17 June 2021

Was Saint James’ Church
in Dingle built by Spanish
traders and pilgrims?

Saint James’ Church, Dingle, Co Kerry … local tradition says the mediaeval church was built by Spaniards (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Saint James’ Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Dingle, Co Kerry, is on the north-east side of the Main Street, within the mediaeval walled town.

This site dates back to at least the 13th century, when the church was appropriated to the Augustinian priory of Saint Mary’s, Killagh, near Castlemaine.

The earliest reference to a church in Dingle is in the Papal Taxation of 1317. The advowson of the church of Dingle was conferred on the Priory of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine of Killaha (de Bello Loco), near Killorglin, founded by Geoffrey de Marisco, Justiciar of Ireland. The Priors of Killaha appointed the Vicars of Dingle.

Local tradition says the mediaeval parish church in Dingle was built by Spaniards. Some of the original masonry, including a number of chamfered quoins, was used to build the current church.

Saint James’ Church is also a venue for concerts and recitals and has a prominent role in Dingle Festivals (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

There are historic connections between Dingle and Spain. It is said Dingle port, along with the ports of Dublin, Drogheda, Galway, New Ross, and Waterford, was a point of embarkation for mediaeval pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint James at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, via La Coruna.

However, the claims to Spanish influence on the church building seem to be exaggerated. While Spanish fishermen are known to have fished extensively on the south-west coast of Ireland from about 1400 on, exotic origins may have fascinated the imaginations of many.

The Treaty of Dingle was signed at Saint James’ Church on 28 April 1529, by James FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Desmond, and the envoy of the Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. This treaty incorporated most of southwest Ireland into the Habsburg Monarchy, and gave Irish people citizenship rights in Habsburg Spain, Austria and the Netherlands.

The Treaty of Dingle was signed at Saint James’ Church on 28 April 1529 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

When George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, came ashore in Ventry in 1589, on his way to the Azores, he went to church in Dingle.

He recalled his experiences: ‘They have the same form of common prayer word for word that we have only that it is in Latin. On Sunday the Sovereign goeth to Church having his Sergeant before him and accompanied by the Sherriff and others of the town. They then kneel down everyone making his prayers privately by himself; they then rise up and goe out of the church again, to drink. After this they return again to church and the Minister makes prayers. Their manner of baptising differs somewhat from ours, part of the Service belonging to it being put in Latin and part in Irish. The Minister takes the child in his hands, dipping it first backwards and then forwards over head and ears in the cold water even in the midst of winter. They had neither bell, drum or trumpet to call the parishioners together.’

The only strong indication that the church had an early dedication to Saint James is found in James I’s charter to the town in 1605, saying the sovereign or mayor of Dingle was to be elected yearly on Saint James’s Day.

James I’s charter for Tralee in 1612 specifies ‘The provost to be elected annually … on Saint John’s Day.’ There is a strong case for presuming that, as the churches in these two towns are found to be dedicated to Saint James and Saint John, the feast days were chosen for these elections.

The present church, incorporating Saint Mary’s Chapel, was built in 1807 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Over the years, most of the original church became a ruin, apart from Saint Mary’s side chapel which was kept in repair for divine service.

A wall plaque in this chapel, consisting of a black marble tablet with a Latin inscription in gold letters, commemorates Sir John FitzGerald, 15th Knight of Kerry, who died in 1741.

The present church, incorporating Saint Mary’s Chapel, was built in 1807 through a gift of £1,100 from the Board of First Fruits.

In his Topographical Dictionary in 1837, Samuel Lewis writes: ‘The old church, which was dedicated to St James, is said to have been built by the Spaniards; it was originally a very large structure. A part of it called St. Mary’s Chapel, was kept in repair until the erection of the present parish church, on the site of the ancient edifice, in 1807: the latter was built by a gift of £1,100 from the late Board of First Fruits; it is a plain structure, and, having become too small for the increasing congregation, is about to be enlarged and thoroughly repaired; for which purpose a grant of £317.17.4 has been recently made by the Ecclesiastical Board.’

These enlargements and repairs were carried out in 1840. At the time, the living was in the patronage of Lord Ventry.

The surrounding churchyard has many tombstones of interest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The surrounding churchyard includes many tombstones of interest. They include the burial place of one of the FitzGeralds: broken and weather-worn, it bears the date 1504, and an almost obliterated carving of the Desmond arms. The inscription around the margins is in an abbreviated form of mixed Latin and Irish.

The last resident Rector of Dingle was the Revd Francis Joseph Roycroft (1935-1944).

The church was extensively renovated and altered in 1974, and the tower, which was in a precarious condition, was demolished. The church was reopened on 12 July 1974 by President Erskine Childers, with a joint blessing was by Bishop Donald Caird and Bishop Eamonn Casey. At the time, the Revd Trevor Sullivan was the priest in charge of the parish.

Dingle has been part of the Tralee Group of parishes since 1994, and the present Rector is Canon Jim Stephens.

The Georgian Society restored the elaborate chancel window with timber tracery in 2004 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Georgian Society funded the repair and restoration of the church’s ten lancet windows, including the elaborate chancel window with timber tracery, in 2004. In recent years, the church adapted for concerts, lectures, and special events.

Weekly Sunday services continue, but Saint James’ is also a venue for folk concerts featuring local musicians, and plays a prominent part in many Dingle Festivals and events during the year. One of these concerts was recorded in the ‘Other Voices’ music series by RTÉ.

The Friends of Saint James’ Dingle was set up in 2019 to raise funds to preserve this church and to enhance and secure its use in the 21st century as a shared cultural and spiritual space and a valuable community resource.

The pilgrim shell … a reminder at the church gates of links with the Camino and Santiago de Compostela (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
19, the Duomo and churches of Ravenna

Inside Ravenna Cathedral, beside the Neonian Baptistry, on the Piazza Duomo (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 seven cathedrals in Italy. This morning (17 June 2021), my photographs are from the Duomo or Cathedral and some of the many other churches and church buildings in Ravenna.

The apse in San Vitale … described by Professor Judith Herrin as the ‘most exciting introduction to Byzantine art’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Theodoric the Great was sent Eastern Emperor Zeno to retake the Italian peninsula after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Theodoric took Ravenna in 493 and it became the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy until 540.

While Theodoric was in power, he built splendid buildings in and around Ravenna, including his palace church, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, an Arian cathedral, now Santo Spirito, a Baptistry, and his own mausoleum outside the city walls.

Theodoric was an Arian, but co-existed peacefully with the largely Orthodox people of Ravenna, and their bishops built more splendid church buildings, including the Capella Arcivescovile. When a mob burned down the synagogues of Ravenna in 519, Theodoric ordered the city to rebuild them at its own expense.

Theodoric died in 526, and in 540 the Byzantine Empire recaptured Ravenna, which became the seat of Byzantine government in Italy. Ravenna’s bishops embarked on a new building programme that included the Basilica of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe.

Under Byzantine rule, the Archbishop of Ravenna enjoyed autonomy from Rome, and held second place in Italy after the Pope. Later, the city was the centre of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna until the invasion of the Lombards in 751, and it then became the seat of the Kingdom of the Lombards.

Byzantine rule came to an end when Ravenna was captured by the Lombards, and gradually the city and the church in Ravenna came under the direct authority of the Popes. In a bewildering act of singular vandalism, Pope Adrian I allowed Charlemagne to take away from Ravenna anything that he liked, and an unknown number of columns, mosaics, statues and other items were pillaged and taken to Aachen.

Most visitors to Ravenna arrive to see the mosaics, which date from the years of Roman and Byzantine rule. In all, eight early Christian monuments and buildings in Ravenna are listed by Unesco as World Heritage sites.

The Orthodox Baptistry, also known as the Neonian Baptistry, is Ravenna’s oldest monument, and was built in the fifth century near the remains of a Roman bathhouse and. It is named after the bishop who commissioned its decoration, which includes a beautiful mosaic depicting the Baptism of Christ.

Beside it, on the Piazza Duomo, stand the cathedral, the Archiepiscopal Museum, and the tiny Chapel of Saint Andrew, often missed by visitors.

The fifth century Arian Baptistry has a cupola with a mosaic showing the Apostles ringed around a centrepiece depicting the Baptism of Christ.

The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, built in the sixth century, is named after Ravenna’s first bishop. The walls of the church have two rows showing processions of martyrs and virgins bearing gifts for the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary. They include the Magi, with an early example of them being shown as three in number and named as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.

The mosaics in the apse of the Basilica of San Vitale date from 526-547, and show Christ, San Vitale receiving a martyr’s crown, two angels and Bishop Ecclesius, who started building this octagonal church, and priests and members of the Imperial Court of the Emperor Justinian, who reigned in 527-565. He was an important lawgiver and one of the most powerful Byzantine emperors. The courtiers depicted in this mosaic include Belisarius, the general who won back much of Italy from the Goths, but the only courtier or cleric named is Archbishop Maximian of Ravenna.

Beside the Basilica of San Vitale, the earlier Mausoleum of Galla Placidia was begun in 430. But this exquisite, cross-shaped building was never the burial place of the wife of the barbarian emperor. One of the best-known mosaics adorning the tiny mausoleum shows Christ as the Good Shepherd.

The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare, south of Ravenna in Classe, was built in the early sixth century by Bishop Ursicinus and funded and adorned by the Greek banker Julianus Argentarius. The basilica was consecrated in 549 by Archbishop Maximian and dedicated to Saint Apollinaris, the first bishop of Ravenna and Classe.

Other places to visit in Ravenna include the Mausoleum of Theodoric, just outside Ravenna, with its Gothic style and decoration that owe nothing to Roman or Byzantine art; the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, built in the fifth century by Galla Placidia after she survived a storm at sea, and restored after the World War II bombings; the Palace of Theodoric, which was, in fact, the entrance to the former church of San Salvatore, although it has mosaics from the actual palace of the Ostrogoth king; and the tomb of Dante, who died in 1321 and was buried in Ravenna at the Church of San Pier Maggiore, now known as San Francesco.

The Court of Justinian in a mosaic in San Vitale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 7-15 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 7 ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 ‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’

The fifth century mosaic of the Baptism of Christ in the Neonian Baptistry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 June 2021, World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for countries across the world affected by desertification and drought. May we recognise the global impact of our overconsumption and take action to raise awareness of these issues.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Christ as the Good Shepherd … a mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (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