10 June 2024

Saint Joseph’s Church
in Terenure and its
unique collection of
Harry Clarke windows

Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure … James Joyce was baptised in the first church on the site, and the church has some of the finest windows by Harry Clarke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

During my short visit to Dublin at the end of last week, I was working on some research on James Joyce’s childhood for a proposed contribution to a new book being planned and commissioned by my friend and colleague Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth.

On Friday afternoon, I visited Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure, where Joyce was baptised in the first church on the site. The church has also been associated with a number of events in my own family, including some baptisms, weddings and funerals. But the church is also the location of some of the finest windows by Harry Clarke, and it was good to have time on Friday afternoon to appreciate them.

Saint Joseph’s Church is a large neo-Romanesque cruciform church with two naves at opposite ends, a High Altar at the crossing at the centre of the church, and a great crucifix hanging at the heart of the church with a figure on each side. The vista along the full length of the church is breathtaking, with stately columns and arches that reach to the vaulted ceiling. The church is oriented on a south-north axis rather than the traditional liturgical east-west axis.

Terenure had no church of any denomination until the second half of the 19th century. In the Church of Ireland, Terenure is still divided between the parishes of Rathfarnham and Rathgar (Zion Church), and Terenure did not become a separate parish in the Roman Catholic Church until 1894.

The main entrance to Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure, facing onto Terenure Road East (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

When Canon Daniel Byrne came to Rathfarnham, he began planning a church and schools for Terenure. He bought a large field near the crossroads as a site and called a public meeting in the village early in 1856 to raise funds to build two schools, a boys’ school and a girls’ school. £150 was subscribed at the meeting.

A temporary church was erected, and this is where James Joyce was baptised. His mother, Mary Jane (May) Murray, was born in Terenure in 1859 in the pub owned by her father, John Murray, and then called the Eagle Tavern. She met her future husband, John Joyce, in the choir at the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar. James Joyce was born a short walk away at 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, on 2 February 1882, and was baptised at Saint Joseph’s by Father John O’Mulloy on 5 February.

The original phase of the church was designed by the Dublin architect William Geraty Clayton (1872-1946) while he was working for WH Byrne & Son, the architectural practice founded by William Henry Byrne. The builders were Michael Meade & Sons of Great Brunswick Street, Dublin.

Inside Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure, facing the High Altar from the liturgical west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Clayton’s neo-Romanesque church was designed with a nave, side aisles, transepts, side chapels, sanctuaries and two sacristies. The foundation stone was laid on 1 May 1898, a fundraising meeting for the completion of the church was held on 16 March 1902, and it was dedicated in early 1904.

The architect, William Geraty Clayton, was the second son of the London-born Dublin architect William James Clayton (1844-1910) and his wife Ida Mary (née Lee). He was born in Dublin on 25 September 1872. His father’s teacher and friend, William Geraty, was his godfather.

Clayton was a pupil in the office of William Mansfield Mitchell and then worked in the office of William Henry Byrne & Son for 15 years before setting up his own practice. In 1917 with William Sedgwick Keatinge he won the competition for designing premises for the National University of Ireland in Upper Mount Street, Dublin.

Clayton worked from 12 Leinster Street, and was a member of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland from 1895 until he retired. Before retiring he lived at Beverston, Rathmines (1895-1897), Kimmage Manor, Terenure (1900, 1904-1911), Kilmacud House, Stillorgan (1901-1903), Cheeverstown House, Clondalkin, Co Dublin (1911), and Oswestry, Westfield Road, Harold’s Cross (1915-1918).

But, with fears for his eyesight and business falling away after World War I, Clayton gave up architecture around 1919. He bought a farm at Rathbane, Kilteel, Co Kildare, and died in 1946. After Clayton retired, Ashlin and Coleman designed the church railings and gates in 1922.

The Crucifixion (1920) by Harry Clarke in Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Joseph’s Church holds three of the most important windows by Harry Clarke (1889-1931), Ireland’s best-known stained glass artist – the Crucifixion (1920), and his paired, two-light windows depicting the Annunciation (1922), and the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1923) – along with several later works by the Harry Clarke Studios.

Harry Clarke is known for his windows in Bewley’s Café in Grafton Street, Dublin. But there are several contenders for recognition as his greatest masterpiece, including his Geneva Window, a gift of the Irish Free State to the League of Nations in 1926, and his windows in Terenure.

The Crucifixion for the (liturgical) east window was a major commission for Clarke from Father John Healy, parish priest of Terenure from 1916 to 1954. The window, depicting the Adoration of the Cross by Irish saints, is memory of Major Laurence Gorman of Brighton Road, Rathgar, and of Edward and Jeannie de Verdon Corcoran. It was dedicated and unveiled on 23 May 1920.

Harry Clarke was his own model for the central figure of Christ on the Cross in the Crucifixion window in Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Crucifixion window was originally above the High Altar. The background for each of the lights is a spectacular red and gold sunset, offset with evergreen trees. The top panels of the first light depict six golden-haired angels praying in profile. The middle and lower panels depict a large collection of Irish saints.

Saint Patrick is depicted at the front of the saints, attired in traditional green robes. The top panels of the central light depict five angels with gowns of gold and white and elaborate wings of blue and red. The Holy Spirit, denoted by a dove, is in the centre of the group.

The main panels show Christ on the cross. Harry Clarke himself was the model for the central figure of Christ on the Cross.

The lower panel of the central light shows the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. The top panels of the third light depict six angels, dressed in decorated robes of white, blue, green, gold and red. The main and lower panels of the third light depicts more Irish saints kneeling in prayer. Saint Brigid of Kildare is in the foreground in blue robes.

The lower panels show the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross and up to 20 Irish saints kneeling on either side of them (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Clarke received a further commission from the parish priest of Terenure, Father John Healy, for a two-light window for the Lady Chapel in February 1922 and now in the south choir aisle. The two windows in this pair were completed several months apart, and each window has a different mood and character.

Before the left-hand light, depicting the Annunciation, was completed, Clarke exhibited it at the Aonach Tailteann or Tailteann Games art exhibition and the Gaelic Revival festival and received the Gold Medal and first prize in the stained glass section.

Nicole Gordon Bowe in Harry Clarke: The Life and Work describes the Annunciation window as ‘a subtle work with shimmering pale colours, gossamer lines and finely laid on tones.’

The two-light window by Harry Clarke depicting the Annunciation (left) and the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In the Annunciation window, the Archangel Gabriel hovers above the Virgin Mary, held in suspense by long scarlet wings. Depicted as female, she wears a complex headdress and long multi-layered garment tied at the waist with a broad blue sash. Her feet are suspended over a scene of a hill town. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is to her right, shedding silver rays down on the Virgin Mary.

The Virgin Mary is depicted as young, with huge innocent eyes and a gentle expression. Her colour has traditionally been blue and Clarke uses his deep royal blue for her gown. Across her shoulders is a large shawl.

The composition is balanced and harmonious. The scarlet wings are mirrored by green fronds cascading from the right border. Mary’s outstretched hand provides a counterpoint to Gabriel’s, while both have large and complex haloes. The eye is drawn to two pairs of dainty slippers. The angel’s predominant red hues are laced and leavened with blues, while Mary’s blues are warmed by the reds and pinks of the shawl.

Clarke’s typical ‘floral ornamentation’ (known to his assistants as FOs or even as Fried Onions) fill much of the rest of the lower half of the window, an endlessly various and imaginative garden of blooms. Despite the inclusion of the floral elements and highly-figured details on the garments, the impression is of a serene and uncluttered scene.

The Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The right hand window, depicting the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was completed in 1923. This window exudes an energy that is forceful and complex. Clarke depicts the Virgin Mary, triumphant and queenly, holding a sceptre and orb, with the moon and snake under her feet – inspired by the woman clothed in the sun with the moon under her feet in Revelation 12: 1, and the verse in Genesis in which the serpent is told ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel’ (Genesis 3: 15).

Christ is seen above her, his hands raised in blessing, and both have fiery aureoles. The Virgin Mary carries a scroll with the invocation in Latin, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’ (Luke 1: 42).

The Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel are the two main figures in this window, and the border is patterned in deep blue, punctuated by tiny scenes from the life of Mary. But much of the interest is provided by the host of other Biblical women whose stories are illustrated in the side panels and the predella.

Four Biblical women, Rachel, Rebecca, Esther and Judith, surround the Virgin Mary in the Coronation window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Christ is surrounded by four female figures. The flowing clothing of the lower two provide a triangular link to Mary’s crown, an effective technique that divides the space and provides a frame for the first two Biblical women, Ruth and Deborah. They are both rendered in green glass above and blue below, and both images protrude beyond the border, a technique Clarke used to give depth. Ruth is known for her goodness and kindness, and Deborah for her wisdom and gift of prophecy, symbolised by the owl on her hand.

To the left of Mary’s crown is Rachel and to the right, Rebecca. Rachel may have been chosen as the mother of Joseph. She was watching her sheep when Isaac first saw her, and the story of Rebecca at the Well is a familiar motif in Renaissance painting. Rebecca comes to draw water at the well and becomes the wife of Isaac, the mother of Jacob and the ancestor of the nation of Israel.

There are scenes too from two other Biblical stories. To the left is the story of Esther, with images of King Xerxes, the harem, and Esther becoming the queen. To the right is the story of Judith, who beheads Holofernes in his sleep. She is seen in scarlet robes, with her hand tangled in bright red hair of Holofernes and escaping with her maid carrying the head of Holofernes in a basket.

In the predella, Adam and Eve are cowering in fear and shame in the Garden of Eden, while the golden apples hang from a purple tree.

Adam and Eve are depicted cowering in fear and shame in the Garden of Eden, while the golden apples hang from a purple tree (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The church has other windows from the Harry Clarke Studio, including the Resurrection (1935-1936) by Richard King, and the Baptism of Christ in the Baptistry at the west end of the north aisle. In the lower panels in the baptistry window, Christ is seen in the workshop of Saint Jesus with the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist.

The west rose window is partly obscured by organ. The outer part, which cherubic heads in medallions, is a work by the Harry Clarke Studios in the 1930s, but the central part appears to have been replaced at a later date with a much simpler design by another workshop.

Other later works by the Harry Clarke Studios include smaller sexfoil rose windows at the east end of the choir aisle showing Christ the King placing a crown on the head of the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart and other scenes.

The west rose window is partly the work of the Harry Clarke Studios in the 1930s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

A decade or two after the Harry Clarke windows were installed in the church, my aunt, Mary (May) Josephine Comerford (1902-1973), of Ashdale Park, Terenure, married John Leonard (Sean O Lionnain) (1876-1959), of 52 Orwell Road, Rathgar, in Saint Joseph’s Church on 11 October 1939.

Then, in 1952, the Dublin architect Simon Aloysius Leonard (1903-1976) was commissioned to design the extension of the church, doubling it in length in 1952. Leonard was born in Dublin in 1903 and educated at Mount Saint Benedict’s, Gorey, Co Wexford. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in agriculture in 1925 and farmed in Co Meath until 1927, when he decided to follow his original interest in architecture. He studied architecture in Liverpool University (1931-1935) and University College Dublin (BSc 1936), and then joined the architectural firm of his uncle, Ralph Henry Byrne, in 1936.

When Byrne died on 15 April 1946, Leonard continued to the run the practice, retaining the original name of WH Byrne & Son. Leonard was President of the AAI in 1940-1941, and a member of the council of the RIAI, and a fellow of the RIBA. He died on 23 August 1976. Two of his sons, Brian and Mark, followed him into the firm of WH Byrne & Son.

The Baptism and Resurrection windows are the work of the Harry Clarke Studios in the 1930s (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

When Leonard doubled the church in length in 1952, Harry Clarke’s Crucifixion window was moved to the end of the new extended part of the church, above a new, second entrance, while the High Altar was in the centre of the long nave. Within the altar is a sculpture of the buried Christ in his tomb.

Outside, the church has impressive stone work, a fine rose window, and a steeple. The design features include a semicircle of bas-reliefs over the main, liturgical west entrance with a background of golden mosaics. Clayton’s intended spire was never completed.

The High Altar in the altar in Saint Joseph’s Church, with a sculpture of the buried Christ in his tomb (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

No comments: