Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines ... built by Semple (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
This morning I was the celebrant at the early Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines, before going on into Christ Church Cathedral for the Choral Eucharist.
For four years, from 2002 to 2006, I worked in Belgrave Road, only a few footsteps away from this church. This is one of the three of four landmark buildings in Rathmines, the others being the Clock Tower on the old Town Hall, the Carnegie Library at the end of Leinster Road, and the green copper dome on the Roman Catholic parish church.
But this is also an important church architecturally as one of the churches designed in the Gothic style before Pugin’s arrival in Ireland by John Semple. His other churches in Dublin include the Church of Ireland parish church in Kiltiernan (1826); Saint Mary’s, Donnybrook (1827); Saint Maelruain’s, Tallaght (1829); Saint Mary’s, otherwise known as the Black Church, in Saint Mary’s Place (1830); and the parish church in Monkstown (1833).
Maurice Craig has described Semple as the ‘presiding genius of the Board of First Fruits.’ He was the board’s architect for the Province of Dublin, and he invented his peculiar brand of Gothic, flinging to the winds every notion of scholarship and orthodoxy. This style is like his paintings: he reduced everything to the severest geometry, including buttresses, pinnacles and mouldings, so that everything is expressed as a contrast of planes.
It was said that in his final years Archbishop William Magee (1822-1831) would only consecrate churches that could be used as fortresses because he suffered from delusions, believing that the Protestant population was under siege and in danger of being massacred. Perhaps this fear explains why Urbs Fortitudinis is still a favourite canticle in the Church of Ireland; it may also explain why Semple built so many churches with such extraordinary solidity.
His church in Monkstown is adorned with towers and turrets, “for all the world like chessmen,” according to Craig. Inside, there is an elaborate internal plaster vault to simulate masonry, described by Semple’s contemporaries as “a mule between the Gothics and Saracens.” Peter Costello even suggests that Semple’s Moorish elements may have been inspired by the Alhambra in Granada – Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra had been published in 1832.
Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines ... with Semple’s distinctive pinnacles and deep-set windows and doors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
Semple’s church in Church Avenue, Rathmines, has his distinctive pinnacles and deep-set windows and doors. The three wide gables, the tall steeple, and the plain exterior are all typical of Semple’s interpretation of Gothic.
The church, which stands on an island in the middle of the road where Church Avenue and Belgrave Road meet, was built in 1828 as a chapel-of-ease for Saint Peter’s Church in Aungier Street, now long demolished. Holy Trinity was consecrated on 1 June 1828 by Archbishop Magee, but Rathmines did not become a separate parish until 1883. Since then, the parish has only had six rectors.
The vestry walls are lined with photographs of past rectors, including Canon Ernest Lewis-Crosby (1914-1924), who later became Dean of Christ Church Cathedral (1938-1961), and who was still dean when he died at the age of 97. His successor and biographer, Evelyn Charles Hodges (1924-1927), later became Bishop of Limerick (1943-1960).
The present rector of Rathmines is Canon Neill McEndoo, and the Revd Rob Jones is the parish vicar.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.