03 October 2018

Celebrating Saint Francis
and his love of creation

‘The Vision of Saint Francis’ (ca 1590-1595) by El Greco in the National Gallery of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow [4 October] is the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. This day is popular for blessing the animals and also marks the end of ‘Creation Time’ in many parts of the Church.

I went to school in Gormanston, Co Meath, a school run by Franciscans, and now that I am living in Askeaton, I am reminded of Saint Francis and his values when I walk around the ruins of the Franciscan friary and its beautiful cloisters, where there is a mediaeval carved image of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Apart from figures in the Biblical figures, Saint Francis may be the most popular saint in the Church, and he is loved in the all the churches.

He has inspired Pope Francis, who took the saint’s name when he was elected Pope in 2013. Like Saint Francis, Pope Francis washes the feet of women prisoners each year on Maundy Thursday and he has visited a soup kitchen in Assisi.

Saint Francis was born in Assisi in Italy around 1181, and he was baptised with the name Giovanni (for Saint John the Baptist). But his father changed the boy’s name to Francesco because he liked France.

As a young boy and a teenager, Francesco di Bernardone was a rebel. He dressed oddly, spent much of his time alone and quarrelled with his father.

His father expected him to take over the family business. But young Francis was too much of a rebel. All that began to change when he was taken prisoner in 1202 during a war. When he was freed, he was seriously ill, and while he was recovering he had a dream in which he was told ‘to follow the Master, not the man.’

He turned to prayer, penance and almsgiving. One day while praying, he said, God called him to ‘repair my house.’ In 1206, he sold some valuable cloth from his father’s shops to rebuild a run-down church of San Damiano.

His father dragged the young man before the religious authorities, and that was that, finally, for Francis and his father.

Francis turned his back on all that wealth, became a friar, put his complete trust in God, and made his home in an abandoned church. He wore simple clothes, looked after the lepers, made friends with social outcasts and embraced a life of no possessions.

Others joined him, and so began the story of the Franciscans.

Saint Francis is said to have once told his followers, ‘Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.’ In other words, people are more likely to see what we believe in what we do rather than believe us because of what we say..

The widely known ‘Prayer of Saint Francis’ has also been attributed to Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

The cloisters in the ruins of the Franciscan friary in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Francis celebrated God’s creation, and his most famous poem is his ‘Canticle of the Sun.’ He also organised the first Crib to celebrate Christmas.

He was 44 when he died on the evening of 3 October 1226. By then, his order had spread throughout western Christendom.

A mediaeval carved image of Saint Francis of Assisi in the cloisters in the ruins of the Franciscan friary in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect (Common Worship):

O God, you ever delight to reveal yourself
to the childlike and lowly of heart:
grant that, following the example of the blessed Francis,
we may count the wisdom of this world as foolishness
and know only Jesus Christ and him crucified,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lights in the chapel at Gormanston, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These notes were prepared for a reflection at assembly in Rathkeale No 2 National School, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on 3 September 2018

The Chiesa di San Francesco was built in San Marino by the Franciscans in 1351-1400 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Charleville has a rich
architectural heritage
from the Victorian era

The Imperial House on Main Street … a fading legacy of a once-elegant Victorian hotel in Charleville, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Charleville is a busy market town in North Cork, close to the border of Co Cork and Co Limerick, in the rich farming expanse known as the Golden Vale.

The town was founded in 1661 by Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery and Lord President of Munster, who named Charleville in honour of the newly-restored King Charles II.

Charleville, as we see it today, was laid out in a formal plan with two parallel wide streets.

Like most Irish towns, Charleville went through a period of improvements and rebuilding in the late 18th and early 19th century. Most of its elegant streetscapes date from this period, and the town retains much of its historical character in these Georgian and Victorian buildings, including former hotels and shopfronts.

Victorian decorative details from the former Madden’s Imperial Hotel on Main Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Imperial House on Main Street, which has been divided into shops and a restaurant, was once a Victorian hotel, known as Madden’s Imperial Hotel and Posting Establishment.

In January 1916, three local Republicans, John O’Dea, Thomas Barry and Laurence Heddevan, were arrested after painting slogans on the walls of Madden’s Imperial Hotel, where a recruiting office was located and members of the Recruiting Committee for Co Cork were staying.

Evidence of the former hotel can be seen in the windows and the highly decorative façade, including the tiled panels and fluted capitals.

This building retains much of its mid-19th century character. The use of tiles in the decorations is a feature of the later Victorian period when the production of glazed and encaustic tiles increased dramatically, initiating a new approach to style and decoration.

The architectural details of the former hotel include decorative render surrounds, tiled panels over the windows and render cartouches above, flanked by short fluted pilaster details, round and elliptical-headed door and window openings, moulded render cornices including triangular pediment details in the fascia, timber half-glazed double-leaf door, and a keystone.

JP Moran’s drapery shop is one of the early shop developments in Charleville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

JP Moran’s drapery shop on Main Street, facing onto Chapel Street, is one of the early shop developments in Charleville. This terraced, six-bay, three-storey house and shop was built around 1810 as two buildings, a four-bay building on the right (north) and a two-bay building on the left (south).

This is a substantial, commercial premises, with a long timber shopfront and render surrounds on the first-floor windows. The shopfront features include mosaic patterns and fine turned, decorative colonettes. The door on the north end are timber panelled doors with overlights. The recessed main shop entrance has timber glazed double-doors.

The diminishing windows are typical of the town’s streetscapes and the regular, elegant form is accentuated by the rendered quoins that add further life to the façade.

A brightly-painted house is one of a pair built at the south end of Main Street around 1880 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

At the other end and on the opposite side of Main Street, a brightly-painted, terraced, three-bay, three-storey house that is now for sale was built around 1880, as pair with the adjoining house.

This pair of tall buildings that form an imposing presence on the Main Street of Charleville. The strong decorative plasterwork on the window and door surrounds shows particularly fine Victorian craft work. The pilasters and eaves work add to the air of authority of the building, and the ornamental wrought-iron railings at the ground floor windows are a reminder of that until recently Charleville was an important and busy market town.

The architectural and decorative features of this house include a central doorway, channelled render pilasters, a decorative recessed panel surmounted by decorative panelled pilasters, timber sliding sash windows, segmental-headed window openings, hood-mouldings with decorative keystones, and decorative render consoles supporting canopies.

One of a pair of houses built around 1880, with an integral carriage arch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Polish shop next door was also built around 1880 as a terraced, three-bay, three-storey house, and with an integral carriage arch. Despite the later shopfront, this house still shows fine craft work.

The architectural and decorative features of this house include channelled pilasters, a decorative recessed panel, decorative panelled pilasters, limestone window sills, decorative consoles, decorative render hood-mouldings, decorative keystones and stops, and a timber panelled door. The carriage arch is flanked by channelled render pilasters and has a decorative keystone and timber battened doors, with cobbles at the front.

Oriel House on Chapel Street displays hints of the Tudor Revival style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

I also noticed two interesting, neighbouring houses in Chapel Street during my walk around Charleville last week.

Oriel House on Chapel Street is a late 19th century house and shop, built around 1890, and it has hints of the Tudor Revival style. Although Riordan’s shop is no longer here, this remains an impressive building, with a projecting roof line and a former oriel window with distinctive, painted carved timber details.

This is a three-bay, three-storey former house and shop, with a gable-front at the projecting first and second floor central bays. At the ground floor, there is a shopfront and a carriage arch that is no longer used.

There are decorative timber bargeboards and a finial on the gable-front, square-headed window openings with limestone sills, a carved timber name plaque surmounting a painted timber fascia with a chamfered cornice and decorative timber volutes supported on carved timber pilasters. The square-headed quadripartite display window has painted timber colonettes, and there is leaded glass over the rendered stall-riser. The timber panelled door has an overlight.

The house on Chapel Street with an oriel window and Arts and Crafts details (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The house next door on Chapel Street was built at the same time, around 1890, as a shop and house and is noticeable for its timber canted oriel window on the first floor.

This is a charming building with a number of distinctive stylistic influences in its Arts and Crafts style timber detailing and the polychromatic, multi-paned, timber canted oriel or bay window on the first floor. There are interesting dormer windows above.

The former shopfront on the ground floor has a square-headed tripartite window with a moulded render surround and timber sliding sash windows.

The art deco house and shop with a bow front on Main Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

But by no means is the architectural heritage of Charleville confined to the Victorian and 19th century era. There is an interesting 1950s Post Office on Main Street, and a café on the same side of Main Street has an unusual and eye-catching Art Deco bow front.

This tall, narrow, single-bay, three-storey, bow-fronted house was built around 1930, with a shopfront on the ground floor. It makes an interesting contrast with the generally horizontally emphasised buildings on the streets of Charleville, with its bowed front, parapet railings and vertically emphasised windows.

Victorian decorative details at the former Madden’s Imperial Hotel on Main Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)