10 July 2018
A retreat over 24 hours in
the church in Glenstal Abbey
I have spent 24 hours in Glenstal Abbey, with time to walk in the woods, in the gardens, and by the lakes. Throughout Monday and Tuesday [9 and 10 July 2018], I have been able to join the monks in the monastery church for the daily offices, including Vespers (Evening Prayer), Compline, Matins and Lauds (Morning Prayer) and the Community Mass at mid-day.
The Church of Saint Columba and Saint Joseph in Glenstal Abbey is dedicated to the patron saints of the abbey: Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, and Saint Columba (or Colmcille), one of the three patrons of Ireland, alongside Saint Patrick and Saint Bridget.
Joseph and Columba are also the baptismal and monastic names of Blessed Columba Marmion, in whose memory Glenstal Abbey was founded in 1927.
When Glenstal became an independent Benedictine house in 1946, Father Bernard O’Dea was appointed the first Conventual Prior. With the monastic community, he initiated the plans for building the church in 1948, and a fundraising campaign began in America.
The first sod for the new church was turned on 28 May 1951, the foundation stone was laid on 14 October 1951, and the church was blessed and opened by Archbishop Jeremiah Kinnane of Cashel on 24 June 1956.
Father Sébastien Braun OSB, a monk of Maredsous in Belgium, conceived the initial design for the Romanesque-style church. John Thompson of Limerick was the executive architect, P Cullen & Co were the building contractors, and the project was overseen by Father Placid Murray.
The Connemara marble columns were installed in 1957-1958. The Stations of the Cross were designed by Brother Benedict Tutty OSB (1924-1996) and were erected in 1976. The distinctive coloured ceiling in the church dates from reordering carried out in 1979-1981, when Jeremy Williams was the architect.
The most recent reordering of the church was carried out in 2016, under the direction of the architect Seán Ó Laoire. A new confessional was installed in 2017.
Walking into the monastery church, the visitor is first struck by the High Altar and the raised choir and sanctuary area.
The High Altar was built in 2016 during the most recent reordering. The copper repoussé panel on the front of the altar was designed by Benedict Tutty and depicts the Lamb of the Apocalypse surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists. A copper panel on the back depicts the Transfiguration.
The enamel-on-copper Cross, with a bronze Corpus, was designed by Benedict Tutty for the first reordering of the church. The front depicts Christ surrounded by thrones, while on the back there is a rising sun surrounded by angels.
The choir stalls and ministerial chairs were designed by Jeremy Williams and made by Al O’Dea. The choir lectern and stools are the work of Pat Daly. The organ was built in 1981 by Kenneth Jones.
Entering the church through the porch at the west end, the first chapel on north (left) side, is the Benefactors’ Chapel. The window on the west (back) wall depicts Saint Sebastian and is by Christopher Campbell. It was presented by the contractors in honour of the architect Father Sébastien. In the background can be seen the proposed Marmion Memorial Tower, which was never built.
There are three windows by Margaret Becker on the north wall in the Benefactors’ Chapel:
● Saint Michael vanquishing Lucifer: donated by Barbara Sweetman-Fitzgerald in memory of her husband, Michael Sweetman, who died in the Staines air crash in 1972 and a cousin of Dom Christopher Dillon, a former Abbot of Glenstal and now the guest master.
● Saint Jarlath: donated by Elizabeth Dillon in memory of her husband, Professor Myles Dillon (1900-1972), father of Dom Christopher Dillon.
● Saint Martin of Tours: donated by Anthony and Katharine Gore-Grimes is memory of their son, Christopher.
The large painting on the wall of the Benefactors’ Chapel is De Profundis, The Samaritan Woman at the Well by Emmaus O’Herlihy.
The next chapel on the north side is the Reconciliation Chapel. Here is window depicting Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is by Benedict Tutty OSB and the cross is by Anthony Keane OSB.
The third chapel, the Lady Chapel, has a statue of the Virgin Mary carved by Winoc Mertens OSB, one of the founding members of the Glenstal community. He was the first director of the Glenstal Arts and Crafts School, which ran from 1929 to 1946.
The three windows by Patrick Pollen (d. 2010) in the Lady Chapel depict:
● Saint Malachy of Armagh (died 1148) at Mellifont.
● Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (died 1153).
● Saint Columbanus of Bobbio (died 615).
The fourth chapel on the north side honours Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923), Abbot of Maredsous (1909-1923) and a noted spiritual writer. Born Joseph Marmion in Dublin, he was educated at Belvedere College and Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, and was a priest in the Archdiocese of Dublin, where he was a curate in Dundrum, a professor in Clonliffe, and a convent chaplain. In 1886, he entered the Benedictine Monastery at Maredsous. Glenstal was founded from Maredsous in his memory. He was beatified in 2000.
His portrait in this chapel was painted by a monk of Maredsous and depicts Maredsous in the background, with some of his writings and the Glenstal Foundation Cross on his desk.
The staff of the White Swan Laundry in Dublin donated the original altar fittings in this chapel in memory of Brother Michael O’Connor, who died in 2014.
There are three windows by Patrick Pye in this chapel depicting three events in the life of the Apostle Peter:
● The Call of Peter
● The Commissioning of Peter
● Peter and Paul in Jerusalem.
The fifth chapel on the north side, the Saint Patrick Chapel, was donated by John O’Dwyer of Cappamore in memory of his wife and the Fitzgibbon family. The three windows by Patrick Pye depict three events in the life of Saint Patrick:
● Saint Patrick being assailed by demons
● Saint Patrick driving out the saints
● Saint Patrick being comforted by angels.
The sculpted inscription of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate (Lúireach Phádraig) was designed by Cornelius O’Doherty OSB (died 1967) and the crucifix and candles are the work of James Roche OSB (died 1998).
In the north-east porch, a window by Father Sébastien depicts Saint Michael the Archangel.
Entering the church through the porch at the west end, there is an original icon on the back (south-west) wall of Saint Patrick of Ireland. This icon was written by the Athens-based Greek iconographer Maria Sigala-Spanopoulos in 2008 and was donated by Patrick Brosnan.
The first chapel on south (right) side is the Saint Joseph and Columba Chapel. This honours the two patron saints of Glenstal, and also the baptismal and monastic names of Blessed Columba Marmion.
The second chapel on south (right) side is the Saint Benedict Chapel. Saint Benedict (ca 480 - ca 547) is the founder of the Benedictines and the founding figure in the western monastic tradition, as well as the Patron Saint of Europe.
The statue of Saint Benedict in this chapel was carved in the arts and crafts workshop Maredsous in 1932 by E Desoil.
The next chapel on the south side is the Holy Cross Chapel with a cross and candlesticks by Anthony Keane OSB. The Cross, which contains a relic of the True Cross, is venerated during the celebrations of the Passion on Good Friday each year.
The fourth chapel on the south side is Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which was donated by Eamon Roche of Mitchelstown, Co Cork. The altar in this chapel was designed by Father Henry O’Shea OSB. The tabernacle, designed by Benedict Tutty OSB, is in beaten copper with enamel panels and rock crystal, depicting the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. The hanging sanctuary lamp is in silvered copper. This too is the work of Benedict Tutty and was exhibited at the Salzburg Biennale in 1962.
There are two sets of three windows in this chapel, each by Patrick Pye.
Window 1 depicts three Old Testament scenes:
● The Exodus (this window was designed by Patrick Pye but executed by Margaret Peart)
● Water from the Rock and Manna in the Desert
● Jerusalem and the Temple.
Window 2 depicts three scenes from the Johannine writings in the New Testament, Saint John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation:
● The Wedding Feast at Cana (also executed by Margaret Peart)
● The Theotokos and Virgin of the Apocalypse
● The Heavenly Jerusalem
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Your entire account of your recent visit to Glenstal Abbey was both inspirational and educational. Thank you very much for the generous sharing of your experience.
Your account of this day in Glenstall is fantastic and reflects my thoughts on this wonderful church. We attended the mid-day mass one day in 2018 and the experience was inspiring. There is a freshness in both design and simple decoration of this spacious church. Your photo of the icon of St. Patrick does not reflect the magnificence of this art work. I have a brighter image of it, if I could send it to you. I highly recommend a visit to this incredible place and to also visit the gardens and shop in Glenstal Abbey. A hidden Gem. Thank you for your priceless work.
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