Symbols and Stories: Looking at Stained Glass

Not all stained glass windows are great works of art but all have a story to tell. Sometimes the story is about the subject of the window (the iconography) and sometimes it’s about the person who is remembered or even the one who is doing the remembering. Sometimes it’s about the craft, or the times, or the influences on the artist. Let’s take a look at a few West Cork windows.

This one (above) is in Ardfield, south of Clonakilty and close to Red Strand. There is no identifying writing on the image but we know that this is St James. How do we know? Well, the church is St James’s and there’s a holy well dedicated to St James nearby. But mostly we know because, even though he looks like a stereotypical saint with the beard, the halo and the long robes, there are symbols to identify him. St James, or San Diego de Compostela, has given his name to the great Camino pilgrimage and he is mostly depicted, as in this portrait, as a simple pilgrim, carrying a staff with a gourd for water suspended from it, and wearing the scallop shell, symbol of the pilgrim.

The first three photographs in this post are all from St James Catholic Church in Ardfield, by Watson of Youghal

The other thing that’s really interesting about this window is the use of Celtic Revival interlacing. It’s beautifully and expertly done in all the windows in this church, and it marks those windows as the work of Watson’s of Youghal, our own great Cork stained glass producers, whose work can be found all over the county and the country. Parish priests would often specify their wish for this type of ornamentation in preference to the usual gothic canopies and it became a hallmark of Watson’s work. I will write more about this in a future post, so this serves as an introduction.

Windows in Catholic churches most often take as their subject the iconography of the new Testament and this occasionally includes images from the Book of Revelations. A favourite, because it is a Marian image, is the verse 12: 1-17, which goes like this:

1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2  And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. 3  And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. 5  And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne

While I have seen many depictions of the woman clothed in the sun with the moon and stars, the red dragon is quite rare, and this one (above and the two below), done by Mayer of Munich for Clonakilty Church of the Immaculate Conception, is striking. The artist has given each of the dragon’s heads fearsome fangs and snakes’ tongues: each has a crown (a rather cute one) and by dint of leaving out horns on two of the heads there are indeed ten horns.

The Book of Revelations has been traditionally ascribed to John the Evangelist, whose symbol is the eagle. Many modern scholars now believe it was written by John of Patmos but this depiction (below) is the traditional one of John as the beloved, young, slightly androgynous apostle, writing down what he is seeing in the revelation.

I was also struck in the same Clonakilty church by the huge rose windows with rows of saints beneath them. While the east window features Irish saints, the northern window pictures five saints associated with the Franciscans, possibly because of the proximity of the ruined Franciscan Abbey in Timoleague. They are conventionally, but beautifully done, depicting Saints Bonaventure, Louis, Francis, Clara and Elizabeth of Hungary.

The St Louis window that I am more familiar with is by Harry Clarke, in the Castletownshend Church of St Barrahane, and I have written about that one in my post The Gift of Harry Clarke. This depiction shows a young St Louis, who was King Louis IX of France, carrying a crown of thorns.

St Louis was a complex character, renowned for his holiness and beneficence and for feeding the poor at his own table. He was also an art lover and collector of relics, building the famous Sainte-Chapelle to house them, including the crown of thorns, the prize of his collection. While he instituted important law reforms and championed fairness and justice for his citizens, he also expanded the Inquisition, persecuted Jews, and participating in two crusades against Islam. Nothing, apparently, that prevented him being canonised less than 30 years after his death.

The depiction of St Elizabeth (furthest right) also struck me as very beautiful

My final example for today is a window by the Irish Firm of Earley in St Finbarr’s church in Bantry. This caught my interest for several reasons. First, it’s a fine windows and not imported but executed by the Earleys at a time when Irish stained glass manufacturers were competing for business against cheaper, mass-produced windows from Britain and Germany. This is significant because the windows were ordered and paid for by William Martin Murphy, one of the richest captains of industry in Ireland and a promoter of home-grown manufacturing. They were installed in 1914, only a year after the 1913 Dublin Lockout had made him a notorious and hated figure in Ireland – a reputation that some historians are trying to rehabilitate now, or at least to provide a more balanced picture of the man. He was from West Cork and the window is to honour his parents.

But the subject matter is also telling. On top we have Jesus in the act of saying to Peter, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (below). In case we are in any doubt, an angel overhead carries the pontifical tiara. This is a reminder to Catholics to bow to the authority of Rome in all things, and was characteristic of the kind of Ultramontane Catholicism that typified the new Irish State. See my post Saints and Soupers: the Story of Teampall na mBocht (Part 7, the New Catholicism) for an explanation of what drove the Irish church in this period.

Underneath, St Finbarr is also receiving a bishop’s mitre from an angel – the message is a subtle one but well understood by parishioners as drawing a parallel between the lines of authority emanating from Rome as much in Biblical times as in ancient monastic Ireland. (The windows in Killarney Cathedral are all in this vein.) Perhaps for William Martin Murphy there was an ultimate point to be made about subjection to proper authority.

So take a closer look at familiar windows – you might find depths in them you haven’t noticed before, stories that are hidden behind all that colour (like one of my own personal favourites, below.)

 

The Big Sing

Caz addresses

Doesn’t a Big Sing sound like the greatest thing ever?

And that’s what it is – a group singing experience that will leave you feeling lifted, restored, and – well, just plain happy. The Big Sing is the brainchild of Caz Jeffreys, the director of the choir I belong to, AcapellaBella. Caz is amazing – she has perfect pitch, she teaches us our parts without any requirement to read music (or even be a good singer), she can give us our notes on the fly if we’re wobbling, she plays several instruments and has great rhythm.

Sopranos

She also has a philosophy about singing and community – one that emphasises inclusivity and the joy of participating in a choir. As they say in West Cork – ah sure, you know yourself, like, you can’t come away in a bad mood from an evening’s singing. Caz directs several choirs around West Cork and last year she got the idea to bring them together for a community event she called The Big Sing. It took place in Bantry as part of the Feel Good Festival. You’ll get a good idea of how that went and see an interview with Caz by watching this videoThis one, the second Big Sing, was yesterday in Clonakilty – indoors because it was too wet for the scheduled town square – and it helped to wrap up Wellness Week.

Everybody’s getting in the spirit of the Big Sing

We started with a choreographed dance from West Cork Inclusive Dance. I’ve mentioned this group before, when I wrote about the moving and excellent performance of Bridge in Ballydehob. The WCID group includes both able-bodied dancers and those with intellectual or physical disabilities.

The dance begins

The dance started in a circle, with the dancers stirred to life by a breeze – breeze music was supplied by The Happiness EnsembleOne by one they came alive until the whole circle started to move in unison. Uniting in a tight group, except for three dancers, they moved forward into the audience, as if intent on a single purpose.

Dance movement forward

The three dancers left behind sought them out.

Three dancers

Finally the whole group came together, first low on the ground and then rising up to their final triumphant stance. It was beautiful and we hooted and hollered and applauded while the dancers hugged and high-fived.

Hands raised

For the Big Sing that followed, several of Caz’s choirs had come from various communities – Ballydehob, Kinsale and Ballincollig, as well as the choirs from Dunmanway and Castletownbere with their leader, Jane Goss (another of the Big Sing project facilitators). But it wasn’t just the choirs – the dancers joined in and the audience too, and lots of people from the local community groups that Caz worked with to support their involvement in the project. It was uplifting and energising to be in such a large group with everyone singing their heart out and Caz up front encouraging us all and giving us our cues and keeping us on key and on the beat. The music for the Big Sing was provided by a drumming group from the National Learning Network.

Caz and Jane

Caz gives us our cue, with Jane Goss leading the singing from the stage

She had chosen the music well – several of the songs related to all our struggles to stay cheerful in the face of both everyday trouble and the huge challenges that face the world. It was emotional  – lots of tears by the time we’d finished Stand By Me – but ultimately inspiring and cheering.

Singing!

They LOVE to sing!We LOVE singing!

Read more about Caz and her approach to music on her website – and if you live in West Cork and love to sing, consider joining one of her choirs. There’ll be another Big Sing in October, so even if you don’t have the time for a regular commitment, you could come and learn the Big Sing songs with us before the event. Just get in touch with Caz. 

After a practice, I promise you that you’ll go home in a good mood!

Young members

Just like this little dancer!

Irish Roads

Heading towards the light

Driving the Gap of Dunloe in Kerry – it can only be done in winter.

To give you a flavour of what it’s like to drive in Ireland, I’ve put together a few of my favourite photographs of the roads we’ve travelled. Sometimes I wonder if we will get to the point where we take for granted the spectacular scenery which is such an everyday occurrence for us, but then we find ourselves pulling over once again to wonder at the wild landscape, the grandeur of the mountains, the way the sea cuts deeply into the sandstone cliffs, the old castles and ruins that dot the fields – and we know that we will never tire of Irish roads.

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I’ve chosen only photographs that have roads in them, so you can get the feel of travelling in Ireland. And yes, it does rain in Ireland and the clouds come down and cover everything and then driving isn’t as much fun. Find a pub to hole up in, wait a while, and try a prayer to St Medard

Dingle

Of course some  of you, dear readers, do this every day, like we do, so tell us your own favourite Irish roads – or share a photograph on our Roaringwater Journal Facebook page if you like.

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Obstacles are common – so don’t drive too fast along the rural roads as you never know what might be around the bend.

Tractor pace

And there’s no point in being in a big hurry…
Only room for one at a timeThere’s only room for one at a time

We do have freeways/motorways in Ireland, and tolled highways, and congested city streets with honking traffic. Our advice is to get off the highways and out of the cities as soon as possible. Get on this road, for example, that runs through the Black Valley in Kerry, and see where it takes you.

Black Valley, Kerry

Happy driving in Ireland!

By the lighthouse

Midsummer Maunderings…

Beautiful Cappaghglass

Beautiful Cappaghglass

…or Life Seen Through a Lens… Things found, places visited, mainly in the environs of West Cork, often just a few steps from Nead an Iolair, although one or two are from further afield. We have been away in Tipperary this week, so these posts are ‘ones we have prepared earlier’.

A reminder of Megaloceros - the extinct Irish Elk

A reminder of Megaloceros – the extinct Irish Elk, at Ballymaloe

curraghs

Currachs at Baltimore

Shelly Beach - our local secret

Shelly Beach – our local secret

Hugo helps himself!

Hugo helps himself!

guiness

Maestros Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly playing in Ballydehob

Maestros Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly playing in Rosie’s

An ordinary day in Ballydehob - with seanchaí Eddie Lenihan

An ordinary day in Ballydehob – with Seanchaí Eddie Lenihan

Ferdia - our garden companion

Ferdia – our garden companion

Dawn Moon over Rossbrin Castle

Dawn Moon over Rossbrin Castle

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By the way… Dictionary definition of Maunder: to move or act in a dreamy, idle or thoughtful manner. Synonyms: wander, drift, meander, amble, dawdle, potter, straggle… Finola has only ever heard the word used in Ireland.

thady's

Thady’s window on the World

March Miscellany

shovel

Another selection of Irish ‘normalities’ which have caught my English eye over the last few months (the previous selection is here). They have amused me, surprised me and sometimes baffled me. I have the greatest respect for their ‘Irishness’ – a unique outlook on life and culture from a small island which has made a big mark on the world. Mostly the images need no commentary but I have provided a little information for the curious at the end of the post.

them jobs

holy water

scrap

sprigging

ford hare

red light

shrine

luckyhouse

posterity

till he comes

walker

walking

offerings

Most of the images are from our own neighbourhood, but the spectacular wells and shrines – including the one above (to St Brigid) were seen on our trip to Clare. Can’t resist just one more image: it’s the view we enjoy every day from Nead an Iolair, constantly changing and always arresting.

panorama