The present day St. Canice’s Cathedral owes a great deal to Dean Vignoles

canices cathedral

Prepared for The Kilkenny Observer by Cois Céim and The Saturday Walkers Club

Edited and compiled by: Gerry Cody

Charles Augustus Vignoles was born in Portarlington County Laois on the 25th July 1789. A fourth generation French Hugenout, his father was also a clergyman.
His sister Elizabeth Anne Vignoles married George Grey and was mother of Sir George Grey 11th Premier of New Zealand.
Vignoles was a Nineteenth century Church of Ireland dean, specifically the Dean of Ossory, and the dean of the Chapel Royal Dublin.

After the Restoration of the monarchy Bishop Williams (1661-1673) returned to re-roof and restore St Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny.
In the 1750’s, Bishop Pococke carried out much work. When Dean Vignoles arrived in the 1840‘s the Cathedral was suffering from another of its cycles of neglect. He set about repairing and restoring and removed the choir screen, had the roof altered, and the side aisle arches reopened.
The present state of the Cathedral owes much to Vignoles and his associates. Along with a local clergyman, James Graves was in the forefront of a new wave of antiquarians and were co-founders of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society.
Excavations conducted by the two in the 1840’s uncovered the foundations of the earlier Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Canice taken down in 1210 for the construction of the present Cathedral.

In 1847 the removal of accumulated rubbish that had filled up in the lower part of the round tower to within 0.7m of the entrance door was overseen by Graves who reported that the base of the tower was paved and built on a 0.6m deep stone plinth foundation that itself rested on a considerable depth of thickly populated graveyard. Four skeletons were examined by Graves -two children one male and one female in a wooden coffin and two adult males.
Most of the bones were placed back in the tower but the skulls were retained and housed in the Kilkenny Museum and are now presumably in the National Museum.
The Cathedral town wall rampart, a section was cut through the North end of the earthen rampart inside the town wall. The layers that formed were of the 18th Century and comprised mainly of graveyard soils with an abundance of human bones, funerary fragments and stones. The dating suggests it is not a town wall rampart but a handsome terrace walk described in 1748.

The Dean immediately set about clearing the grounds, the diggings being as much archaeological as functional. He uncovered the foundations of the previous Irish stone church and fragments of Bishop Ledrede’s great 14th century East window which had been destroyed by Cromwell.
Inside he cleared out what he regarded as junk, but a running battle ensued between Bishop and Dean as to who had the authority in these things.  The Bishop won the case but Vignoles never accepted the ruling and eventually led to seven years exile in France. On his return all seems to have been forgotten and he immediately started the restoration work that transformed the Cathedral into what we see today. The choir stalls were completed in 1900 long after Vignoles’ death in office. He died on the 18th October 1877 and was laid to rest in the Cathedral grounds. It is rare to find a church restored to its original form and to have had such a pure original with which to start.

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