Re: Re: reordering and destruction of irish cathedrals – St Colmans Cathedral, Cobh

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Re. # 376

In reply to Anto.

2. Holy Cross Abbey 1180. This is certainly a very fine example of Irish Cistercian architecture and, typical for the order, situated close to a river. This is a true restoration in that the abbey church had been abandoned for over two hundred years. It must be said that the technical aspects of the restoration were carried out to a very high standard and are worthy of praise. The architect for this entire process is Percy le Clerc -to whom great credit must be given for the work done for there was no eperience or other example of an undertaking of this kind in Ireland when he started in 1975. What is rather amazing is that the cloister -at least up to very recently- remains unfinished and gives the impression that the original enthusiasm for the project has dried up. It would be worth completing the job to the same high standards. As at Duiske, the wood work was done to medieval standard and adapted practice. It is authentic and genuine and certainly has none of the faux air about it that is so conspicuous in the work of Richard Hurely and others. I am not sure about the gradiant of the floor. My recollection is that the gradiant increases as one goes towards the west door, thereby leaving the chancel and altar in a depression. My recollection of French medieval churches would have the gradiant reversed, leaving the chancel and the altar on a higer level with the nave of the church. There is a symbolic reason for this: namely, the ascent to Calvary and its association with the sacrifice of the Mass. The liturgical lay out of the Abbey church is, however, another question and a sad one. Again, something has been intruded into a magnificent true medieval setting never intended to take it and which brutally runs rough shod over the entire logic of the medieval building and the reasoning behind its spacial disposition. The main problem, is of course, the cataclasmic abandonment of the Chancel, the “sacred” space of the buiding in which the “actio sacra” takes place. Placing the altar at the crossing effectively renders the most important element of the original composition of space utterly redundant. Michael Bigg’s limestone altar is a monolithic embarrassment and should never have been allowed into such a beautiful and delicate space as Holy Cross Abbey. The same is true of the dreadful lectern and seat (ridiculously placed at a small remove from the magnificent original sedilia) . The liturgical arrangement, as it stands, also has a functional knock on effect on the redundant chancel where we can see the beautiful sedilia (arranged in accordance with the usage of the Roman Rite) shamlessly abused by a clutter of surplus benches and chairs. Even more ironic is the fate of the piscina next to the sedilia. Having survived the ravages of two centuries of war and persecution, it has had what looks like an organ planked in front of it. Would it not have been better, perhaps, had Ireton ripped it out in the same brutal fashion as he had his horsemen drag the high altar out of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick? Who knows. However, one thing is consoling – the late twentieth century dross currently defacing the interior of Holy Cross Abbey can (and I suspect will) eventually be dragged out and dumped. I am not altogether convinced either by the modern shrine containing the relic of the true Cross which is supposed to be the raison d’etre of the Abbey.

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