15 October 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
139, former Franciscan Friary, Henry Street, Limerick

The Franciscan Church and Friary on the corner of Henry Street and Bedford Row, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Askeaton after a three-day break in Lichfield earlier this week, staying at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road, enjoying walks in the countryside, following the daily cycle of prayer in Lichfield Cathedral, meeting some old friends, and finding some ‘down time.’

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is churches in the Franciscan (and Capuchin) tradition. My photographs this morning (15 October 2021) are from the former Franciscan Friary in Henry Street, Limerick, now the Limerick City Museum.

The façade of the Franciscan Church consists of an imposing entrance, a classical pediment and a portico of four towering Corinthian capped limestone pillars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Limerick City Museum is housed in the former Franciscan Friary in Henry Street. The Franciscan Church next door has been closed for 13 years, and at present it is closed to the public.

The first Franciscan friary in Limerick is said to have been founded in Limerick in the mid-13th century, and a sign on a house in Gaol Street identifies the site of the former Franciscan Friary or Abbey.

After the Reformation, some Franciscan friars remained in Limerick, and four friars re-established a friary in 1615. They were expelled in 1651, but recovered their chapel in 1687 and rented the site of their old abbey until the 1690s, when they were expelled yet again.

In the 18th century, they moved around between Burke House, near the corner of Nicholas Street and Athlunkard Street, a site in Newgate Lane, and then in Bank Place, until they acquired a site on Henry Street in 1824. There, a new church was built in 1826. and the Franciscans moved to the new friary in 1827 when the new church opened.

However, both the church and the friary were condemned by the Franciscan Visitor General in 1873. The foundation stone for a new church was laid in 1876, and the church was dedicated by Bishop Gregory Butler of Limerick to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 18 May 1876.

The architect was the Limerick-born architect and civil engineer William Edward Corbett (1824-1904) and the builders were McCarthy and Guerin. It is said the labourers who were working on Wellesley Bridge (now Sarsfield Bridge) contributed generously towards the building of the church.

William Edward Corbett was born in Limerick on 19 April 1824, the son of Patrick Corbett. He was the architect and borough surveyor of Limerick City from 1854 until 1899, and lived at Patrick Street (1856), Glentworth Street (1863-1898) and Lansdowne Road, until he died on 1 February 1904 at the age of 79. His other works in Limerick city and county include the former Jesuit church on the Crescent, Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Castleconnell, Saint Joseph’s Church in Limerick, and the Tait Memorial Clock in Baker Place. Earlier, Corbett had worked with Hardwick on Adare Manor and at Mount Saint Alphonsus.

The Franciscan Church was completed in 1886. However, it was only partially finished and work on the final extension began in 1928. The church was extended and enlarged in 1930 under the supervision of the architects AE Jones and SS Kelly.

The church was consecrated by Bishop David Keane of Limerick on 7 December 1931, the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The apse of the church was not completed until 1942 when the lands behind the church were bought.

This church is a formidable exercise in classical church architecture, and the façade consists of an imposing entrance, a classical pediment and a portico of four towering Corinthian capped limestone pillars.

The vertical emphasis of the imposing tetrastyle Corinthian pedimented portico recalls Saint Audeon’s Roman Catholic Church in Dublin. The way this portico reaches over the public pavement draws comparisons with the porticoes of the Bank of Ireland on College Green and the GPO on O’Connell Street in Dublin. It was probably designed like this to emphasise its presence on this relatively narrow streetscape.

The figurative sculptures on top of the pediment are of Saint Francis, the Virgin Mary and Saint Anthony.

The church remains closed, and I have been unable to gain access, but it is said the interior was inspired by the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

The square-headed window openings to the aisle bays were adorned with triangular pediments. Large granite pillars support the nave, and the clerestory consists of round-headed windows in sets of three which are also supported by granite pillars. I am told words of a Latin hymn the Franciscans used to sing could be seen around the walls of the clerestory.

The church decoration was the work of J Hodkinson & Sons of Henry Street, Limerick. At the back of the left aisle of the church there were stained glass windows of Saint Bernardine of Siena, Saint Louis of France and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.

The apse was tiled with coloured marbles and mosaics carried out in Venice and Pietra Santa. The painted ceiling depicted Franciscan saints.

The former friary next door is a four-bay, three-storey building, built in 1876-1886, but not finished until 1929, with a ten-bay, three-storey elevation facing Bedford Row.

The friars left Henry Street on 13 June 2008. They left taking nothing with them but the Stations of the Cross. The church and friary were handed over to the newly formed Saint Bonaventure Trust chaired by the Bishop of Limerick.

In 2011, the church was the venue for an exhibition of work by local art students, when it opened to the public for the first time since the friars left. In 2014, the church and the friary were leased to the Limerick City and County Councils to become the premises of the Limerick Civic Museum and Archives.

The portico of the church emphasises its presence on a narrow street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 47-54 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 47 ‘Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. 48 So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute”, 50 so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’

53 When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile towards him and to cross-examine him about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

The Franciscan logo over the door into the former friary, now housing Limerick Civic Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (15 October 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Church of South India’s Focus 9/99 programme, centring children in the life of the Church.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The sculptures on top of the pediment represent Saint Francis, the Virgin Mary and Saint Anthony (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A pair of houses on Gaol Lane, said to stand on the site of the mediaeval Franciscan Friary or Abbey in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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