Having spent centuries welcoming the people of Galway and beyond into the warmth of this sacred space, St Nicholas’ has become known as an inclusive and progressive Anglican church that attracts not only those seeking religious guidance, but those with a fascination for medieval architecture.
Surrounded by the legendary Galway Market each weekend, St Nicholas’ provides a welcome dose of tranquility in the centre of an ever-active city. The largest medieval parish church in Ireland in continuous use, the history of this building begins in 1320, so with this year marking its 700th anniversary, there’s no better time to take a very large leap back in time…
While we don’t have an exact date on which the foundations were laid for this church, it is widely agreed upon that it was finished in 1320 and dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of children - more commonly known as good old Santa Clause. Back then, Galway was still a relatively new town filled with ambitious souls determined to build a large and impressive church, which they most certainly did. Being granted collegiate jurisdiction in 1484, wardens and vicars governed the space and ensured its smooth running.
It was not until the 16th century that the religious space was extended by the Lynch and Ffrench families of the Tribes of Galway, resulting in a square interior and an unusual three-roofed profile under which hundreds of people worship to this day. The church’s exterior offers plenty of features to attract the attention of any passerby, including two mermaids, a dragon, an ape and a lion, as well as stone gargoyles guarding the roof’s edge.
The interior offerings are just as spectacular, with the baptismal font having welcomed new arrivals to the church since 1590. The headless and handless figures within carry their fair share of historical significance too, with their defacement being attributed to the Cromwellian troops, who used the place of worship as a horse stable after the 1652 Siege of Galway.
Monuments and memorials can be found throughout the space, including that of Galway’s Jane Eyre - an honourable and dedicated parishioner who donated £300 to the betterment of 36 of the poorer members of the community. The oldest grave on the grounds is that of Adam Bures, fondly remembered as the Crusader, who passed away in the 13th century. The church’s surrounding railings we see today were not added to the grounds until 1983, before which they surrounded the park in Eyre Square. Who knew?
Over the centuries, the church of St Nicholas has received countless visitors, most notable of which being Christopher Columbus, who stopped by to pray here in 1477. Today, you’re likely to hear music from local and international music groups echo throughout the lane, see people come and go to any one of the church’s many activities and feel a great sense of historical importance as you pass by this medieval building.
It is impossible to convey 700 years of history in a few short paragraphs, but once you’re standing in the centre of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, you’ll feel the weight of the site’s unspoken past. Find out more about this incredible Galway landmark right HERE.