31 January 2019

The Synagogues of Prague,
5, The Spanish Synagogue

The Spanish Synagogue in Prague is a Moorish-style synagogue and one of the most beautiful in Europe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Prague last week, I visited about half-a-dozen or so of the surviving synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.

Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Jewish Quarter has six surviving synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

I visited the Spanish Synagogue in Dusni Street twice last week, once to see the synagogue itself, and later in the evening for a concert. Arabesques, gilt and polychrome motifs with a dazzling combination of rich green, blue and red hues make this Moorish-style synagogue one of the most beautiful in Europe. The interior of this 19th century creation is breath-taking, with its Torah ark and central dome as masterpieces of Spanish-inspired architecture.

Although the Spanish Synagogue is the newest synagogue in the Jewish Town, it stands on the site of the oldest synagogue in Prague, the ‘Old School’ or Altschule.

A small park with a statue by Jaroslav Róna of Prague’s best-known Jewish writer Franz Kafka lies between the synagogue and the neighbouring Church of Holy Spirit, first built in 1346 as part of a Benedictine convent.

The Old Synagogue or Altschule dated back to at least the 12th century, and its story was one of tragedy after tragedy. The victim of four fires, the synagogue was also damaged in the Easter pogrom in 1389. It was shut down by Emperor Leopold I in 1693 but opened its doors again in 1704, only to be pillaged in 1744.

During the 18th century, the Empress Maria Theresa let the synagogue fall into disrepair. But at the end of the 18th century, the Renaissance structure was transformed into a late Gothic style building.

The Old Synagogue was rebuilt five times from 1536 to 1837. When it was renovated in 1837, it became the first synagogue in Prague to offer reform services and the first in Bohemia to have an organ. Frantisek Skroup, who would later compose the Czechoslovak and now Czech national anthem, Where is my home?, was the organist and choirmaster there for almost 10 years, from 1836 to 1845.

Reticulated vaulting was added in the 1840s. But by then, the Altschule was too small for the needs of its congregation. They decided to demolish it in 1867 and replace with the new, Spanish Synagogue, built a year later.

The Spanish Synagogue was built in 1868 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

At first, the synagogue was known to German-speaking Jews in Prague as Geistgasse-Tempel, or ‘Temple in Holy Spirit Street,’ which seemed an incongruous combination of names until I stood by Kafka’s statue between the church and the synagogue.

Prague’s Jewish community has always been mainly Ashkenazic, so the name of the Spanish Synagogue does not refer to a Sephardic presence in Prague. Instead, the name refers to the Moorish revival style in its architectural design, inspired by the Alhambra and the art and architecture of the Arabic period in Spanish history.

A similar cultural influence shaped the design of the Neue Synagoge or ‘New Synagogue’ on Oranienburger Straße, the main synagogue of the Jewish community in Berlin, built in 1859-1866, with its domes and its exotic Moorish style that also reflect the Alhambra.

The Spanish Synagogue was designed by Vojtěch Ignác Ullmann, a renown architect of the Bohemian neo-renaissance, and the imposing interior and layout were created by Josef Niklas.

The interior of the Spanish synagogue was decorated in 1882-1893 to designs by Antonín Baum and Bedřich Münzberger (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The synagogue is two storeys high, its ground plan is square and the main hall has a dome is surrounded by three built-in balconies, with an organ in the south balcony.

The synagogue is laid out in the Reform style. The bimah or reading platform is at the east end rather than the central space as in traditional synagogues or at the west wall as in Sephardic synagogues.

The monumental aron ha-kodesh or holy ark where the Torah scrolls are kept has no parochet or curtain today, and is designed in the style of a mihrab. Above, in the east wall, a great round stained-glass window with a central decoration of the six-sided Magen David (Star of David) was installed in 1882-1883.

The benches stand in rows, like pews in a church, instead of being arranged around the walls. They are not original, but come from a synagogue in Zruč nad Sázavou, a small town in Central Bohemia, south-east of Prague.

The most impressive decorative element in the synagogue is a gilded and multi-coloured parquet arabesque. The synagogue was decorated in 1882-1893 to the designs of Antonín Baum and Bedřich Münzberger, who were inspired by Arabic architecture and art.

The overpowering internal decoration is formed by low stucco of stylised and coloured Islamic motifs. Decorative elements were also applied to the doors, the organ and the wall panelling, and the windows are filled with tinted glass.

In 1935, a functionalistic building, designed by Karel Pecánek, was added to the synagogue. Until World War II, it served the Jewish Community as a hospital. The synagogue also used the space of the new building, which provides a vestibule, a shop, a winter oratory and additional exhibition space.

Since 1935, the appearance of the synagogue has remained essentially unchanged.

The appearance of the Spanish Synagogue has remained unchanged since 1935 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Nazis used this synagogue during World War II to catalogue and store property stolen from the Czech Jewish communities, including furniture from other synagogues.

Ten years after the war, the synagogue was returned to the Jewish Museum, it was fully restored inside in 1958-1959, and an exhibition of synagogue textiles opened there in 1960. By the 1970s, however, the building was neglected and it remained closed after 1982.

Restoration work resumed after the ‘Velvet Revolution,’ and when the synagogue was completely restored to its former beauty it re-opened in 1998.

This beautiful synagogue used today by Conservative Jewish community Bejt Praha. Kabbalat Shabbat is at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., depending on the time of year, and welcomes all Jews, whether Reform, Orthodox or Secular.

The Spanish Synagogue is administered by the Jewish Museum in Prague. The exhibitions look at modern Jewish history in the Czech lands, from the reforms initiated by the Emperor Joseph II to the contribution of many Jewish people – including Franz Kafka – to Czech culture, literature, education, economy and science, as well as the traumatic events of the 20th century. It is also a regular venue for cultural events, including concerts and readings.

Previously: The Klausen Synagogue.

Next: The Pinkas Synagogue.

The Synagogues of Prague,
4, The Klausen Synagogue

The Klausen Synagogue is the largest surviving synagogue in the former Jewish ghetto in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Prague last week, I visited about half-a-dozen or so of the surviving synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.

Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Jewish Quarter has six surviving synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The Klausen Synagogue is a 16th-century baroque synagogue and the largest surviving synagogue in the former Jewish ghetto, and it is also a single example of an early Baroque synagogue in the area.

This complex was known as Klausen, a German term derived from the Latin claustrum, meaning a closed space.

Mordechai Maisel, a renowned businessman who had found favour in the Habsburg court and who was the great benefactor of the ghetto, acquired the site from its Christian owners in the late 16th century. He used part of the site to extend the Jewish Cemetery, and in 1570, he set about building a complex in the area of the present synagogue that included synagogues and a private Talmudic school.

Prague’s famous rabbi and scholar, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, known affectionately to this day as Maharal taught at this school.

Inside the Klausen Synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

During the great fire that devastated the Prague ghetto in 1689, all the buildings in the Klausen were destroyed, and the new synagogue built on the site is named after them.

Shelomo Khalish Cohen, a rabbi of the burned-down synagogue in the Klausen complex, initiated the building of a new synagogue in early baroque style at the site.

The building was finished in 1694, and two years later the monumental three-tiered aron ha-kodesh or holy ark for the Torah scrolls was added, thanks to the generosity of Samuel Oppenheimer, then an affluent and influential person in the Hapsburg Empire. It is in the style of an early baroque altar.

The two-storey extensions at the north and west sides of the synagogue were built at the same time or a little later and are a little lower than the main building.

Many important rabbis are associated with the synagogue, including Elazar Fleckeles (1754-1826), a prolific author.

The earliest completely preserved Prague Hebrew printed book among the exhibits in the Klausen Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The synagogue was rebuilt in 1883-1884 by the architects Bedřich Münzberger and Antonín Baum, who were also involved in decorating the Spanish Synagogue. During this work, the western women’s gallery was elevated to the level of the main building.

The massive urban renewal of the ghetto at the turn of the 20th century left the Klausen Synagogue intact, while other baroque synagogues, including the Zigeuner, Great Court and New Synagogue, were demolished. Today, the Klausen Synagogue is the only surviving example of a baroque synagogue in the former ghetto.

During World War II, the Nazis used the Klausen Synagogue for storage. After the war, an exhibition on the theme of Jewish festivals and customs opened there.

The synagogue was rebuilt in 1960 and 1979-1981, and the aron ha-kodesh was restored in 1983. A year later, a new exhibition of Hebrew manuscripts and early prints opened in the Klausen Synagogue.

The synagogue was restored again in 1995-1996 and the exhibition on Jewish festivals and customs reopened. Today the synagogue is administered by the Jewish Museum in Prague.

The Jewish Ceremonial Hall, beside the Klausen Synagogue, was built in the neo-Romanesque style in 1906-1908 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The exhibition introduces visitors to the foundational texts of Judaism, the Torah and the Talmud, sacred space in Judaism, the traditional components of the synagogue interior, the order of synagogue prayer services and texts and objects used in worship in synagogues. Other displays introduce Jewish Festivals and daily Jewish family life, as well as important milestones in Jewish life, including birth, circumcision, and marriage.

The theme of this exhibition continues in the neighbouring Ceremonial Hall which looks at the topic of the end of life.

The Jewish Ceremonial Hall was built in the neo-Romanesque style in 1906-1908, designed by the architect J Gerstl for the Jewish Burial Society, Hevrah Kaddishah.

The ceremonial hall is at the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery, founded in the early 15th century and one of the oldest and best-preserved Jewish cemeteries in Europe. There are about 12,000 tombstones in the cemetery, but the number of burials is far higher. Burials here ended in 1787.

Gravestones in the Old Jewish Cemetery date back to the 15th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Previously: The Maisel Synagogue.

Next: The Spanish Synagogue.

30 January 2019

The Synagogues of Prague,
3, The Maisel Synagogue

The Maisel Synagogue was built in 1590-1592 and acquired its neo-Gothic appearance at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Prague last week, I visited about half-a-dozen or so of the surviving synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.

Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The 16th-century Maisel Synagogue on Maiselova Street has survived fires, the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands, the Holocaust and post-war neglect, and is now a modern museum.

The Maisel Synagogue was built at the end of the 16th century, which is seen as the golden age of the ghetto in Prague. Since then, its appearance has changed several times and its appearance today is neo-gothic in style.

The synagogue was built in 1590-1592 on the initiative of the Mayor of the Jewish town, Mordechai Maisel (1528-1601), the renowned businessman and benefactor of the ghetto. He acquired the site in 1590, and a year later the Emperor Rudolf II granted him permission to build his own synagogue. Maisel’s important position at the emperor’s court probably helped him to gain this imperial permission.

The Maisel Synagogue was designed by the architect Judah Tzoref de Herz and built in the Renaissance style by Josef Wahl in 1592. It was consecrated on Simchat Torah, 29 September 1592, and over the next century it became the largest and most impressive building in the ghetto.

Mordechai Maisel left the synagogue to Prague’s Jewish community in his will. But after his death in 1601 all his possessions, including the synagogue, were confiscated, despite an imperial privilege allowing him to make bequests in his will. His wishes were only fulfilled after a number of court cases that lasted several decades.

The Maisel Synagogue was severely damaged in the great fire in 1689 that destroyed much of the ghetto. It was rebuilt hurriedly, and as a consequence lost one third of its length.

Inside the Maisel Synagogue, which now serves as museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The synagogue was rebuilt in 1862-1864 to plans by the architect JW Wertmüller, and again in 1892-1907, at a time when all the Jewish Quarter went through a major urban renewal according to the design of the architects Alfred Grotte and Emil Kralicek. The synagogue acquired two narrow side wings and its neo-Gothic portico extension, with a central layout and three entrances with pointed vaults.

The main nave of the synagogue and all the interior details, including the Aron-ha-Kodesh or holy ark holding the Torah scrolls, were redesigned in neo-Gothic style too. However, the south side façade, part of the aisles and the women’s galleries on the ground floor and first floor were untouched in these adaptations.

During the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands, possessions confiscated from members of the Czech Jewish communities were stored in Maisel Synagogue.

After the World War II, the synagogue became a depository of the Jewish Museum in Prague. It was restored in the 1960s, and an exhibition of silver Judaica was located there from 1965 to 1988.

The synagogue was forced to close because conditions could not be improved due to financial problems. However, the ‘Velvet Revolution’ made the restoration possible. The synagogue underwent total restoration in 1994-1995 and was opened to the public in 1996.

The Maisel Synagogue was restored once again in 2014-2015. It belongs to the Jewish Community of Prague and is administered by the Jewish Museum in Prague as a part of its exhibitions.

Today it houses an exhibition, ‘Jews in the Bohemian Lands, 10th to 18th Century.’ The exhibits include the tombstone of Avigdor Kara, a rabbinical judge who died in 1439. This was the oldest tombstone in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Avigdor Kara was the author of the elegy Et Kol ha-Tela’ah, ‘All the Adversities,’ that tells of the Prague pogrom in 1389. It is still recited on Yom Kippur in the Old-New Synagogue.

The synagogue also serves as a venue for cultural events, including concerts, readings and one-man theatre.

Windows and arches in the Maisel Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Previously: The High Synagogue

Next: The Klausen Synagogue.

The Synagogues of Prague,
2, The High Synagogue

The High Synagogue (left) faces onto Red Lane (Červená ulice), between Maiselova Street and Paris Street in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Prague last week, I visited about half-a-dozen or so of the surviving synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.

Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The High Synagogue, dating from the 16th century synagogue, was financed by Mordechai Maisel, and was finished in 1568, the same year as the Jewish Town Hall. It was probably named the High Synagogue because the house of prayer was located on the first floor rather than the ground floor of the building.

This synagogue was probably modelled after the High Synagogue in Kraków, which was built in 1556. The house was designed in the Renaissance style by the architect Pancratius Roder, and the supervising builder was a master named Rada.

It was designed as a preaching place for councillors of Jewish Town Hall. Originally, it was accessible only from the first floor of the Jewish town hall and served for assemblies of the senior members of the ghetto, the religious community and perhaps sittings of the rabbinical courts.

The bimah in the centre was surrounded by seats, the stucco ceiling had Gothic ribbed vaulting and Mordechai Maisel donated Torah scrolls and silver tools to the synagogue.

However, the original synagogue was destroyed in the great fire of Prague in 1689. It was rebuilt in 1690 to designs by the architect Pavel Ignác Bayer, who also designed the women’s gallery. The Aron-ha-kodesh or holy ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept, was adapted in 1691 in the style of contemporary Baroque altars.

The burned roof trusses were repaired after another fire in 1754.

The synagogue was rebuilt by JM Wertmüller in 1883, when the façade was simplified and given a modern appearance.

When the streets of the Old Jewish Town were being cleared and rebuilt in the early 20th century, the eastern front of the High Synagogue was covered up, a new entrance was made from Red Lane (Červená ulice), and the whole synagogue was overshadowed by the large corner house with towers between Maiselova Street and Paris Street. Only the north front of the synagogue, facing Červená Lane remained open. This house was designed by the architects Richard Klenka of Vlastimil and Frantisek Weyr, and it is often seen as part of the High Synagogue.

Other adaptations of the High Synagogue were made in the 1960s and the 1970s. A permanent exhibition of synagogue textiles from the Jewish Museum collection was installed here in 1982.

The High Synagogue was returned to the Prague Jewish Community in 1994, and it was restored and refurnished as a house of prayer in 1995.

The Jewish Town Hall was built beside the Old New Synagogue on the corner of Maiselova Street and Červená Ulice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Jewish Town Hall was built beside the Old New Synagogue on the corner of Maiselova Street and Červená Ulice, and was the main meeting house of the local Jewish community.

The first references to the Jewish town hall date from 1541. After a fire it was rebuilt in 1577-1586 in the Renaissance style, with funding from the Mayor of the Jewish town, Mordechai Maisel. It acquired its rococo façade in the 18th century.

The building is best known for its two clocks, one on a tower with Roman numeral markings, the other, lower clock has Hebrew numerals in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with aleph and continuing counter-clockwise around the clock dial.

Today, this building is the centre of the Jewish Community of Prague and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, and the seat of the Chief Rabbinate of Prague and the Czech Republic. However, the building is closed to the public.

The clock with Hebrew numerals in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Previously: The Old-New Synagogue.

Next: The Maisel Synagogue.

29 January 2019

The Synagogues of Prague,
1, The ‘Old-New’ Synagogue

The Old-New Synagogue or ‘Altneuschul’ dates from 1270 and is the oldest landmark in the Jewish town in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Prague last week, I visited about half-a-dozen or so of the surviving synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.

Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery, the most remarkable of its kind in Europe.

The Old-New Synagogue or Altneuschul is the oldest landmark in the Jewish town in Prague, and the main house of prayer for the Jewish community in Prague to this day. It was built in the 13th century in the early Gothic style and is the oldest preserved and oldest active synagogue in Central Europe.

The Old New Synagogue was completed in 1270 in the Gothic style, and it is one of Prague’s first gothic buildings. A still older Prague synagogue, known as the Old Synagogue, was demolished in 1867 and replaced by the Spanish Synagogue.

The synagogue was originally called the New and Great Shul or Synagogue. But after the establishment of other synagogues in the ghetto in the late 16th century, it became known as the Old-New Synagogue.

Another explanation says the name comes from the Hebrew עַל תְּנַאי (al tnay), which means ‘on condition’ and sounds identical to the Yiddish alt-nay or ‘old-new.’

According to legend, angels brought stones from the Temple in Jerusalem to build the synagogue in Prague – ‘on condition’ that they are to be returned when the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt and the stones are needed.

The steps down into Old-New Synagogue or ‘Altneuschul’ in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Nine steps lead from the street into a vestibule, from which a door opens into a double-nave with six vaulted bays. This double-nave system was most likely adapted by the synagogue’s Christian architects from the plans of monasteries and chapels. It has been suggested that the synagogue was built by the same workshop that completed the nearby compound of Saint Agnes’s Convent.

The moulding on the tympanum of the synagogue’s entryway has a design that incorporates 12 vines and 12 bunches of grapes, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Two large pillars aligned east to west in the middle of the room each support the interior corner of four bays. The bays have two narrow Gothic windows on the sides, for a total of 12, again representing the 12 tribes.

The narrow windows are probably responsible for many older descriptions of the building as being dark. It is now brightly lit with several electric chandeliers.

The vaulting on the six bays has five ribs instead of the typical four or six. It has been suggested that this was an attempt to avoid associations with the Christian cross. However, many scholars dispute this theory, pointing to synagogues that have four-part ribs, and Christian buildings that have the unusual five rib design.

The almemor or bimah from which Torah scrolls are read is located between the two pillars. The base of the bimah repeats the 12-vine motif found on the tympanum. The Aron-ha-Kodesh where the Torah scrolls are kept is in the middle of the eastern wall. There are five steps leading up to the Ark and two round stained glass windows on each side above it. A lectern in front of the ark has a square well a few inches below the main floor for the service leader to stand in.

The stone pews along the longer walls have been preserved from the original mediaeval furnishings of the synagogue.

The 12 lancet windows in the synagogue – five each on the south and north wall and two on the west wall – are said to have inspired worshippers to compare the building with Solomon’s Temple.

The synagogue follows Orthodox custom, with separate seating for men and women during prayer services. Women sit in an outer room with small windows looking into the main sanctuary. The framework of the roof, the gable, and the party wall date from the Middle Ages.

An unusual feature in the nave of this synagogue is a large red flag near the west pillar. In the centre of the flag is a Star of David and in the centre of the star is a hat in the style typically worn by Jews of the 15th century. Both the hat and star, forming the emblem of the Jewish community in Prague, are stitched in gold. In gold stitching too is the text of Shema Yisrael, the basic Jewish confession of faith.

The synagogue was restored by the architect Joseph Mocker in 1883.

Local lore says the body of the Golem, created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, rests in the attic which is the genizah or storage space for worn-out Hebrew-language religious book and papers is kept.

A legend is told of a Nazi agent during World War II broaching the genizah, but who died instead. The Gestapo never entered the synagogue attic during World War II, and the building was spared during the Nazi destruction of synagogues.

The lowest three meters of the stairs leading to the attic from the outside have been removed and the attic is not open to the general public. But it is said no trace of the Golem was found when the attic was renovated in 1883, or when it was explored in 2014.

Legend says the Golem rests in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Next: The High Synagogue

Saint Brigid’s Church, Castleknock:
rebuilt many times over the centuries

Saint Brigid’s Church, Castleknock, Co Dublin, stands on the site of a mediaeval Augustinian priory and church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Saint Brigid’s Church, Castleknock, on Saturday afternoon [26 January 2019] for the funeral of my friend and colleague, the Revd Robert Lawson, who died earlier last week.

Robert and I were commissioned as diocesan readers on the same day 25 years ago in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, by Archbishop Donald Caird, in 1994. Later he was my student prior to his ordination in 2009, and more recently we were priest colleagues in Christ Church Cathedral.

It was humbling when someone pointed out that his last posting on Facebook was a reposting of one of blog postings on the labyrinth in Christ Church Cathedral.

Many years ago, he had brought me to Castleknock one Sunday morning to preach in Saint Brigid’s when the rector was Canon Paul Colton (1990-1999). Today, Bishop Paul Colton is the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross. They had remained good friends in the intervening years, and Bishop Paul was the preacher at Robert’s funeral, in that same pulpit, on Saturday afternoon.

The church stands on the site of an abbey of the Augustinian Canons Regular, who built a church here around 1220. Soon after, the church a prebendal church attached to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1227.

Two of the early Prebendaries of Castleknock in the 14th century were John de Tamworth, who was also a canon of Wolverhampton, a royal peculiar, in 1364, and his successor, William de Tamworth.

Other clergy associated with the parish include Richard Bancroft, who later became Bishop of London (1597) and Archbishop of Canterbury (1604).

A church was built in 1609 on the site of an Augustinian church of the Canons Regular. At the time the Archbishop of Dublin, Thomas Jones, was also Prebendary of Castleknock, holding both posts at the same time (1614-1619). A similar situation occurred with Archbishop Lancelot Bulkeley (1620-1650), perhaps giving the Archbishops of Dublin a certain proprietorial interest in Castleknock.

Josiah Hort was consecrated in Castleknock despite the opposition of the Archbishop of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This is the church where Josiah Hort (ca 1674-1751) was consecrated Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin in 1722, controversially, after the Archbishop of Dublin, William King, had refused to consecrate him. Archbishop King protested that this ‘gentleman is the first that I ever heard of, that pretended to a bishoprick without any degree at all.’

Saint Brigid’s Church was rebuilt in 1806-1810, with by a loan of £1000 from the former Board of First Fruits and large subscriptions.

The church has a three-stage tower at the west gable. There are granite rubble walls with an ashlar granite plinth course, quoining, gable copings and three courses at the projecting nave elevation facing the street, and a blank granite panel on the tower.

Inside Saint Brigid’s Church, Castleknock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The flanking side aisles, added around 1860, have three-bay side elevations with gabled terminating bays at the east forming side transepts.

The church has a double pitched slate roof flanked by subsidiary double pitched slate transept roofs, all with clay ridge tiles, and cast-iron rainwater goods.

The church has pointed arch openings with carved granite hood mouldings, irregular quoining, cills and geometric Gothic tracery. Each opening has figurative or lattice leaded stained glass. There are three pointed arch door openings, two to the street front and one at the tower with carved granite hood moulding. There are stepped soffit and reveals, and granite steps flanked by engaged stepped granite piers with triangular coping and recessed panel.

The surrounding timber plank doors have massive wrought iron hinges and furniture. There are late 19th century timber-panelled, double-leaf doors with central octagonal panels and there is a Gothic panelled tympanum to tower opening.

The chancel in Saint Brigid’s Church was enlarged by Sir Thomas Drew, and the East Window is by William Wailes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Welland and Gillespie designed the enlargement of the church in 1862-1864 to form rectangular church out of existing cruciform one. The chancel was being completed under the direction of the church architect Sir Thomas Drew (1838-1910), who also designed the Graduates’ Memorial Building in Trinity College Dublin, Rathmines Town Hall and Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. The contractors were the builders Thomas Hall and Sons.

Drew also designed the organ gallery in 1870 for a new organ by Forster and Co of Hull. This was placed in the gallery in October 1870.

The East Window, dating from the 1850s, is the work of the English stained glass-artist William Wailes (1808-1881), who supplied many stained-glass windows for churches in Ireland and England.

Wailes ran one of the largest and most prolific stained-glass workshops in Victorian England. He had studied with Mayer of Munich and later worked closely with AWN Pugin. His famous works include the windows of Gloucester Cathedral, the East Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, the Transfiguration East Window in Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church in Limerick, and many of the windows in Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney, Co Kerry.

The three-light stained-glass window depicting Saint Hubert (centre), Saint George and Saint Luke is by Harry Clarke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A three-light stained-glass window (1928) in the south aisle depicting Saint Hubert, flanked by Saint George and Saint Luke, is the work of one of Ireland’s finest stained-glass artists, Harry Clarke. The window commemorates Sir George Frederick Brooke (1849-1926) of Summerton, Castleknock, High Sheriff of Co Wexford (1882) and Co Dublin (1898), and his family, including his second wife, Alma (Barton), and his son, Lieutenant George Brooke (1877-1914) of the Irish Guards, who was killed in World War I.

A stained-glass window placed in the tower in 1864 commemorates James Hans Hamilton (1810-1863), MP for Co Dublin (1841-1863).

The monument to James Hans Hamilton and his wife Caroline (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The church has a number of memorials by Alexander Ballantine to members of the Hamilton family, including James Hans Hamilton and his wife Caroline Hamilton (1810-1845), and to Canon George O’Connell (1779-1842), who succeeded his father as Vicar of Castleknock in in 1809, and remained in the parish for over 30 years.

James Hans Hamilton and his wife Caroline Hamilton were the parents of Ion Hamlton, who became Lord HolmPatrick in 1897. The family took its title from Holmpatrick in Skerries, but lived at Abbotstown, near Castleknock.

The second Lord HolmPatrick’s grandmother was a daughter of the Duke of Wellington and a goddaughter of Queen Victoria (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Other members of the Hamilton family commemorated in the church include Hans Wellesley Hamilton (1886-1942), 2nd Lord HolmPatrick. His grandmother was a daughter of the Duke of Wellington and a goddaughter of Queen Victoria. The present Lord HolmPatrick is a Labour politician. The HolmPatrick family also has a prominent place in the churchyard.

The HolmPatrick family plot in the churchyard in Castleknock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

28 January 2019

‘AWN Pugin and the Gothic Revival in Ireland’

AWN Pugin (1812-52) oil painting, by John Rogers Herbert, 1845 © Parliamentary Art Collection

Patrick Comerford

‘AWN Pugin and the Gothic Revival in Ireland’

Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society,

Monday 28 January 2019,

8 p.m.,
Room T.1.19, Tara Building, Mary Immaculate College.

Imagine the word ‘Gothic’:

For people of a generation younger than me, the words ‘Goth’ and ‘Gothic’ conjured up images of teenagers in flowing black clothes and whitened faces. For some of you, these words may make you think of the novels of Bram Stoker or Sheridan Le Fanu.

So, if you were hoping to hear about either topic under the heading of ‘Gothic Revival’ this evening, you are in the wrong room.

The ‘Gothic Revival’ in architecture was well under way when Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin began his practice. Indeed, there architects working in the Gothic style in Co Limerick and the neighbouring counties at an early stage, including, most notably, members of the Pain and Fogerty families.

But Pugin is such a giant on the architectural landscape of Ireland that I think he is worth introducing this evening, albeit with the understanding that he left very few footprints in Co Limerick, and, even then, these are difficult to identify with certainty.

Personal introduction:

I have spent some time over the past decade travelling around Ireland, mapping and cataloguing Pugin’s contribution to Ireland’s architecture and landscape. This exercise has led to similar traipses throughout the English Midlands.

My great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), and his brothers, Richard and Robert Comerford from Newtownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford, worked throughout Co Wexford with Richard Pierce (1801-1854), the Wexford-born architect used by Pugin to oversee many of his building projects – most notably his work at Saint Peter’s College, Wexford, and his cathedrals in Killarney and Enniscorthy.

Michael Fisher, an authority on Pugin’s work in Staffordshire, has referred to Staffordshire as ‘Pugin-Land.’ In many ways that epithet could also be applied to Co Wexford.

Pugin’s death in 1852, followed by Pierce’s death in 1854, explain James Comerford’s decision to move to Dublin in the early 1850s. The family’s traditional links with this architectural cluster continued when James’s own children married into the Coleman and Cullen families, who also worked with Pugin and his architectural heirs.

So, my interest in Pugin is as much a tribute to my own great-grandfather and his children as it is to the greatest figure in the Gothic revival.

The Gothic and Goths

We are all aware of the Gothic revival. Ask any child to sketch a church and she is more than likely to draw a church with a tower and steeple and three pointed windows. The more creative child might even add a porch.

But no child in Limerick is going to draw a church with a classical façade, complete with columns and triangular pediment, still less is she likely to draw a white-washed Byzantine church with a blue dome.

The Gothic revival has influenced and shaped how every one of us sees and sets our standards of what a church should look like.

The Gothic Revival long-predated Pugin, the Pain brothers and the Fogerty family in Limerick, or the arrival of Philip Hardwicke at Adare Manor.

It began as an architectural movement in the late 1740s in England. Its popularity grew rapidly in the early 19th century, when increasingly serious and learned admirers of neo-Gothic styles sought to revive mediaeval Gothic architecture, in contrast to the neoclassical styles that had come prevalent at the time. Gothic Revival draws features from the original Gothic style, including decorative patterns, finials, lancet windows, hood moulds and label stops.

The Gothic Revival movement that emerged in 18th-century England, gained ground in the 19th century. Its roots were intertwined with deeply philosophical movements associated with Catholicism and the Oxford Movement and a re-awakening of High Church or Anglo-Catholic tradition among Anglicans. By the third quarter of the 19th century, the Gothic revival was appealing to all Christian traditions on these islands and in many other places too.

The difference between Pugin and his predecessors in the Gothic Revival movement is the intensity of his ideology, and the way he gave expression to this in a short life span of only 40 years. Even though Newman preferred the Byzantine style for churches and dismissed Gothic as pagan, Pugin is the architectural voice and vision, the architectural visionary and ideologue, of those in the Oxford Movement who moved over to Rome in the 1840s and 1850s.

Rosemary Hill has described him as ‘God’s architect’ … and if John Ruskin could describe architecture as poetry in stone, then Pugin’s work is theology in stone.

Biographical summary:
The Palace of Westminster … Pugin designed the tower we now know as Big Ben (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) was an architect, designer, artist, and critic who is principally remembered for his pioneering role in the Gothic Revival style of architecture. His work culminated in designing the interior of the Palace of Westminster and its clock tower, later renamed the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the bell we know as Big Ben. He also created Alton Castle and Alton Towers in Alton, Staffordshire.

Pugin designed many churches in England, including Saint Giles’ Church, Cheadle, and Saint Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, and many churches in Ireland and Australia.

He was born on 1 March 1812 at his parents’ home in Bloomsbury, London. His father, August Charles Pugin, was a French draughtsman who had emigrated to England at the time of the French Revolution. Like many other French émigrés at the time, he probably joined the Church of England to guarantee government commissions and tenders.

Between 1821 and 1838, he published a series of volumes of architectural drawings, Specimens of Gothic Architecture and Examples of Gothic Architecture, that became standard reference works for Gothic architecture for many decades.

His mother, Catherine Welby, was from the Welby family of Denton, Lincolnshire, and the Pugin family lived in Bloomsbury.

As a child, his mother took Pugin to the Sunday services of the fashionable Scottish Presbyterian preacher Edward Irving (1792-1834), later the founder of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church or ‘Irvingites,’ at his chapel in Cross Street, Hatton Garden.

But the young Pugin quickly rebelled against this style of Christianity with its ‘cold and sterile forms of the Scottish church.’ He then ‘rushed into the arms of a church which, pompous by its ceremonies, was attractive to his imaginative mind.’

Pugin learned drawing from his father, and for a while went to school at Christ’s Hospital. After leaving school he worked in his father’s office, and father and son visited France together in 1825 and 1827. His first independent commissions were for designs for the royal goldsmiths Rundell and Bridge, and for designs for furniture in Windsor Castle. At this early stage, he was also designing theatrical sets and scenery.

He then established a business supplying historically accurate, carved wood and stone detailing for the increasing number of buildings being built in the Gothic Revival style, but this enterprise quickly failed.

In 1831, at the age of 19, Pugin married the first of his three wives, Anne Garnet. Anne died a few months later in childbirth, leaving him a daughter. In 1833, he married his second wife Louisa Button, and they were the parents of a further six children, including the architect Edward Welby Pugin. Louisa died in 1844, and in 1848 he married his third wife, Jane Knill, and their son was the architect Peter Paul Pugin.

After his second marriage in 1833, Pugin moved to Salisbury, and in 1835 he bought half an acre of land in Alderbury, about a mile and half outside the small cathedral city. There he built a Gothic Revival style family home for his family, which he called St Marie’s Grange. One observer noted, ‘he not yet learned the art of combining a picturesque exterior with the ordinary comforts of an English home.’

Meanwhile, Pugin had converted to Roman Catholicism, and he was received into the Roman Catholic Church that year. To put this into context, it was just six years after Catholic Emancipation or the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829.

Following the destruction by fire of the Palace of Westminster in 1834, Pugin was employed by Sir Charles Barry to supply interior designs for rebuilding a new Palace of Westminster. At this time Pugin also worked with Barry on the design of King Edward’s School, Birmingham

Later, he would accuse Barry of stealing the best of his plans and ideas. But Pugin could always come across as arrogant when it came to criticising his contemporaries.

Taken aback by the refurbishment of Lichfield Cathedral by James Wyatt (1746-1813), Pugin declared in 1834: ‘Yes – this monster of architectural depravity, this pest of Cathedral architecture, has been here. need I say more.’ And then, referring to the Lichfield architect, Joseph Potter (1756-1842) – the architect who influenced part of his designs for Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, Co Wexford -- he said: ‘The man I am sorry to say – who executes the repairs of the building was a pupil of the Wretch himself and has imbibed all the vicious propensities of his accursed tutor without one spark of even practical ability to atone for his misdeeds.’

To his advantage, Pugin’s new church membership also brought an introduction to John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, a Roman Catholic peer who was sympathetic to his aesthetic theory. His wife, Maria Theresa Talbot, was a daughter of William Talbot of Blackwater, Co Wexford, and she was a niece of John Hyacinth Talbot (1794-1868), MP for Wexford – in other words, Lord Shrewsbury was related by marriage to the Talbot and Redmond families, two of the most powerful political families in Co Wexford for much of the 19th and early 20th century, including John Redmond.

Shrewsbury employed Pugin to rebuild his family home at Alton Towers in Staffordshire, and to build Saint Giles Roman Catholic Church in nearby Cheadle. When Pugin’s second wife Louisa died in 1844, she was buried at Saint Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, which Pugin had designed.

Meanwhile, Pugin had found Salisbury an inconvenient base for his growing architectural practice. He sold St Marie’s Grange and bought a parcel of land at Ramsgate in Kent, where he built himself a large house and, at his own expense, a church dedicated to Saint Augustine.

In February 1852, while travelling by train with his son Edward, Pugin suffered a total breakdown and arrived in London unable to recognise anyone or speak coherently. For four months he was confined to a private asylum, Kensington House, before being moved to the Royal Bethlem Hospital, or ‘Bedlam,’ then close to Saint George’s Cathedral, Southwark, one of his major buildings and where he had married his third wife Jane in 1848.

Jane Pugin and a doctor moved Pugin from Bedlam to a house in Hammersmith where he recovered sufficiently to recognise her. In September, she took him back to the Grange in Ramsgate; there he died on 14 September 1852. He was only 40. He is buried in Saint Augustine’s, his church next to the Grange Ramsgate.

The cause of death was listed as ‘convulsions followed by coma.’ Pugin’s biographer Rosemary Hill suggests he was suffering from hyperthyroidism but points out that his medical history suggests he had syphilis from his late teens.

Pugin in Ireland:

The Talbot family connection provides the key to Pugin’s commissions throughout Ireland. This entrée was provided by John Hyacinth Talbot, MP, of Castle Talbot and Talbot Hall, Co Wexford, an uncle of Maria Theresa Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury.

Although Pugin only visited Ireland about 10 times in all and never spent longer than 12 days in Ireland, from the late 1830s until his early death in 1852, he designed a large number of Irish churches and convents, as well as the great seminary at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare.

He had a romantic and idealised view of Catholicism, so he was challenged and indeed uncomfortable with the reality of a highly politicised church in Ireland and its social context and makeup.

Circumstances meant he left the close personal supervision of his building projects in the hands of trusted Irish architects, particularly Richard Pierce, and many of his projects were not be completed in his lifetime because of lack of funds and because of the consequences of the Famine.

Yet one biographer, Phoebe Stanton, says ‘Pugin’s Irish buildings are among the best constructed and the largest he ever produced.’ In his churches at Gorey, Tagoat and Barntown in Co Wexford, the ‘emphasis on materials, the excellence of the workmanship, the lack of ornament, the dignified and heavy proportions are more than their characteristics – they are their graces.’

After Pugin’s death in 1852, work on his unfinished Irish commissions was carried on by his son Edward Welby Pugin, by John Joseph McCarthy, and, for the two years before his own death, by Richard Pierce.

Pugin was the chief designer for the Birmingham church decorators John Hardman & Co. His involvement in Irish church building and decoration gave rise to the establishment of a Dublin branch of the firm in 1853, under the direction of Thomas Earley and Henry Powell.

Pugin’s principle works in Ireland:

Samuel Lewis says in 1839 that the ‘very fine tower and spire’ was ‘lately added’ to the Roman Catholic Church, Tullow, Co Carlow. The church is attributed to Pugin by Thomas Kennedy in his History of Irish Catholicism (1970, vol 5, p 35), and this is noted in the Dictionary of Irish Architects, but not by Rosemary Hill or any of Pugin’s other authoritative biographers.

So, the following works in Ireland can be attributed to Pugin:

1, The Church of the Assumption or the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bree, Co Wexford (1837-1840):

The Church of the Assumption, Bree (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This church, the first of Pugin’s Irish churches, was commissioned by John Hyacinth Talbot MP. The church was built by Canon Philip Devereux, thanks to the generosity of the Talbot and Power families, on land given by Colonel Henry Alcock of nearby Wilton Castle in 1837. John Hyacinth Talbot ‘procured’ the plans from Pugin, and – if we date the church to the laying of the foundation stone in 1837 – then this is the first of Pugin’s Irish churches, although he never actually acknowledged the church as his own.

The foundation stone of the Church of the Assumption, Bree, was laid in 1837 and the church was completed in 1840. As an early church, it is a simple building with a long nave and smaller chancel. The main feature, which is now concealed, was a very early example of open-roof timbering.

The church has been much changed in recent renovations, but it is an interesting church in the light of Pugin’s other Irish churches built in the years that followed. It also owes its existence to the Redmond family patronage.

2, Saint Peter’s College, Wexford (1838-1841):

Pierce’s Gothic Tower and Pugin’s chapel at Saint Peter’s College, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Pugin’s first great work in Ireland is the Chapel at Saint Peter’s College, Wexford. He laid the foundation stone for the chapel on 18 June 1838, the chapel was dedicated on 15 June 1840, and the first Mass was celebrated in the chapel that year. The collegiate style of the chapel was unique in its day.

The chapel interior remained unchanged until 1950, when the rood screen was removed, changing Pugin’s original design. What survives is the fine triptych altar design and the magnificent Hardman stained glass in the rose window, which contains the Talbot family coat of arms. It is still an original and beautiful interior where.

Pugin’s triptych and altar in Saint Peter’s, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

3, Saint James’s Church, Ramsgrange, Co Wexford (1838-1843):

Saint James’s Church, Ramsgrange, Co Wexford ... Pugin’s authorship has been questioned by some architectural historians (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint James’s in Ramsgrange was built as a new church for Father George Murphy. The plans are said to have been copied from chapel at Saint Peter’s College, Wexford.

JJ McCarthy claimed in 1856 that he had been told that Pugin was ‘very angry when he was informed that his design for Saint Peter’s College Chapel in Wexford was copied as a parish church in Ramsgrange.’ The church tower was added in 1870.

But, whatever Pugin contributed to the design of this church is largely masked by later additions and alterations.

4, The Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, Gorey, Co Wexford (1839-1842):

Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey ... Pugin’s only Romanesque church in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Pugin’s church in Gorey, Co Wexford, is unique among his Irish churches for it is built in the Norman style. It was begun in 1839, was completed in 1842, and is one of his earliest Irish commissions. The patrons were the Esmonde family, who donated the site and whose coat of arms are displayed above the front entrance.

The spire was never added, but Pugin shows it in his drawing of his churches. The interior was also decorated with highly coloured stencilling and his hand is seen in the timbering of the roof trusses.

5, Loreto Convent, Gorey, Co Wexford (1839):

This convent, next to Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, Co Wexford, was also designed by Pugin in 1839, but may have been built later.

6, Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin (1839):

Pugin’s chapel in Rathfarnham dates from March to June 1839, the same time as his plans for Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, Co Wexford, and Saint Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Pugin produced his designs Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin in 1839. His drawings for the church were prepared at the same time as his plans for Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, Co Wexford, and Saint Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham. They all date from 1839, and together they mark the end of the first phase of his career.

His drawings were completed by 28 May 1839. In parts of the chapel, Pugin’s designs were inspired by the Octagon or Lantern Tower in Ely Cathedral.

However, the building was simplified in execution by John Benjamin Keane working with Patrick Byrne. The angels on either side of altar by the sculptor John Hogan are believed to be based on Hogan’s two eldest daughters.

8, The Presentation Convent, Slievekeale Road, Waterford (1842-1878):

The rood screen in the former Presentation Convent Chapel in Waterford ... a typical feature of Pugin’s work (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This convent and school were designed by Pugin in 1842. It now serves as a health centre. Pugin was present when the foundation stone was laid on 10 June 1842. The main contractor was Richard Pierce, the Wexford architect Pugin employed for most of his work in Ireland.

However, it took over two decades to complete Pugin’s chapel, and when it was consecrated by Bishop Dominic O’Brien in 1863, it was more than ten years since both Pugin and Pierce had died.

The Presentation Order sold the building in 2006 and it is now a health centre.

9, Saint John’s Manor, Slievekeale Road, Waterford (1842-1845):

The Manor of Saint John ... designed by AWN Pugin for the Wyse family ca 1842 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint John’s Manor, a manor house in Waterford, was rebuilt ca1845 for Sir Thomas Wyse, a friend of Pugin. But Pugin considered Wyse’s expectations too elaborate for a house of this side, and we are unclear what was actually designed by Pugin.

10, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, Co Kerry (1842-1850):

Saint Mary’s Cathedral … Pugin’s design was inspired by Salisbury Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Mary’s Church, later Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, Co Kerry, was designed by Pugin as miniature, two-thirds size replica of Salisbury Cathedral, and was built in 1842-1850. Here Pugin’s patron was the Earl of Kenmare, and the work was overseen by Richard Pierce, the Wexford architect who oversaw much of his Pugin’s work.

It is disappointing to notice that the plaque outside the cathedral declares it is the work of Edward Pugin and not of his father Pugin.

10, Woodford House, Killarney, Co Kerry (ca 1842):

Woodford House ... Pugin added the Gothic details to an earlier house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Adrian Hilliard has helped me to identify Woodford House, Killarney, as one of the few examples of domestic architecture by AWN Pugin in Ireland.

When I visited, Mary O’Connell was very welcoming as she pointed out how an earlier house, built in the 18th century by the Fitzgerald family, had been extended to the front by Pugin, at the invitation of the Earl of Kenmare. At the time, Pugin was working on Saint Mary’s Cathedral, and his work at Woodford House includes a Gothic-style window inserted above the stairs in the original house, and a Gothic-revival, three-bay facade added to the front of the house.

11, Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford (1843-1850):

Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Pugin’s ‘Irish Gem’ overlooking the River Slaney in Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The foundation stone for Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, was laid in 1843. This is Pugin’s largest church in Ireland, and local people in Enniscorthy describe it as ‘Pugin’s gem.’ Once again, Richard Pierce was Pugin’s clerk of works.

The external stonework is superb work by the Irish stonemasons who were praised by Pugin.

Renovations in 1996 did much to restore the original beautiful building as envisaged by Pugin. The restored stencilling of the interior gives us some idea of what Pugin wanted for his churches.

12, Saint Mary’s Church, Tagoat, Co Wexford (1843-1846):

Saint Mary’s Church, Tagoat, is the last of Pugin’s churches in Co Wexford and many regard it as his most important parish church in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

While he was engaged in designing Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Pugin also designed this Co Wexford church. Once again, this church was designed by Pugin through the patronage of John Hyacinth Talbot.

This is the last of Pugin’s churches in Co Wexford. Many regard Saint Mary’s as the most important of Pugin’s parish churches in Ireland, and it has been has been described as ‘an example of Pugin’s best work on a small church.’

Saint Mary’s contains more original Pugin features than any of his other Irish churches, including floor tiles in the large sanctuary area produced by Henry Minton (1795-1858), wooden screens to the side chapels, stained glass by Hardman, a set of four brass altar candlesticks designed by Hardman and presented by Pugin when the church was dedicated in 1846, and a marble, brass-inlaid memorial floor slab in the sanctuary commemorating Canon Rowe, presented by Sir Thomas Esmonde, Pugin’s patron in Gorey.

13, Saint Alphonsus’s Church, Barntown, Co Wexford (1844-1848):

Saint Alphonsus’s Church, Barntown, Co Wexford, is Pugin’s only complete expression in Ireland of the small village parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Alphonsus’s Church, Barntown, near Taghmon and in the parish of Glynn, was built on 1844-1848. It was planned by Pugin as a complete Catholic parish church, so it consists of a nave and aisles with a belfry, south porch, wide passages for processions, a distinct and deep chancel, a sacristy, a Lady Chapel, and so on.

Pugin’s design for Barntown is based on Saint Michael’s, one of two mediaeval parish churches in the village of Longstanton, 10 km north-west of Cambridge.

Sadly, the church has been much altered, but the external stonework and the solid nature of the church is striking. The finest feature of the interior is the surviving Hardman high window.

Saint Michael’s ... a rare example of an English church with a thatched roof ... is said to have inspired Pugin’s design of a parish church in Barntown, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

14, Adare Manor, Adare, Co Limerick (1846-1848):

Adare Manor ... Pugin contributed to this Gothic extravaganza at the invitation of the Earls of Dunraven (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Adare Manor was built for the 2nd Earl of Dunraven ca 1846-1847, and incorporated some of Pugin’s designs for alterations and extensions to the existing house.

Pugin’s contributions to Adare Manor are difficult to date and to quantify: Phoebe Stanton says he may have designed details in the great hall, various fireplaces and the general design of the dining hall.

15, Houses, Midleton, Co Cork:

Pugin was commissioned by the 5th Viscount Midleton to design two villas or houses on his estate in Queenstown (Cobh), Co Cork, but, as Rosemary Hill points out, they were probably never built.

16, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare (1846-1851):

The Pugin Hall in Maynooth, restored in 1992 said to be Pugin’s finest hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Pugin designed the collegiate buildings of Saint Patrick and Saint Mary in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, but not, despite popular perceptions, the college chapel. His original plans for Maynooth included both a chapel and an aula maxima or great hall, neither of which was built because of financial constraints.

The college chapel, added later in 1875, was designed by a follower of Pugin, the Irish architect JJ McCarthy.

17, Saint John’s Convent of Mercy, Birr, Co Offaly (1846-1847):

The interior of the beautifully restored Convent Chapel in Birr, designed by Pugin and now a library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This convent was commissioned by Sister Anastasia Beckett, and the foundation stone for his convent in Birr was laid in 1846, although the first portions were not built until 1847. The design is a heavy, stone version of the convents he had built in Handsworth and Liverpool. But Pugin also paid tribute to Irish architectural heritage by attaching a Round Tower to the corner of the building.

The convent was still not complete when Pugin died in 1852. The main front resembles his design, but the larger part of the building was finally completed with slightly different massings by his son, EW Pugin, and his son-in-law, George Ashlin.

The Pugin-designed convent chapel was greatly revised at a later stage. When the convent closed, the altars and the furnishings were donated to neighbouring churches or auctioned off. But the convent and chapel have been converted to accommodate a modern library, council offices and a health centre, and many of the original Pugin features have been carefully preserved or restored.

Birr Convent was built by Pugin along the lines of his convent in Handsworth ... with the addition of an Irish round tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

18, Lismore Castle, Co Waterford:

Pugin designed some furniture for the sixth Duke of Devonshire at Lismore Castle, Co Waterford, although he never actually visited Lismore.

19, Fitzpatrick Mortuary Chapel, Clough, Co Laois:

This is not noted by either Hill or Stanton.

22, Power family chapel, Edermine House, Co Wexford (1850s):

The Pugin Chapel and the once splendid Victorian iron conservatory at Edermine House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The chapel at Edermine House, Co Wexford, was commissioned by Sir James Power and his wife, Jane, and was built in the 1850s. Jane Power was a daughter of Pugin’s Irish patron, John Hyacinth Talbot, and the Power family later intermarried with the Cliffe family of Bellvue.

A plaque on the door and a second inside the chapel have led many to believe that the chapel is too late to have been designed by AWN Pugin, and they have ascribed it to either his son, Edward Welby Pugin, or to JJ McCarthy. However, Pat Doyle, the present owner of Edermine House, has long believed that the chapel is an original work by Pugin and that McCarthy merely supervised its later construction.

Many contemporary writers believe the intermarriages between the Talbot and Power families underpin the supposition that the chapel was originally designed by the elder Pugin and that the project was supervised either by his son or by McCarthy.

Some works that are claimed for Pugin:

1, The College Chapel, Maynooth:

The College Chapel seen from the corridors in Saint Patrick’s House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although the College Chapel in Maynooth is often ascribed to Pugin, this is the work of JJ McCarthy, designed by him a quarter century after the death of Pugin.

2, Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick:

Inside Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick … is this the work of Pugin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Phoebe Stanton says Pugin added a new roof and stained glass windows ‘to the village church [in Adare], which he probably also full restored.’ But she does not say which church. Rosemary Hill does not refer to this at all.

Although Pugin’s influence can be seen everywhere in the Trinitarian Church in Adare, I would suggest this is Saint Nicholas’s Church, with its collegiate east end and the large number of Hardman windows in the church.

3,, The Midleton Arms, Midleton, Co Cork:

The Midleton Arms, a public house and shop on the Midleton estate, Co Cork, have also been attributed to Pugin. But they date from 1861, and, if anything, may have been the work of his son, Edward Welby Pugin.

4, Church in Portarlington, Co Laois (1845):

A church in Portarlington, Co Laois (Hill moves this to Co Offaly) is also attributed to Pugin, and dates from 1845. Although it may have been built according to Pugin’s plans for another church, I am still wondering whether it can be ascribed to Pugin.

5, The Cliffe Chapel, Bellvue, Co Wexford (1858-1860):

The Cliffe chapel in Bellvue … built ‘from the designs of A. Welby Pugin’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Cliffe family stirred controversy in Co Wexford when they changed their membership from the Church of Ireland, becoming Roman Catholics in 1856. They built a new chapel adjacent to their home at Bellvue in 1858-1860, and although the chapel was designed by JJ McCarthy, he used earlier plans by Pugin.

The Building News reported in 1859: ‘A new church has lately been erected by A. Cliffe ... from the designs of A. Welby Pugin; it is designed in the Early Decorated period and it is well executed by a local builder.’

Some claims for Pugin:

At another time, I might like to argue that two other structures in Ireland can ascribed to Pugin:

1, The Talbot and Redmond vault, Wexford:

The Talbot and Redmond mausoleum is an important part of the early 19th-century heritage of Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

2, Saint Catherine’s Church, Dublin:

Saint Catherine’s Church, Meath Street, Dublin … the beautiful interior has been restored to its original splendour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After a fire in 2012, this church has been beautifully restored, and reopened in 2015. Although it is ascribed to JJ McCarthy, I have argued in the past that McCarthy used Pugin’s plans for this church, and I have described it as ‘the poor man’s Cheadle.’

Pugin in Co Limerick:

Apart from some, unidentified, work at Adare Manor, and some unspecified work at Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, there are no works by Pugin in Co Limerick.

His sons Edward Welby Pugin and Peter Paul Pugin continued his architectural firm as Pugin & Pugin. His son-in-law, George Coppinger Ashlin, continued this tradition in the practice of Ashlin and Coleman.

The influence of the Gothic Revival can be seen in Co Limerick not only in the works of the Pain brothers and the Fogerty family, but in churches and church buildings throughout this city and county.

JJ McCarthy, who claimed Pugin’s mantle, was the architect of many of these churches, including Foynes, Kilmallock and Rathkeale. But his work might be a topic for another evening.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is priest-in-charge of the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and a former theology professor in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and Trinity College Dublin.