Re-Roofing Cashel Cathedral

 

Sir, - The support given by councillors in Tipperary to the idea of re-roofing the old medieval cathedral of Cashel is disheartening to those of us who have laboured long and hard to improve the general understanding of medieval monuments. Restoration would not increase the interest or enjoyment of the building: it would almost certainly do the opposite.

First, the ancient walls would have to be consolidated and some parts, including the whole of the east facade, would have to be remade. Instead of a monument dating from the middle ages, we would be confronted by a hybrid, leaving it unclear whether we are looking at an authentic medieval building or a modern facsimile.

Second, the fabric at Cashel underwent several changes during its history. Are we to restore the building as it looked in 1300, or as it was altered (quite radically) in the 15th century, or as it appeared shortly before the roof was removed in the 18th century?

Third, ancient monuments are like detective puzzles, alive with clues about how they were constructed and the methods employed by the ancient craftsmen: distinctive tool marks on the masonry, changes in the choice of stone and the size of the blocks, remains of the scaffolding posts etc., all vital pieces of historical evidence which would be obscured or obliterated in a restoration.

Fourth, the cathedral at Cashel was designed to serve the needs of the liturgy in the 13th century, and its layout is far from suitable for modern worship. To appreciate the difficulties that ensue in such situations, one has only to glance at Holycross, where a central altar has rendered the magnificent sanctuary, with its carved sedilia, virtually pointless.

A sad aspect of the current debate is that we have been down this road before. In the later decades of the 19th century both of the ancient cathedrals in Dublin were emphatically "restored", to such an extent that many visitors assume that they are Victorian not medieval buildings. Let us hope that this folly is not repeated at Cashel. - Yours, etc., Roger Stalley,

Professor of the History of Art,

Trinity College,

Dublin 2.