Saturday, 30 January 2010

A unique parish in suburban Dublin

Saint Bartholomew’s ... at the junction of Clyde Road and Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, was designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Ballsbridge is a unique parish church in the Diocese of Dublin, and has a strong liturgical and choral tradition dating back to its consecration in 1867. I was there earlier this week, when I presided and preached at the Said Eucharist at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning and celebrated and preached at the Solemn Eucharist at 11 a.m.

In February and March, Saint Bartholomew’s is hosting a series of lectures on interfaith dialogue.

This beautiful church, which stands at the junction of Clyde Road and Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, close to the US Embassy, was consecrated in 1867. Saint Bartholomew’s was designed by the well-known English architect, Thomas Henry Wyatt. It was built in the Gothic revival style, using Dublin granite and with sandstone facings. But there are also interesting features which show the influence of the Celtic Romantic Revival, which was becoming popular in the 1860s, including the stairway to the clock tower which is in the shape of an Irish round tower.

The interior of Saint Bartholomew’s ... reflects the Italian and Byzantine influences on Sir Thomas Deane during his visits to Florence, Rome and Palermo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The unique interior decoration, dating from 1878, was designed by Sir Thomas Deane and reflects the Italian and Byzantine influences on Deane during his visits to Florence, Rome and Palermo. Many of the original features of the church remain intact to this day, including the sanctuary mosaics and the elaborate wrought-iron choir screen.

Stained-glass windows

Saint Bartholomew’s has an important collection of Irish stained glass (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The stained-glass windows represent two important periods in the development of Irish stained glass. Around the High Altar, the five apse windows, including the Rose Window, date from 1868-1872 and are the oldest in the church. They are the work of Michael O’Connor, who was an important figure in the early days of the Gothic revival of stained glass in Ireland.

There are also important windows by Catherine O’Brien, who was influenced by Sarah Purser and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Her works in Saint Bartholomew’s include the Emmaus Window in the South Transept, and the four porch windows depicting Saint Patrick, Saint George, Saint Brigid and Saint Margaret.

The church also has important windows from the 1870s and 1880s by the London firm of Heaton, Butler and Bayne.

Liturgical and musical tradition

Saint Bartholomew’s has always been known for its High Anglican liturgical tradition, which is an integral part of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. In its early days, Anglo-Catholicism was conservative both theologically and politically, but in the latter part of the 19th century many Anglo-Catholics became active in radical and socialist organisations.

I presided and preached at the Said Eucharist at 9 a.m. and celebrated and preached at the Solemn Eucharist at 11 a.m. At the Solemn Eucharist on Sunday morning, the choir of girls and men sing the setting in F by Herbert Sumsion.

Saint Bartholomew’s is celebrated for its fine music. The choir of boys and men is the only remaining all-male parish church choir in the Church of Ireland. But the girls’ choir, formed in 2003, plays an increasingly prominent role in the life of the church.

Recent organists have included Malcolm Wisener (1985-2007), now the organist of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork. The present organist is Fraser Wilson. The three-manual organ was built in 1887 by Gray and Davison, but has been rebuilt since then in 1925 and 1963, and more recently by Trevor Crowe in 2002.

The priests of Saint Bartholomew’s

The first Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s, the Revd Arthur Altham Dawson (1864-1871), resigned to work in England. He is commemorated in the Ascension window in the north transept.

His successor, Canon Richard Travers Smith (1871-1905), was the author of many theological and historical works, and the Donnellan Lecturer at Trinity College Dublin. He is remembered in a brass behind the vicar’s stall.

The Emmaus window by Catherine O’Brien in the south transept of Saint Bartholomew’s ... commemorates a former vicar, Bishop Harry Vere White (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The third vicar, Canon Harry Vere White (1905-1918), had returned to Ireland from New Zealand to work as the Irish organising secretary of the SPG. While he worked with SPG, he lived at 3 Belgrave Road, so his former dining room in Rathmines was later my office when I worked with CMS Ireland (2002-2006). He later became Treasurer and Chancellor of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Archdeacon of Dublin and Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, before becoming Bishop of Limerick. He is commemorated by Catherine O’Brien’s Emmaus Window in the south transept.

Canon Walter Cadden Simpson (1918-1951) was Vicar of All Souls’, Clapton Park, London, before moving to Saint Bartholomew’s. Catherine O’Brien’s mosaic of the Epiphnay over the vestry door is a memorial to him.

Robert Norman Sidney Craig (1951-1957) was once Vice-Principal of Bishops’ College, Calcutta. He later worked in the US.

Henry Homan Warner (1957-1964) was a curate of Saint Bartholomew’s before becoming Vicar.

James Maurice George Carey (1964-1972) was a noted liturgist and preacher, and the first incumbent to introduce Eucharistic vestments. Maurice later became Dean of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, and returned to Dublin as Priest-in-Charge of Saint John’s, Sandymount. I got to know him well when he chaired the editorial board of Search.

John Thomas Farquhar Paterson (1972-1978) later became Dean of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare, and then Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

John Robert Winder Neill (1978-1985) came to Saint Bartholomew’s at a time of significant liturgical renewal. He later become Dean of Waterford, Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, and then Bishop of Cashel and Ossory. He is now Archbishop of Dublin.

John Andrew McKay (1985-2000) later spent several years as Chaplain of Saint George’s Venice, and Christ Church, Trieste, returning to Dublin in 2005 as priest-in-charge of Saint John’s, Sandymount.

His successors were the Revd William James Ritchie (2000-2004) and the Revd Michael Thompson (2004-2008). The present Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s is the Revd Andrew McCroskery.

The curates of Saint Bartholomew’s have included: (Archdeacon) Raymond Gordon Finney Jenkins, (Archbishop) George Otto Simms, (Bishop) Roderick Norman Coote, Father Alan Bird Crawford, later a Benedictine monk of Glenstal Abbey), (Bishop) Richard Lionel Clarke, now Bishop of Meath and Kildare, (Canon) Edward George Ardis, later Dean of Killala and now Rector of Donnybrook and Irishtown, and Nigel Kenneth Dunne, now Dean of Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork.

Visit the parish website

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.