Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Clarke windows are the
glory of the Church of Saint
Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone

‘The Purgatory Window’ by the Harry Clarke Studios … the windows designed by Richard King are the crowning glory of the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen resolutions)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone, which I was discussing earlier this morning, is a basilica-scale church that dominates the west bank or Roscommon side of the River Shannon. But inside the church, the stained-glass windows are even more impressive than the confident statement of post-independence Catholicism expressed in Ralph Byrne’s powerful architectural design.

These windows come from the best-known studios of early 20th century Ireland, including Harry Clarke, Sarah Purser, AE Child, An Túr Gloine and the Earley Studios in Dublin.

This is an overpowering collection of the best in Irish art during the first decades of the last century, although the most powerful windows in the church are often attributed, mistakenly, to Harry Clarke himself.

These windows are typical of the Harry Clarke style in stained glass, saints with large expressive eyes and long tapering hands and fingers, angles richly-dressed in headdresses and robes or as tiny figures hiding in the blue glass, and borders filled with decorative lettering and hidden elements.

But Clarke died in 1931 and the windows in Athlone were designed and installed by the Dublin-based stained-glass artist Richard Joseph King (1907-1974) of the Harry Clarke Studios in 1937, six years after Clarke died.

Richard King was born in Castlebar, Co Mayo, on 7 July 1907, and entered the firm of J Clarke and Sons in 1928. King was Harry Clarke’s apprentice and under his supervision he executed windows designed by Clarke, producing background elements, borders and details.

While Clarke was gravely ill and dying in Davos, King translated his designs into windows. When Harry Clarke died in 1931, King stepped into the breach and became the manager of the studios. He left in 1940 to set up his own studio at Vico Terrace in Dalkey, and there he produced stained-glass windows for churches in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US, as well as for many churches in Ireland.

King also had a long, distinguished career as an illustrator, producing several postage stamps and illustrations for the Capuchin Annual. He died at his home in Raheny, Dublin, on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1974.

Meanwhile, after Clarke’s death in 1931, the Harry Clarke Studios continued his tradition of highly-stylised works in stained glass until the studios closed in the 1970s.

The windows in Athlone are explained in detail by Niall McAuley in his Flickr Album of the stained-glass windows in the church and by Patrick Murray in his Church of Saints Peter and Paul Athlone: An Illustrated History and Guide.

The five King windows in the church in Athlone represent Purgatory or Christ descending to the Dead; Saint Patrick; Saint Joseph; Jesus Christ in the context of the Eucharist; and the Virgin Mary.

All five windows by King follow Clarke’s convention of placing the main figure centrally, surrounded by smaller panels that tell stories or illustrate events from the life of the central character.

The Purgatory Window:

The Purgatory window in the Mortuary Chapel was designed by Richard King and completed in 1937 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Purgatory Window in the Mortuary Chapel was designed by Richard King and completed in 1937. A line-drawing of this window was part of a prominent advertisement by the Harry Clarke Studios in The Irish Times on 29 June 1937, declaring: ‘We are privileged to have executed the principal stained glass windows of which the above is an example, also the complete scheme of slab glass and leaded glazing for the new church of SS Peter and Paul, Athlone.’

The phrase at the top of the window reads ‘Ego sum Resurrectio et Vita, I am the Resurrection and the Life’ (John 11: 25).

The main scene in window shows Christ descending to the dead, or the Harrowing of Hell, with Christ carrying a banner to lead the righteous, who are seen ascending to heaven. There are prayer fragments in Greek, Latin and Irish.

In the upper left, we see Jonah, who spent time in the whale. The words read ‘Ita Filius Hominis.’ Christ compares his three days in the tomb to Jonah’s time in the fish (Matthew 12: 40).

In the upper right, we see Job who was robbed of everything he held dear by the devil, thus testing his faith. The words are ‘Miseremini, Have pity on me’ (Job 19: 21), and ‘Scio, I know,’ drawing to mind Job’s saying, ‘Scio enim quod redemptor meus vivat, I know that my Redeemer lives’ (Job 19: 25).

In the lower left, Saint Monica is on her deathbed while her son Saint Augustine looks on. In the lower right, the Mass is being celebrated on the altar in front of the Crucifix. The words ‘Pro Vivis et Defunctis, For the Living and the Dead,’ is a quotation about the Eucharist from the Tridentine Creed.

The celebration of the Mass before the Crucifix ... a detail from ‘The Purgatory Window’ by Richard King in Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The prayer fragments in Greek read:

Ζεσες Εν Θεω, ‘May you Live in God’

Εν Θεω Κυριω Χριστω, ‘In God the Lord Christ’

Ο Κυριος μετα κοι, ‘The Lord be with you’

Εις Αναστασιν Αιωνιον, ‘Prepare for the Resurrection’

Μνησθης Ιησουσ ο Κυριος, ‘Remember Jesus Christ’

Εν Ειρηνη σου το Πνευμ, ‘Peace be with your Spirit’

Εν Ειρηνη Κοιμησις σου, ‘May the sleep of peace be with you’

The Irish words of prayer say:

Go ndeanaidh Dia oroith trócaire, ‘May God have mercy on us’

Beannacht Dé le h-anamnaidh oroit, ‘The Blessings of God on our souls’

The Latin prayer fragments read:

Pax tibi cum Sanctis, ‘Peace be with you among saints’

Spiritum Tuum Deus refrigeret, ‘May God give your spirit rest’

Petre et Paule subvenite, ‘May Peter and Paul come to your aid’

Vivas in Spirito Sancto, ‘Live in the Holy Spirit’

Vivas in Pace et Pete pro Nobis, ‘Live in peace and pray for us’

Bene Refrigera et Roga pro Nobis, ‘Be blessed in rest and pray for us’

In Refrigerio et in Pace, ‘At rest and in peace’

There are additional images of a funerary stele in the style of the early Christians in Rome, and of the Eucharist.

Additional inscriptions in Latin and Greek read: DM, perhaps ‘Deus misereatur, God be merciful unto us,’ the opening words of Psalm 67, regularly used at funerals, and Ιχθυς Ζωντων, ‘Fish, Live.’

Christ in Judgment:

The window in the Mortuary Chapel depicting Christ in Judgment is by Earley of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A second window in the Mortuary Chapel depicting Christ in Judgment is by Earley and Co of Dublin. It was completed in 1937, and Christ sits in Judgment flanked by the patron saints of the church, Saint Peter with his keys and Saint Paul.

A detail from the Earley window depicting Christ in Judgment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Two angels hold books, saying Mihi Fecistis and Mihi Non Fecistis. Beneath them, more angels hold banners saying Venite Benedicti (‘Come, you blessed’) and Discedite Maledicti (‘Depart, you who are cursed’). These Latin tags were added after the initial sketch was completed, probably at the request of the Parish Priest of Athlone, Dean Crowe.

Saint Patrick Window:

The Saint Patrick Window was completed in 1937, five years after the celebrations marking 1,500 years since the arrival of Saint Patrick in Ireland in the year 432 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Saint Patrick Window on the left aisle was designed by Richard King and completed in 1937, just five years after the anniversary celebrations marking 1,500 years since the arrival of Saint Patrick in Ireland in the year 432. Saint Patrick, who is the central figure, is young and clean-shaven, unlike traditional images of an old and bearded Saint Patrick.

The top of this window refers explicitly the Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 1932, with the crossed flags of Ireland and the Vatican. The image also shows the altar used at the Eucharistic Congress in the Phoenix Park.

A panel on the left of this window, with the text Vox Hib shows Vox Hibernicæum, depicts Saint Patrick’s dream, in which the Angel Victorius – looking more like an Angle Victoria – brings him a letter as he hears the voice of the Irish calling him back to Ireland to convert them.

The Angel Victorius brings Saint Patrick a letter in his dream as he hears voice of the Irish calling him back (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In this window, Saint Patrick is also seen preaching to the chieftains, lighting the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane, comparing the Trinity to a shamrock, and his victory over the Druids at the Hill of Tara or Teamhair. The words Ní múcfar i-nEirinn go deo í refer to a prophecy by the Druids that the fire of Christianity that Saint Patrick lit at Slane would never go out in Ireland.

Other images include the snakes, banished from Ireland by Saint Patrick, Saint Patrick’s bell, and his bell shrine. At the bottom of the window, Saint Patrick meets the Children of Lír who spent 900 years as swans; their spell is broken when they hear his bell, and they return as very old people.

Saint Patrick bears a medallion on his breast depicting Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh – although this is the new Roman Catholic Cathedral, and not the earlier Church of Ireland cathedral. Throughout the window are images of other Saint Patrick’s Cathedrals, in New York and Melbourne.

Many of the smaller images are places in Ireland and around the world with churches or cathedrals named after Saint Patrick. Curiously, King omitted Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Was this because it is a Church of Ireland cathedral? Other places around the world referred to in this window include Toronto, Montserrat, Honolulu, Poona, Auckland, China and Iceland.

The panel with the lettering ‘Sean Cill’ shows Saint Mathona, Abbess of Shankill, according to Murray. The man may be her brother Saint Benignus, a follower of Saint Patrick.

The panel with the lettering ‘Ailfionn’ tells the story of the Diocese of Elphin. The first bishop, Saint Asicus, a former, metalworker, presents Saint Patrick with a chalice.

One panel shows a bearded man in modern dress is carrying a staff and a large crucifix. A church is in flames behind, and the people of Ireland look on. Murray says this represents scattered Catholic emigrants returning to post- independence Ireland. The lettering reads Euntes Venientes Euntes, a reference to: ‘Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves’ (Psalm 126: 6).

Another panel shows redcoat soldiers burning cottages as a depiction of oppression.

Athlone, Sligo and many other parishes in the Diocese of Elphin are depicted in the window. Fiodharta or Fuerty is a parish in Co Roscommon and Murray says the man being baptised is Deacon Iustus. Cruachain is a parish in Co Roscommon, and Murray identifies the women receiving communion from Saint Patrick as Saint Eithne and Saint Fidelma, daughters of the King of Connaught.

Muirchu’s life of Saint Patrick says Eithne was fair-haired and Fidelma a redhead, and they were baptised at the Well of Clebach beside Cruachan. Baislic na Naomh or Baslick in Co Roscommon, near Elphin, once had an abbey. Uaran Garadh or Oran had a holy well and round tower.

Saint Joseph Window:

The Saint Joseph window: each frame tells a story from the life of Saint Joseph or other biblical Josephs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Opposite the Saint Patrick Window, on the right aisle, the Saint Joseph Window was designed by Richard King and completed in 1937. It tells of the life Saint Joseph, often drawing on apocryphal sources, and refers also to Joseph in the Old Testament, his time in Egypt and his encounters with Pharaoh.

In the main image, Saint Joseph is shown holding a staff that is blossoming into a lily, and a carpenter’s tool. Drawing on an image in Hosea (‘I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily,’ Hosea 14: 5), the apocryphal Gospel of James says that when Saint Joseph was chosen as the Virgin Mary’s husband, after his staff miraculously blossomed, and/or a dove flew out of it onto his head. He's also carrying a wooden tool that looks like a set square.

Other frames in this window depict the betrothal of Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary; the dream of Saint Joseph, when he is told to marry the Virgin Mary although she is already pregnant (see Matthew 1: 20) – the text reads De Spirito Sancto Est; the flight into Egypt; Joseph is watching as a young Jesus helps Mary while she is spinning; Saint Joseph and Jesus as a teenager in the carpenters’ workshop; the death of Saint Joseph – as Christ and the Virgin Mary comfort Saint Joseph, Christ calls the archangels Michael and Gabriel to take him to Heaven.

Joseph before Pharaoh in the Saint Joseph window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Old Testament images include: the famine in Egypt, when Pharaoh told the Egyptians to go to Joseph and do what he tells them – the text reads ‘Ite ad Joseph, Go to Joseph’ (Genesis 41: 55); and the four rivers of Paradise and two deer – the image, including the cross and the descending dove, is inspired by the apse in the Church of Saint John Lateran, Rome.

This window also depicts: two saints in a boat, identified by Murray as the two patrons of this church, Saint Paul with his book and Saint Peter steering the boat; a lighthouse, with the Papal arms; and two saints fishing with a net from a boat, possibly the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew as fishers of men.

The Jesus Window:

The theme of the Jesus window is the presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Jesus Window at the top of the left aisle was designed by Richard King and was completed in 1937. The theme in this window is the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and it shows Christ breaking the bread at the Last Supper, surrounded by scenes and saints associated with the Eucharist.

Above the main figure of Christ is a traditional image of the Sacred Heart, with thorns, flames and a cross. The Latin words read ‘Ecce Cor, Behold the Heart.’

Beneath Christ’s are the words ‘Hoc est Corpus Meum, This is my Body.’

The larger panels on the left (from the top) show:

1, The Supper at Emmaus: the words in Latin read ‘Mane Nobiscum, Stay with us’ (Luke 24: 29).

2, The Wedding at Cana, which prefigures the Eucharist (John 2: 1-12).

3, The Living Water: Moses strikes the rock at Kadesh (see Numbers 20: 10-13).

4, Moses and the people gathering Manna in the wilderness, as scouts in the background carry large bunches of grapes from the Promised Land.

The larger panels on the right (from the top) show:

1, An image of the church as the New Jerusalem, with Christ on a hill, and a hen with chicks, as Saint Peter and Saint Paul look over his shoulder. Beneath is written ‘Quoties Volui, a reference to: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’ (Luke 13: 34).

2, The miracle of the Loaves and Fish, which prefigures the Eucharist.

3, Longinus piercing the side of the crucified Christ with his spear.

4, The Passover Meal at the Exodus, with the people standing with staffs in their hands, about to eat the Paschal lamb.

The bottom panel beneath the feet of Christ tells of the story of Tobit, who is show with the fish and walking with the Archangel Raphael. Beside them are the Archangel Michael with a sword and the Archangel Gabriel with a lily. The Latin words ‘Exentera Cor Piscis,’ are an allusion to Tobit 6, serving to compare the healing values of Tobit’s fish with the healing offered by Christ as the Sacred Heart and in the Eucharist.

The bottom panel in the Jesus window shows Tobit and his fish with the archangels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The other figures in this window include: Saint Thomas Aquinas being addressed by Christ while at prayer: ‘Thoma Bene Scripsisti de me’; Pope Pius X, who in his decree Quam Singulari Sacra Tridentina (1910) lowered the age when children could first receive first Holy Communion; Saint Gertrude; Saint Tarcisius; Saint Sechnall, a nephew of Saint Patrick, with the words of a hymn attributed to him, Sancti Venite Christi Corpus Sumite; Saint Julianna holding a martyr’s palm; Saint John Eudes (1601-1680), a French priest who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart and who debated vigorously with the Jansenists; Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque (1647-1690), a 17th century nun devoted to the Sacred Heart; and Matt Talbot (1856-1925) in shabby clothes covering his chains and holding a scroll that says ‘Fast Friends.’

Grape vines are seen growing at the bottom of the window.

The Virgin Mary window:

The Virgin Mary window shows scenes from her life and illustrations of Marian devotion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Virgin Mary window at the top of the right aisle and facing the Jesus window was designed by Richard King and completed in 1937. The Virgin Mary is shown crowned with stars and holding a lily.

Above the Virgin Mary, God the Father raises one hand in blessing, and in the other holds the Orb of the Universe. In front of him, is a triangle represents the Trinity, and the Holy Spirit is descending on the Virgin Mary in the form of a dove.

The scroll above her declares: ‘Tota Pulchra Es, You are completely beautiful.’ In the Litany of Loreto, the Virgin Mary is named as the Fountain of Beauty.

To her left at the top, people pausing while at work in the fields to pray the Angelus , while on her right people knell saying the Rosary.

The scroll beneath her feet reads: ‘Verbum Caro Factum Est, the Word was made flesh.’

The larger panels on the left (from the top) show:

1, Saint Dominic receives the Rosary from the Virgin Mary in a vision.

2, The Visitation of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Saint Elizabeth. The words Unde Hoc Mihi is a quotation from Saint Luke’s account of the Visitation (see Luke 1: 43).

3, Saint Brigid, ‘Muire na nGael (Mary of the Gaels), with a crosier at Kildare Abbey. The Latin words, ‘Adducentur Regi Post Eam, ‘In many-coloured robes she is led to the king’ (Psalm 45: 14) is a quotation from Psalm 45, ‘ode for a royal wedding,’ and so presents Saint Brigid as a virgin companion of the Virgin Mary, in embroidered garments as she is led to the king.

4, The Prophets: Moses, David and Isaiah are shown in the front, while Jeremiah and Daniel and Joel are behind them.

The larger panels on the right (from the top) show:

1, Saint Simon Stock, receiving the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

2, The Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple: the Latin inscription, tuam ipsius animam, is a quotation from the Gospel account of this event (see Luke 2: 35).

3, Duns Scotus: The phrase ‘Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit, He could; it was fitting; therefore, he did it,’ was first used by Saint Eadmer of Canterbury in his biography of Saint Anselm, to defend his argument for the Immaculate Conception: the Son of God was able to make Mary without original sin; it was fitting and decent that the Son of God would honour his mother this way; therefore, God made his mother without original sin. The same argument was used by Duns Scotus (1266-1308), the Franciscan philosopher and theologian, who is commemorated in a plaque in Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

4, The Six Sibyls: the Sibyls, who varied in number from 10 to 12, were women believed by the ancient Greeks to be oracles and prophesied at holy sites. They are named in this window as Cumaa (the Cumaean sibyl), Delphica (the Delphic sibyl), Samia (the sibyl of Samos), Libica (the Libyan sibyl), Tyburina (the Tiburtine Sibyl), and Persica (the Persian sibyl). The Persian sybil on the right is stepping on a serpent, as is the Virgin Mary in the panel beside her, a reference to one of the popular descriptions in Catholic piety of the Virgin Mary as the ‘second Eve,’ crushing the serpent beneath her foot (see Genesis 3: 15).

The Seven Sibyls in the Virgin Mary window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Song of the Sibyls was sung all over Europe on Christmas Eve, after Matins and before Mass, until the Council of Trent. This custom was restored in some places in the 17th century, and remains mostly in Spain. They are most famously mentioned in the Dies Irae, sung at Masses for the dead. Its opening lines say:

That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
shall heaven and earth in ashes lay,
as David and the Sybil say.


They are also referred to the Latin poem Corde natus ex Parentis by the Roman poet Marcus Aurelius Prudentius (ca 343-413), a judge in the Roman imperial court, as a challenge to Arianism:

This is he, whom seer and sibyl
Sang in ages long gone by;
This is he of old revealed
In the page of prophecy;
Lo! He comes the promised Saviour;
Let the world his praises cry!
Evermore and evermore.


This poem become a popular hymn and Christmas carol, ‘Of the Father’s Heart Begotten’ or ‘Of the Father’s Love Begotten,’ when it was translated y the Revd John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and the Revd Sir Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877). It is the oldest hymn in the Church Hymnal of the Church of Ireland (No 175). However, in their translation, Neale and Baker altered the reference to sibyls to sages:

This is he whom seers and sages
sang of old with one accord,
whom the writings of the prophets
promised in their faithful word:
now he shines, the long;expected,
let creation praise its Lord,
evermore and evermore.


The bottom panel, beneath the feet of the Sibyls and the Virgin Mary crushing a serpent beneath her heel, shows the Archangel Michael and the Archangel Gabriel guarding the Burning Bush.

The smaller panels feature scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, and some later appearances and references to Marian devotions in small details, mainly from the Litany of Loreto, including descriptions of her as the Queen of Martyrs, Ark of the Covenant, Queen of Peace, Tower of David or Tower of Ivory, Mystical Rose, Morning Star, House of Gold, Gate of Heaven, Queen of Confessors and Queen of Wisdom.

Here too are depictions of the Star of Bethlehem and, beside the image of the Presentation, a blue unicorn – the unicorn is associated with virginity, and in mediaeval iconography and manuscripts, the Virgin Mary is depicted with Christ as the Unicorn.

In the bottom right corner, the image of a sword through the heart of the Virgin Mary refers to her sorrow at the death of Christ, recalling Simeon’s prophesy that her son’s death would be like a sword through her own soul too (see Luke 2: 35).

The Baptistry Window:

I did not manage to see the Baptistry window by Earley and Co of Dublin, completed in 1937. This window shows Saint John the Baptist baptising Christ. The surrounding images relate to baptism, Saint John the Baptist and to water.

Nor did I get to see the four swing doors leading from the altar to the sacristies on either side, with each door decorated with a panel designed by Richard King.

The porch windows: Saint Peter and Saint Paul:

Saint Peter … an Earley window in the church porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Two windows in the porch show the patrons of the church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, are the work of Earley and Co of Dublin, and were completed in 1937.

Saint Peter is shown holding the Keys of Heaven, while Saint Paul is show holding a scroll, on which is written: ‘Ad Romanos, Paulus Servus Jesu Christi.’ These are a summary of the opening words of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans: ‘To the Romans, Paul a servant of Jesus Christ’ (Romans 1: 1-7). Saint Paul has more scrolls tucked into his cloak representing his other epistles.

Saint Paul … an Earley window in the church porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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