16 August 2023
During last week’s return visit to Dublin, two of us stayed in Keavan’s Port Hotel on Camden Street, originally the premises of the Earley and Powell stained glass studios and the Dublin branch Hardman’s of Birmingham.
During our visit, I also visited 37 Wexford Street, where Robert Croker or Robert Noonan, the author of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, best-known by his pen name Robert Tressell was born in 1870.
Robert Tressell was baptised in Saint Kevin’s Church on Harrington Street, and that church also has an impressive collection of stained-glass windows from the Earley and Powell stained glass studios.
The church is a three-minute walk (270 metres) around the corner from Camden Street, so I took the opportunity to revisit the church early in the morning.
Saint Kevin’s Church and the presbytery next door fill a large site bordered by Harrington Street on the south side, Heytesbury Street on the west, Synge Street on the east and Synge Street CBS schools to the north.
Saint Kevin’s Church is a prime example of Gothic Revival architecture in Dublin in the late 19th century. It was designed by Pugin and Ashlin at a time when their partnership was breaking up, and the Early and Powell studios had a direct link with Hardmans of Birmingham, who worked closely with AWN Pugin.
The name of the church comes from the mediaeval church, Saint Kevin’s, nearby in Camden Row, which dated back to at least the 12th century, and which was the Church of Ireland parish church.
Saint Kevin’s Parish was formed out of Saint Catherine’s Parish between 1855 and 1865. A site from a new church first leased from James Perrin and then bought through Hugh Lundy. The building committee was chaired by Sir James Power, who also chaired the committee for building Saint Catherine’s Church on Meath Street.
The new Saint Kevin’s Church was built between 1868 and 1872. By a vote of 14-2, Pugin and Ashlin were the winners of the architectural competition between themselves and WF Caldbeck. The partnership was formed in 1860 by Edward Welby Pugin, AWN Pugin’s son, and his assistant and future brother-in-law George Coppinger Ashlin. Ashlin opened an office at 90 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, that year and managed the firm’s Irish business.
The partnership was dissolved towards the end of 1868, shortly after winning the competition to design Saint Kevin’s and not long after Ashlin married Pugin’s sister Mary in 1867.
The stained glass windows of Saint Kevin’s Church are unique as they trace the history of Earley and Company from 1861 to 1975. The Earley and Powell studios designed much of the stained glass windows in the church, including those in the apse depicting the Crucifixion and Christ in Majesty (1872) and the Resurrection and the Last Supper (1873), and the windows in the transepts depicting saints (ca 1880).
The Earley and Powell studios were active in Dublin from 1864 until 1893, and the firm was one of the largest and most prestigious ecclesiastical decorators both in Ireland and Britain. Generations of the Earley family have been involved in maintaining and designing windows in the church, culminating in William Earley creating a window for the south transept.
The business was initially established by Thomas Earley and the brothers Edward and Henry Powell in 1853 as a branch of the Birmingham firm of church decorators, John Hardman & Co – the Powells were nephews of John Hardman.
The Dublin branch of Hardman’s of Birmingham was first at 48 Grafton Street, and by February 1860 they had set up a workshop at 1 Upper Camden Street. After Hardman’s gave up their connection with the Dublin business in 1864, it continued running from Upper Camden Street as Earley & Powells or Earley & Powell. Edward Powell died in 1876, Henry Powell died in 1882, and Thomas Earley died in 1893.
The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 3 June 1868, and the contractor was Michael Meade. The building work was delayed by a two-month strike by workers seeking a pay rise form 30 to 33 shillings a week – they eventually accepted 32 shillings.
The church was completed within four years and was dedicated on Saint Kevin’s Day, 3 June 1872, by Cardinal Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin. The setting for the inaugural Mass was Haydn’s Imperial Mass No 3, also known as Missa in Angustiis and the ‘Lord Nelson Mass.’
Saint Kevin’s Church is a Gothic Revival church, forming part of a significant group of religious and education buildings between Kelly’s Corner and the east end of the South Circular Road.
The church is oriented on a west-east axis, rather than the traditional east-west alignment proposed in the original plans. Cardinal Cullen wanted the church to open onto Synge Street and the Christian Brothers’ schools at the east end, and a presbytery built on the west end, at the corner of Harrington Street and Heytesbury Street.
Saint Kevin’s is a cruciform-plan, double-height church, with a gable-fronted five-bay nave, two-bay transepts with gabled porches, sacristies, and a five-sided apse at the west end (liturgical east). There are octagonal-plan corner turrets at the nave and transepts, and pinnacled buttresses at the nave. A proposed church spire was never built. The juxtaposition of rusticated granite and Portland stone dressings provides textural and tonal variation to the exterior of the church.
Inside, the church is oriented on a west-east axis, rather than a traditional east-west alignment. The unusual pinnacled reredos in the chancel provides a focal point to the west end or liturgical east end of the church.
The sculptor Francis Hubert Earley carved the statues of Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel statues flanking the high altar.
The marble pulpit is by James O’Callaghan of Bachelor’s Walk and has a carved timber canopy. O’Callaghan also made the baptismal font. The gallery at the liturgical west end incorporates the organ and is supported on a segmental-headed arcade. The pews are particularly noteworthy, and are probably by Hardman & Co.
A new organ was installed in 1903 and the grissille stained glass, the largest of its kind in Ireland, was installed that year. The work was carried out by Earley and Co of Camden Street.
After the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, the altar was moved out from the wall to facilitate the versus populum orientation of the Mass.
Saint Kevin’s Church has been the home of the Dublin Latin Mass Chaplaincy since 2007. It is the only church in Dublin where the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, or Traditional Latin Mass, is licitly celebrated.
The Altar has been placed back in its original position in the chancel area to facilitate the ad orientem style used in Tridentine Mass.
A major restoration of the sanctuary was completed in November 2013. This included repairing the stained glass and redecorating and repainting the sanctuary wall and ceiling, and redecorating the walls according to the original Victorian era stencil-work designs.
The restoration work continues at Saint Kevin’s, slowly returning the church to the original Gothic Revival splendour envisaged by Pugin and Ashlin and by the Earley and Powell studios in Camden Street.
We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began with the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (13 August 2023).
Before this day begins (16 August 2023), I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.
In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the churches in Tamworth. For this week and next week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:
1, Looking at a church in Lichfield;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield:
Saint Michael’s Church on Greenhill stands on a sandstone ridge on the east side of Lichfield. Although the church dates from rebuilding projects in the 1840s, there has been a church on this high ground since at least 1190, and Saint Michael’s is surrounded by one of the oldest and one of the largest burial grounds in England.
The nine-acre site surrounding the parish church is the site of one of the earliest settlements in Lichfield, and was a significant burial ground from an early date.
There is a legend that this was the burial place of 999 early Christian martyrs who were the followers of the legendry Saint Amphibalus, who had converted Saint Alban to Christianity in the third or fourth century. There is no evidence to support the legend of those martyrs in the year 300 during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. But the legend became so popular that it was often said that the name Lichfield actually means ‘field of the dead.’
This tradition develops a mediaeval story created by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and was exaggerated from the 12th century on after Lichfield became an important stopping place on pilgrim routes.
The legend was largely forgotten by the 1500s, but it was revived later in the mid-15th century when Lichfield was incorporated as a borough in 1548. The new civic council needed an image for its seal but wanted to break with the pre-Reformation image of Saint Chad. The corporation decided to use the story of the 999 martyrs on its seal, and so gave new life to a dead and unfounded story.
It may be that this legend led to George Fox, the founding Quaker, to declare: ‘Woe unto the bloody City of Lichfield.’
After his release from prison in Derby, Fox walked to Lichfield. When he was about a mile outside Lichfield, he felt a command from God to take off his shoes and to walk into the city. There in the Market Square, he stood barefoot in the snow as he cried out again and again: ‘Woe unto the bloody City of Lichfield.’
Fox later said he a vision of a channel of blood running through the streets of Lichfield and that the market place was a pool of blood, and explained later that God wanted him to preserve the memory of the thousand Christians martyrs from the reign of Diocletian.
A few decades later, the Staffordshire historian Robert Plot declared that the nearby area now known as Christian Fields was the site of their martyrdom and it has borne the name ever since. Of course, no archaeological evidence was ever found to support these stories from Geoffrey of Monmouth and Robert Plot. Today Christian Fields is a nature reserve south of Eastern Avenue, between Dimbles Lane and Curborough Road.
Despite the false foundations for this legend and the religious impulses it has inspired, there may have been a church on this site at Greenhill from an early date. Once again, local legend says the first church on the site was consecrated by Saint Augustine. Other accounts say it was because the site was so well known that Saint Chad was attracted to Lichfield, making it the centre of his new diocese in Mercia.
There is evidence on the site of crouched burials from before the Norman Conquest. However, the first church at Saint Michael’s is not recorded until 1190.
The oldest remaining parts of the present church date from the 13th century. In a recess in the north wall of the chancel under the pointed arch is the tomb of William de Walton, who in 1344 was the first recorded benefactor of Saint Michael’s. At his feet is a friendly looking dog, indicating he died in peace in his sleep rather violently or at war.
The church register dates from 1574. The font dates from 1669 and is octagonal with stylised fleur-de-lis and Tudor roses.
From the late 17th century, Saint Michael’s was associated with the family of Lichfield’s most famous writer, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784).
Johnson visited Lichfield for the last time in the autumn of 1784. He returned to London on 16 November, and composed an inscription for a floor slab in the centre of the nave to commemorate his immediate family.
On 2 December, he wrote two letters to Lichfield giving explicit directions for epitaphs to be placed over the middle aisle of Saint Michael’s Church where his father Michael Johnson (died 1731), his mother Sarah Johnson (died 1759), and his brother Nathaniel Johnson (died 1737), were buried.
He wrote to his cousin, the apothecary Richard Greene (1716-1793), who was the Senior Bailiff of Lichfield and lived in Market Street, saying:
‘I have enclosed the epitaph for my Father, Mother, and Brother, to be all engraved on the large size, and laid in the middle aisle in St. Michael’s church, which I request the clergyman and church-wardens to facilitate.
‘The first care must be taken to find the exact place of interment, that the stone might protect the bodies. Then let the stone be deep, massy and hard; and do not let the difference of ten pounds, or more, defeat your purpose.
‘I have enclosed ten pounds, and Mrs Porter will pay you ten more, which I gave her for the same purpose. What more is wanted shall be sent; and I beg that all possible haste be made, for I wish to have it done while I am yet alive. Let me know, dear Sir, that you receive this. I am, Sir, your most humble servant, Sam Johnson.’
On the same day, he wrote to Lucy Porter: ‘I am very ill, and desire your prayers. I have sent Mr Green the epitaph and a power to call on you for ten pounds.’
Within a fortnight, Johnson died on 13 December 1784. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on 20 December.
The original stone Johnson commissioned was removed when Saint Michael’s was repaved in the late 1790s, and much of the mediaeval fabric of the church was lost when the church was restored in the 1840s by a local architect Thomas Johnson and the London-born architect Sydney Smirke.
Johnson’s stone, with the same inscription, was replaced in 1884 to mark the centenary of Samuel Johnson’s death. The church we see today includes further architectural renovations designed in the 1890s by John Oldrid Scott.
A family mausoleum was erected in the church the late 18th century in the angle of the chancel and the south aisle by the Earl of Donegall (later the Marquess of Donegall). He lived at Fisherwick and also owned Comberford Hall, and gave his name to Donegal House on Bore Street, Lichfield. The mausoleum was destroyed during rebuilding and restoration works in 1842-1843.
The graves in the churchyard include an unusual ‘saddle-back’ tomb and the graves of members of the family of the poet Philip Larkin. John Brown, who sounded the trumpet for the 17th Lancers at the Charge of the Light Brigade, is also buried here.
Here too is the gravestone of the last victims of a public hanging in Lichfield. John Neve, William Wightman and James Jackson men were found guilty of forgery and were hanged at the gallows at the junction of Tamworth Road and London Road on 1 June 1810. Their gravestone, which was restored recently, only gives the initials of the three men and the date of their execution.
The mausoleum of Canon James Thomas Law (1790-1876) is a Grade II Listed Building on the northern edge of the churchyard. Law was a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral and chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield, a key figure in the foundation of Lichfield Theological College, and Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (1821-1836).
Law had the mausoleum designed like a canopied mediaeval tomb as a memorial to his wife who died in 1864. Originally, it was surmounted by a clock with two dials that were illuminated at night by gas. Built on the side of the Trent Valley Road it was a reminder of the time to travellers on their way to the railway station. The clock is now missing, but the overgrowth that had long covered the mausoleum had been cleared away when I visited the churchyard last month.
Two months before he wrote his poem ‘Church Going’ in 1954, Philip Larkin spent a week in the Midlands, mainly with his mother, when he visited ‘family graves’ in Lichfield around February or March 1954, including the grave of his father, Sydney Larkin, who was buried there in 1948.
In a letter written that March, Larkin says this visit to Saint Michael’s churchyard was followed by a ‘queer mixture of hell and rest cure’ – by this he meant a poorly attended service in Lichfield Cathedral.
Matthew 18: 15-20 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 15 ‘If another member of the church[a] sins against you,[b] go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Reducing Stigma.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.
The USPG Prayer Diary today (16 August 2023) invites us to pray in these words:
Let us pray that across the world, the stigma of HIV continues to be reduced and that medical and practical support is made available to all those who require it.
Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Post Communion Prayer:
God of our pilgrimage,
you have willed that the gate of mercy
should stand open for those who trust in you:
look upon us with your favour
that we who follow the path of your will
may never wander from the way of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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