Commodious temples transcript
Published on 28th October 2014
The following is a transcript of Commodious temples: Catholic church building in nineteenth-century Dublin, the thirteenth Sir John T. Gilbert Commemorative Lecture by Brendan Grimes, at Dublin City Library and Archive on 21st January 2010. Audio
Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode, 'Commodious temples' Brendan Grimes discusses the emergence of Catholic church building in nineteenth-century Dublin following over 100 years of discrimination against Catholics. The thirteenth annual Sir John T. Gilbert Commemorative Lecture, was recorded in front of a live audience at Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street on 21 January 2010.
Thank you Lord Mayor for that generous introduction. I feel honoured to have been asked to give the 13th annual lecture in honour of Sir John Gilbert. I am also pleased, Lord Mayor, ladies and gentlemen to share with you some of the fruits from my study of 19th-century Catholic church building in Dublin. People like me spend a lot of time in libraries and archives and in studies typing away and it’s lovely to emerge and share our information with people and I’m delighted to do that. I am going to show you some of the Catholic churches (or as they were called at the time ‘ornamental edifices’ to use a contemporary description) which were added to the metropolis by the Catholics of Dublin during John Gilbert’s lifetime. (He was born in 1829 - a significant date for Catholics- and he died in 1898.)
In the early 19th century Catholic churches of architectural pretension, mostly in a classical style began to be built in Dublin. These temples (as they were often called) were paid for and built against the background of legislation which for over 100 years had discriminated against Catholics. One result of this discrimination was to make it difficult for Catholics to build churches of architectural distinction on prominent sites. When the restrictions were lifted they managed to produce some magnificent classical temples (as I hope you will agree when you see the photographs I have for you). However not all these churches were classical and by the middle of the century classicism was on the wane and the gothic style began to be increasingly favoured by Catholic Church builders, who came under the spell of [Augustus Welby Northmore] Pugin (1812-52).
Before looking at the churches I want (as a way of providing some background) to bring you to the year 1731. In that year a lords committee made a report for the government concerning the state of the Catholic religion in Ireland (or popery as it was called in the report). We learn from the report that there were 16 mass houses in Dublin, four of which had been built since the reign of George I (1714-27), that is since 1727. The report also counts three private chapels, two nunneries, and what it called ‘45 popish schools’.
A reading of the report gives the impression (to me at least) that Catholic church building in big urban centres was progressing without much interference. The lords committee was not too pleased with this increase in building. Their report states that the increase of public mass-houses and convents..[is]…to the manifest danger of the Protestant religion, of his majesty’s government, and of the peace and welfare of this kingdom.
It is hardly surprising therefore that the committee recommended that
…it is absolutely necessary, that the magistrates of this kingdom, particularly those in the city of Dublin, do immediately enter upon a more steady and vigorous execution of the laws against popery, especially those against all regular, and persons exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction contrary to the laws of this kingdom.
Whether prompted by this recommendation or not Dublin Corporation set up a committee to consider what further laws were needed to help in the proper running of the city. The committee’s report, dated 4 December 1739 suggested 18 extra laws one of which stated:
That each alderman should be obliged to make returns every term to the grand jury at every general sessions of the peace, of all popish schoolmasters and nunneries, or friars, that they know, are informed of, or have reason to suspect are within their several wards, in order to have the same prosecuted and suppressed.
In spite of a hostile attitude from Dublin Corporation to the Catholic clergy, particularly those belonging to religious orders, there was, from this period, a tolerant attitude by the press towards them which began to discard descriptions like ‘popish priest’ in favour of descriptions like ‘Roman Catholick clergyman’, and ‘parish priest’. I think in the change of language you can discern this change in attitude. The newspapers began to publish death notices of Catholic clergymen; for example Faulkner’s Dublin Journal of 13 January 1741 published a notice of the death of the parish priest of Saint Nicholas Without [Saint Nicholas of Myra], Reverend Thomas Austin, with the words that ‘… his death [is] very much lamented by people of all persuasions.’
A report made in 1749, for the Protestant archbishop of Dublin has notes on 19 Catholic chapels in the city. This report noted that the Catholics ‘enjoy the Exercise of their Religion if not in such splendor, as they desire, yet without the least molestation from the Government.’ By 1825 there were, according to a contemporary writer, 26 Catholic chapels in the city. In another report in 1849 there were, according to another contemporary, a total of 28 places for Catholics to worship.
What were these chapels like? I think it is safe to say that most of the 18th century Catholic chapels were fitted out at least adequately and sometimes expensively, but none of them made any attempt at anything more than a modest display on the outside. Even in the early years of the 19th century John Milner (he wrote on Catholic affairs) observed that ‘it is the spirit of our religion, to bestow the greatest pains and expense upon the interior decorations of our churches and chapels.’
Another contemporary, this time a Protestant clergyman, George Newenham Wright described the entrance to the Liffey Street chapel as ‘by a wretched gate-way, beneath a tottering fabric…’, but (he goes on to say) ‘the interior by no means corresponds: it is extremely neat, and has a venerable sombre character.’ There are no examples of these chapels left in Dublin, but Saint Patrick’s church, Waterford, conveys some idea I think of what these chapels were like. Here we have a very modest entrance, you just go down a lane into this door and it looks like a speakeasy really, and you arrive into a nice interior, well fitted-out, sometimes expensively, as I said. There’s a lovely monument there and very commonly they had galleries; three galleries in this case to get as many people in as possible.
The building of the Carmelite Church of Saint Teresa, Clarendon Street, marked the beginning of a new era for Catholic Church builders in Dublin. The foundation stone was laid by John Sweetman, one of Dublin’s leading Catholic laymen, in 1793 and the church was opened to the public in 1810. According to Reverend Dr William Meagher (whom we shall meet again later) Saint Teresa’s stood out like a jewel against the other Dublin churches which were, he said ‘…crouching timidly in the darkest and most loathsome alleys and lanes of the city. ’ Within about 25 years great progress had been made (and continued to be made) in the provision of fine new churches and this was a source of great pride for Catholics. In a sermon delivered by Very Reverend Dr Miley in Saint Audoen's church, in August 1841 he gave the following description, and this sermon was published so that he could raise funds for the new church. He said:
If a stranger were to ask me where the trophies of the glorious sacrifices of the Irish people for their religion are to be found, I would conduct him round the city, and show him the "back yard chapels" - the Catacombs of Dublin. And then I would bring him to St. Andrew's, to SS. Michael and John's, to the church of St. Francis of Assisium, to both the Carmelite churches, to St. Nicholas's, ... to that beautiful Ionic temple of St. Paul's, to St. Michan's, to the Dominican church, to St. Francis Xavier, and to the Metropolitan, surpassing all the churches, not only in this island, but of the Empire, in Doric majesty. The metropolitan is the Pro-Cathedral and here she stands in Doric majesty.
Before these churches were built the morals of Dubliners were, according to Dr William Meagher, the parish priest of Rathmines, a match for what he would have us believe, were the grim condition of the chapels in 18th century Dublin. He was a good orator and had a great facility with words - he wrote …the drunkard raved without obstruction, and the blasphemer shouted his impiety, and the gambler squandered in nights of dissipation what his days of toil had accumulated.
By the middle of the 19th century several fine Catholic churches had been built in the city and Dr Meagher asserted that the depravity of 50 years earlier was little evident among the population in Dublin. What a wonderful thing architecture is! The creation of fine public buildings had become visible evidence of the Catholics' newly won civil rights, and an expression of their determination to command respect. (Reads the footnote: The parish committee of the Francis Street chapel budgeted an annual sum in 1794 to provide a salary for a policeman to keep the approaches to the chapel clear of the obstructions of beggars, N. Donnelly, A short history of Dublin parishes, part VI, 62.) The Dublin Evening Post, 28 November 1786, advised Catholics to use their best efforts to clear the approaches to the chapels of beggars (Brady, Catholics and Catholicism, 248.) Catholics in other towns and cities across the water in our neighbouring island had similar ambitions.
The Catholics of London saw their new church of Saint Mary’s, Moorfields, as more appropriate [than their old chapel] for the display of the imposing service of their religion, and better adapted for the respectability and numbers of its adherents in the capital.
This idea of matching high morals with fine buildings was an aspiration of the clergy and laity in the cities and large towns of Ireland. At a meeting, in Cork, to further the building of Saint Mary's, Pope’s Quay, the prior, Dr Russell said that Catholics need no longer feel inferior when they had accustomed themselves to their new church. He also thought that a beautiful church would exercise great moral influence on the character and feeling of the Catholic population. There is his church Saint Mary’s on Pope’s Quay and one would really feel like dressing up and behaving yourself entering a building like that.
One more example: Dr William Higgins in his printed appeal for funds to build his new cathedral in Longford also drew a connection between public morals and architecture.
… the Bishop conceives he would advance the glory of God, and greatly promote the cause of truth and morality, by erecting a spacious Cathedral in the centre of the Diocese… (We are talking about Saint Mel’s cathedral which was sadly gutted by fire on Christmas morning). I took this photograph in August.
The opening of a new Catholic church was to become an important social event attended by many from the wealthy and influential sections of society, indicating a general acceptance of the Catholics’ role in contributing to public architecture. For example the consecration of the new church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, in 1832, was attended by ‘a very fashionable congregation’ which included several Protestant families. The music was selected from masses by Haydn and Mozart, and the orchestra was supplemented by members of the band of the 1st Dragoon Guards. You can imagine wonderful music and fashion and religion of course.
Even on ordinary days the tone of Catholic religious services were transformed to match the new and ostentatious structures the Catholics were building, by the introduction of more elaborate embroidered vestments and altar furnishings, and by the greater use of music and incense.
The diocese of Dublin provided most of the best examples of these new churches, which were among the most expensive and prestigious buildings of their type in Ireland, England, Scotland, or Wales. The Dublin diocese spent more than any other diocese in Ireland. In 50 Dublin parishes the period 1800-64, that’s over a period of 64 years, 41 convents had been built at a cost of £360,000; 119 churches at a cost of more than £630,000; ten colleges and seminaries at a cost of nearly £80,000, and 15 hospitals at a cost of over £100,000. So you see we have a rich heritage of religious buildings in Dublin. However other dioceses also spent heavily: the Catholics of Ireland spent about £5,000,000 on religious buildings and schools from the beginning of the century until 1868. The important churches were intended to be built on prominent sites, and here I have for you some examples.
The Pro-Cathedral looks as if it was designed for an open site that might have been the principal street in Dublin, Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) on the site of what is now the G.P.O. but I’ve never found anything written down to assert that so we can’t say for sure. It was built nearby in a smaller street, Marlborough Street. Saint Paul's achieves a magnificent prominence on Arran Quay on the Western approach to the city. (The Catholic directory noted that Saint Paul’s was the first Catholic Church in several centuries to have a tower and cupola.) Saint Audoen's occupies a prominent site on High Street overlooking the heart of the medieval city. There is evidence that Saint Nicholas of Myra was to be opened up to Francis Street as the centrepiece of a façade to include two presbyteries. Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Andrew's both form part of the street façade. Saint Andrew's together with its presbyteries, takes up a considerable portion of Westland Row and extends to Cumberland Street South where the back of the church and schools dominate the street with its assured architecture. Saint Andrew's was to have a tower which was not completed but if it had been would have been visible from Merrion Square.
Adam and Eve’s was originally hidden between Merchants’ Quay and Cook Street, but eventually expanded (with the friary) to present façades to Merchants’ Quay, Cook Street, Skippers Alley, and Winetavern Street, after having subsumed Rosemary Lane. Here’s the façade to Merchant’s Quay. Our Lady of Refuge in the mainly Protestant suburb of Rathmines makes an imposing presence on the Rathmines Road and its dome is visible over a large part of the city and suburbs. The Three Patrons of Ireland was too much for the Irish Times when it was built which offered the opinion that it would when built ‘… depreciate the value of property in the neighbourhood, and drive the Protestant occupants from the place.’ The Irish Times article (which by the way was the leading article this is really what was playing on their minds) conveys a sense that Protestant sympathy for the Catholics’ cause had largely evaporated by the mid-century when they had obtained their civil rights and were continuing to build on a grand scale, and beginning to build in a triumphal manner. Another view of the matter comes from the parish priest of Rathmines, our friend Dr William Meagher, who thought that the unfinished state of Our Lady of Refuge, in 1878, before the portico had been built, was the subject of grief and shame ‘and a scandal to our non-Catholic townsmen…’
So now I want to bring you back to the sermon Father John Miley made in Saint Audoen’s in August 1841. You remember that he mentioned several churches which he called ‘trophies of the glorious sacrifices of the Irish people for their religion’. He named eleven churches. All but one of these churches survive and the others survive in various forms, by that I mean that they have been altered to a greater or lesser extent since they were built, but we’ll get a glimpse of that as I continue by bringing you on a tour of these churches, not in the order in which he mentioned them in his sermon but in the order in which they were built; in this way we can observe something of the progress of Catholic church building in Dublin. So if you take my hand I’ll take you on this little tour and we’ll arrive back here for a glass of wine shortly.
Now the first one is Saint Teresa’s on Clarendon Street, which I have already mentioned and I have a date 1793. It is the oldest church mentioned by Father Miley. The foundation stone was laid in the year that An Act for the Relief of His Majesty's Popish, or Roman Catholick Subjects of Ireland 1793 (33 Geo. 3. C.21) became law. Now this Relief Act of 1793 really is the important one as far as building is concerned because after the Relief Act Catholics could really build what they liked, where they liked. Now the other Emancipation Act of 1829 added more rights to it but even that provided fro the suppression of religious orders, particularly the Jesuits so it wasn’t complete emancipation. This is an important church, now I won't really say much about it, we did see it at the first slide and we saw that it is buried in here with canted end at each side. It has been extended, here we have it south extension in 1865 and west transept and a facade to Clarendon street in 1876 and its reached all the way to Johnston's Court. So the original entrance to it was through a laneway from Wicklow Street. That laneway is gone now. Now incidentally I remember about 20 or 30 years ago seeing a plaque on the wall I think it was from the entrance on Johnston's court commemorating the laying of the foundation stone by John Sweetman in 1793 and I can't find it so if anyone knows where it is just tell me afterwards.
Now we move on to the next church Saint Michael and John in Blind Quay and here we are in 1811. We can be thankful to Dr Michael Blake for this. He was made parish priest of Saint Michael’s in 1810. He soon set about looking for a site for a new church. He found the site where the Theatre Royal, Smock Alley once stood. So I think a lot of the walls of Smock Alley Theatre stood. He choose as his architect John Taylor who built for him a Gothick hall incorporating the remains of the theatre. The church as opened in 1815 and shortly, if we are to believe Nicolas Donnelly the fearless Dr Blake set up a bell which was used to call the faithful to Mass and to ring the Angelus. Alderman Carleton instituted proceedings in the King’s Bench against the offending parish priest. When Carleton heard that Daniel O’Connell was to defend the action, he quietly dropped the matter. One of the interesting things about this is the funding of most of these churches. Most of the building work for this church was provided voluntarily by Dublin tradesmen. Here it is on the ordnance survey map. We can also see the plaster ceiling is drawn in on the map. I also think that it’s an indication that these buildings were recognised as public buildings because the floor plans of these classic chapels (they were caused chapels at the time because they were outside the organised religion, but we call them churches) were drawn in fully so I think it’s an indication of the recognition that Catholics were receiving.
Now contemporary with this is Saint Michan’s with a façade on North Anne Street. There’s the façade to North Anne Street. This is the oldest Catholic church in Dublin still in use for its original purpose. In 1891-1902 it was enlarged with side chapels, extended sanctuary, tower, and its main entrance was changed to Halston Street. But here we see the main entrance from North Anne Street. There’s the interior about the same size as Saint Michael and John’s (about 14 or 15metres wide by about 35 metres long). It’s got a plastered ceiling vault with plastered ceiling with lovely pedants on it. There are five windows on either side. It still has a large balcony.
Now we go on to the Pro-Cathedral. The idea of building an important city Catholic church in the archbishop’s parish of Saint Mary’s became realisable after the Relief Act of 1793 and in 1803 a printed appeal was made to the public for funds stating that this church would be ‘adapted to the encreased population of this great city, and not unworthy of the opulence, with which God has blessed its Inhabitants.’ An architectural competition for the new Metropolitan chapel (as it was called then) was announced in 1814 and the committee wanted a classical building. The winning design was clearly derived from French models and was sent from Paris but we do not know who the architect was. Now I could spend a lot of time talking about the Pro-Cathedral but I just want to point out one thing and that is the similarity between it and Saint Philippe-du-Roule in Paris which was designed by Jean-François-Chalgrin in 1764 and built in 1772-84. So what I have here on the slide is the façade of Saint Philippe-du-Roule and the plan of Saint Philippe-du-Roule. It is worth noting that the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Troy was chairman of the building committee responsible for the decision that the new church should be a classical design and that he spent a week in Paris in 1777) on a journey from Rome to Ireland. (Saint-Philippe-du-Roule was under construction at the time so he probably saw it.)
Now if you just bear with me I'll just show you my great discoveries here. These are three plans, here on the right we have the plan of Saint Philippe-du-Roule as it was originally built and there's Saint Philippe-du-Roule as it was extended later on and there's the Pro-Cathedral in grey. What I've done there is I have superimposed one plan over the other so we see the dotted red line superimposed over the plan of the Pro-cathedral. What you see there is most remarkable. The width and length of both interiors are almost the same, the ratio of width of nave to width of aisle is the same in both churches, and the spacing of the columns is the same. In the original design for Saint-Philippe-du-Roule the columns continued in front of the apse where the choir stalls were placed. In 1846 the apse was placed further back, to the designs of Hippolyte Godde, to form an ambulatory behind the columns. This means that the apsidal arrangement in the Pro-Cathedral was not copied from Saint-Philippe-du-Roule. Could it be that the re-ordering of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule in 1846 was based on the example of the Pro-Cathedral? If the design for the Pro-Cathedral came from Paris then the design was known in Paris. The result of the alteration is to make the spatial volumes in both churches similar.
One thing that does make a difference is the columns. These are Doric columns in the Pro-Cathedral and here we have ionic columns in Saint-Philippe-du-Roule. Also the lighting is different. The lighting of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule is from windows and the isle and also from two windows that penetrate the vault. That was intended for the Pro-Cathedral but they altered the design and placed a dome here. So when the Pro-Cathedral was built, the spirit of French architecture was brought to Dublin. To enter the Pro-Cathedral is to enter, in imagination, one of the French basilican planned churches of the late 18th century. Although when we come to the outside, the portico conveys more of the sense of international neo-classicism from the early 19th century. The interior of the Pro-Cathedral is French, but the exterior would not look out of place in any city touched by neo-classicism. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries architectural ideas were transmitted quickly by publications and by the movement of architects, and Dublin by no means lagged behind any part of Europe. The use of Greek detailing in the Pro-Cathedral was perfectly in tune with contemporary architectural developments on the continent and in Britain.
So now we move on to our next church mentioned by Dr Miley and we are at 1825 now and this is Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He mentions two Carmelite churches and this is one of them. George Papworth was the architect of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which he built for the prior of the Carmelite Order, the Very Reverend John Spratt. The first stone was laid on 25 October 1825 by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Daniel Murray and solemnly consecrated by him on 11 November 1827. I like seeing contemporary descriptions so I have one from the Catholic Penny Magazine from 1834. It says: The interior presents a beautiful architectural view. The right side of the church, from which the light is emitted, is pierced by windows; and the left is ornamented by corresponding niches, filled with statues of eminent saints. The ceiling is coved, and divided into rectangular compartments. The interior, just completed will be peculiarly neat. The whole expense is about £4000; and proves how much can be done with small means, when taste and judgment are combined. Notice how the rich people are near the alter, in seats and the poor people are at the back of the church kneeling down on the cold floor. That was common in Catholic churches. The only part that remains now is this part here and the coved ceiling remains. I think it has been altered. In 1844 the church was extended to the North and part of Papworth’s original church was incorporated into the South isle. We can see it there on the plan; they’re the original church. So this is the extent of it in 1864, but since then it has extended further. I think this engraving seems quite accurate if you compare it to what remains.
Now we move on to Saint Nicholas of Myra on Francis Street and we’re at 1929 now. I know this church is a favourite of many people, and we should thank the parish priest Matthew Flanagan for it. Father Flanagan was appointed parish priest of Saint Nicholas of Myra in 1827. He soon directed his efforts to building an addition to his church at the east end, a modest enough project which ended up with the building of a whole new church, these things happen! Father Flanagan was one of the new generation of priest educated at Maynooth and he served as parish priest of Saint Nicholas until his death in 1856. In one of the parish registers Father Flanagan wrote on 3 December 1834:
The Building was commenced January 1829 and now to be completed interiorly before January next will cost interiorly complete £8400 of which the poor and labouring classes collected by a Society of the undernamed charitable Individuals, during the space of 5 years with unremitting and indefatigable zeal amounted to £2959 5s 5d the remainder was supplied by the donations of the richer Parishioners of the Parish, of the clergy, and of certain charitable Individuals residing out of the Parish. Now that record is part of a parchment which was enclosed in a bottle and placed under the high altar on 1 December 1834. As well as a short account of the new church the parchment also contained a short history of the parish, information on the clergy and the work of the parish, and an account of the state of ecclesiastical affairs and politics in Ireland.
According to the author of A short history of some Dublin parishes, Nicholas Donnelly, the principal lines of the design were by the architect, John Leeson, but Father Flanagan was responsible for the refinement of all the details, which he says was evidence of a ‘cultivated taste’. This may well have been the case - in the copy of the parchment placed under the high altar a statement that the parish priest was the ‘Builder of the church’ is corrected to read ‘under whom the church was built’. It is likely that the correction was made on the authority of the parish priest who, from a feeling of modesty, was unwilling to take all the credit for his work.
The design for the exterior was criticized in the Dublin Penny Journal, for what it described as ‘the incongruous association of a Gothic spire rising out of a Greek portico’, the writer, confident of his own superior judgement in matters of taste, proffered the advice that ‘As it is not yet too late, we indulge a hope that this error may by corrected.’ The spire, which offended the Dublin Penny Journal cannot be called gothic. The whole arrangement of portico, base, tower, and pyramidal spire has a sober classical appearance, and is a satisfactory solution to the problem of uniting spire and portico. You can see there that the drawing suggests a large open space in front of the church and presbytery, which would have involved the demolition of some houses fronting Francis Street. However, no houses were demolished as far as I know and only one presbytery was built. That pediment was there and the spire was never built but the pediment was replaced with a copper dome.
I was mentioning earlier about the segregation of classes of people in the churches and we have a lovely example in Saint Nicholas of Myra. The opulent members of society approached the church through here and heated themselves near the alter. There’s a little gate there, which still has a lock on it; it’s interesting. It’s great they have not altered it so these rails are still in position.
The focal point of the church, the high altar, has retained its original fittings.
The parish priest bought the altar at Rome and the statuary at Florence. Father Flanagan used his contact in Rome, the Rector of the Irish College, Dr Paul Cullen, to help him buy the sculpture he wanted for his church. He travelled to Florence in 1833 and took an apartment for one month to look for sculpture and to study Italian. Shortly after arriving in Florence he wrote a gushing letter to Cullen describing his journey, and praising the beauty of Florence, its clean and well-dressed inhabitants and its delightful cafés and restaurants; this most have been a contrast to what he was used to in Dublin. He was writing about the coach trip and some American passenger too that was causing a nuisance. It was great stuff to read. Here is a little of what he wrote:
The City is all alive – the streets wide, admirably paved I may say flagged & perfectly clean – the air good, and the view of the vicinity which I only yet had at a distance exceedingly cheering and enlivening.
Father Flanagan had already commissioned the Roman artist Giuseppe Leonardi to build the altar for Saint Nicholas of Myra but he had failed to find anyone in Rome willing to carve the two statues of angels he wanted, for the price he was willing to offer. But he did eventually find in Florence a sculptor, who turned out to be very good Francesco Pozzi to carve the two angels. There is lots of correspondence about that, about the exact sizes of it and how he’s worried when he leaves Florence he’s worried the sculptor will stop working on his project because he isn’t there to egg him on and so on but they did eventually arrive.
But there are more delights in this church. There is a plaster relief of the Last supper there, and over this altar the Marriage of the Virgin, by John Smyth. There’s a Pietà, by John Hogan. The Freeman’s Journal described the interior as it was at the consecration of the church on 15 February 1832:
The pilasters over the altar are of the Ionic order, and have a very fine effect. The stucco, too over the sanctuary – the only part as yet ceiled – is beautiful.
The building is altogether light, elegant and commodious, and when completed will reflect great credit upon the architect who planned, and the independent and liberal parishioners who erected so noble a temple to the living God. And surely the labours of the rev. gentleman under whose auspices so vast a work was undertaken can never be forgotten. Almost 10 years later on 8 November 1842 the church was solemnly dedicated, although unfinished. The Catholic directory expressed the hope that Father Flanagan could complete ‘this sacred structure which is an honour to his taste and judgment.’
Some more photographs of the interior. This ceiling is remarkable all these panels have symbols of religion like keys and the cock crowing distributed all over the church. At the crossing here we have the four fathers of the church and we have the twelve apostles all around here. It’s a really lovely piece of work. I love that church. I remember when I was making a plan of it I was left alone inside and the church was locked and there was a thunderstorm outside. It is really something that sticks in your memory the joys of research and working. There’s Francesco Pozzi’s beautiful angels, beautiful marble angels. We are lucky to have these.
So now we’ll move on to our next church, also 1829, Saint Francis Xavier, Gardiner Street Upper. Building work started on this church in 1829 and it opened for use on 3 May 1832 and was dedicated on 12 February 1835. The new church was described by Reverend Patrick Mehar SJ as a ‘…beautiful, uniform, and commodious temple.’ The Catholic Penny Magazine described it as
…one of the most perfect, convenient, and classical edifices of our City, combining, at once, elegance of design, with utility of arrangement; and affording the ONLY specimen in Dublin where NATIVE GRANITE has been exclusively applied, in the construction of an extensive portico.
It is remarkable how quickly the church was built in one campaign and made ready for use compared with other contemporary churches, where the building went on for years and years and the portico was built twenty years, maybe even later. I’m thinking now of St. Audeon’s, 1840s and it wasn’t until 1890s that the portico was built. I wondered about this and thought well maybe the Jesuits just like to make a big display as quickly as possible and this might be true. But there seems to have been pressure on the Jesuits to finish the portico to avoid paying additional rent. Let’s have a look inside. So here we have a photograph taken in the early 1900s and here is an engraving published in 1832 in the Catholic Penny Magazine. We can see originally the sanctuary ended in a rectangle space. It was a very shallow sanctuary.
Less than five years after the church was finished plans for extending the apse were being discussed. It is possible that the extended apse was part of the original architectural concept but was set aside for lack of funds. On the other hand it is possible that during Father Esmonde’s stay at the Gesù, which is the mother church of the Jesuit order, he stayed there from 1839 to 1844 and it’s possible that the idea of extending the church fixed itself in his mind while he was there. Whatever the reason, in early 1842, we find Father Esmonde, writing from the Gesù discussing designs for extending the apse and other work, with Father Robert Haly SJ, who was resident in Gardiner Street. Father Esmonde’s idea was to extend the apse and to finish it with a semi-circle like in the Gesù. Without the enlarged sanctuary the plan of Saint Francis Xavier was, according to Father Esmonde, ‘meagre and stunted’ to ‘Roman eyes’. Everyone he consulted in Rome thought that the general effect and proportions of the church would be improved by the proposed enlargement of the sanctuary.
The building of the apse in 1851 and the placing of the high altar within it brought the spirit of the Gesù to Dublin. So there are some the features from the Gesù which are employed in Saint Francis Xavier are, the side chapels (I have a plan in which we will see the side chapels later), and the short transepts. Incidentally the rich people entered through the side chapels and found themselves up near the alter – that’s how they entered the building. There are differences too, the Gesù has a barrel vaulted ceiling in the nave and a dome at the crossing, but here it’s a flat ceiling. It’s a beautiful church Saint Francis Xavier and a beautiful alter. We’re a long way from the 18th century chapels with the great big galleries and people squashed in tightly. Here we have just a small gallery for the choir and organ and what a beautiful organ. It extends from one side to another.
There is a close resemblance in the proportions on plan of Saint Francis Xavier to the Gesù and to some extent this explains why the architectural experience conveyed by the interiors are comparable. Here I have a slide to show you the similarities. On this plan here we have a plan of the Gesù. The details of the plan of Saint Francis Xavier don’t really matter too much but they are the black line running around there. What I’ve done here is I’ve shrunk the plan of the Gesù down to about the same size as Saint Francis Xavier. In the shrunken version we have a broken red line and you see how closely it corresponds with the proportions of Saint Francis Xavier. These are the side chapels I was talking about and there’s the side chapel in Saint Francis Xavier. There are hundreds of Jesuit churches all over the world and many of them are linked, to a greater or lesser degree, to the mother church, the Gesù. Although the plan of Saint Francis Xavier is based on that of the Gesù its façade is derived from the French temple fronted models of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It bears a particular resemblance to the façade of Notre Dame de Lorette (1823-6) by Louis-Hippolyte Le Bas (1782-1867), which had been erected a few years before. [Shown in slide 22] So here we have Italian and French influences coming to bear on this church.
Saint Andrew’s, Westland Row (1832)
I want to bring you now to a church, which is just about, five minutes walk from here, Saint Andrew’s, Westland Row. This was started in 1832. The first church Father Miley mentioned in his sermon is Saint Andrew’s. It is also the first church that probably sprung to his mind because only a few months before his sermon this church was solemnly consecrated on 29 January 1841. This must have been a really wonderful affair. The ceremony started at 8am after the vigil of the preceding evening, and continued until 3pm; That’s seven hours plus as you had to be in early to get a good place. The sermon was preached by Dr Wiseman. The Freeman’s [Journal] sent reporters in to report on it and the Freeman’s Journal had this to say (now I don’t know if the reporter spent all seven hour:
In Rome itself the august rite could not have been performed in a more complete form, and in the brilliancy and becoming splendour with which it was attended there are many of the great continental churches that could not have eclipsed yesterday’s ceremony.
But let us go back to 30 April 1832 when the administrator (parish priest) Dr Blake (whom we have already met at Saints Michael & John’s) laid the first stone (he had his initials put on the stone by the way). This ceremony was attended with a great deal of pomp. A large platform was provided for those attending, which the Freeman’s Journal observed was ‘crowded with elegantly dressed females.’ He goes on to saw a Russian Horn Band was in attendance on the occasion, and added considerably to the effect of the ceremony by their wild and characteristic music. You can just imagine the noise and the music God save the King was performed at the commencement and conclusion of the ceremony. The work proceeded quickly and by the time the walls were up to roof level over £6,000 had been collected for the building fund. On 2 January 1834, just about two years later the church was blessed and opened for worship, and the old chapel on Townsend Street was finally abandoned. They did actually start building a chapel on Townsend Street but then they changed their mind. They’d actually got it up to wall plate level but they decided on the more prominent site here.
In 1836 the large baroque statue of Saint Andrew with his cross, was erected. This was made by John Smyth whom we’ve already met in Saint Nicholas of Myra. It impressed the editor of the Catholic directory who wrote that it was the first piece of colossal statuary erected on any Catholic church in Ireland since the Reformation. Now it just might be worth noting that this was designed by James Bolger, who was appointed architect after the decision to abandon the partly built church in Townsend Street was taken. The architect of the Townsend Street church was John Leeson (who designed Saint Nicholas of Myra). I would have loved to see more by John Leeson. He didn’t like the idea of his church being abandoned and he embroiled himself in a public row with Dr Blake and half the parish; they were firing letters at each other through the Freeman’s Journal. Dr Blake mentioned something about dry rot or woodworm and then John Leeson got up on his high horse and said what do you know about dry rot, you’re only a priest, you’re only a parish priest; you know nothing of dry rot. He didn’t like that and John Leeson never designed a Catholic church again as far as I know which is a pity really. So having good social skills is as important as having good architectural skills.
So I’ll just show you a few pictures of the church. Another splendid church! I think characteristic of Bolger is these little lunette windows at high level and the way he articulates the wall. We’ll see that in Adam and Eve’s presently. Now we haven’t got apostles there but we have got the four evangelists in the corner and maybe they’re doctors of the church. You can see some similarity between that and Saint Nicholas of Myra so you wonder really what is going on. You can just imagine James Bolger being handed John Leeson’s design and asked can you adapt that. Now this is the church in the 1930s and we can see here the rails for segregating the congregation. The poor people here had some seating but not all that much there was plenty of room for standing as you can see there as well. But the opulent members of society had these good seats here.
Now we are going to stay with James Bolger and go on to Adam and Eve’s on Merchants’ Quay and we’re in 1834 now. When Father Miley preached his sermon in Saint Audoen’s in 1841 Adam and Eve’s was almost finished, and on 15 November 1842 was dedicated. Its building was the responsibility of the Franciscans and its realisation represents their successful establishment after a difficult history in Ireland after the dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s when most of the monks left the country or were driven underground. Sometime after 1615 the Franciscans returned to Dublin and opened a chapel in a lane off Cook Street near a public house called Adam and Eve. The name endured as the popular name for the present church of Saint Francis of Assisium, Merchants’ Quay. In 1757 the friars purchased a house in Merchants’ Quay which was fitted up as a friary. Later they acquired the site of the old Rosemary Lane chapel of Saint Michael, which lay up against their own. It seems that the high altar of Saint Michael’s was exactly where the altar of the new church was to be. The foundation stone was laid for the new church on 16 April 1834 by Reverend Henry Hughes, the guardian of the Franciscan Priory. It was considered important that the location of the new church was on the same ‘venerable spot’ as the old church. Not much of James Bolger’s original design remains. Here’s the original church here, parts of the transept remained and you can see the same detailing there as we saw in Saint Andrews with the lunette windows and the articulation on the wall. I’ll just show you here they followed the old idea of big balconies. Originally it was a T-plan and there were three balconies, one in each transept and one in the nave. This photograph was taken from the balcony in the nave. You can see the way the congregation was segregated there as well. Eventually they got their façade on Merchant’s Quay. This was designed by Patrick Byrne and built in the 1860s.
Now there’s not much to say about this because there is nothing to see, it’s gone. This is the Dominican church on Denmark Street which is really somewhere in the middle of the Ilac Shopping Centre. But a little lane you could approach it by is still there, it’s called chapel lane although the name is not on the wall but it’s between Penny’s and the Ilac Centre. It was converted for a school when the Dominicans built their new church in the 1860s in Dominic Street.
Now this is Saint Paul’s on Arran Quay, 1835. It is mentioned by Miley as well. It makes a strong visual impression on the Liffey Quays. It is the first prominent building that you can see from the western approaches to the city. The Catholic Penny Magazine published an engraving of the façade and a description of the church in its edition of 10th January 1835. The writer thought that the new church was ‘likely to become one of the principal architectural ornaments of our city.’ The portico of Saint Paul’s is built of granite, following the example of Saint Francis Xavier’s, which broke the tradition of using a combination of Portland stone and granite, which was initiated in Dublin in the early 18th century with the Parliament building. This use of granite in the portico was a source of satisfaction for the editor of the Catholic directory, William J. Battersby, who noted that until recently it was ‘considered indispensable to send to the sister country for large blocks of stone required for the columns and architrave of a large portico.’. Well it took a while to build the portico but it was eventually finished and paid for in 1842. A considerable portion of money went into creating a big façade because the accommodation is quite modest really.
I’m really impressed with the stone carving of this church and these ionic columns here, which are copied from those on the Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens. It is carved with very great detail but they are very hard on stone so that must have taken ages to do. It was built pretty much as designed. The one thing that was omitted though was the fluting in the columns and Patrick Byrne was well aware that although this was the correct way to make the columns the sunlight of this South-facing building would be caught in the fine detail of stone there and would show it to great effect. There were to be three windows here but now they are lit from above, the doors were to be of equal height but that was changed.
In many respects the interior of Saint Paul’s owes something to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Carmelite church that we have already looked at. There is a lot in common in the two churches, the shallow barrel vault, the Greek detailing from the Erectheum, and the articulation of the external walls. Even the site restrictions are similar and both churches have to have very narrow naves. In fact the site restrictions are so much in this church that the front façade is aligned with Arran Quay and the side of the building is aligned with Lincoln Lane and it is not quite rectangular. There is a slight twisting of the axis there but you don’t notice that. I really think that Patrick Byrne was well versed in classical architecture and knew that the ancient Romans would do this with city gates where they just changed the alignment.
One of the things about this church was it had wonderful bells in it called joy bells and they were popular with the people of Dublin and according to Nicholas Donnelly they came in their thousands to hear the bells rung for the first time. The bells were rung every Sunday and on special days (according to the Catholic Directory) '… by select and judicious persons chosen and adapted for that important purpose.' They were made by James Sheridan, of the Eagle Foundry, Church Street. Sheridan was pleased with his work and placed an advertisement in the Catholic Directory describing the bells and the ‘great delight and satisfaction of the assembled thousands who came to witness the reviving sounds of Irish Christianity.’ He praised the parish priest Dr Yore whom he said, ‘whose patrician love for Ireland induced him to get them here, notwithstanding the allurements held out by the London bell-makers.’ (I often thought it would have been a great Millennium project to restore these bells and ring them and I would love to have the sounds of them for you.)
I will finish with one church not mentioned by Father Miley, that is Saint Audoen’s. Of course he couldn’t have mentioned it because it had not been built. His sermon was preached on 24 August 1841 in the old Saint Audoen’s and was intended to help raise funds for the new Saint Audoen’s whose foundation stone had been laid on 2 July that year. Two years later the Catholic Directory announced that the church
‘already raises its lofty head over the city’.
It does look impressive because the ground slopes back there and in fact there is a double basement underneath it so it is really lofty.
Saint Audoen’s was designed by Patrick Byrne using a cruciform plan. There is one entrance under the portico through a round-headed doorway. Then we have a little blind doorway on either side and niches above and this is repeated in the interior. It was intended to have statues of the apostles in these.
Here we have the interior and much of this original neo-classical chasteness remains. It really is a beautiful church. One thing I would like to point out to you is that here he has the lighting in the vaults itself. This was a device intended for the Pro-Cathedral. So here we have a little bit of the ideas of the Pro-Cathedral coming here to Saint Audoen’s. The whole interior is articulated with these Corinthian pilasters. No great big balcony like the balcony he had to put in Saint Paul’s but now the balcony is almost like a piece of furniture detached from the walls.
I would like to say here that Saint Audoen’s owes something also to Saint Francis Xavier and Patrick Byrne and John B Keane (the architect of Saint Francis Xavier) knew each other. They sat together on the council of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. In my imagination I just imagine the parish priest saying to Patrick Byrne I want something like Saint Francis Xavier except a little bit bigger. This is really a possibility because I have noticed that the proportions are quite similar. There is Saint Audoen’s on the left and Saint Francis Xavier on the right and I see similarities in the proportions there – shallow transept, shallow sanctuary as it was when it was built first but just enlarged a little bigger. So I think it owes something to Rome, it owes something to Paris, to the Pro-Cathedral with the lighting. If we sit it amongst some churches from the same era or before from Paris it doesn’t look out of place. I think if you came across a church like this in Paris you wouldn’t feel that there was anything wrong. So there it is sitting among the churches in Paris.
Lord Mayor, ladies and gentlemen we have reached the end of our tour of the churches mentioned with such pride by Dr John Miley 169 years ago and which deserve our love and attention as a valuable part of our architectural and cultural heritage.
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