THE RUINED CATHEDRAL OF ST. GERMAN, PEEL, ISLE OF MAN

[Taken from chapter in Our Homeland Cathedrals Vol 1 North, London:1917, pp138-146; photos 1 & 3 are from that publication, 2 & 4 from an earlier 1907 Notes on the Cathedrals London:SPCK which also used the same set of G.B.Cowin Photos though its text is almost worth quoting for its inaccuracies]

Peel: from the South WestIT cannot be said with certainty when Christianity was first introduced into the Isle of Man, but, that it was before the close of the fifth century is evident from Ogam inscriptions found in the south of the island. From early days the name of Saint Patrick has been associated with a rocky islet off the west coast ; it is not unlikely that a mission from the church in Ireland was here established in the lifetime of the saint or shortly after his death, whence the name-Inis Patraic, Insula Patricii. The earliest record of the site is the entry in the Annals of Ulster under date 797 when " the shrine of Dochonna was broken by Gentiles." The name of Germanus was introduced by Jocelin in his Vita Patricii (1183) as that of a disciple of Patrick by whom he was made bishop over the " new church " of the Isle of Man. It would be quite in accordance with what was done elsewhere to substitute a name from the Roman Calendar for that of a local saint, and that is what appears to have been done in this instance.

The Rev. Canon Quine has made the likely suggestion that, " possibly the shrine of Dochonna was that of Ma-chom-og or Machonna, and, that Jocelin saw in Cooman a Celtic form of German1 This shrine, broken by " the Gentiles " or Norsemen at the end of the eighth century, may have been preserved in the early building over the remains or on the site of which the present chancel of the cathedral has been erected.

The list of bishops appended to the Chronicon Manniae records that Bishop Simon was buried in the church of St. German which he had begun to build. If by the words aedificare coeperat we may understand the founding and establishing of a cathedral with its chapter, we can account for the fact that there was already an existing church which Bishop Simon set himself to enlarge on another plan and for another purpose; and this will explain the marked difference in style and in the present chancel and the rest of the cathedral.

Cathedral from harbourThe view of, Peel Castle as seen across the bay, its romantic situation and harmonious colouring, especially when, the, sun setting in the sea behind it sheds a golden glory on the gables. and tower of the cathedral and its surrounding ruins, is one of most delicate beauty and charm. Unfortunately a near view of the east end is dwarfed by the modern quay. and , the, greensward surrounding the cathedral is hidden by the sixteenth century walls of the castle. An inspection of this end shows it to be pierced by three plain lancet windows with no dripstone, with plain rectangular pilasters-sixteen inches wide and four inches deep, rising from a string-course and set-off, crossing under the sills of the windows to another in line with the spring of the gable. At the angles, the Pilasters of the gable serve as buttresses, being here three feet wide and six inches deep with a slight batter, and meeting those of the side walls to form a square corner; these are brought down to another string-course and deeper set-off about eight feet below the windows ; there is also here a small one in the middle. Below this is the rudely arched doorway to the crypt, with a loophole to, the south of it and two square lights above.2

Peel: the interior looking eastwardsTo view the rest of the building we must - enter the castle through the much altered tower which is probably its oldest part. (For this a small fee is charged.) The south wall of the chancel has been spoiled by an ugly facing erected to make room for a staircase to the crypt, which has broken into the string-course and buried the set-off at the bottom of the pilasters, but we may note the five lancets and slight remains of the plain moulded cornice at the top. The raised platform at the south-east corner of this wall,-ten feet by seven-may have been for the use of the Sumner in making ecclesiastical proclamations and announcements.

The original tower appears to have been very low; the upper part with the embattled parapet probably dates from the late fifteenth century. A few corbels remain which show the height from which the roof sprang - eight feet above the tops of the tower arches. A plain corbel-table and parapet of the same age as that of the tower surrounds the transepts, the windows of which are externally of late insertion ; the west face of the south transept shows in the middle an arched doorway with a dripstone and plain mouldings; and there is a lancet window above. At a point eighteen inches north of the doorway are the foundations of the wall of a south aisle joining the wall of the nave at its west end. The late square stair-turret of the tower projects here, breaking into the wall. The two-light window in the west gable of the nave has been restored; in the north wall are two trefoiled windows and west of them a plain arched doorway having no ornament but a simple chamfer on the outside.

The CrossingThe north transept shows on its west face a small trefoil window, restored; its north gable end which has more than once been altered, has a recent flattopped doorway with window above. At the northeast corner is a rectangular enclosure, which looks like the remains of an open air font or, a baptistery to the original church, only if it were such its position is unusual.

A good view of the north side of the chancel is to be had from the little court in front of it, which, being at a lower level than that on the south, gives a more correct impression of this, the most venerable portion of the building. Five plain lancets are seen, without external mouldings; these and the pilasters between them are fortunately in their original condition as are also the string-course below and the cornice at the top of the wall. A doorway leads into the crypt which is pointed barrel-vaulted, having thirteen narrow ribs set close together, rising from short shafts which as well as the capitals and ribs, have a plain chamfer. It measures 34 feet by 16 feet and is about nine feet high at the west end, sloping to the entrance at the east.

Entering the cathedral by the doorway into the south transept, the remains of a holy water stoup are seen at its north side; this as well as the image bracket on the opposite wall, is at such a height that evidently it was so placed when the floor had been raised to the higher level. The piers of the arch with very plain moulded capitals and rectangular shafts. show by their bases the original level of the floor. The north transept has in its north wall remains of three windows of different dates. It will now be noticed that the transept windows internally belong to an earlier period than appears from the outside, and this period is clearly indicated on the inside of the eastern arch by the tooth-ornament which is so characteristic of Early English work. Though this has been restored, some of the original is left in position by which the correctness of the copy em be tested. There is also a line moulding to the middle soffit. The north arch bears the same decoration; that it is on a smaller scale may signify a slight difference in date, and the fact that the other two arches are void of any ornament, suggests that they were completed yet later. But the whole of the tower and the transepts are clearly Early English, and we may. regard them as the work of Simon,-a Benedictine and previously Abbot of Iona - who was bishop from 1226 to 1247.

The nave may have been planned but cannot have built in his time, destroying as it does the proportions of his arches and burying their bases to a depth of 3 feet 6 inches. It was added after the present crypt had been built when the level of the whole floor was raised some time in the fourteenth century. Late an aisle, 9, feet 6 inches wide. was added on the south, that side being evidently chosen on account of the sloping ground ; an arcade of four arches, having round pillars with plain capitals and chamfered bases, divided. it from the nave. The stair-turret must have been added when the tower was raised.

The chancel has in the north. and south walls the five lancet windows seen from outside; -at the west end however a sixth lancet on each side has been built up to allow for the piers of the tower arch for which the western end of this, the original church, was entirely removed. It now measures to the middle of the arch 37 feet 6 inches and is 20 feet wide. As a separate building this church was probably longer, and, it is interesting to note the absence of an apse, and the square east end and the lack of any architectural division between its chancel and nave. These, as well as the position of the altar against the east wall, are constant features in the churches in Man from the earliest times. The mouldings of the window-jambs can be traced below the sills and down to a stringcourse. Beneath the windows on the north are two arched recesses, to allow for which the mouldings and string-course have been cut away. As pointed out by Mr. Anderson this could not have been the burial place of Bishop Simon as was supposed, for at that time the floor had not been raised. The inner sills of the south windows have been built up; owing to the space left. for the piscina at the east end, they are not opposite those in the north wall and the spaces between are reduced. The piscina set in an arched recess has a plain chamfer and merely a slab of stone with a shallow hollow hardly to be called a basin. In this wall is another arched recess and there is a small square one of later date near the west end. The late doorway to. the crypt entrance is a further disfigurement broken into the wall The east gable has its three lancets each with a separate hood-moulding, the middle one slightly higher than the other two. There is a little niche at either side, and, in the north-east comer a taller niche for an image. The foundations of the altar still remain against the east wall.

This is the oldest part of the cathedral and from its similarity in style and in mouldings to the chancel of the Cistercian abbeys of Inch and of Grey in County Down, Canon Quine argues that the three must have had a common origin and gives reasons for thinking that " It is indeed probable that Jocelin was the actual architect of all three chancels; and, that the original intention of St. German was a. Cistercian Abbey."

Inch was founded in 1181 by John de Courcy, Lord of Down, and in 1193, Grey was founded by his wife Aufrica, daughter of Godred King of Man and sister to Reginald his successor. Jocelin came from Furness to Inch, where he wrote for his patron the Life of Pairick. in 1187 he was made Abbot of Rushen in Man. De, Courcy and Aufrica were patrons of the Cistercian Order as was also King Reginald.

In the space between the transepts is the tomb of Bishop Rutter who was buried in 1661. To the north of the cathedral are the buildings designed probably for the accommodation of the chapter which was established by Bishop Simon; these appear to have been altered and in their ruined condition it is difficult to say exactly how they were originally used.

As it has been impossible to get a correct plan made in time for this edition, some of the principal measurements of the building are given:

Total length of chancel, tower and nave

114ft. 6ins.

" " transepts with tower

68ft. 6ins.

Width of chancel

20ft. 6ins

" nave and north transept

20ft

" south transept ...

18ft. 9ins.

Height of walls

18ft.

" tower

83ft.

" stair-turret

98ft.

Thickness of walls :East gable and north wall of nave

3ft. 6ins.

" The other walls

3ft.

Orientation, W.S.W. to E.S.E.

 

P. M. C. K. [P.M.C. Kermode]

Footnotes

1 St. German's Church, Peel. Isle of Man. Historical account of the church and parish . Rev. J. Quine, M.A. (Douglas: S. K. Broadbent & Co., Ltd., 1908).

2 Unfortunately all the dressed stones here were so badly weathered that it was felt necessary by Mr. Anderson, the skilled architect called in in 1871, to restore them; but, we are given to understand that throughout the building where this has been done, each stone was replaced by a new one of exactly the sane size and form, so that at all events we now have a correct copy to look at.


 Parish Index

German Parish ;see also account by Grose


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 1999