The Parish Church of Saint George, Belfast, more commonly known as St. George’s Church
Image by infomatique
The Parish Church of Saint George, Belfast, more commonly known as St. George’s Church, Belfast, is a Church of Ireland church located on High Street in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is the oldest Church of Ireland church in Belfast.It was designed by Irish architect, John Bowden, and opened in 1816. Major refurbishment work was completed in June 2000.
The church was designed by John Bowden of Dublin in 1811. The foundation stone was laid in June 1813 by the Earl of Masserene and the church opened in June 1816. It has a simple nave and chancel plan and built of sandstone. The west end, facing High Street, has a large Corinthian pillared portico, giving the impression that it is a two storied building. Inside there is a gallery on three sides. The portico was originally built in 1788 as the main entrance of Ballyscullion House in County Londonderry for Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. After he died in 1803, the house was gradually dismantled and the portico was bought and transported to Belfast. The coats of arms on the pediment are of the Diocese of Down and the city of Belfast. It originally had a plain ceiling, but in 1865 the ceiling was removed and the trusses exposed and decorated by architect W. J. Barre, who also added a new pulpit in 1867. A chancel, designed by Edward Bradell, was added in 1882.
The church stands on what had been a fording place where the River Lagan and River Farset met. In the 14th century A chapel of ease of the main parish church at Shankill, was constructed here for those waiting to cross the mud flats which covered most of the area that has become Central Belfast. By the time of the Plantation of Ulster, the church had become the main parish church for the area. In 1613 James I of England granted a charter to Belfast as a key garrison town in the plantation, and St. George’s became the ‘corporation’ church. William of Orange passed through Belfast on his way from Carrickfergus to the Battle of the Boyne, and had a famous sermon, Arise Great King, preached to him here.
By the late 18th century, however, the church had fallen into disrepair and the Earl of Chichester, the dominant local landowner, gave land for a new parish church for Belfast to be built on a more expansive site a few hundred metres away on Donegall Street. This church would later become St Anne’s Cathedral. Henry Joy McCracken, a leading member of the Society of the United Irishmen and 1798 rebellion was buried in the churchyard after being hanged, before later being moved to Clifton Street Cemetery.
However, by the 1800s, the growth of industrial Belfast necessitated a second Anglican church being built, and a new St. George’s was built on the old site, opening in 1816. Throughout the 19th century, the church had a series of rectors known for their flamboyant style, and in the early 20th century, St. George’s developed its distinct High Church ethos. The movement of people out of the City Centre in the 20th century saw the congregation drop, and during The Troubles, the church was seriously damaged on a number of occasions by Provisional Irish Republican Army bombs.
St. George’s was the first Anglican church in Ireland to introduce Harvest Thanksgiving, musical recitals in church, early morning celebrations of the Holy Communion, a robed choir, drama in church, the Christmas Midnight Eucharist, the Three Hours Devotions on Good Friday, and to adopt the 1984 Alternative Prayer Book of the Church of Ireland.