Mosaics and Maharajas Revisited – Part 2

East Window

The more I look into the Church of the Ascension in Timoleague the more fascinating it becomes. In the first  post I concentrated on the mosaics and the story of the Maharaja but in this one – a substantial re-working of the original 2016 post – I look mainly at stained glass and architecture.

As we shall see, the windows were produced by the most famous British stained glass artists of their day. Taken as a whole, in fact, the architecture and decoration of this singular church leads us directly to Augustus Pugin, one of the giants of the Victorian Age, and locates it in the highest echelons of the Gothic Revival Movement. This hidden gem is even more of a jewel than I suspected!

A portrait of Pugin in, appropriately, stained glass. This window is in the Pugin-designed Catholic church in Tagoat, Co Wexford and is by George Walsh

Who was Augustus Pugin? Born in 1812, son of a French emigré draughtsman and an English mother, Pugin trained in his father’s workshop, becoming proficient in design and drafting by aged 9. Conversion to Catholicism and a visit to Nuremberg in Germany convinced him that the greatest expression of church architecture was High Gothic and he set about challenging, and ultimately revolutionising, the prevailing design norms of the Victorian period. He was incredibly prolific and influential, such that today when we think about Victorian architecture and gothic revival, we are really thinking about the work of Augustus Pugin – even though he died in 1852 at the early age of 40.

The signature of the Warrington Stained Glass Company on the East Window, dated to 1865 

Pugin designed several churches in Ireland (mostly Catholic), especially in Wexford, where you can follow the ‘Pugin Trail’. (I don’t know who wrote the Wexford Pugin Trail brochure, but it is one of the best explanations of his style and influence that I have read.) While he did NOT design the Church of the Ascension, his influence is everywhere in evidence, along with the use of some of his favourite suppliers – Minton for the mosaics and encaustic tiles and Warrington for stained glass. Later windows by Lavers Westlake and Co, Mayer of Munich and London, and Clayton and Bell follow the traditional patterns for stained glass and add immeasurably to the beauty and interest of the interior.

Church interior looking east

Hallmarks of gothic revival: a beautiful hammer-beam ceiling, tall pointed windows with simple Y tracery, everything to lead the eye upwards

The art of making stained glass in the medieval style had been lost and during the 18th century colour was mostly painted directly on the glass using an enamel technique. But part of the gothic revival ethic was to base manufacturing technology as closely as possible on the original so there was also a re-discovering of real stained glass processes where the colour was fired directly into the material and sections of glass were separated by lead. This art was revived in the 19th century by artists and craftspeople who studied medieval glass and learned through trial and error how to make it again.

Window by Thomas Willement, originally in the east wall before the chancel was added

One of the first to experiment was Thomas Willement, known as the Father of Victorian Glass, and when the church was completed in 1811, it contained several of his windows. The things is, these were quite plain, as befitted the Church of Ireland ethos of the time, where the emphasis was on an unadorned interior that did not distract from concentration on the Word. Nevertheless, we see the start of a pattern here of ordering stained glass from the foremost British manufacturers of the time. The Willement windows now on the west (entrance) wall were originally in the east wall but were moved when the church was renovated in 1865. They consist of diamond-shaped quarry glass with a decorative border pattern. A third Willement window is situated in the North Transept beside the organ. I can find only one other documented Willement window in Ireland, in Sligo.

John Henry Newman (1801 -1890) by Sir John Everett Millais. Newman’s Oxford Movement advocated for the return of ‘Catholic’ beliefs and rituals to the Church of England, paving the way for the changes advocated by the Cambridge Camden Society. Newman converted to Catholicism, became a Cardinal, and was recently canonised

The renovations of 1865, which added a chancel, vestry and south transept were all in line with the new thinking about church architecture and liturgy promoted by Newman, Pugin and the Cambridge Camden Society. The emphasis was now to be on the Eucharist and the altar, rather than on the pulpit, and this involved adding a chancel to accommodate the altar. God was to be glorified through sumptuous decoration – a radical change in how a church interior should look, and one that did not meet with immediate acceptance among all clergy and parishioners. Regarding that sumptuous decoration – we’ve already looked at the mosaics so let’s turn our attention now to equally arresting figurative stained glass, a departure from the simple and unobtrusive Willement windows.

The Presentation, East Window

We’ll start with the East Window, the work of Warrington. William Warrington was one of the leading stained glass artists of his day. There are very few Warrington windows in Ireland (I have found 12 others in Gloine.ie, although that only records Church of Ireland windows) since he was producing windows before the wholesale adoption of stained glass by Irish churches, so the parishioners of the Church of the Ascension were ahead of the curve on this. Like Pugin, Warrington was a student of the gothic style and he strove to reproduce glass work as closely as possible to medieval models. He had trained with his father as a painter of armorial shields, an influence that can be seen in his designs. He wrote a book in 1848 on The History of Stained Glass, but fell afoul of the Cambridge Camden Society (or CCS) who had set themselves up as the arbiters of taste in all things related to church architecture. Partly this was the outcome of class prejudice: the CCS, all university educated men, did not believe that a “mere artisan” should be allowed to have an opinion of what they saw as their own exclusive preserve.

supplicants

Detail from The Raising of Dorcas, East Window

By any standards, this is a beautifully executed window. According to the Wikipedia article, Warrington’s figurative painting strives towards the Medieval in its forms, which are somewhat elongated and elegant, with simply-painted drapery falling in deep folds in such a way that line and movement is emphasised in the pictorial composition. His painting of the details, particularly of faces, is both masterly and exquisite.

Raising Dorcas

The Raising of Dorcas, East Window. In this story, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter prays over the dead body of Dorcas, who returns to life

This is all clearly visible in the East Window, a confident set of three lights depicting the Crucifixion in the centre, Raising Dorcas on the left and the Presentation in the Temple on the right. Note the use of heraldic motifs above the main panels, and the tall medieval-style spires of foliage, all typical of Warrington glass.

East Window heraldic

The crucifixion iconography, unusual for a Church of Ireland church, was all too much for the Bishop of Cloyne when he came to consecrate the new chancel in 1861. Cloyne Cathedral itself was a true medieval building but much simpler in its interior decoration. The Bishop obviously had less sympathy with this new style of highly decorated church interiors and objected in particular to the East window, which he viewed as far too Catholic in its influence. In common with many of his Protestant contemporaries he probably felt that stained glass windows were an unwelcome intrusion into this sacred space, but might have been able to tolerate a Bible scene such as that of the Good Samaritan.

On the cross

He refused to conduct the consecration unless the window was covered in a cloth. The cloth, apparently stayed up a long time, and when it came down the window continued to attract opprobrium – it was even attacked and broken on at least one occasion! It’s hard now to understand now how such a beautiful piece of devotional art could have inspired an over-the-top reaction like this, but the High Church movement involved such a total transformation of liturgy and architecture that it took many people a long time to adjust to it.

Jesus Walking on the Sea

The Sermon on the Mount by Lavers and Westlake

Three sets of two-light windows in the nave are by Lavers, Westlake and Co, yet another of the London-based stained glass firms that responded to the huge demand for gothic-revival glass windows in 19th century Britain. The artist who designed these windows, Nathaniel Westlake, was another scholar of stained glass, publishing a four volume work, A History of Design in Painted Glass, and also a decorative painter of wall and ceiling panels. He was considered one of the leading exponents of stained glass art with a style considered to be Pre-Raphaelite. He worked with William Burges for a while – the one who designed every aspect of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork – who recommended him to the firm of Lavers and Barraud. In 1868 he became their chief designer and was responsible for much of the success of the firm, which captured a large share of the booming stained glass industry. Unlike Warrington, however, Westlake did not clash with the CCS, probably because his partner, Lavers, was a member of that society.

Loaves and Fishes detail

A detail from the Lavers and Westlake Loaves and Fishes window showing Westlake’s Pre-Raphaelite tendencies

The three windows by Lavers and Westlake are in the nave on the north and south walls and date from 1883. Those on the north wall depicts the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes and the Sermon on the Mount. That on the south wall is of Jesus Walking on the Water.

Loaves and Fishes Detail

Jesus Walking on the Sea
Upper, detail from the Loaves and Fishes. Lower, Jesus Walking on the Water

The final window on the south wall is also a two-light one by the firm of Mayer, possibly the busiest stained glass company of all and actually still in business under the name Mayer of Munich. The founder, Franz Mayer, started a company dedicated to “…a combination of fine arts, architecture, sculpture and painting…”. This firm was officially recognised by the Vatican so it was very popular with Catholic churches and there are many examples of Mayer windows throughout Ireland. In 1865 the firm opened a London branch, which supplied this window in 1888.

Christ Healing the Centurion’s Servant, a window by Mayer of Munich and London 

There are three more windows in the south transept, all by the firm of Clayton and Bell, a very productive Victorian stained glass studio. The first is a two light window, dating from 1890 and it depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd and the Light of the World (below). These two images were very much stock-in-trade with all the stained glass studios. The Light of the World was particularly popular – take a look at this post to see just how popular: The First Viral Sensation: How a Pre-Raphaelite Painting Inspired a Generation

But it’s the other two Clayton and Bell windows, the last to be installed, in 1903, that I find irresistible; indeed they are indeed among my favourite windows anywhere. The artist was George Daniels, whose work is unmistakable. According to David Lawrence:

George Daniels (1854-1940) was perhaps the greatest and most prolifc of all the free-lance cartoonists of the later Gothic Revival period. His style is influenced by late mediaeval and Northern Renaissance sources for both figures and ornament. From around 1880 to 1920, he supplied hundreds of cartoons to the Clayton & Bell studio in London and, from 1895 to 1914, to Mayer & Co. Daniels had a wonderful drawing ability. The vigorous style of his figures and drapery are always particularly characteristic and his compositions are exemplary.*

They illustrate two aspects of Christ, Christ the King (above) and Christ Condemned (below).

There are several more noteworthy features of this fine little church (the pulpit, the carved wooden furniture) but I think I will leave it at that for now. I’ve learned a lot about the Gothic Revival Movement through this exercise, and about some of its chief practitioners. I’ve been struck, as the reader might be, at how British (rather than Irish) the influences are in this church, but that of course was very much a function of the times. At some point I will write about the enormous Catholic church that dominates the village, with a view to showing how the great era of Catholic church building in Ireland finally led to an emphasis on Irish architecture and Irish artisans. For a very brief word on that, you can read my post A Tale of Four Churches.

Timoleague. On the left are the ruins of the medieval friary, the Catholic Church dominates the hilltop, and the Church of the Ascension is behind the green building on the far right

For now, I will leave you with a detail from George Daniel’s magnificent Christ the King, with all that gorgeous golden hair.

*Stained Glass Windows in Six Roman Catholic Churches, County Offaly November 2010

Mosaics and Maharajas Revisited – Part 1

We have a particular reason for re-publishing this 2016 post, one of our personal favourites, this week. The church urgently needs conservation and this West Cork gem is in danger. The group trying to save it is looking for help. If you feel like donating, here’s the link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/west-cork-hidden-gem

But no matter if you donate or not, you will love this little church and its amazing features and we encourage you to visit it when you can.

What follows is a substantially re-written version of a post originally published in Feb 2016

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This week when we were passing though Timoleague I had a fancy to see inside the Church of the Ascension as I had heard it was ‘worth a look’.  Understatement of the century! What we saw was astonishing, beautiful, and overflowing with history and stories.

The key is kept at the Post Office on the main street – just ask

This Church of Ireland building is typical of the simple gothic revival style favoured by the funders – the Board of First Fruits. (Read more about this almost-forgotten organisation in a post from the always excellent Irish Aesthete.) Built from the ruins of an earlier (probably medieval) church it was consecrated in 1811 but enlarged later in the 19th century. The pointed-arch windows and the square tower with louvre vents are unremarkable features on the exterior, but open the door and step inside and you enter another world.

The mosaics are the most obvious (although by no means the only) glory of this church. Designed to commemorate members of the Travers family (yes, the same Travers whose memorials dot the walls of St Fin Barre’s) they cover the entire interior of the church, apart from the hammer-beam ceiling in the nave. They incorporate motifs in several traditions – Christian, Jewish and Islamic.

Above the west doorway is the Ascension scene – the apostles are rather conventional but I love their colourful robes and the flower borders. Below them is an angel font, similar to a pair in St John’s Catholic Church in Tralee, made of Carrera marble, with yet more mosaic detail.

Members of the Travers family are named in mosaic around the walls – Robert Valentine Travers of the Munster Fusiliers was only 22 when he fell at Gallipoli.

The mosaic tiles were made by Minton, as were the encaustic tiles on the floor (below). Minton is known for its bone china but in fact it was also was the leading producer of British ceramic tiles during the 19th century.

In the chancel, above the marble altar, the ceiling is covered in mosaic, as are the walls, some of which have been gold-leafed. The richness of the detail and the vision that dictated such a glorious conjunction of imagery and colour is jaw-dropping, and mark this little provincial church as part of the influential Oxford Movement of the Victorian era that aimed to return ornamentation and beauty to spaces of worship.

This is the great High Church and Low Church debate. A group called the Cambridge Camden Society promoted a return to gothic architecture: the classical style was seen as pagan, while the great gothic cathedrals of Europe represented the apex of Christian architecture. (More about this in Part 2, which will concentrate on the stained glass and the architecture of the church.)

Installing mosaic is a time-consuming and expensive process – this one involved importing artisans from Italy and the parishioners eventually received help from an unexpected quarter. The final series of installations was paid for by an Indian Maharaja!

The Pelican is a Christian symbol of sacrifice – the pelican was believed to provide her own blood to her young when no other food was available

Madhav Rao Scindia was the Maharaja of Gwalior. He was wealthy and looking for places to  spend his money. What, you don’t believe that? Just read this story about the fabulous and secret treasure chambers of Gwalior. No, I jest – in fact, he was a highly-educated ruler who did much to modernise his state but he was only 9 years old when he inherited the title from his father, pictured below leaving his palace in state.

The Maharaja of Gwalior Before His Palace, C 1887 by Edward Lord Weeks

The British appointed as his surgeon and tutor an Irish doctor from Timoleague – Dr Martin Crofts. A long friendship grew, based on mutual respect (and shared tiger-hunting expeditions) and it is said that Crofts saved the life of the Maharaja’s son. 

The Maharaja in his prime

When Crofts died suddenly in 1915, after only a year of retirement, and was buried in Timoleague the Maharaja funded the completion of the mosaics as a memorial to his friend and mentor.

Thus, a tiny and obscure church in Timoleague invokes not only a great architectural movement but, like the memorials last week, echoes of the Empire and an unlikely international friendship. But this is not the last of the story – in the next post we will explore the other glory of this little church, the stained glass windows. In their own way they also link Timoleague to the great artistic trends of their age.

A detail from one of the windows

Part 2 is here.

Leaving for the Hunt at Gwalior by Edwin Lord Weeks

Brendan in Bronze

Do you know the story of St Brendan? He – ‘The Navigator’ – went to North America long before Columbus. Nearly a thousand years before, in fact: Brendan was born in the fifth century. The story of his voyage, and his remarkable adventures with his fellow monks, has inspired art, music and song ever since then. Here’s the beginning of Christy Moore’s version:

A boat sailed out of Brandon in the year of 501
’twas a damp and dirty mornin’ Brendan’s voyage it began.
Tired of thinnin’ turnips and cuttin’ curley kale
When he got back from the creamery he hoisted up the sail.
He ploughed a lonely furrow to the north, south, east and west
Of all the navigators, St Brendan was the best . . .

We went to Tralee, Co Kerry, to visit the Church of Our Lady and St Brendan: Finola was looking for windows by Murphy Devitt (which are spectacular) and I chanced upon a set of bronze roundels laid into the paving leading up to the main entrance (above). I felt I had to record them here, as they illustrate and tell the whole story of the Saint so wonderfully well. The large medallions were designed and made by Eithne Ring and Liam Lavery, and were installed in 2010. As far as I know this is a unique record of the voyage: well worth a visit – but don’t miss the windows!

St Brendan: part of a huge stained glass installation by Murphy Devitt in this Kerry church

I’m showing the roundels in the order in which you encounter them as you approach the main doors to the church, and giving a very brief description of the subject of each. At the end you will find a commentary provided by the designers, which gives more detail.

1 St Brendan visits St Enda prior to building his boat

2 On a rocky island, Brendan’s crew are led by a hound to a miraculous hall of food

3 The monks find an island inhabited by giant sheep

4 Brendan and his companions land on an island, light a fire and celebrate Mass; they discover that they are on the back of a whale!

5 An island of white birds: one is ringing a bell

6 The monks take meat from a beast that has been slain by a monster

7 On the Island of Grapes the monks witness a battle between a gryphon and a bird: the bird is victorious

8 All the fish in the ocean come to listen to Brendan while he sings

9 Brendan finds a huge crystal pillar rising out of the sea

10 The sea is boiling like an erupting volcano

11 Brendan and his companions meet the unhappy Judas chained to a rocky island

12 The travellers find a hermit who has been fed by an otter for forty years

13 Brendan returns to Ireland to prepare for his death

So now you know the bones of Brendan’s story. Now listen to the music! Saun Davey’s Brendan Voyage, a suite for uillinn pipes and orchestra, is a masterpiece inspired partly by the Saint himself, but also by Tim Severin’s 1976/77 recreation of the journey across the Atlantic in a leather clad boat:

Tim Severin pictured with a model of the boat in which he recreated the Saint’s journey

Let’s give the last words to Christy Moore, and the chorus of his Brendan song (you can find all the lyrics here):

“Is it right or left for Gibraltar?”
“What tack do I take for Mizen Head?”
“I’d love to settle down near Ventry Harbour”,
St Brendan to his albatross he said . . .

Murphy Devitt in Cork, Part 3

Our final two Cork churches are a small private chapel and a large public church. Then I will provide some suggestions for where else to go to see Murphy Devitt windows. If you haven’t read them already, Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

The private chapel first. It’s in Rochestown, attached to a Cappuchin Franciscan school and Friary* and it dates from 1961. It’s all about St Francis – his life and his famous Canticle. Scenes from St Francis’s life make up the large windows on the right side of the aisle. We see him receiving his stigmata, preaching to the birds, setting up the first Christmas crib scene in Greccia.

The Canticle references occupy smaller clerestory windows. They are a sensitive response to the well-known lines:

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,

Through whom You light the night

and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,

In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth

Who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

The Church at Mallow is a large and impressive modern edifice opened in 1967. The windows occupy both side walls, with many abstract panes filling in other spaces.

By 1967 Johnny was teaching full time at the National College of Art and  routinely invited his best students to work for the Studios in the summer. In this case, the student was Terry Corcoran, who, while he did some more stained glass windows on his own subsequently, went on to a career mainly as a painter. His website is here

The design was all Johnny’s, and both Johnny and Róisín provided direction to Terry. As a result, it is hard to distinguish a different hand in these windows – as with all MD windows they are a collaboration, but with the powerful and distinctive look and feel we’ve come to expect from their style.

Compare with this window in Mayfield – the figures have become slightly more stylised

The Last supper – a masterpiece of window design

The Crucifixion window with its sombre blues and greens

The Resurrection window (above in glorious hues of red and orange) was originally immediately to the right of the altar, but in the late 1980s the Parish Priest had it moved to behind the altar, where it had to be back-lit. This left an opening with no stained glass and the priest turned to Murphy Devitt once more. By then, the Studios had been dissolved, but Johnny and Róisín continued to work with Des under a loose arrangement covered by ‘Des Devitt and Associates.’

Róisín Dowd-Murphy’s Assumptions window in full

This window is pure Róisín and is quite at odds with all the other windows in the church. To me, it is a delight, as it showcases Róisín’s style in all its Boticelli-inspired emphasis on costume, hair, flowers and musical instruments. Contrast it with the Assumption window in Mayfield (click here for the image). Although she drew the cartoon for both windows, the Mayfield Assumption had to fit with the overall design for that church, whereas in Mallow she simply followed her own inclinations and what we get is unfiltered Róisín.

Assumption, a closer look

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in Cork, so I want to include a few non-Cork Murphy Devitt windows before I end this series – windows that are open to visit and which are every bit as spectacular as the best of the Cork examples.

Cahir Catholic Church has MD abstract/symbolic windows, including this little window where Johhny’s love of the wobbly and wavy line is clear – also note the unusual glass

The Church of Our Lady and St Brendan in Tralee has two huge representations of its patrons, as well as extensive and beautiful abstract windows.

All the glass in St Michael’s, Dunlaoghaire, is Murphy Devitt, done in the early 70s. Soaring panels of abstract colour punctuate the severe interior and bathe the interior in a warm glow. No photograph – you’ll have to see this one for yourselves. In Limerick, the Dominican Church has a floor to ceiling wall of glass (below) that, among other things, depicts the history of Limerick.

The chapel attached to Newbridge College contains a set of windows based on the Book Of Revelations, an unusual theme for a Catholic Church. My friend and colleague, David Caron, has written a piece on these windows for the Summer 2019 edition of The Irish Arts Review, with brilliant photographs  by Jozef Vrtiel. I recommend that article to you, not least for the erudite and highly readable commentary on the iconography, including the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of whom is below.

That concludes our exploration of this extraordinary Studio, its artists and craftspeople. It’s been a rare pleasure for me to discover them all, and their brilliant windows. Please take a look at the Murphy Devitt website – it’s a work in progress, but it will give you a list of churches and you may find one near you. Let me know!

Brendan, in the Church of Our Lady and St Brendan, Tralee

*Thank you to Fr Sylvester of the Rochestown Cappuchin Franciscan Friary for facilitating my photographing the windows. The chapel is private so these windows are not normally available to view.

Murphy Devitt in Cork, Part 2

In Murphy Devitt in Cork Part 1 I introduced you to the main players in the Studio – Johnny Murphy, Róisín Dowd-Murphy and Des Devitt. Together they set about doing something entirely new and different in stained glass in Ireland, bringing with them their art training, their modern aesthetic sensibilities, and their deep knowledge of and commitment to their craft.

Both photographs above are from the Church of St Michael, Blackrock, Cork. The windows comprise large areas of breakouts with small images placed in the top half. A close up of the pictures chosen for this window reveal Noah’s Ark and Christ Calming the Waters (Contrast this with our final photograph in this post, which is in Caheragh)

Although the Studio was dissolved as a business in 1985, the three continued to work together in a loose arrangement, often under the heading of Des Devitt and Associates. This creative partnership went on for over 50 years: it was so finely attuned that Johnny could describe his vision over the phone and Des knew how to actualise it.

Johnny, Réiltín and Róisín – Réiltín was already a fixture in the Studio at this age

Everyone was pulled into the slipstream – Réiltín Murphy had to stand on a box to reach the drawing table when she started out first. Anthony Devitt* was just a kid when Des warned him not to fall off the scaffolding or his mother would kill him. They all loved it, as did the endless stream of students from the National College of Art, where Johnny was now teaching, who came to help in the summer or to learn how to paint on glass or assemble windows. Other artists came to help when the pressure of work got too much – Terry Corcoran, Rosaline Murphy (not related) Celia Harriss, Paul Britton, Ann Fitzgibbon, Michael Biggs, Michael Timlin to name some.

The only different window at Blackrock is this one, and it’s pure Roisín. There was a fire in the church and this window was rescued and re-installed in a side room once all the new windows were installed by Murphy Devitt Studios. We don’t know what the original ones were like, apart from this one

Johnny was the main designer, hugely respected by Róisín, Des and everyone in his orbit. His was the overall vision for a whole scheme for a church or for a one-off window. Róisín was happiest left to paint, either from Johnny’s designs or from her own – she was a painter at heart and exhibited into her 70s.

This window is a whole family project. It dates from 1974: Róisín painted the figure, Johnny did the little scene of Gougane Barra and Réiltín did the lettering. It’s in a convent chapel in Crosshaven, now closed and inaccessible. The photograph is published with the permission of the Presentation Order. 

Des had a couple of years of art college under his belt too but his genius lay in management and in translating Johnny’s designs (or sometimes just thoughts) into finished windows. He pitched for business, kept the budget under control, delivered work on time and ran the Studio in a completely non-hierarchical way that would be the envy of many a modern management guru. All of them read voraciously, educated themselves in progressive art theories and in how the spiritual could be expressed in glass. Perhaps this isn’t so difficult when the subject is the Passion, or the Life of Christ, or a particular saint like Francis. But many churches requested non-figurative windows, whether for budgetary reason or out of preference. Here the challenge became creating a space that suggested the transcendent, without the aid of obvious imagery.

In the same chapel are many windows that are either entirely non-figurative or with small hints of symbolism. This one looks like the lilies often carried by St Joseph

These mostly or entirely non-figurative windows became one of the hallmarks of Murphy Devitt Studios, instantly recognisable, and capable all by themselves of creating an atmosphere of drama or tranquility. An oval becomes the window to the soul, a series of them leads the eye upwards, thus capturing the notion of the elevation of thoughts and prayers. A sunburst denotes the glory of creation, light falling from heaven.

Ballyhooly Church has all non-figurative windows. This photograph is courtesy C Cashman and R Gem

Some have small elements within them that are complete pictures, mostly Christian symbols, sometimes mere hints. There were favourites – I’ve seen similar ones crop up here and there, although their context leads to fresh treatments. Some churches are a mixture of figurative and non-figurative. Although it’s not in my remit for these posts, if you are near Dun Laoghaire visit St Michael’s church and marvel that expanses of ‘coloured glass’ can create such a calm and devotional atmosphere.

Caheragh Church has a mixture of figurative, non-figurative and non-figurative-with-symbols. This window is one of the latter

Anyone who visits Irish churches knows that what we want in them are our own saints – Patrick and Brigid certainly, but after that they must be local. So along with every other stained glass artist who ever worked in Ireland, Johnny had to study the hagiographies of our obscure legendary saints and satisfy a demanding congregation familiar with the stories.

St Kieran of Cape Clear is one of our treasured West Cork saints

At Caheragh (north of Skibbereen) and Rath (just outside Baltimore) in West Cork two small rural churches demonstrate how well he succeeded. The windows in each are quite different, although both were completed in 1963. In Caheragh the figures are situated in the lovely wavy-lined breakouts that we saw Murphy Devitt use to such effect in Mayfield, in tones of red and yellow.

And here is St Facthna of Rosscarbery

In Rath we see the introduction of a new breakout design, the square or rectangle with grey shadow around the edge, seeming like a solid glass brick. It’s another Murphy Devitt innovation, used to great effect in many of their windows. They used it again the following year in Blackrock (see above).

The Sacrament of Confession gets the Murphy Devitt treatment in Rath

A stained glass technique that was introduced to Ireland in the 60s was that of Dal de Verre. Blocks of coloured glass were faceted to increase their reflectivity (this was done by knocking spalls of glass from the edges and surface of the blocks) and then cemented together with resin, and sometimes concrete. Dal de Verre enabled actual walls of glass to take the place of masonry and to create dramatic expanses of colour as an integral part of construction, rather than as windows.

Chunks of coloured glass, faceted for additional refraction, float in a bed of resin. This is a detail from the Lowertown window below

Murphy Devitt were early adopters and we have one of their examples in Cork, at Lowertown, just outside Schull. It’s a dove of peace/Holy Spirit creating a glowing corner in the baptistry.

I still have two churches to tell you about, in Rochestown and in Mallow. They deserve their own post, and that will conclude this series. See you next week.

From Caheragh, across a two-light window, an image of Christ calming the storm. Traditionally, Christ is shown in one boat with the 12 apostles. However, Rembrandt famously included himself in his depiction of this scene, so I am tempted to think that Johnny is in there somewhere, since there are thirteen apostles in the boats

Part 3 is here.

*This post benefitted greatly from information generously shared by Anthony Devitt.

Murphy Devitt in Cork, Part 1

A couple of years ago I visited the Catholic church in Caheragh, just north of Skibbereen, specifically to look for an image of Thaddeus McCarthy about whom I was researching at the time (see my post Thaddeus McCarthy, the Bishop Who Never Was). As I stepped into the church it was immediately obvious that the stained glass was not the usual traditional images based on renaissance paintings that I had been seeing in most of the churches I had been in. No, what greeted me (above is the Thaddeus window) was something entirely new and different – modernist, colourful, idiosyncratic, painterly, beautifully designed and expertly executed windows, each one identified as the work of Murphy Devitt of Dublin and installed in 1963. I fell in love.

The stained glass windows in the rest of this post (except for one) are all from the Church of Our Lady Crowned, in Mayfield, Cork. This one represents the Risen Christ

There are Murphy Devitt windows in ten Cork churches, and why not? Johnny Murphy, after all, was a Cork boy, brought up in the city and starting his art education at the Crawford School of Art in the 1940s when the life-drawing classes still revolved around the Canova casts. He was a standout student, winning a scholarship to the National College of Art in Dublin. There he met a fellow student, the beautiful Róisín Dowd, whose parents had fled the Belfast blitz to settle in Dublin. Together and separately, they travelled to Paris and Rome, doing what art students do – visiting galleries and studios, studying centuries of European painting, absorbing and responding to those influences (think Botticelli for Róisín, Klimt for Johnny), finding their artistic voices and refining their own styles.

The Presentation in the Temple (detail)

Returning home, they had to wait for several years to marry. Their daughter Réiltín suspects that Grandfather Dowd insisted on Johnny having gainful employment and that may have been why he joined the Harry Clarke Studios in 1952 and began to seriously study the craft of glass painting. Harry Clarke died in 1931 but his studios carried on making stained glass until the 1970s. There was plenty of work for anyone in the ecclesiastical provisioning business as new churches were going up all over the country to serve the burgeoning, and pious, population.

Dessie Devitt, Paddy McLoughlin, Mickey Watson and Johnny Murphy in their busy studio in the 60s

One of the glaziers Johnny worked with at the Harry Clarke Studios was John Devitt, universally known as Des or Dessie. Becoming fast and lifelong friends, they decided to strike out on their own, taking some of the men from the HC Studios with them. It was the late 50s and they couldn’t have picked a better time. Working from a mews in Monkstown and later a custom-built studio in Blackrock, they started to tender successfully for new commissions. This also allowed Johnny and Róisín, who now joined them as well when she could escape motherly duties, to develop their own unique approach to designing and painting stained glass, very different from what had become a somewhat hidebound atmosphere at the Harry Clarke Studios. For an example of what I mean by that, and to illustrate the contrast with MD, take a look at my post Time Warp, featuring a set of Harry Clarke Studio windows from the late 1950s. Below is a detail from one of them – far, indeed from the genius of Harry Clarke himself.

Detail from a Harry Clarke Studio window in Drimoleague. Although this window is interesting for lots of other reasons, the quality of the glasswork and the artistry of the painting had declined over the decades since Harry’s death. 

What Johnny always called their ‘first big break’ came with the Church of Our Lady Crowned, in Mayfield, Cork, completed in 1962. According to The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage:

Our Lady Crowned Roman Catholic Church was built to the design of J.R. Boyd Barrett’s firm and when completed in 1962 comprised the final of five new churches constructed to the north side of Cork city and named after the five Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. The design and construction of the roof is of technical importance while the extensive stained glass windows, from the workshops of Murphy & Devitt in Dublin, are of particular artistic merit.

Too often, stained glass windows are one-off commemorative objects, mounted in an available opening. But when you see a whole scheme of windows in one church, designed to fit and complement the architecture throughout the building, the effect can be breathtaking. And so it is with Our Lady Crowned. The church is wedged-shaped, with enormous glass panels occupying at least half the space. Scenes from the Life of Christ range around the walls, from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion and Epiphany, with the huge area over the main door taken up with a choir of angels heralding the crowning of Mary on one side and Christ on the other.   

The day we visited the church was full of children preparing for their Confirmation

When I told Réiltín Murphy*, Johnny and Róisín’s daughter, that Our Lady Crowned was my favourite of the Cork MD churches, she responded that it was her parents’ favourite too. It’s not hard to see why – it’s a triumph of imagination, artistic vision, craftsmanship and above all collaboration. As I get more familiar with MD windows the distinction between a Johnny Murphy window and a Róisín Dowd Murphy window is sometimes quite clear: Johnny’s style is more angular, with loose dark brushstrokes, strongly marked facial features, heads tilted at an angle, while Róisín’s figures are more curvy and flowing, with greater attention to fabric and to musical instruments. Réiltín characterises the difference thus: Róisín’s figures, I always think, are too busy to pose for their photo while Johnny’s are usually quietly aware of just who they are and what they symbolise.

Nativity, Presentation and Jesus in the Temple windows

In Mayfield, all those elements are present: at first glance it’s impossible to tell where Johnny leaves off and Róisín begins. But we do have evidence, in the form of an original cartoon, that links Róisín directly to the Assumption window and once you see that, you see her hand in other places too – the heavenly choir, for example, has many of her hallmarks.

Róisín’s cartoon for the second angel from the bottom on the right, and the finished window

I am tempted to see Johnny in the passion images – the sombre figure of the suffering Jesus (below) exudes a quiet power alongside the mocking soldiers.

But many of the windows defy easy analysis. Look at the Nativity window (below), for example, and see if you can figure out whose hand is where. Complicating all this in Murphy Devitt windows is that when times got busy they took in extra artists to help with the workload.

In this window note how the ‘break-outs’ (the areas of coloured glass) are used to separate two long panels, which are then unified at the top. The composition, which manages to include all the major figures in two tall narrow panels, is impressive, as is the integration of those panels with the break-outs.

As with most of their commissions, Johnny was the one who sketched out the overall design and decided on the ratio of figurative panels to ‘break ups’, those areas of coloured glass that allow the eye to rest between scenes, to register the passage of time between events. Non-figurative schemes became important elements in the Murphy Devitt style – more about  them later, but for the moment note the highly original way in which the expanse of coloured glass are treated. Nobody else was doing anything like this at the time – it was a unique and beautiful Murphy Devitt innovation.

In this window, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, the separating device is the break-out panel and the unifying device is the floor

Not for Murphy Devitt the regular quarry glass with its dependable lozenge shapes, or static grids of straight lines. Johnny loved the wobbly, the wavy and and the irregular. Réiltín says, He was interested in music: the fugue, he said, whereby the same melody/image is played in different keys – his abstracts are often flipped, turned, twisted to be similar but not identical. He loved glass as a painting medium. He loved its kinetic effect in its flaws, its trees moving outside, its changing light/colours from passing clouds, its seeming to be alive.

A window where the break-outs serve as background, with the two main figures occupying panels and the cross stretching across the space

It’s a lot easier to cut regular shapes and fit them together, of course, but you don’t need an expert for that. This is where Dessie Devitt came into his own as a master glazier. Choosing the glass to match the colour scheme, assembling it all harmoniously, cutting and leading the thousands of pieces that went into a scheme like this – none of it would have been possible without Dessie Devitt and the men who worked alongside him.

The heavenly choir, above  one side of the main door, with Our Lady Crowned on the right. Below is a detail from the other side

By all accounts it was a charmed workplace, a happy environment where everyone worked hard but where laughter and The Chat abounded. Des in particular was gifted with the ability to recognise the absurd and could hardly leave the studio without coming back with an entertaining story.

About the same time as Mayfield, Murphy Devitt won the commission to design a set of windows based on the Canticle of St Francis for another Cork church, this one attached to a Cappuchin Friary. We’ll take a look at that one and some others next week. For the moment, the Mayfield church will serve as an introduction to Johnny, Róisín and Des, their modern aesthetic and their collaborative approach.

*Many thank to Réiltín Murphy for much of the background information, for answering all my questions and for additional photographs, including the people pictures and Róisín’s cartoon.