The Mother Church
The first settlers worshipped in the ruins of the former Augustinian abbey. In 1613 the London merchant companies sent over a silver-gilt chalice as a promise of their commitment to build a cathedral to grace their new city. The chalice remains a treasured possession of St Columb's Cathedral, originally built between 1628-33. It was the first cathedral to be erected in the British Isles after the Reformation and unusually was consecrated both as parish church of Templemore and as mother church of the Church of Ireland Diocese on the same day.
Cathedral under siege
The Cathedral's tower originally had a wooden spire covered with lead. The spire was later dismantled and the lead put into store. The lead was used to make bullets during the 1689 siege. The top of the tower became a signalling point, look-out post and platform for cannon. Colonel Mitchelburne's personal crimson flag was flown from the top to alert the ships in the Foyle that the wind and tide were right to attempt to break the boom. Many siege heroes are buried in the Cathedral. During its restoration in the 1860s the bones of the Apprentice Boys were temporarily removed to a tomb in the graveyard. The mound over the tomb was left as a monument to them.
'A very elegant, handsome, lofty stone spire'
In 1778 Bishop Hervey increased the height of the Cathedral tower and added a stone spire. It rose 70 metres above the city. Only a decade later Rev. D.A. Beaufort wrote: Now the steeple has given way still more, inasmuch that they dare not raise the bells but ring them by only moving the clapper with a rope. The tower had to be taken down in 1802 after it showed signs of giving way. Although 11 metres shorter, the present spire of 1822 still dominates the city skyline.
St Columb's Cathedral may have inspired John Newton to write one of the most popular hymns in the English language - 'Amazing Grace'. Having narrowly avoided shipwreck during an Atlantic storm in 1748, Newton repented his former life as a slave trader. After his ship put into the Foyle for repair, he was invited by the Mayor to join a shooting party during which a bullet accidentally went through his hat. This second near-death experience confirmed to Newton that God was on his side. He prayed twice daily in the Cathedral until the 'Greyhound' was ready to sail again.