Saints and Scholars
Saul Church, also known as St Patrick’s Memorial Church, commemorates the Patron Saint of Ireland. It is built on the reputed spot of his first sermon and subsequent church in the country. When he came to Ireland in 432 AD, strong currents swept his boat along the southern tidal narrows of Strangford Lough. He landed off the River Slaney a couple of miles from Saul. Dichu, the local chieftain, converted to Christianity and gave him a barn or sabhal (pronounced ‘saul’ in Gaelic) for holding services. St Patrick famously used a shamrock from the fertile Saul soil to explain the Holy Trinity. He died in Saul 29 years after landing in Ireland and is buried in nearby Downpatrick.
St Patrick’s Jordanstown designed by William Lynn in the 1860s is the first Northern Irish church to embrace the Celtic revival with aplomb. Saul Church designed by Henry Seaver in the 1930s is the last. Both have a round tower. Henry was a prolific architect who designed many red brick bay windowed villas in the Deramore area of Malone, Belfast. He was also architect of St John’s Church on Malone Road. His brother was rector. St John’s is conventionally gothic. Saul is more Romanesque with its semicircular arched windows.
When the Anglo Irish singer Chris de Burgh penned the words to “In a Country Churchyard” he might have had Saul Church in mind. It couldn’t be any more romantic in both senses of the word. A yew lined avenue leads to this tiny place of worship, spick and span, in contrast to the wild garden around the gravestones and remains of St Patrick’s Abbey. Its hilltop setting allows unbroken views across the rolling countryside of County Down. Unsurprisingly the church is popular for weddings led by members of the clergy from far and wide, including the Reverend Andy Rider of Christ Church Spitalfields. A dedication from St Patrick,
“Go forth, traveller | In the Name which is above every name | Be of good courage | Hold fast that which is good | Render to no man evil for evil | Strengthen the faint hearted | Support the weak | Help the afflicted | Honour all men | Love and serve the Lord | Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. And may the blessing of the Eternal God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you in your going out and your coming in.”