12 June 2021

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral,
Loughrea, is the jewel in
the crown of the Celtic Revival

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea, Co Galway … the cathedral of the Diocese of Clonfert, and the jewel in the crown of the Celtic Revival (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Loughrea, Co Galway, is the cathedral town of Clonfert, the smallest Roman Catholic diocese in Ireland. The town takes its name from the Irish Baile Locha Riach, the town of the Grey Lake.

Lough Rea is a lake fed by springs and a stream and has one of Ireland’s few inland freshwater Blue Flag beaches. Some people say that the old town of Loughrea can be seen under the lake on a fine day.

There is a number of human-made island dwellings, or crannógs, on Lough Rea. Four of these islands were excavated in the 19th century and human-made structures, artefacts and animal remains were found.

Inside Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea, designed by William Henry Byrne (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral lies on the north-east shore of this beautiful lake, and faces onto Barrack Street, with a mediaeval gate tower forming the north-east corner of the site. This cathedral is worth visiting by anyone with an interest in architecture, the arts and crafts movement, and stained glass.

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral may be small in size but is magnificent in its interior. With its modern stained glass and interior decoration, it has been described as the jewel in the crown of the Celtic Revival.

Indeed, this cathedral is one of Ireland’s great contributions to European art of the 20th century.

The High Altar, Sanctuary and apse in Saint Brendan’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral was designed for Bishop John Healy of Clonfert in the neo-gothic style by the architect William Henry Byrne (1844-1917) in 1897. The foundation stone was laid on 10 October 1897 and the cathedral was completed five years later in 1902.

William Byrne had been a pupil of JJ McCarthy, the architect who claimed the mantle of AWN Pugin in Ireland, and practised from 52 Dame Street, Dublin. He is particularly associated with Catholic church architecture and was architect to the Catholic dioceses of Killala, Ossory, Tuam, and Achonry and to the Sisters of Charity.

He was also architect to the South City Markets Co Dublin, responsible for rebuilding the markets after the fire of 1893, and to Pim Brothers’ drapery shop on the opposite side of South Great George’s Street.

The Last Judgment (above) and the Ascnesion (below), two of the ten windows by Michael Healy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Byrne’s design of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, with its dramatic Gothic Revival style, is both a visual and social focus for the town, and the structure itself is of significant architectural and artistic merit. This was the first building in Ireland to be comprehensively decorated by the budding Irish Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century sought to reunite the artist and the craftsman. It was born out of a reaction to the mass production of the industrial era and the soulless methods of industrial production that emphasised repetitive tasks and removed the link between the worker and the final product. This movement found fertile ground in Ireland during the Celtic Revival period from ca 1880 to 1930.

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral holds the most extensive collection of arts and crafts and Celtic Revival artefacts of any single building in Ireland. Most of the interior features date from the first decade on the 20th century, with the exception of the stained glass windows which continued to be commissioned until the 1950s.

Most notably, the cathedral has an extensive collection of stained-glass windows by the Dublin-based studio of An Túr Gloine studio.

The Baptism of Christ … a window by AE Child in the baptistry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The origins of An Túr Gloine and that of the cathedral’s decorative scheme are inextricably linked. The studio’s first orders included three apse windows for the new cathedral in 1903. Virtually all of the studio’s artists are represented, including Michael Healy, Alfred E Child, Sarah Purser, Beatrice Elvery, Ethel Rhind, Hubert McGoldrick, Catherine O’Brien and Evie Hone.

There is a Saint Brigid window by Evie Hone, an Annunciation, Agony in the Garden, Resurrection, Baptism in the Jordan, Saint Ita, Saint Patrick and Centurion of Great Faith, all by Childe. Sarah Purser designed the Crucifixion and Nativity windows herself a small Saint Brendan window – a rarity, as she mostly confined herself to managing projects rather than glass-painting.

Saint Brigid in a window by Evie Hone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

There are 10 windows by Michael Healy, including the first one he both designed and executed, Saint Simeon, and also one of his undisputed finest, The Last Judgment, completed in 1940, a year before he died. His other windows include the Madonna and Child, Saint Anthony and Saint John, Christ the King (1930) and Our Lady Queen of Heaven (1934), the Ascension and Saint Joseph (1935).

The cathedral also has windows by Hubert McGoldrick and and window of Saint Brigid by Patrick Pye in the porch.

Apart from the windows, the sculpture and ironwork, the woodwork, statues and reliefs, altars and railings, pews and confessionals, sanctuary lamps and candelabra all have artistic merit and value. Sculptors represented are John Hughes and Michael Shortall. The architect William Alphonsus Scott also contributed designs for metalwork and woodwork.

Inside Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, facing the north or liturgical west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Michael Shortall designed the altar, altar rails, executed the corbels and capitals, the baptismal font, and a statue of Saint Brendan on the tower.

John Hughes is responsible for the marble Madonna and Child and the bronze relief of the Resurrection behind Scott’s plain but massively impressive high altar as well as a series of small bronze plaques on the altar rails and sanctuary gate, and on the bishop's confessional.

The Stations of the Cross in opus sectile, with inscriptions in Irish, were made by Ethel Mary Rhind of An Túr Gloine in 1928-1933.

The Saint Brendan window by Sarah Purser in the cathedral porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The post-Vatican II arrangements, including the bishop’s throne, ambo, altar and wooden bench, were designed by Ray Carroll, and enhance this treasury of Irish art.

This cruciform-plan gable-fronted cathedral is built on a south-north axis, with the altar at the south end, rather than the traditional east-west alignment.

The cathedral has an aisled nave of five bays, with lean-to side aisles, clerestory, double-pile transepts, a canted apse, a three-bay sacristy, a square-plan four-stage tower surmounted by an octagonal broach spire with lucarnes.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Little Donkey … a panel in the Saint Joseph window by Michael Healy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Clonfert Diocesan Museum, in the grounds of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, has an important collection of objects of ecclesiastical interest. There are also 24 embroidered banners, mostly depicting Irish saints as well as vestments by the Dun Emer Guild. The banners were designed by Jack B.Yeats, his wife Cottie, George William Russell and PC Smith.

The oldest chalice in the collection, the Matheus Macraith Chalice, is almost 500 years old. The collection of carved wooden figures includes the Kilcorban Madonna (ca 1180), the oldest surviving wooden statue in Ireland.

The site is enhanced by its gardens and WA Scott’s railings and gateway.

The mediaeval gate tower at the north-east corner of site is also known as Latimer Gate. It dates from the 15th century and was originally a castellated structure. It is the only remaining town gate in Loughrea.

Station VIII … the Stations of the Cross were made by Ethel Mary Rhind of An Túr Gloine in 1928-1933 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Before Saint Brendan’s Cathedral was built, the town of Loughrea and the Diocese of Clonfert were served by the Pro-Cathedral or Saint Brigid’s Church, built ca 1740 and altered in 1787.

Father Anthony Fahy, a Loughrea-born missionary in Argentina and a friend of Admiral Browne, was the rector of the Pro-Cathedral in 1836.

The former Pro-Cathedral is now a funeral parlour. Kilboy’s Funeral Directors was established by Patrick Kilboy in 1903. A font dating to 1780 can be seen at this site.

The Pro-Cathedral or Saint Brigid’s Church was built ca 1740 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

For Saint Brendan's Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway, the Church of Ireland cathedral in the Diocese of Clonfert, see HERE.

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
14, The Stephansdom, Vienna

The Stephansdom, or Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, is the most visited site in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

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).

This week my photographs are of cathedrals in European capitals or former capitals. This morning (12 June 2021), my photographs are from the Stephansdom, or Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, in the heart of the city and the most visited site in the Austrian capital.

The glory of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral is its ornately patterned, richly coloured roof (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For many, the cathedral in Stephansplatz is their lasting image of Vienna, with its spires, delightful multicoloured roof and bell towers. The most striking parts of the cathedral include the main tower, which rises over 136 metres, and the roof’s 230,000 multi-coloured tiles.

The Diocese of Vienna was founded 650 years ago in 1469. But the cathedral predates the diocese, and was first built in 1137, and the current cathedral dates from 1263.

The Stephansdom has seen many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history. Over the centuries, towers, doors and extensions have been added to give the city the present Gothic building with its sprinkling of baroque features.

Saint Rupert’s Church is considered the oldest church in Vienna – although that claim is contested by the Peterskirche or Saint Peter’s Church. The new church was built on the site of an ancient Roman cemetery.

By the mid-12th century, Vienna had become an important centre and the four existing churches, including only one parish church, no longer met the town’s needs. In 1137, Bishop Reginmar of Passau and Leopold IV, Duke of Bavaria, signed the Treaty of Mautern, which referred to Vienna as a civitas for the first time.

Under the treaty, Leopold IV received large stretches of land, except the site allocated for a new parish church that would eventually become Saint Stephen’s Cathedral.

The present Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral was largely initiated by Rudolf IV (1339-1365) and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147.

The new Romanesque church was only partially built when it was solemnly dedicated in 1147, at the beginning of the Second Crusade. The first church was completed in 1160, but rebuilding and expansion lasted until 1511, and repairs and restoration projects have continued to the present day.

The first Romanesque structure was extended westward in 1230-1245, and the present west wall and Romanesque towers date from this period. A great fire in 1258 destroyed much of the original building, and a larger replacement, also Romanesque in style and reusing the two towers, was built over the ruins of the old church and consecrated in 1263.

King Albert I ordered a Gothic three-nave choir to be built at the east of the church in 1304, wide enough to meet the tips of the old transepts. His son, Duke Albert II, continued work on the Albertine choir, which was consecrated in 1340.

The middle nave is dedicated to Saint Stephen and All Saints, while the north and south nave are dedicated to Saint Mary and the Apostles.

Although Saint Stephen’s was still only a parish church and Vienna was not yet a diocese, Rudolf IV established a chapter of canons befitting a cathedral in 1365.

Emperor Frederick III persuaded Pope Paul II to give Vienna its own bishop in 1469, and the Diocese of Vienna dates from 18 January 1469. During the reign of Karl VI, Pope Innocent XIII made Vienna the see of an archbishop in 1722.

The Stephansdom survived the bombings of World War II, only to suffer from mindless vandalism when looters set fire to nearby buildings in April 1945. The fire spread and destroyed parts of the cathedral. But the city and the community came together all the damage was repaired within a few years, and the cathedral reopened on 23 April 1952.

The glory of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral is its ornately patterned, richly coloured roof, 111 metres long, and covered by 230,000 glazed tiles. Above the choir on the south side, the tiles form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle that is a symbol of the Habsburg dynasty.

The cathedral is oriented toward the sunrise on Saint Stephen’s Day, 26 December. It is built of limestone, is 107 metres long, 40 metres wide, and 136 metres tall at its highest point.

Over the centuries, soot and other forms of air pollution accumulating on the church have given it a black colour, but recent restoration projects have again returned some portions of the building to its original white.

The front of the nave and part of the north side are open to visitors, but everything else requires a ticket or is only open to people attending Mass. The accessible areas give views of the full length of the cathedral and some of the many small side altars.

The massive South Tower standing at at 136 meters is the highest point of the cathedral and a dominant feature on the skyline of Vienna. It is known affectionately to the people of Vienna as Steffl, a diminutive form of Stephen.

It took 65 years, from 1368 to 1433, to build the south tower. During the Siege of Vienna in 1529 and again during the Battle of Vienna in 1683, it served as the main observation and command post for the defence of the walled city. It is a 343-step climb with an observation chamber that offers views of Vienna.

The North Tower has a lift up to a viewing platform and the 21,283 kg Pummerin bell. The north tower was originally intended to mirror the south tower, but the plan was too ambitious and building stopped in 1511. The tower-stump was given a Renaissance cap, nicknamed the ‘water tower top,’ in 1578. The tower is now 68 metres tall, about half the height of the south tower.

The main entrance is known as the ‘Giant’s Door’ or Riesentor, referring to the thighbone of a mastodon that hung over it for decades. The tympanum above the Giant’s Door depicts Christ Pantocrator flanked by two winged angels. On the left and right of the door are two Roman Towers, or Heidentürme, each about 65 metres tall. They were built from the rubble of old Roman structures, and with the Giant’s Door they are the oldest parts of the cathedral.

Ludwig van Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he saw birds flying out of the bell tower when the bells tolled but he could not hear them.

A memorial tablet recalls Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s relationship with the cathedral, where had been appointed an adjunct music director shortly before he death. This was his parish church when he lived at the ‘Figaro House,’ he was married here, two of his children were baptised here, and his funeral was held here.

The main part of the cathedral contains 18 altars, with more in the various chapels. The High Altar and the Wiener Neustadt Altar are the most famous.

The marble, baroque High Altar was built in 1641-1647. The Wiener Neustädter Altar at the head of the north nave was commissioned by Emperor Frederick III in 1447. On the predella is his famous AEIOU device. The Wiener Neustädter Altar is composed of two triptychs. Restoration began in 1985 and took 20 years to complete.

The Maria Pötsch Icon or Pötscher Madonna is a Byzantine-style icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, commissioned in 1676 by László Csigri after his release as a prisoner of war from the Turks who were invading Hungary.

The stone pulpit is a masterwork of late Gothic sculpture. It was long attributed to Anton Pilgram, although it is now believed that Niclaes Gerhaert van Leyden was the carver.
The carvings include relief portraits of the four original Doctors of the Church: Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Jerome.

The handrail of the stairway curving its way around the pillar from ground level to the pulpit has fantastic decorations of toads and lizards biting each other, symbolising the struggle between good against evil. At the top of the steps, a stone puppy guards the preacher against intruders.

Beneath the stairs is one of the most beloved symbols of the cathedral: a stone self-portrait of the unknown sculptor gawking out of a window and known as the Fenstergucker. It may be a self-portrait of the sculptor.

There are several formal chapels in the cathedral, including Saint Katherine’s Chapel, the baptismal chapel, and Saint Barbara’s Chapel.

Saint Eligius’s Chapel is said to hold the body of Saint Valentine – but this is also said to be in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. The other relics claimed by the cathedral the beard on the crucified Christ and a piece of the tablecloth from the Last Supper. The remains of over 11,000 persons are buried in the catacombs.

The Stephansdom remains a working cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

The middle nave of the cathedral is dedicated to Saint Stephen and All Saints (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 5: 33-37 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 33 ‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

The main entrance of the cathedral is known as the ‘Giant’s Door’ or ‘Riesentor’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (12 June 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the work of the Alliance of Small Island States, consisting of countries from the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, and join them in their calls for more urgent action to prevent climate change.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The stone pulpit is a masterwork of late Gothic sculpture (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