Dean's Blog

Dean John Mann



The Dean's "twice a week" blog is published on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Links to monthly archives of the blog are provided at the bottom of this page.

March 16th 2017

First, an apology!  We are in the process of changing the website and there are a few transitional arrangements that are causing problems. The new website would, in fact, already be in use, were it not for one particular difficulty that we are trying to overcome at the moment.  Anyhow, one day soon the website will look different.  The effect on this blog is that the archive will probably not be transferred, and that because day to day control of the website will be entirely based with the cathedral office, it will not normally have content added at weekends, for example.  Verner McKinley whose role in keeping the old website going, and progressively improving it within the bounds of its technical limitations, has been considerable, is stepping back, and Karen who for a long time has largely been responsible for the content, with Simon, will be in control. 

I would take this opportunity, and I hope that there will be others, to thank Verner for his sterling work on the website over the last few years.  It is often said that in Church life there is much hidden work that goes on that is rarely, if ever, mentioned.  In that regard St Anne’s is no different to anywhere else, except that it is a significantly more complex organisation. Verner, generally speaking was the one who received my blog each Tuesday and Saturday and added it to the website whilst providing links to all sorts of things and sending emails to those who are updated several times a week on the cathedral news.  This will, naturally enough, still happen as the staff take full responsibility for these things, but I will need to change the days upon which I write the blog.  So, from next week, it will be Tuesday and Friday.  It would have been those days this week except that tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day and the office will be closed.

That leads me neatly to mention that I have already had more information regarding Charles Braithwaite - and I am hoping for even more - in that the illuminated copy of St Patrick’s Breastplate, on display in the ambulatory, is also his work.  Now I think that in the recesses of my mind I must have known this and had forgotten.  It is a very beautiful work, but, as it is shown to us in its

display case, we only see two pages of it.  It was completed by Braithwaite on 19th May 1917, so it is entirely appropriate that we should have this lovely work available for people to examine more closely at some stage over the next few weeks as a hundred years ago, at this time, he must have been spending hours in illuminating this manuscript, that contains both the words and a musical setting of the Breastplate.

Admittedly, much of it is simply very beautiful calligraphy, and the pages that are by far that most fully illuminated are those displayed as all can see it, nevertheless the whole work is in its entirety a magnificent work of art, that could, one day, be properly reproduced as a fine limited edition copy of Braithwaite’s original.  I fear though that it would be so expensive to do, and have so small a market, that it may never happen.  Still, thank you Paul, for directing me to more of Braithwaite’s art.  We don’t know, but suspect that this copy of St Patrick’s Breastplate, was given at the same time as the other works that I have referred to in previous blogs.  To be continued, I hope.

March 14th 2017

As promised this blog describes the two remaining pictures that the cathedral owns of Charles Braithwaite, onetime Head of Art at Methodist College Belfast.

Following from my blog of 11th March and moving to the left of the first two pictures that I described in that blog, that hang at the top of the stairs leading to the cathedral hall, we reach a small Medieval-style piece depicting a coronation.  It has two bishops in characteristic pose either side of the figure to be crowned, and other figures appear behind.  The new king is bearded and the script below is to me indecipherable.  The whole thing is of the style of an illuminated manuscript and could be a copy of an actual document, though I don’t think it is.  I know nothing of Charles Braithwaite, but I have a feeling that his work is original to him and not copied.  The style, yes, is an imitation, but the subject matter and actual design is his.

The final picture is perhaps my favourite.  It is small and consists of a title page and a verse from

"The Blessed Damozel" a lengthy poem byDante Gabriel Rossetti.  The poem describes the longing of the damozel from heaven, for her lover that he might join her.  It, like the others, is perhaps a strange thing to have on the cathedral centre’s walls, and surprising that St Anne’s owns these little treasures, but maybe someone will come up with more information, whilst the rest of us just enjoy the beauty and skill of the artwork.   Charles Braithwaite choses just one verse from the Rossetti poem, which runs:

And still she bow’d herself and stoop’d

Out of the circling charm;

Until her bosom must have made

The bar she lean’d on warm,

And the lilies lay as if asleep

Along her bended arm.

March 11th 2017

Having Methodist College in the Cathedral for the Spring Concert last Thursday reminded me of the generous gift made to the cathedral of four works for art of Charles Braithwaite, A.R.H.A.  They were given to St Anne’s by Mrs Mary Keith, his sister-in-law, many years ago.  Charles Braithwaite had worked part-time as a drawing master at Methodist College after the First World War eventually becoming Head of Art at the College.  He died on 25th February 1941.  We walk past these gorgeous Arts and Crafts Movement pictures every day, as they are hanging on the walls of the meeting area outside the cathedral library and vestries, at the top of the stairs leading to the cathedral hall.

There is enough in them to manage two entries of this blog.  I will start describing two of them today and finish on Tuesday with the other two, working along the wall from right to left.  So when you are next walking past them you can follow my order from the top of the stairs to the window overlooking the carpark.

The first is dated 1921.  Like the other three it is in Pre-Raphaelite style.  There is a border of entwined red poppies, the stems are golden and thickened as if embossed, within are what look like chrysanthemum leaves and forget-me-not flowers like a William Morris print design, such as in his variations on ‘Pimpernel’.  This border alone must have taken hours of painstaking work.  It glows with colour and vitality.  It could have been painted yesterday.  The picture within this frame of flowers is very interesting.  A small panel at the top, with intricate work like black lace around it is of a scene actual or just a generic meeting from a Greek myth.  A ship is beached in the background, whilst a winged-helmeted figure (Hermes presumably) kneels before a seated woman who seems in intent on his entreaties.  The poem that follows in illuminated script I cannot trace.  Maybe it is Charles Braithwaite’s own, but somehow I doubt it.  Its Shelley-like lines run:

Grieve not beloved that the golden morn

Shall come to us no more when we are dead,

Nor June with the new roses blossom red.

When we shall cast the garments we have worn,

And bear no more the burdens we have borne,

And take the darkened road, for roses red

We shall have Death’s own poppy-bloom instead,

That giveth sleep and hath no wounding thorn.

Sweet, there, the music of the pallid spheres

On the hushed sky, and sweeter there, though wan,

The night that changes not, than Suns that shone,

And when our eyes are rested from their tears,

And when our hearts are healed with quiet years,

Perhaps we shall have God to look upon.

(if anyone does locate these words, do let me know)

The second framed piece is highly decorative though a little less ornate, but the poem in its centre is easily found, it being one of the ballards of Agnes Shakespeare Higginson(1864–1955), whose work appeared under the pseudonym of Moira O'Neill, a popularIrish-Canadianpoet who wrote songs inspired byher Ulster birthplace, County Antrim.  This piece is entitled “Lost” one of her Songs of the Glens of Antrim:

Listen, oh my jewel, I would say,
Only wait to' I can get the word :
Sure I thought I had it sweet an' gay
Like the bravest song o' summer bird.
Faith ! I knew it well an' very well
When this hour the rain begun to fall.
Now the sorra one o' me can tell
What about it was at all, at all.
Listen, oh my jewel, I was wrong,
Never, never lived a word so sad ;
Not the heavy sea that drives along
Bears such weighty throuble as it had.
Och anee ! wi' ne'er a voice to cry,
Like the weary cloud or drownin' moon
So it sank, or so was carried by :
Never told is all forgot so soon.

The title ‘Lost’ is so cleverly worked into a single circle of gold; each letter is laid upon another.  It is beautifully designed and the second of the four treasures we have of Charles Braithwaite’s work.

To be continued on Tuesday!

March 8th 2017

Today I am in Glendalough to lead a Lenten retreat, talking on the challenges of contemplation and our walk with God.  It will be lovely to be at this centre of Irish Christianity that’s remains are not only in stone, fine though they may be, but in the awareness of what has happened in this holy place of monastic life and pilgrimage.

The water in this area that falls from the sky, lies in the lakes, runs in the streams of the Wicklow hills is an easy reminder of the Lenten call to be washed through and through of our sins as we plead in Psalm 51.  It is a powerful image, and in Ireland an ever-present advantage over those who took to the desert in the early days of Christianity, and their seeking the presence of water was a reminder to them of the dryness of the soul without God. 

Speaking of water; there was a lot of it used last week to clean the north porch of the cathedral of 120 years of grime.  The open-work of the exterior doors mean that all the dirt of Donegall Street blows in without a solid door to help keep it out; so the stonework becomes as blackened inside the porch as does the exterior stonework – perhaps more so as there is no rain to wash it away.  Anyway, with the help of a grant, the Cathedral Board has been able to pay to have it professionally cleaned.  It looks amazing.  Do come in that way next – believe me, you can’t miss being impressed by the change!

Belfast Cathedral on FacebookBelfast Cathedral on Twitter


7th March 2017

It was dark before the rhubarb forcer was broached and enough taken for a crumble that is one of the seasonal joys of this time of the year. Judging the amount of sugar is the deciding factor in aiming for perfection; just enough and not too much; better err on the side of caution, the early rhubarb is sweeter than that pulled later; needless to say it was lovely. Why do restaurants nearly always over-sweeten crumbles?

Talking of over or under doing-things, I had one of the meetings beside a skip yesterday in Portrush that are such a comfort, as the world for a few moments is reduced from its perpetual concerns and deep human failings (need I begin to catalogue them) and becomes a serious debate as to how hard to cut back a hedge, or how much we should take off a lawn at this time of the year. Both of us, throwing in fairly decent length pieces of birch and hazel, and the like, into one of the Green Garden Waste skips, my fellow hacker-back started the conversation, which ran; “That time of year again”, “Yes” says I, eyeing up his pruning efforts in comparison with mine, “I hope I haven’t cut back too much”; “You can’t” was the swift reply, “I was speaking to a farmer the other day…” At that point I knew I was in for a pleasant ramble though the state of the grass to the weather etc.

Earlier we had had a run to Downhill to see the snowdrops, only just past their very best, still cascading like white-water down the slopes of the upper part of the glen. Lower down near the lake the evidence is that the wild garlic has now completely ousted the bluebells. Neither are in flower yet, of course, but from the leaves it is clear that there are almost no bluebells left, in a glen that had swathes of them thirty years ago. Should one protect or should one allow natural competition to take its course in a place of semi-cultivated public space?

St Anne’s had a very busy weekend just passed, concluding with Gillian Withers being the new canon installed as the chapter is brought up to full strength on the chapter once again (for a few weeks anyway). Many cups of tea and coffee were served on both Saturday and Sunday, as we look on to what is coming next. In just over a week we have something new, as there is to be a special St Patrick’s event organised by the Connor diocesan children’s team with displays and activities for schools and individual families. It all sounds very exciting, as the myths and legends of Patrick are seen beside the real man, who had such an impact on the faith of the Irish people. Mind you, I am not sure where the Vikings come in …..!? We shall wait and see!


4th March 2017

The birds were singing in chorus this morning for the first time that I have noticed this year. There have been individuals singing away for some days, weeks even, but today we were greeted with one here and one there in our garden answered from gardens beyond. A blackbird sitting still above the bird feeders seemed to be orchestrating the whole thing.

Down below, on the ground the rhubarb is growing inside the forcer. One can nearly hear it striking for the light and its leaves crisply opening in hope to reach it. I imagine it, of course, as I do the rhubarb crumble or rhubarb fool that is just in anticipation at the moment, but, and I am promised this from higher authority, such is likely to appear at the beginning of next week.

The light is very fine this morning too. The sky was glowing as I left for the cathedral at 7.30 a.m. and I was listening to Nicola Benedetti playing Phil Cunningham’s beautiful The Gentle Light that Wakes Me on the journey down (I couldn’t face more election analysis on the radio!).

Today is a busy day at St Anne’s with the Mothers’ Union and a led Day of Prayer happening in the Chapter Room and the Library respectively and a craft fair in the cathedral itself, but the cycle of services carry on as every other day. An Italian lady joined us for Morning Prayer and found her way through the psalms and canticles with the two of us that were there, before we moved on through the very respectful gathering of craft fair organisers to the Chapel of Unity.

The reading from the prophecy of Isaiah at the Eucharist was full of the hope that comes from lifting the distressed and feeding the hungry, stopping “pointing the finger” and “speaking of evil”. Then as Isaiah says, “your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday”. Such words are both restorative to the soul and encouraging and pertinent to the heart and mind.


Links to previous months


February 2017

January 2017



December 2016

November 2016

October 2016

September 2016

August 2016

July 2016

June 2016

May 2016

April 2016

March 2016

February 2016

January 2016



December 2015

November 2015

October 2015

September 2015

August 2015

July 2015

June 2015

May 2015

April 2015

March 2015

February 2015

January 2015



December 2014

November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

August 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014



December 2013

November 2013