The Chapel of the Resurrection

Former mortuary chapel on Cave Hill, Belfast

In 1868, the third Marquis of Donegall started building the present Belfast Castle in the shadow of Cave Hill, north Belfast, to replace the one burned to the ground in 1708. Designed by Charles Lanyon and built by John Lowry, it was finally completed in 1870.

During this period, the Marquis also built the mortuary chapel as a memorial to his son Frederick Richard, Earl of Belfast, who died and was buried in Italy in 1853. Frederick’s body was initially exhumed and buried in the family vault in St Nicholas’ Parish Church in Carrickfergus. When the new mortuary chapel was ready in December 1869, he was exhumed again and reburied in the vault beneath. The third Marquis brought the remains of a further six relatives to the vault. He himself was buried there in 1883. Brasses on the walls commemorated various members of both the Donegall and Shaftesbury families.

At the beginning of the first world war, services in the chapel were discontinued. However, it opened again in 1938, having been transferred with the freehold of the ground to the Church of Ireland by the Earl of Shaftesbury. Belfast Castle and its estate had been presented to the city corporation four years earlier.

During the second world war, the chapel suffered superficial damage during air raids but services continued every Sunday. The chapel bell, which had been silent for years, was cleaned and re-hung at the end of the war, when it was rung in honour of the Allied victory.

In subsequent years, many Belfast parishes helped to keep the chapel going by conducting Sunday services there. However, there was no endowment of any kind and all outgoings had to be met from collections. Sadly, the last service was held on August 27, 1972. The building had become impossible to maintain and the remains from the vault were cremated and returned to St Nicholas’ Parish Church. In 1982, grave robbers entered and desecrated it, so it was deconsecrated and eventually sold in 1985.

Today, the building, accessible from Innisfayle Park on the Antrim Road, is becoming more and more dilapidated, though it appears the owners intend to develop it into apartments. At St Peter’s Church on the Antrim Road, the side chapel has been renamed the Chapel of the Resurrection in memory of the once fine building that now lies in ruins.

© Diane Hunter. Reproduced with kind permission of the Cave Hill Conservation Campaign 2001.

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