers had gathered here for several centuries prior to this.
    Beal Feirsde, meaning 'The ford at the sandbank' (or the mouth of the River Farset) consisted of a small hamlet, which had built up at this area, as it was a crossing place on the River Lagan. The small chapel here was used by pilgrims and people waiting to cross the mud flats. Prayers were said for a safe crossing.

    When the Church of Sancles fell into ruin, this Chapel of the Ford (or Crossing) Became the Main Church.
    Beal Feirsde, had developed into a market town, due to its strategic point as a crossing, and was now known as Belfast.

    A larger, more substantial church was needed. In the late 17th Century, a central tower, transepts and chancel were constructed on 'The Church at Belfast'.
    In 1613, the Charter of Saint James1 was granted to Belfast.
    It then became known as the Corporation church, as The Burgess of Belfast (The Corporation) and the Sovereign (Irish Mayor) worshipped here.

    One of the churches 'claims to fame' was that Cromwell's troops were stationed here, and the lead from the church roof was used to make their musket balls.

    Another is that King William stopped off here, on his way to the Battle of The Boyne. The seat that he sat on to hear the famous 'Arise, great king.... sermon, is still used in the church today.

    By 1774, the church was in a dangerous state, and instead of being repaired, was demolished. The Earl of Chichester, who was the patron, donated land for another church to be built in the area - St Annes Parish Church (Which later became Belfast Cathedral).

    The site continued as a burial ground. In 1798, the remains of Henry Joy Mc Cracken were buried here, following his execution. The grave is thought to have been near the entrance doors of the church. In 1909, what are believed to be his remains, were re-interred in the Clifton Street burial ground.
    Earlier in 1806, The Reverend Edward May (Vicar of Belfast) ordered that all memorials were to be destroyed. In 1811, a large part of the graveyard was sold for building purposes. In the 1960's burials recommenced here, and a small strip of land at the side of the church was used for the interment of ashes following cremation. (pic 3)

    Belfast continued to expand, and by the early 19th Century, there was need for a church to be built again on this site.

    The foundation stone was laid on 4th June 1813, by the Earl of Masserene.
    A group of parishioners formed a Building Committee, and organised fund raising amongst themselves. Surprisingly, they received little contribution from the Diocese or state, but the first service was held on 16th June 1816, just 3 years from the first stone being laid.
    The Church was now known as George's Church', and the Perpetual Curacy of Upper Falls.

    The church gained a reputation for its own identity, and for having flamboyant preachers- their sermons 'pulled the crowds in'. It was the first church to introduce Harvest Festival services, and the first to hold weekly communion services, and weekday services. Also, musical recitals, drama productions.

    Music was an important part of this church. The first organist was Edward J Bunting, who played from 1817-1821. He became renowned for his interest in Irish harp music-and played a large part in promoting the Belfast Harpers Festival of 1792. He collected and recorded Irish music. There is a blue plaque commemorating his connection with this church, on the wall of the churchyard, near the burial yard. (pic 4)

    In the 1860's the church choir were among the first to wear robes-a High Church tradition, that fits this churches ethos.

    In 1889, the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, led to the clergy being known as the Incumbents of the Church of Saint George, Belfast.

    In 1994, it was the first church in Ireland to use the revised Alternative Prayer Book of the Church of Ireland, then in 2004 it was replaced by the new Irish Book of Common Prayer.

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    Parish Church of St Georges (2) Architecture

    by suvanki Updated Oct 25, 2009

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    Parish Church of St Georges - portico
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    The church is made of honey coloured Scrabo sandstone, and is fronted by an impressive portico, which is the result of thrifty recycling or architectural salvage!

    In 1788, the portico was built to form the main entrance to Ballyscullion House, near Castle Dawson in County Londonderry. This was the home of Frederick Hervey, one eccentric character- who was titled Earl-Bishop, due to him being the Earl of Bristol and the Bishop of Derry. After his death in 1803, the house lay empty, and subsequently fell into disrepair, and was dismantled. St Georges was under construction at this time. Someone presumably saw the potential of using the portico for the church facade, and piece by piece, the columns and pediment etc were carefully transported by horse and cart, then by barge. This was the first time that cargo had been transported along the Lagan Canal

    The Corinthian portico consists of 4 columns, with capitals and statue niches. The Coats of Arms that can be seen on the pediment are of the Diocese of Down and of Belfast town.

    Entering the church through the portico, you enter an octaganal porch, which has 2 circular staircases at each end (pic 2), which lead to the gallery (this can be seen in pic 3). The porch was quite light and airy. Apparently, it underwent a programme of refurbishment in 200o, when a sandstone floor was laid, complete with the shield of St George as its centrepiece. There is also a small chapel, used for weekday celebrations of the Eucharist. This church was the first one to hold this service.
    An ornate Victorian lamp lights the porch. This was recently restored by the Reverend Brian Stewart in 2001.

    Entering the church, you'll see the nave is a simple rectangular design, it is considered to be a good example of Georgian ecclesiastical architecture.
    A Gallery sits on the two sides and back (west ) of the church. Slender cast iron columns below the gallery, form aisles.

    The ceiling is quite attractive and unusually brightly coloured. Originally, the roof trusses were covered by a plain ceiling. This was removed in1865, and the trusses were left exposed, then decorated in these bright colours, with simple painted flowers decorating the woodwork.This was the project of W J Barre, who was one of Ireland's most eminent architects. (Another example of his work in this church will be covered later)

    Entering the church, you'll see a font (pic 4) This was donated in January 1868, by young members of the Parish. Its position, near the door symbolises the entrance into the Christian Church through the Sacrament of Baptism.
    The baptismal font is octagonal and formed of white marble, the carved exterior has biblical psalms, symbols and some ornate carving at its base, which is supported by slender red (Purbeck) marble pillars.
    The font is covered by a highly carved and decorated wooden domed lid.

    Next to the font is The Pascal Candlestick, which is nearly 6ft tall. Made of Oak, it was a gift from the Clergy and Congregation of St Marys RC church, Chapel Lane on the completion of the 2000 restoration work. It has some nice carving work.

    Separating the nave and the Chancel, is an oak neo-renaissance style choir screen. It has three arches either side of the larger central arch that leads through to the altar. It was erected in 1928, in memory of Reverend Dr. Hugh Davis Murphy, who was the Rector of this church from 1880, until his death in 1927.
    Apparently choir screens aren't usually a feature of Irish Anglican churches.

    To the right of the chancel screen is a memorial plaque to Sir Henry Pottinger (1789-1856) (pic 5). He had had a distinguished diplomatic career. One of his most important moments, was his negotiating the Hong Kong Treaty of 1842 (which was only dissolved in 1997). A memorial to the Pottinger family had been in the churchyard, but was quickly moved out of here in 1806, when any memorials were ordered to be destroyed (see my St Georges history tip). Pottingers Entry (see my earlier tip on The Entries) is a recognition of this prominent family.

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    Parish Church of St George's (3) The Pulpit

    by suvanki Written Oct 25, 2009

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    St Georges Church-Pulpit
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    This unusual and attractive pulpit was installed in 1867, and was part of WJ Barres architectural improvements to the nave of this church.
    It is thought that this was a replacement for a 'double-decked' pulpit that would have had a central position in the building, near the Chancel steps.

    This pulpit sits to the left of the chancel (if facing forward to the chancel), and is goblet shaped.

    Particularly striking, is the rich blue and gold latticework design. (pic 2) No two designs in the lattice work are of the same design. This is the work of Newton Penprase (1888-1978) It was completed in 1962, after he'd retired from his working as a teacher at the Belfast School of Art.

    Apparently Penprase was born in Cornwall, and moved to Northern Ireland as a young man. He is notorious for his unique 'idiosicratic' concrete house 'Bendhu' near Ballintoy CLICK HERE for some info about Bendhu

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    Parish Church of St Georges (4) The Chancel

    by suvanki Updated Oct 25, 2009

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    Parish Church of St Georges - Chancel
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    Through the choir screen, we enter the Chancel, which is square in shape. It is more ornately decorated than the nave. Designed in 1882 by Edward Braddell, it was dedicated to the memory of its Rector from 1836-1880 , Reverend Dr. William McIlwaine/
    It is of High Victorian style in its architecture and decoration.

    Look up and see the ornately painted Chancel ceiling,(pic 3) which is divided into 16 coffers (panels) and each panel painted with a central symbol - I'm not sure what each figure represents though.

    The choir stalls were added as soon as the Chancel was completed. This church has long had a tradition of producing a high quality of music. In the 1860's the choir was the first in Ireland to take the High Church fashion of being robed. (see my next tip for more about the choir and organ music of St Georges)

    The Altar is made of oak, created by Knox and Co of Belfast, as a memorial to the parishioners, who were killed during the two World Wars. It is kept covered by a richly embroidered piece (This can just be seen in Pic 2), except for Good Friday.

    The Altar steps (pic 2) are quite ornately tiled, with the words Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Hosts on the base of the altar, the letters, each on individual tiles. The wording continues onto the following 2 steps. I understand this is part of The Sanctus (Latin for Holy), which is part of the Eucharist prayer or hymn. The horizontal tiles are in patterns of 4 tiles

    Behind the altar, is a Reredos, which is made up of five panels (pic 4). The central panel is the largest, and depicts 'The Lamb of God' as a mosaic on a gold coloured mosaic background. To the left are mosaics of Matthew and Mark (The Winged Lion of St Mark) (pic 5) and to the right the symbols of Luke and John.

    The stunning stained Glass Windows in the Chancel, are considered to be the best in the church. The East Window (pic 4) consists of 3 round ended panels, with a central crucifix. The other panels contain roundels, where the intricate patterns and rich colours are likened to Medieval stained glass. At the base of these panels are the names of 12 people who have connections with the church and Belfast Society including WJ Barre (the architect who designed the nave roof) and members of the Purdon family, who were a leading Medical Family in the 19th Century.

    Although this is considered to be the most stunning Stained Glass Window in the church, I was far more enthralled by the smaller windows in the nave- probably because I could get much closer, and could see all the detail. (I'll share these with you later...)

    Now, somewhere in the Chancel is the seat, where King William 111 (aka William of Orange and King Billy) sat, when he attended the Divine Service at The Corporation Church on 15th June 1690, before heading off to The Battle of The Boyne.
    Somehow I managed to miss it!

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    Parish Church of St George (5) Music

    by suvanki Updated Oct 25, 2009

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    St Georges Parish Church - Organ
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    During The Troubles, many people left the city centre, and the church suffered damage on numerous occasions from IRA bombings nearby. The congregation dwindled, and like many churches at this time, it faced closure. However, partly due to a revival of the musical tradition of this church, it survived, and congregations grew during the 1980's and 90's

    The choir today, is considered one of the best church choirs in Ireland. It consists of boys and men choristers.
    Traditionally, the church recruits boys from schools in the Belfast area. Although it is predominantly Anglican, it does recruit from all religious traditions and backgrounds.

    As well as singing during various Parish Church services (including Sung Eucharist on Sunday at 11.00 am and Choral Evensong at 5.00 pm), the choir sings regularly in concerts, which has included appearances on TV and Radio. The choir has also toured European cities.
    Twice weekly, The choir rehearses with the Organist and Director of Music.
    The church also has a volunteer adult choir, The St Georges Chamber Choir, and a choral society- The Saint Georges Singers.
    For info about recitals or choir membership Telephone - (028) 9031 0667

    The choir stalls on the right side of the Chancel, sit below the organ.

    This was built in 1863, by J W Walker and Sons ( London). It was moved to this South Wall in 1883, having previously being housed in the west Gallery, and underwent some alterations, by the company of Conacher of Huddersfield.

    In 1896, the organ was rebuilt and enlarged by George Benson of Manchester. He added some modifications. Apart from a period of restoration of the mechanical workings and a refurbishment in 1978 (N P Mander of London) the organ remains much the same as when Benson created it.

    As well as providing music for the different church services, the organ has featured in recitals, and musical productions as well as being used to teach and train future organists.

    In the churchyard is a blue plaque to Edward Bunting, the first organist of St Georges. (1817-1881)

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    Parish Church of St George (6) Art work

    by suvanki Updated Oct 25, 2009

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    Gothic Murals
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    This church had some interesting pieces of artwork.

    In the Chancel, on the North and South Walls are some paintings on canvas. These were painted by Alexander Gibbs in 1883. On the North wall are five panels, each picture depicts one of the Five Miracles (pic 2 shows the central panel) and the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On the South Wall, is a larger single picture, that shows Christ carrying the cross into Calvary.

    On either side of the stained glass window on the East Wall of the Chancel are some impressive Gothic Murals that date from the early 12th Century (pic 1 and 3)
    These depict 'The Anunciation of Our Lord to The Blessed Virgin Mary', St Michael, St Gabriel,, the Baptism of Our Lord, St Raphael and St Uriel.
    The colours still looked quite vibrant, and the gold halos shone brightly. I know that the glass windows were repaired/ restored after the bomb damage during The Troubles, so I wonder if the paintings were restored too,
    2 Roundels over the Chancel Arch date from 1914 (Virgin Mary ) and 1918 (St Joseph).

    In the nave was a Byzantine style painting of The Virgin Mary and Christ Child, I'm afraid that I don't know who the artist was, or when it was painted (pic 4 is a cropped version of the painting)
    Likewise, (pic 5) a strange pose and transparent lower garments on this Saint, with 2 adjacent framed woodcarvings/ reliefs of flowers.

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    Parish Church of St George (8) Stained Glass

    by suvanki Written Oct 25, 2009

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    Stained Glass Window, North Wall
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    Well, I'd been blown away by the stained Glass window on the South Wall-One I came across on the North Wall affected me even more...I'm not entirely sure what it depicted, but I loved the detail of it.
    Again my pics start with a photo of the window, and descend into more minute detail. A lady who was working in the church stopped for a quick chat. She told me that the church had been damaged 16 times during 'The Troubles' from nearby bomb blasts. The windows had been damaged each time, but had been restored by a man from Northern Ireland -although she couldn't remember his name.
    I think I'm going to have to find out more!
    I loved the vibrant colours, including a small flower that appeared to have been made from copper. Also, the black and white sketched effect of the figure of Christ?, and the detail on the robe of the figure on the left.

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    Parish Church of St George (7) Stained Glass

    by suvanki Updated Oct 25, 2009

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    Stained Glass Window South Wall
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    For me, the stained glass windows in the nave were the hi-light of my visit to this church. Surprisingly, they didn't warrant a mention in the guide to the Church.

    I was stopped in my tracks by the first window that I looked at (pic 2). This was on the South Wall The vibrant colours and details had me mesmerised, I'm afraid that my photos don't do these justice. I'm afraid that I still don't know who the figure playing the harp is, who created the window or how old it is, but I still enjoyed looking at this work of art.
    My photos start off with the main window, then descend into more detail. As I said, my pics gon't do the glasswork justice

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    Parish Church of St George (9) Stained Glass

    by suvanki Written Oct 25, 2009

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    St George Stained Glass

    This stained glass piece was propped up against a plain glass window. It was a portrait of Saint George.

    The lady that I'd spoken to earlier had disappeared into a room off the Chancel, then reappeared later with a black and white photo of this piece. She told me that she thought the framed portrait was a 'Test Piece' created by an apprentice. When he died, the family presented it to St Georges Church.

    I was quite touched, that the lady had shared this piece of information and shown me the photograph.

    When I come to Belfast again, I'll certainly pay a visit to this peaceful church

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