Christ Church Cathedral, Lisburn, is set for a year of celebration in 2023, as it marks the 400th anniversary of worship on the cathedral site in the heart of the city.
The first church on the site was built by Sir Fulke Conway who, when he moved from England to settle in Lisburn, constructed his castle in the park adjacent to the site of what was then called St Thomas’ Church, serving the castle family and staff and the small population of the immediate area.
Some 40 years later, Charles II established the church to be the Cathedral Church of Down and Connor, and later Lisburn Cathedral was recognised as the cathedral of the Diocese of Connor.
The original church was left in ruins after a rebel army attack on Lisburn in 1641. It was restored but was destroyed by fire, as was most of the town, in 1707. Again the cathedral was rebuilt – the foundation stone was laid in 1708. The current chancel was added in 1889.
The cathedral has connections with such historic events as the American War of Independence, the Siege of Delhi 1798, and the United Irishmen. Also, the Huguenot settlement in Ireland, the development of the linen industry and events following the killing of the Mayor of Cork and the subsequent murder in Lisburn of the senior police officer whose men were accused of that murder.
The first event in the year of celebration is ‘400 minutes of Prayer’ on Saturday January 7, beginning at 9.30am. People can call in for however long they would like for both silent and led prayer.
A service to officially launch the 400th anniversary will be held on Sunday January 15, and will be attended by the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev George Davison, and other dignitaries.
On May 15, there will be a Gala Dinner, open to all, at a venue to be confirmed.
A celebration weekend will run from June 9-11, featuring a Friday night party, a 1623-themed afternoon tea on the Saturday, and celebration service on the Sunday afternoon. Organisers are in the process of contacting former curates, vestry members, parishioners who have moved out of the area, and people who were married or confirmed in the cathedral over the last 30 years to invite them to the weekend’s events.
Several themed open days are planned for July and August, along with a series of talks on the history of the cathedral.
A concert featuring New Irish Arts will take place on the last weekend in September, and a 400th anniversary closing service will be held before Christmas.
The cathedral is also considering ways of creating a permanent marker of this historic year, with ideas including a new Prayer Garden; a memorial in conjunction with Lisburn Museum, and cataloguing the contents of the cathedral’s ‘History Room’ – currently in a state of dishevelment – to make the information freely available online.
As part of the 400th anniversary celebrations, a 2023 calendar has been published. Images featured include an aerial view of the cathedral site, the old Huguenot graves in the churchyard, the refurbished interior (2012), Harvest, Remembrance, Easter outreach in the Hillhall Estate, the old Cathedral Gates (1925), hope in the face of Covid-19, and more.
Copies will be on sale at £4, with all funds raised being funnelled back into the cathedral.
Welcoming people to attend services and events as part of the year of celebration, the Dean of Connor and rector of Lisburn Cathedral, the Very Rev Sam Wright said: “Over the past 400 years, through many times of trials and challenges, joy and celebrations, worship has been given to Almighty God on the site where Lisburn Cathedral sits today.
“Throughout this anniversary year, it is our desire to give thanks to God for his faithfulness and for the many generations of Christian people who have provided a faithful witness to the Gospel in Lisburn and beyond. At the same time we look forward to, and pray for that worship, Christian teaching, prayer and outreach continuing and flourishing into the future.”
Any group or individual interested in attending these events or wanting to arrange a separate visit can make contact via the cathedral website or Facebook.