Looking for Patrick

Patrick lights the Paschal Fire on the Hill of Slane. Richard King window, Church of St Peter and Paul, Athlone

A joint post – text by Robert, images by Finola

Last week we talked about Ireland’s very first saint – Ciarán (or Piran), who was born on Cape Clear. His aim in life was to convert the heathen Irish to Christianity, but they were having none of it: they tied him to a millstone and hoisted him over the edge of a cliff. Fortunately – and miraculously – the wondrous millstone floated him over to Cornwall where he became their Patron Saint and is celebrated with great acclaim on March 5th every year.

A typical representation of Patrick, older and bearded, in bishop’s robe, holding a shamrock in one hand and a crozier on the other. Skibbereen Cathedral

To return the favour of gaining an important saint from Ireland, the British have given Ireland their special saint – Patrick – and he is being celebrated this week in similar fashion. So here’s the story of Saint Patrick, seen through the eyes of an Englishman (albeit one with Cornish connections) and illustrated by Finola with a series of images from her collection.

Still traditional – looking fierce – but this one has beautiful detailing, including the interlacing surrounding the cherubs. St Carthage Cathedral, Lismore

Of course, there’s the real Patrick – the one we know through his own Confessio. The best summary we’ve come across of what can be deduced from the historical documents is the audio book Six Years a Slave, which can be downloaded from Abarta Heritage, and which is highly recommended (be warned – no snakes!). But what you’re going to get from me today is the good old-fashioned Patrick, with all his glamour and colour and centuries of accrued stories – just as he’s shown in Finola’s images.

Six Years a Slave – this Harry Clarke window in the Church of The Assumption, Tullamore, seems to depict Patrick tending sheep during the period of his captivity

Patrick was born and brought up somewhere in the north west of Britain. He was of Romano British descent: his father was a a decurion, one of the ‘long-suffering, overtaxed rural gentry of the provinces’, and his grandfather was a priest – the family was, therefore, Christian. In his own writings Patrick describes himself as rustic, simple and unlearnèd.  When still a boy, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and taken to be a slave in Ireland. He was put to work on a farm somewhere in the west and spent the long, lonely hours out in the fields thinking about the Christian stories and principles he had been taught back home.

Patrick is visited by a vision – the people of Ireland are calling to him to come back and bring Christianity to him. Richard King window, Church of St Peter and Paul, Athlone.  Read more about Richard King and the Athlone windows in Discovering Richard King

After six years he escaped from his bondage and made his way back to Britain – apparently by hitching a lift on a fishing boat. Because he had thought so much about Christianity during those years away, he decided to become a bishop which, after a few years of application, he did. Although he had hated his enforced capture he was aware that Ireland – as the most westerly outpost of any kind of civilisation – was one of the only places in the known world that remained ‘heathen’, and he was nagged by his conscience to become a missionary there and make it his life’s work to convert every Irish pagan.

Detail from Patrick window by Harry Clarke in Ballinasloe

When you see Patrick depicted in religious imagery he always looks serious and, perhaps, severe. You can’t imagine him playing the fiddle in a session or dancing a wild jig at the crossroads. In fact he was well know for his long sermons: on one occasion he stuck his wooden crozier into the ground while he was preaching and, by the time he had finished, it had taken root and sprouted into a tree!

Patrick with his hand raised in a blessing, accompanied by his symbols of the Paschal Fire and the shamrock. Harry Clarke Studio window, Bantry

Perhaps it was his severity that caused him to be respected: while giving another sermon (at the Rock of Cashel) he accidentally and unwittingly put the point of his crozier through the foot of the King of Munster. The King waited patiently until Patrick had finished sermonising then asked if it could be removed. Patrick was horrified at what he’d done, but the King said he’d assumed it was all part of the initiation ritual!

In Richard King’s enormous Patrick window in Athlone, the saint is depicted as youthful and clean-shaven. Here he is using the shamrock to illustrate the concept of the Trinity

Patrick first landed on the shores of Ireland just before Easter in 432 AD and established himself on the Hill of Slane – close to the residence of the High King. In those days the rule was that only the King himself was to light the Bealtaine Fire to celebrate the spring festival, but Patrick pre-empted this by lighting his own Paschal Fire on the top of the hill, thus establishing his authority over that of the High King (see the first image in this post). Somehow, he got away with it – and the fire has been lit on the top of the Hill of Slane every Easter from that day to this.

Another panel from the Richard King window – Eithne and Fidelma receive communion from Patrick. They were daughters of the King of Connaught; Eithne was fair-haired and Fidelma a redhead, and they were baptized at the Well of Clebach beside Cruachan

St Patrick seems to have been everywhere in Ireland: there are Patrick’s Wells, Patrick’s Chairs (one of which in Co Mayo – the Boheh Stone – displays some fine examples of Rock Art), Patrick’s Beds and – on an island in Lough Dergh – a Patrick’s Cave (or ‘Purgatory’) where Jesus showed the saint a vision of the punishments of hell.

Patrick blesses St Mainchin of Limerick. Detail from the Mainchin window in the Honan Chapel, by Catherine O’Brien for An Túr Gloinne

The place which has the most significant associations with Patrick, perhaps, is Croagh Patrick – the Holy Mountain in County Mayo, on the summit of which the saint spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting and praying, before casting all the snakes out of Ireland from the top of the hill – an impressive feat. To this day, of course, there are no snakes in Ireland – or are there? See my post Snakes Alive for musings on this topic (it includes a most impressive window from Glastonbury!)

Like many Patrick windows, this one, By Harry Clarke in Tullamore, shows Patrick banishing the snakes. This one has all the gorgeous detailing we expect from Clarke, including bejewelled snakes

When Patrick considered that he’d finished his task, and the people of Ireland were successfully and completely converted, he returned to Britain and spent his retirement in the Abbey of Glastonbury – there’s a beautiful little chapel there dedicated to him.

This depiction of Patrick on the wall of his Glastonbury chapel shows him with familiar symbols but also several unusual symbols – an Irish wolfhound, high crosses, and Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain

It’s logical he should have chosen that spot to end his days as it must be the most blessed piece of ground in these islands, having been walked upon by Jesus himself who was taken there as a boy by his tin-trading uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. St Bridget joined Patrick there in retirement and they are both buried in the Abbey grounds, along with the BVM who had preceded them to that place a few centuries earlier.

From the George Walsh window in Eyeries, Patrick returns to convert the Irish

A depiction of Patrick below comes from St Barrahane’s Church of Ireland in Castletownsend where he is shown alongside St George. The window dates from before Irish independence and is an attempt to show the unity of Britain and Ireland through their respective patron saints. Perhaps meant to represent friendship between the countries, nevertheless nowadays it seems to display a colonial overtone that is an uncomfortable echo of past mores.

The window is by Powells of London and dates to 1906

So let’s leave Patrick doing what he came back to do – a last panel from the Richard King window in Athlone shows him performing his saintly task of converting the Irish – one chieftain at a time.

The Christmas Story, One Window at a Time

Bandon Catholic Church

The Christmas story, as told in stained glass in Irish churches, is the biblical story. There are no Christmas trees or Santa Clauses, no references to anything other than the story of the birth of the Christ child. Not surprising, since stained glass is to be found mainly in churches after all. The one above is from the Catholic Church in Bandon. Pop in next time you’re passing – it will surprise you with its size and striking colour.

Church of the Annunciation, Cork. AnnunciationFive windows in a Cork church tell the story, beginning with the Annunciation

Two years ago I wrote a post about depictions of the Nativity by Harry Clarke. This year I’m branching out, to show you some of the stained glass Nativity images I have found in churches all over Ireland. Some are by artists I can identify, some are by the Harry Clarke Studios (after Harry’s death in 1931), and some are by anonymous artists. Some are traditional and some are avant garde. 

The next two windows show Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist), followed by the betrothal of Mary and Joseph

In Cork, in the Church of the Annunciation – a church designed by the stone carver Seamus Murphy – a series of windows illustrate the complete Nativity story, from the Annunciation to the Visit by the Magi. These windows are by the Harry Clarke Studios and were installed in the 40s.

The birth in the manger with shepherds visiting, and the arrival of the Magi round out the story

When we visited Kilkenny we saw two examples in St Canice’s Cathedral. The first, a traditional crib scene, looks like it belongs on a Christmas card.

St Canices

On  another wall in the same church is a two-light window by A E Child, depicting the visit of the Magi. A E Child was a highly influential teacher, and member of Sarah Purser’s Tower of Glass (An Túr Gloine) – a contemporary of Harry Clarke and a highly skilled stained glass artist, but with a more orthodox style than Clarke’s.

Canice's AE Childe

Still in Kilkenny, the Black Abbey has reputedly the largest stained glass window in Ireland. It’s divided into numerous smaller scenes and this one depicts the Nativity. It bears a striking resemblance to the Christmas card window from St Canice’s – perhaps it was from the same studio.

Black Abbey Kilkenny

In  Tullamore, the enormous Church of the Assumption has wonderful stained glass by different artists. Several large windows are by the Dublin firm of Earley. This one of the madonna and child shows a small shepherd on her right and three crowns on her left – a clear indication, I think, that this is intended as a Nativity image. The swirling colours and modern lines create a dramatic effect.

Church of the Assumption, Tullamore

The St Joseph window in the Richard King collection in Athlone contains a detail in one of the side panels that depicts the Flight into Egypt, and another of the marriage of Joseph and Mary.

Back to Cork and to the Holy Trinity Church on Father Matthew Quay, just behind the South Mall. Three windows on the west wall are by the Harry Clarke Studios. Research in the Studio archives (held in Trinity College) has revealed the the middle window was designed by Harry Clarke, but executed in fact by his father. It has many of the hallmarks of Harry but lacks the rich detail for which he became justly famous.

Holy Trinity Church, Cork, Designed by HC and executed by his father

Behind the altar, on the north wall of the same church is an enormous window dedicated to Daniel O’Connell and containing scenes from the life of Christ. It is conventional, but finely painted and the colours are rich.

Holy Trinity Cork, East Window

I will leave you with two of our favourites. Close to home I love the the Sarah Purser/Tower of Glass round window in the Holy Rosary Church in Kilcoe. Here’s a detail.

Tower of Glass Magi closeup. Kilcoe

And finally, from the village church of Eyeries on the Beara Peninsula, Robert wrote about  a stunning set of windows by George Walsh. His nativity scene is touching and beautiful.

george walsh nativity

Discovering Richard King

Patrick Vox Hib

Here is a typical Harry Clarke piece of stained glass – note the large expressive eyes and long tapering fingers, the gorgeous raiment of the angel and that headdress, the additional tiny angelic figure hiding in the blue glass, the border filled with non-repeating decorative elements. All classic Clarke elements, right? But this is not the work of Harry Clarke. He died in 1931 and this window was designed, executed and installed in 1937, by the studio that he founded and which carried on after his death under the name Harry Clarke Studios.

Patrick Preaching

The first image in this post is from the Patrick window and shows Vox Hibernicæum – the people of Ireland calling Patrick back to convert them. The image above is from the same window – Patrick preaching to the chieftains **

This window, it turns out, along with several others in the same church, was the work of Harry Clarke’s apprentice, the man who stepped into the breach caused by his death and took over as the main stained glass artist of the Studio. That man was Richard King.

Joseph all

The Joseph window: each frame tells a story from the life of Joseph or references other biblical Josephs.

I had never heard of Richard King until I stepped into Sts Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Athlone during our Midlands trip. That’s not all that surprising, because after Harry Clarke died windows from his workshop were generally signed simply by the Studio and individual artists were not identified. Mostly, it seems, this was to capitalise on the Harry Clarke brand, which by the time of his death was justly celebrated, and thereby to keep orders coming in.

Joseph scenes

Close up of the lowest frames in the Joseph windows. Clockwise from top right: the marriage of Mary and Joseph; the death of Joseph; Genesis 41:55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”; Four rivers and two deer: the four rivers of Paradise; This is a reference to another biblical Joseph mentioned in Psalm 104, ‘constituit eum dominum domus suae et principem omnis possessionis suae’ – He made him master of his house, and ruler of all his possession **

Richard King had been trained by Harry: he had executed windows designed by Harry under Harry’s close supervision. A promising artist when he joined, he probably did more than set glass etched and drawn by Harry, but may have been responsible for background elements, borders, details. Harry was away in Davos, gravely ill, for the last year of his life and Richard may well have translated his cartoons (window designs on paper) into glass. But I am speculating here, and I hope to learn and write more about Richard King in the future. He went on to have a long and distinguished career as an illustrator.

Purgatory all

The Purgatory window: prayer fragments in Greek, Latin and Irish; the righteous ascend to heaven; Christ descends to purgatory with a banner to lead those who have done their penance up to heaven; in the lower left St Monica is on her deathbed while St Augustin looks on; lower right, the mass is celebrated; upper right, Jonah (whose purgatory was to be in a whale) and upper right Job, who was robbed of everything he held dear by the devil, thus testing his faith **

The King windows I photographed are enormous. (There are other Harry Clarke Studio windows by Richard King in the church as well as windows by other companies, but I will concentrate on these ones for the purpose of this post.) They represent St Joseph, St Patrick, Jesus, Mary and Purgatory. All follow the same convention of placing the main figure centrally, surrounded by smaller panels which tell stories or illustrate events from the life of the central character.

Purgatory Jesus and the Saints

Close up: Christ descends to purgatory

HC Studio, Athlone

Close up: the Job panel

The sheer size of the windows has allowed ample scope for this approach, but size alone cannot account for the myriad details that King inserts into every possible space in the window. Words abound, in several languages and scripts. References to the ancient and the modern, the mythological, the hagiographical, and the historical jostle for space with abstract designs, tiny figures both realistic and imaginative, symbols, animals, buildings – everywhere the eye lingers new elements are discovered. In its essence, this is very Harry Clarke; in the sheer exuberance of its execution, this is Richard King having fun, cramming in as much as his own fertile imagination can offer up.

Mary Rosary Angelus and Scapular

This is the Mary window and these sections concentrate on images of Marian veneration. Clockwise from top left: workers pause to pray the Angelus; a family says the rosary together; St Simon Stock receives the scapular from Mary (more on this here);  Mary; St Dominic receives the rosary **

The Harry Clarke Studios closed down in the 70s. For many years after Harry’s death in 1931 it carried on his tradition of highly stylised and beautiful works of art in stained glass, although over time works became more conventional and quality suffered as orders were harder to get, costs rose and corners were cut. Look, for example at the Studio windows in my post Time Warp, about the Drimoleague church, done in the 50s. But that’s in the future – what we can see, under Richard King’s assured hand, are windows that proudly carry on the Clarke preoccupations with designing windows that dazzle and inspire.

Juses details bottom

Details from the Jesus window from left to right: Pope Pius x; Manna from heaven; Tobia walking with the Angel Raphael, with Michael and Gabriel; eating the paschal lamb; Matt Talbot, a Dublin man who died in 1925 and who was considered on the path to sainthood because of his extreme practice of asceticism **

Perhaps, though, there is another element that creeps in now that Harry is gone – the religious fervour of the early years of the state is now in full swing. Government and Church Hierarchy work hand in glove to develop and promote a vision of Ireland that is devout, Catholic, monocultural, conforming and repressive. A high point in this relationship occurs in 1932 with the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin – an event explicitly referenced in the Patrick window. Richard King will never, as Harry did, fall afoul of puritanical state censorship – he will go on, in fact, to become the chief illustrator for a Catholic magazine.

Patrick top

The top of the Patrick window explicitly references the Eucharistic Congress of 1932 and the crossed flags of Ireland and the Vatican. Try to enlarge this image and see how many different elements you can identify. Good luck!

But in 1937 he is at the height of his powers as a stained glass artist. I hope to find and illustrate more of his work in that medium in future posts.

Patrick details and cathedrals

From the bottom of the Patrick window: Patrick lights the paschal fire on the Hill of Slane; he is flanked by images of two St Patrick Cathedrals, New York and Melbourne; Beneath, the swans represent the ancient myth of the Children of Lir (although there were four swans in the myth, not three) – the spell they are under is broken when they hear St Patrick’s bell

** The photographs in this post are my own, but for the explanations that I use in the captions, I am indebted to Niall McAuley, who has mounted a Flikr Album of all the stained glass in this church and has researched and annotated each image. I don’t know you, Niall, but I salute your wonderful images and your exhaustive notes on each of the windows. Please go to Niall’s album for more on all the King windows (especially if you are stumped by the Patrick window) and also windows by other stained glass suppliers and artists in this amazing collection.