08 May 2021

Newport’s parish church shares
links with cathedrals and churches
in Mullingar, Cavan and Athlone

The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Newport, Co Tipperary, was built in 1933-1934 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting the church and former barracks in Ahane at the end of last week, and walking through the Clare Glens on the borders of Co Limerick and Co Tipperary, two of us returned to Askeaton through Newport, Co Tipperary, where we visited Church of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Newport, with a population of about 1,800, is about 4 km from the Clare Glens, about 8 km from Birdhill and 16 km from Limerick, and the town is nestled in the foothills of the Silvermine Mountains.

The Newport River is a tributary of the Mulcair (or Mulkear) River and flows through the middle of the town where it is joined by the Cully River.

The town dates back to the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the late 12th and early 13th century, and has been known as Newport since the mid-17th century.

The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Newport was designed by the Dublin architect Ralph Henry Byrne (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Roman Catholic parish in Newport is part of the parish of Newport, Birdhill and Toor in the Diocese of Cashel and Emly, and the most prominent building in the town is the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, standing on a prominent corner on Church Street, and opposite the site of Saint John’s Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church in Newport.

The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer was built in 1933-1934 to replace an earlier church, also known as Saint John’s Church, that was built ca 1796 but had fallen into ruin.

The history of the parish dates from at least the 13th century, when the parishes of Kilnarath, Kilvellane (now Ballymackeogh) and Kilcomenty were counted in the Diocese of Cashel, and Kilnarath is mentioned in the Papal tax list in 1291.

By the beginning of the 18th century, Newport had several ‘Mass Houses’ and Father Daniel O’Connell was the parish priest for almost half a century, from 1704 to 1751. He was succeeded in turn by Father William Kennedy who was Parish Priest of Kilnarath and Kilvellane, without Birdhill, in 1751-1795, and Father Thomas Cooke, in 1795-1804.

Inside the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Newport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Dr Cooke wanted to replace the ‘Mass Houses’ in Newport with one parish church in the town, but he was refused a site by the local landlord, Sir Edward Waller. Undismayed, the priest took possession of a hollow swamp and dried-up riverbed in what was regarded as ‘no-man’s land,’ and completed his church within two years. This early stone-built Saint John’s Church was cruciform in shape, with a slate and oak roof.

Dr Cooke was succeeded as parish priest by Father Laurence Bourke (1804-1813), an early graduate of Maynooth, and by Father Thomas Morrissey (1813-1821), who died in an epidemic that swept the area.

Father James Healy (1821-1844) added pews and three galleries to Saint John’s Church. The aisle was lengthened and a new belfry was added by Father James Howard (1888-1928). The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Newport in 1900, and the nuns attended Mass early each morning.

The projecting tetrastyle pedimented portico of the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Newport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Sisters of Mercy donated the site for a new church in 1928, and the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer was designed by the Dublin architect Ralph Henry Byrne (1877-1946). Tenders were invited in February 1933, and the builder was A Breslan, Bushy Park Road, Terenure.

Ralph Henry Byrne, who designed the church in a classical style, was born in Largo House, 166 Lower Rathmines Road, Rathmines, on 25 April 1877, the third but second surviving son of the architect William Henry Byrne (1844-1917), who had been a pupil of JJ McCarthy. He was educated at home and at Saint George’s School, Weybridge.

In 1896, he was articled to his father for five years, and then spent six months in the Harrogate office of Thomas Edward Marshall, before joining his father’s practice as a partner in 1902.

Byrne’s father became blind in about 1913 and died on 28 April 1917. RH Byrne continued the practice under the name of William H Byrne & Son, and in 1936 his nephew by marriage, Simon Aloysius Leonard, joined the partnership.

The site for the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer was donated by the Sisters of Mercy in Newport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Byrne, who worked from 20 Suffolk Street, Dublin, was elected a member of the RIAI in 1902, proposed by George Coppinger Ashlin, seconded by Thomas Drew and William Mansfield Mitchell. He was elected a fellow (FRIAI) in 1920 and was vice-president in 1938, four years his church in Newport was completed.

Byrne is known principally for the restoration of the Church of Our Lady of Refuge, Rathmines, after the disastrous fire in 1920, with a new, much higher dome (1920-1928).

His other works include the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Athlone (1930-1936), the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar (1931-1936), the Church of the Rosary, Harold’s Cross (1938-1940), the Cathedral of Saint Patrick and Saint Felim, Cavan (1938-1943), the Church of the Four Masters, Donegal, the completion of Saint Senanus Church, Foynes, Co Limerick (1932), commenced by JJ McCarthy, and rebuilding Saint Mary’s Church, Croom, Co Limerick (1929-1932).

Ichthus symbols above the doors below the gallery in the church in Newport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The foundation stone was laid on 9 July 1933, and the church cost £20,000 to build. It was formally opened on the Feast of Christ the King in October 1934. Meanwhile, the former Saint John’s Church continued to be used as a community centre and dance hall until 1980.

The church is impressive and stands out in the town, with its classical style, its tetrastyle pedimented portico and its campanile. It is an interesting example of a mid-20th century church, designed with a neo-classical composition and details such as the colonnaded portico with a pediment over, and the Venetian windows that were reused from the earlier Catholic church.

The church has a double-height front with a projecting tetrastyle pedimented portico with cross finial, and Corinthian columns set above a flight of granite steps. There are eight-panel, vertically-divided timber doors at the entrance. The large round-headed window over the entrance doorway is flanked by niches with statues of Saint Joseph and Saint Patrick.

There are round-headed openings on the first floor, square-headed openings with block-and-start surrounds on the ground floor, and Venetian windows with render pilasters and keystones on the side elevations, all with leaded lights.

The church has a four-stage tower at the north-west corner (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The church has an interesting, four-stage tower at the north-west corner with a lantern that has an octagonal top.

There are round-headed windows in the lantern of the tower, with render pilasters and keystones flanked by pilasters supporting an entablature and segmental pediments.

There is a semi-circular apse at the rear of the church, and lower projecting porches at the sides.
The church has a copper roof that is set behind a parapet. There are rendered walls with banded string courses and with render quoins on the lower walls.

The altar and other furnshings in the new sanctuary are made of bog oak (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Byrne also designed a marble high altar and rails that were executed by CW Harrison & Sons. This was moved and the church was reordered to meet the needs the liturgical reforms introduced after Vatican II.

Later, the marble altar was replaced with an altar of bog oak while Father Joseph Delaney was the Parish Priest of Newport (1990-2013).

The church is an important element in the streetscape due to its design, scale, prominent location, and position opposite the Church of Ireland graveyard and beside the convent school.

Fish on a glass panel on the internal doors of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
81, Saint Catherine of Sinai, Iraklion

The Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion opened in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in 2015 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Last Sunday (2 May 2021) was Easter Day in the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, and this week is Easter Week. I miss the opportunity of being in Greece at this special time of year, so my photographs this week are from churches in Crete.

Until the pandemic lockdown, I have been visiting Crete regularly since the 1980s. As Easter Week comes to a close in Greece today, my photographs this morning include an icon of the Resurrection in a church museum in Iraklion.

My photographs this morning (8 May 2021) are from the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai, a tiny church in a quiet square in Iraklion, nestling beneath the shadows of Saint Minas Cathedral.

The church was probably built in the 13th century or even earlier as a metochion or autonomous ‘embassy church’ of the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. From the 15th century on, this unique church was at the centre of academic and cultural life in Crete, and was associated with some of the greatest writers, poets and artists who brought together the worlds of Byzantium and Venice for the best part of two centuries.

Many of the artists and writers there worked comfortably in Italian and Greek contexts, giving their productions a flavour that is unique. The influence of this school on iconography throughout the Orthodox world is incalculable, and it has influenced Western art through one of its best-known pupils, Doménikos Theotokópoulos (1541-1614), better known as El Greco.

Iraklion was known to the Venetians as Candia, and was one of the last outposts of the Venetian Empire in the East Mediterranean. With the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, Venetians and Cretans found a new common ground in their resistance to Turkish Empire. Western innovations mingled with the Byzantine tradition in a creative manner that was expressed in the unique styles of art and architecture in Crete.

As the reputation of the Cretan painters spread, so the demand for their works increased. Over 100 painters, organised in unions, lived and worked in Iraklion. Their clients included the great Orthodox and Catholic monasteries, noble families, wealthy merchants and the prosperous traders and merchants.

They were particularly associated with the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai, part of the richest and largest monastery in Crete, with over 100 monks and up to 150 icon painters.

In the late 16th century, George Klontzas, Mikhail Damaskinos and other painters in Crete, strongly influenced by the trends in Italian mannerism, began experimenting in new ways of representing their themes, and brought the influence of Renaissance painting.

Damaskinos travelled to Venice at a time when painters such at Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto reached their creative peak. He also worked in Messina in Sicily before returning to Crete in 1583 to create works that marry Byzantine and western values.

He worked in the period that was most productive culturally in Crete. Highly-skilled and educated, he could easily paint in both the Byzantine and the Western style. The icons in the museum include six important works by Damaskinos that are marked by his acute attention to detail: the Adoration of the Magi; the Last Supper; ‘Noli me Tangere’; the Burning Bush; the First Council of Nicaea; and the Divine Liturgy.

In this setting, Damaskinos trained his best-known pupil, Doménikos Theotokópoulos, later known as El Greco. The few surviving examples of El Greco’s early work in Crete include his icon of the Dormition of the Virgin, now in Syros, and his icon of Saint Luke painting the Virgin.

Candia was the first town the Venetians conquered in Crete, and it was the last city they left when it fell to the Ottoman Turks 450 years later, after a fierce resistance that lasted 21 years until 1669.

When Iraklion fell in 1669, the academy came to an end, and like many churches in Crete at the time Saint Catherine’s was converted into a mosque. The church, once part of the largest and richest monastery on Crete, was stripped of its icons and relics and was turned into a mosque, named the Zoulfikiar Ali Tzamisi, although it was known popularly as Haghia Katerina Djamé.

When Turkish rule came to end, Saint Catherine’s was reclaimed by the Orthodox Church, but the stump of the minaret can be seen against the north wall, and the steps inside the minaret can be seen from the chapel on the north side of the church.

The mosque at Saint Catherine’s was abandoned a few months after Crete was officially united with the modern Greek state in 1913, and in 1919 a decree was issued to return it to use as a church. From 1922 to 1935, it sheltered refugees who had arrived from Western Turkey, and by World War II it was in ruins. The Nazi occupiers used it as a machinery depot, petrol warehouse and car repair shop.

The presence of the Church of Saint Minas, and later the Cathedral of Saint Minas, in the square beside Saint Catherine’s, allowed the old church to become a museum of Cretan icons.

A Byzantine museum was housed in the church from the 1960s, but this closed in 2007. A new, modern museum was designed, with support from the Greek Ministry of Culture, and it opened in 2015 as the Museum of Christian Art, managed by the Educational and Cultural Foundation of the Archdiocese of Crete.

This is a showpiece museum, providing a complete picture of Church art and architecture in Crete from the 13th to the 17th century, and the collection in the museum spans a period up to the late 19th century.

It is interesting that the church continues to function as a dedicated church, and the Divine Liturgy is served twice a year in the Chapel of All Enlightened Saints of Crete in the north transept, on the first Sunday in July, when these saints are commemorated, and on 25 November, the feast day of Saint Catherine of Mount Sinai.

The Chapel of All Enlightened Saints of Crete in the north transept of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 18-21 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.’

Christ Pantocrator … a fragment from a 13th century mural in the Church of the Archangel Michael in Preveliana in central Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (8 May 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for all discerning their vocation amidst uncertainty and fear. May they be guided by God in all they do.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Noli me Tangere’, by Mikhail Damaskinos, ca 1585-1591 (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

The Cathedral of Saint Minas and the smaller, older Church of Saint Minas, dominate the square in front of Saint Catherine and the Museum of Christian Art (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)