Photographic collections held by National Museums NI provide a record of life, mainly in the North of Ireland, from the late nineteenth, and throughout the twentieth century. During this time, religion was a significant part of Irish society and was integral to the lives of many people. A great deal of historical interest has been channelled towards the role of religion in creating sectarian division and conflict. These photographs show the place of religious organisations, buildings, events and traditions, in everyday life. Some of the buildings and organisations are still in existence today, and may be recognisable, whereas others are long gone, but preserved through these images.
 W.A. Maguire, Caught in Time: The Photographs of Alexander Hogg. 1870-1939.
Elim Pentecostal Zion Tabernacle
The Elim Church was a Pentecostal Christian denomination, first founded in Ireland in 1915. A number of photographs record activities relating to Elim Pentecostal Zion Tabernacle in 1930s Belfast. As well as recording the exterior of the building, these images capture indoor, and open-air sermons, and a children’s party.
Religious crusades and rallies were common in the United Kingdom and Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, with many taking place in Ulster. This photograph shows one such crusade, hosted in the King’s Hall, Belfast, in the 1940s with Evangelist Ian Redpath and soloist Geoffrey Lester. According to local press reports, up to 8,000 people were said to have been in attendance at one of the evenings of this crusade.
 Belfast Telegraph, 27 Sept. 1946, p.8.
St Anne’s Cathedral
St Anne’s Cathedral is a popular landmark and tourist attraction in Donegall Street, Belfast. This Church of Ireland Parish Church was consecrated in 1776. The construction of the building that stands today, however, began in 1898, and was a work in progress, with various parts under construction over the course of the twentieth century. A number of photographs record details of the building’s interior and activities, such as the choir which is still part of the life of the church.
St. Columb’s Cathedral
St Columb’s Cathedral is a popular landmark and tourist attraction in Derry/ Londonderry, named after Saint Columba, an Irish monk who established Christian settlement in the area. In addition to its impressive Planter Gothic architecture, it is also a building of historical significance. Consecrated 1633, it was the first non-Catholic Cathedral built in Western Europe following the Reformation and, among many interesting items, contains artefacts relating to the Siege of Derry.
A number of photographs record sacred water sources known as holy wells. These ancient monuments are thought by some to have miraculous healing properties. They are believed to be linked to the roots of Christianity on the island of Ireland, often dedicated to local saints. 187 holy well sites are marked by the Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record (NISMR) compared to 2,996 similar sites in the Republic of Ireland. According to Johanne Devlin Trew, ‘Holy wells are sites of pilgrimage and prayer where people go to seek relief for mental and physical troubles’. There are over 50 photographs relating to holy wells held in the collections. Here are just a few. In one image, pieces of cloth are tied to surrounding tree branches. This is known as a ‘rag tree’, which often accompanies a holy well. These trees are covered with bits of clothing from the sick and water from the site is believed by some to cure a variety of ailments. 
 Johanne Devlin Trew ‘The Forgotten Irish? Contested sites and narratives of nation in Newfoundland’ Ethnologies, vol. 27, no 2, 2005, p. 50.
Photographs taken by Alexander Hogg in the 1930s record Epworth House, a Methodist bookshop, located on Wellington Place, Belfast. An array of Christian literature can be seen, reflecting the role religion played in the lives of many as their faith influenced their leisure time and consumer habits.
Religious leaders not only played a prominent role in the church, but influenced local communities and wider culture and society. Images from the collections show a range of Protestant and Catholic clergy and include prominent figures such as Rev. Henry Cooke.
The Kinghan Mission
The Kinghan Mission was founded in 1857 by John Kinghan, a teacher working with deaf and blind pupils in Belfast. Previously in Sandy Row, the mission relocated to Botanic Avenue in 1899. In addition to operating as a worshipping community of blind, deaf and hearing-impaired persons, the mission also provided space for social activities, such as table tennis and board games, which are recorded in these photographs.
Many of the churches photographed are ruins or derelict buildings. Most of these photographs were taken as a means of recording Irish heritage, or to capture a rural Irish aesthetic that appealed to a commercial market.
Presbyterianism played a significant role in shaping life and culture in Belfast, and more broadly, Ulster. Assembly Buildings is the home of the headquarters and General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Previously located on May Street, the impressive gothic style with 40m bell tower building was opened in Fisherwick Place in 1905, at a cost of £74,000. These photographs by R.J. Welch show the interior and exterior of the building. While the premises has remained largely unchanged on the outside, interesting details are recorded in the surrounding Edwardian street scene.
St Malachy’s Church
St Malachy’s Church, located on Alfred Street, Belfast, is the third oldest Catholic church in the city, with its foundation stone laid in 1841, and its dedication taking place in 1844. The building is well known for its fan vaulted ceiling; an imitation of the Henry VII chapel in Westminster Abbey. The ceiling has been compared to a wedding cake turned inside out due to its ‘creamy, lacy and frothy’ plasterwork, which is recorded clearly in one these photographs.