Bangor's City Status: Heritage

Bangor is a place steeped in history; a fact easily forgotten in our busy 21st century daily life.  It is claimed that in the 5th century, St Patrick and his companions, while camped in Bangor, “beheld the valley filled with heavenly light and with a multitude of the host of heaven”.  From this Bangor was described as the “Vallis Angelorum” or “Valley of the Angels”.

It was to this valley St Comgall came and established Bangor Abbey in 558AD, 50 years before Canterbury Cathedral was built.  Bangor Abbey was the most famous of all his monasteries and a complete settlement with a church, college, school, hospital and living quarters.  Between 2000-4000 monks lived on the site during the period.  The monks’ achievements became the wonder of their age and contributed to Ireland’s world-renowned reputation as the “isle of saints and scholars”.

Bangor was invaded by the Vikings in the 9th century, and it was thought the Bangor Bell (one of the areas most treasured Christian heritage artifacts) had to be hidden from the marauders. It wasn’t seen again until 1780 when it was unearthed by workmen digging in Bangor Abbey graveyard.  

The antiphonary of Bangor is an ancient Latin manuscript believed to have been written in Bangor in the 7th century. Older than the celebrated Book of Kells, it is considered one of the most precious surviving witnesses to the Irish Church in Ireland.  It is now held in the Ambrosian Library in Milan.

St Malachy came to Bangor in the 12th century, revived the church and began to restore the monastery. Traces of the old foundations and a part of the wall remain in place to this day for those keen to take a look. Pictured is Malachy’s Wall, the visible remains of the monastic site of Bangor Abbey.

The importance of Bangor on a global scale is marked by its inclusion on the famous medieval map of the world known as the “Hereford Mappa Mundi" c1300ad. The map is constructed on a single sheet of vellum (calf skin). Scholars believe it was made around the year 1300 and shows the history, geography and destiny of humanity as it was understood in Christian Europe in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The inhabited part of the world as it was known then, roughly equivalent to Europe, Asia and North Africa, is mapped within a Christian framework.

Such was Bangor Abbey’s importance as a centre of learning, it is one of only 5 places in Ireland to be listed. Marked in Latin, Bangor is detailed as civitas benair – or City of Bangor.  Bangor being given ‘City status’ several hundred years ago and again in 2022 completes the circle to restore that nomenclature.  St Patrick and St Comgall would no doubt be astounded at this now large modern coastal City, currently home to over 70k people.  See the map and learn more at North Down Museum at Bangor Castle.  

To explore the fascinating Christian heritage of the Borough visit:  Christian Heritage Trail 

Christian scholar, C.S. Lewis was a regular visitor to the area throughout his life. He enjoyed the beautiful views over Belfast Lough from the grounds of Bangor Castle.  In his own words "Heaven is Oxford and placed in the middle of County Down." 

With its coastal location at the mouth of Belfast Lough, Bangor became a key site for allied naval forces during World War II.  Full-scale landing exercises took place at Ballyholme Bay. In May 1944 Supreme Comander Dwight D Eisenhower visited Bangor, inspecting manoeuvres before giving a motivational speech to 30,000 assembled troops. 

The significance of the General’s address and the role of Bangor in the D-day landings, led to the pier being renamed the Eisenhower Pier in 2005. 

Bangor also has the immense of honour of knowing the Royal Navy has named two ships HMS Bangor.