It’s been described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Derry’s cultural and social heritage but, to most of us, it’s simply known as the ‘wee church on the walls’.
St Augustine’s Church - built on the original site of St Columba’s first monastery in Derry - occupies a beautiful situation on the City Walls in Palace Street and is held in great affection by locals and tourists alike.
A new book by local author Hazel Philson tells the story of the church - and what a story it is.
In writing “The Little Church on the Walls: Fifteen Hundred Years of History”, Hazel - a lifelong member of the church - has brought a passionate interest in the history and heritage of the city.
Hazel Philson says: “The history of St. Augustine’s is undoubtedly a linchpin to all the other fascinating places of historical interest within and without the Walled City.
“I was touched by the great affection held for the little church by people of the city and further afield – a visit to the church site is certainly perceived by most people as something special – a unique spiritual occasion.”
Hazel reveals that the wonderful history of the church is synonoymous with the genesis of the city on two dinstinct occasions: at the original foundation of the city by Columba in 546 and at its re-emergence from the ashes of the ruined medieval city to become Docwra’s first church of the Plantation in 1603.
The present church of St Augustine was re-modelled in 1872 and dedicated by Bishop William Alexander, husband of the famous hymn writer Frances Cecil Alexander.
The church nestles serenely on the Grand Parade of the Walls of Derry and is acknowledged as the oldest Christian site in the city, stretching back to the sixth century.
The story of the ‘Wee Church’ is, says Hazel Philson, implicitly related to all other sites of historic interest both within and without the old Walled City - including the Walls, St Columb’s Cathedral, St Brecan’s Church, Long Tower Church, theApprentice Boys Memorial Hall, First Derry Presbyterian Church, the Bishop’s Palace, Enagh Church and Grianan of Aileach.
The cultural histories of these sites of heritage interweave and wend across fifteen hundred years of history, St Augustine’s playing a unique role in all of these fascinating stories.