08 July 2021

Church of the Sacred Heart
is the most striking building
in Castletownbere

The Church of the Sacred Heart, the most striking building in Castletownbere, Co Cork, was designed by RM Butler (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During our visit to Castletownbere, Co Cork, on last month’s road trip or staycation in West Cork and Co Kerry, two of us visited the Church of the Sacred Heart, the Roman Catholic parish church, and Saint Peter’s Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church.

The Church of the Sacred Heart is the most striking building in the town. It was built in an imposing Gothic Revival style in 1907-1911 on the site of an earlier 19th century chapel. It stands on an elevated site set back from the Main Street and is approached by an imposing flights of steps, making it an important focal point in the town.

This imposing Gothic Revival church was designed by the Dublin-based architect Rudolf Maximilian Butler (1872-1943). The granite came from the Mountains of Mourne in Co Down and was brought by sea. Much of the funding was donated by British naval personnel based in Berehaven and by Irish emigrants in the US, and the foundation stone was laid on 22 August 1907.

The well-crafted stone workmanship, particularly the portal and rose windows, make an imposing façade. Inside, the church is a rich display of craftsmanship in stone, wood and stained glass.

Inside the Church of the Sacred Heart … funded by British naval personnel in Berehaven and Irish emigrants in the US (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Rudolf Maximilian Butler was born in Dublin on 20 September 1872. His father, John Butler, was a barrister from Carlow; his mother, Augusta Brassart, was from Schleswig-Holstein. At the time his father died, Rudolf was 10 and was on a Christmas holiday with his mother in Germany. He finished his education in Germany, and returned to Dublin at the age of 16.

After a brief spell in the wine business, he became a pupil of the architect James Joseph Farrall (1856-1911) from 1889, and then, from 1891, of Walter Glynn Doolin (1850-1902).

Butler stayed on as Doolin’s assistant from 1896 to 1899, when he became his junior partner. When Doolin died in 1902, Butler carried on the practice in partnership with James Louis Donnelly as Doolin Butler & Donnelly.

Inside the Church of the Sacred Heart facing the liturgical west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

As the architect and engineer to Rathdown Rural District Council, Butler designed 500 cottages in Co Dublin and Co Wicklow.

Butler revived the Architectural Association of Ireland in 1896, with William Richard Gleave, Alfred Ignatius McGloughlin and Harry Allberry, and was an active member of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland.

Butler was brought up a Moravian, but was largely engaged in Roman Catholic church work, first through his association with Doolin.

When Butler was 23, a chance encounter with an Irish Passionist, Father McMullen, on a train in France resulted in the commission to design part of the Passionist chapel in the Avenue Hoche, Paris. This probably led to his commissions for the Passionists in Ireland, including the church and monastery at Ardoyne, Belfast (1900-1902) and a new college in Enniskillen (1917).

The altar and carved reredos in the Church of the Sacred Heart (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Butler’s other works include Saint Patrick’s Church, Newport, Co Mayo; the Carnegie Libraries in Millstreet, Co Cork, Kenmare, Listowel and Tralee, Co Kerry, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, and Cabinteely, Dundrum and Shankill, Co Dublin; Saint Colman’s Church on Inishbofin; works on the Presentation Convent in Dingle, Co Kerry; the Deluxe Cinema on Camden Street, Dublin; and the University Boat Club House, Islandbridge, Dublin.

Butler won first prize in the competition in 1912 for designing University College Dublin. He was appointed examiner in architecture of the National University of Ireland in 1923 and became the first Professor of Architecture at UCD in 1924. When the RIBA conference took place in Dublin in 1931, he received the honorary degree of Master of Architecture from the NUI.

He was involved in establishing the Georgian Society, and in 1899 he became the editor and, for a few months, co-proprietor, of the Irish Builder. The magazine was sold in 1900, but Butler remained editor until 1935.

Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid … carved details in the reredos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Butler retired as Professor of Architecture at UCD in 1942 and died on 3 February 1943.

He was a member of Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (MRIAI, 1896), and a fellow (FRIAI, 1915), a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (FRIBA, 1906), a founding member of the Architectural Association of Ireland (1896), a Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA, 1919), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (FRSAI, 1920) and an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy (1927).

He lived at 21 Harcourt Street, 3 Martello Terrace, Bray, 59 Harcourt Street, 11 Wellington Place, Clyde Road, 34 Upper Leeson Street, and 73 Ailesbury Road, Dublin, which he designed for himself.

Butler and his Annie Gibbons from Co Mayo were the parents of a son and three daughters. His son John Geoffrey Butler and his daughter Eleanor Grace Butler carried on his practice after his death.

Christ the Alpha and the Omega … a carving above the main door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

I knew his daughter, Eleanor Butler (1914-1997), also known as Lady Wicklow, through her role in the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation. She was a Labour member of Dublin Corporation and was a Labour candidate for the Dáil in 1948. She was a Senator from 1948 to 1951.

Throughout her life, she maintained strong links with the trade union movement and her friendship with Denis Larkin.

Through her friendship with the poet John Betjeman she met her future husband, William Howard (1902-1978), then known as Lord Clonmore or Billy Clonmore. He had been a priest in the Church of England and was an active Anglo-Catholic slum priest in the East End of London, working with the Magdalen Mission. When he became a Roman Catholic in 1932, he was disinherited by his father. He succeeded his father as eighth Earl of Wicklow in 1946, and the couple married in Glasthule on 2 September 1959.

The chancel window by AE Child of An Túr Gloine depicts the Risen Christ, Saint John the Evangelist, left, and Saint John the Baptist, right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Butler’s church in Castletownbere has an interesting collection of stained-glass windows from the studios of An Túr Gloine, including the chancel window (1909) by AE Childe, and windows by Catherine O’Brien and Ethel Rhind.

The stained-glass chancel window is by Alfred Ernest Child (1875-1939) of An Túr Gloine. The main image depicts the Risen Christ, with Christ’s deposition from the Cross below.

The panels to the left depict Saint John the Evangelist, holding a pen and the poisoned chalice, and below Saint John’s vision or revelation in the cave on Patmos.

The panels to the right depict Saint John the Baptist, and below the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist.

The Rose Window depicting the Adoration of the Lamb on the Throne (1910) by Catherine O’Brien of An Túr Gloine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Rose Window at the liturgical west end of the church, above the gallery and porch, depicts the Adoration of the Lamb on the Throne (1910).

This colourful window is by Catherine O’Brien (1881-1963) of An Túr Gloine.

Two two-light windows depicting the Sacred Heart and the Annunciation (1910) are by Ethel Rhind (1878-1952) of An Túr Gloine.

The Sacred Heart window (1910) by Ethel Rhind of An Túr Gloine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

As for Saint Peter’s Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church in Castletownbere, that’s a story for another day.

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
40, Santa Maria della Scala, Rome

Santa Maria della Scala in the heart of Trastevere has an unassuming façade (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 from seven churches in Rome, and my photographs this morning (8 July 2021) are from Santa Maria della Scala, in the heart of Trastevere.

Santa Maria della Scala in the heart of Trastevere, south of the Porta Settimiana (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

If Trastevere is every tourist’s favourite quarter of Rome, and the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the most visited churches there, then Santa Maria della Scala in Trastevere is a very different sort of church. With its unassuming façade, few tourists call in on their way from the Vatican through the Porta Settimiana along the Via della Scala into the heart of Trastevere.

Yet, this church has a richly decorated baroque interior, is a good example of a time of great building activity that lasted from the end of the 16th century through to the early 17th century, has links with Garibaldi’s struggle to unify Italy, and hides a secret story about how Caravaggio shamed the local friars.

Santa Maria della Scala, or Our Lady of the Staircase, shares its name with a better-known church in Siena. This is a titular church, that gives its title a cardinal, yet it was built in 1593-1610 to honour a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary.

Tradition says that the icon was placed on the landing of a staircase of a neighbouring house, where a mother prayed before it and found that her disabled child was cured. The icon is now on display in the north transept, alongside a baroque statue of Saint John of the Cross.

This church was built on the site of a house once owned by Antonio Stinco from Ancona, who bequeathed it to a Casa Pia founded by Pope Pius IV in 1563 for women wishing to ‘convert to an honest life,’ or repentant prostitutes. Saint Charles Borromeo, who was involved in the project, is commemorated in the dedication of a small oratory that once stood next to the church.

The project was initiated by Pope Clement VIII in 1593, together with Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, who was the patron of the Casa Pia. They chose Francesco Capriani da Volterra as the architect. But Capriani died the following year having completed only the nave and side chapels.

In 1597, the unfinished church was entrusted by the Pope to the Discalced Carmelites, much of the artwork in the church has Carmelite themes. The friars contracted Matteo da Città di Castello and Ottaviano Nonni Il Mascherino to build their convent next door, which became one of the most important Carmelite houses.

Nonni died in 1606 and so the work was probably finished by Girolamo Rainaldi, who had worked on one of the side chapels in 1604. The cardinal died in 1607, but his nephew Monsignor Marco Gallio agreed to continue funding and the church was finally completed in 1610.

The Carmelite friars continued the decorative work throughout the first half of the 17th century. In 1650, almost 50 years after the church was completed, Carlo Rainaldi designed the tempietto-shaped baldachino with 16 slender jasper Corinthian columns and a high altar.

In 1664 the church was made titular, and Paolo Savelli became the first cardinal deacon. The church was restored in the 1730s, and much of the decoration dates from then.

The last two cardinals linked with the church were François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan from Vietnam, who died in 2002, and Cardinal Stanislaw Kazimierz Nagy, who died in 2013.

Cardinal Ernest Simoni Troshani became the cardinal five years ago when he was named by Pope Francis on 19 November 2016. He is a Franciscan-educated priest who was never consecrated a bishop. He spent 28 years in prison camps in Albania, and was sentenced to death on two occasions.

The façade of the church is restrained but it is large and in some ways it dominates the little piazza in front. This two-storey façade is higher than the nave behind it. The central portion of the first storey is brought forward slightly, and has two pairs of gigantic Corinthian pilasters flanking the doorway and supporting the blank entablature. Another pair of pilasters stand at the outer corners.

The entrance has a pair of swagged Ionic columns, and over the door is a baroque statue of the Madonna and Child in an ornate arched niche with a ribbed conch, volutes and a crowning triangular pediment intruded into by the conch. The sculptor was Francesco di Cusart, who carved it in 1633.

The second storey has two pairs of pilasters of the same style as those of the storey below, except the capitals are composite and not Corinthian. They flank a large rectangular window with a balustrade and Ionic columns, and this has a raised segmental pediment. The crowning triangular pediment contains a simple coat of arms, and this storey is flanked by a pair of gigantic volutes.

The plan of the church is based on a Latin cross, with short transepts that do not extend beyond the walls of the nave aisles. The central dome has a shallow pitched and tiled saucer on an octagonal drum without windows. This has a tall lantern, with its own smaller octagonal cap.

Inside the church, there are three chapels on each side of the single, three-bay nave, and a transept with a domed crossing, with an altar in each end of the transept. The sanctuary has a single bay, and is continued by a choir with an apse behind the high altar, which has a free-standing, domes baldacchino. This baldacchino has 16 slender Corinthian columns of Sicilian alabaster. The statues of the four Evangelists look like bronze, but are terracotta – the originals were looted in 1849.

The surfaces of the interior walls and ceilings are richly decorated. The vaults of the nave, dome, choir and left arm of the transept are decorated with painting intended to resemble mouldings. The right transept ceiling has fine example of stucco relief.

The floor has several interesting tomb slabs, and the one commemorating Julio Caesari Castellano (1662) shows a winged skeleton.

The apse of the choir has a painting of the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven, flanked by paintings of the Baptism of Christ, the Marriage at Cana, the Last Supper and the Ascension by Lucas de la Haye (Fra Luca Fiammingo), a Carmelite friar. The apse conch has a fresco of Christ with his mother and Saint Joseph, and Carmelite saints.

The side chapels are dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, Saint Hyacinth, Our Lady, Saint Joseph and Saint Anne, Saint Teresa of Jesus, Our Lady of the Staircase, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Assumption, the Crucifix or Saint John of the Cross.

Some of these side chapels are also the funerary chapels of Roman families, including the Sinibaldi, Dionisi, Barisiani, Sorbolongo and Santacroce families.

The church stands next to a Carmelite monastery that served in the 17th century as the pharmacy of the Papal Court.

In 1849, during the last stages of the Roman Republic’s resistance to the invading French forces, Santa Maria della Scala was used as a field hospital to care for Garibaldi’s soldiers who had been wounded in fighting in Trastevere. Most of the fighting took place near Trastevere, which explains why the Garibaldi monument overlooks the church from the Janiculum.

The convent was sequestered by the Italian government in 1873 and turned into a police station. But the Carmelites continue to administer Santa Maria della Scala.

Saint Teresa of Jesus was a Carmelite reformer whose work led to the formation of the Discalced Carmelites as a separate order. In her side chapel, the altarpiece is ‘The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’ by Francesco Mancini (1745). The saint’s right foot is preserved in this chapel as a relic.

The other paintings in the church include ‘The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist’ by the Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst and ‘The Death of the Virgin’ by Carlo Saraceni, and ‘The Marriage of Our Lady’ by Antonio David. Saraceni’s painting replaces a more controversial original work by Caravaggio.

According to some legends, Caravaggio used the body of a prostitute who had drowned in the Tiber as the model for the dead Virgin Mary. An alternative version says the model was one of the artist’s mistresses. In addition, there are still debates about what happened to the Virgin Mary’s body after her death, and the Discalced Carmelites at Santa Maria suspected Caravaggio’s treatment of the topic not only lacked decorum but was close to what they regarded as heresy. Caravaggio’s original work made its way to the Louvre.

However, Caravaggio’s altarpiece of ‘The Entombment of Christ’ survives in the Chiesa Nuova or the Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella.

Santa Maria della Scala has a richly decorated baroque interior (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 10: 7-15 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to them:] 7 ‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.’

The unfinished church was entrusted to the Discalced Carmelites In 1597, and the church has many Carmelite themes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

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

We pray for an end to conflict. May we act as peacemakers in our daily lives and campaign for an end to war and violence.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’ by Francesco Mancini (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 Marriage of Our Lady’ by Antonio David (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)