Re: Re: reordering and destruction of irish cathedrals – St Colmans Cathedral, Cobh
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The Pro-Cathedral Church of the Conception of the Virgin Mary was built on the site of Lord Annsley’s town house at Marlborough Street and Elephant Lane, which had been acquired by Archbishop Thomas Troy in 1803 for Â£5,100. The building commenced in 1814 and was completed in November 1825. Plans for a church in the revivalist Greek Doric style, submitted by an architect who signed himself “P”, won the commission. It is accepted that the architect was George Papworth (1781-1855). Born in London, he moved to Ireland in 1806, and won commissions for Grattan Bridge, King’s (Heuston) Bridge (1828), Camolin Park, Wexford (1815), the Dublin Library in D’Olier Street (1818-1820) and Sir Patrick Dunn’s Hospital and was eventually Professor of Architecture in the Royal Hibernian Academy. The Pro-Cathedral contains monuments to Cardinal Paul Cullen and his immediate predecessor Archbishop Daniel Murray by Thomas Farrell. The apse is decorated by an alto-relief of the Ascension by John Smyth. Thomas Kirk (1781-1845) supplied a monument for the Reverend Thomas Clarke: two figures of Religion and Charity bewteen an urn which was his first exhibited work at the Society of Artists (as Piety and Chastity) in 1813. A relief of the Good Shepherd and a monument to William and Anne Byly are also attributed to Kirk. The organ is by the Dublin organbuilder John White. Its present architectural case was build by WIlliam Hill c. 1900. The great artistic treasure of the Pro-Cathedral, however, was the High Altar by Peter Turnerelli (1774-1839). Born in Belfast, Turnerelli had been deeply influenced by Canova (who much admired Turnerelli’s bust of Grattan (1812). From 1798-1803 drawing master to the princesses of George III, he was appointed Sculptor in ordinary in 1801. While his busts of George III, Washington and Wellington (1815), Louis XVIII (1816), Henry Grattan (1812 and Daniel O’Connell (1829) are well known, his master piece was the High Altar of the Pro-Cathedral with its splendidly proportioned mensa, reredos and ciborium. In 1886, rather incongrously, three stained-glass windows were installed behind the High Altar. Archbishop Dermot Ryan introduced a reordering to the Pro-Cathedral in the late 1970s. The architect for the re-ordering was Professor Cathal O’Neill . In an act beggering civilized belief, he demolished Turnerelli’s High Altar and reredos. The praedella of the altar mensa was salvaged and re-used to form a new altar erected on a lower plain in a hum drum extended sanctuary covered with carpet. The neo-classical altar rails were removed. The canopied and dignified neo-classical Throne was dismantled. The pulpit was reduced to the redundancy of a side aisle and a few surviving vestiges of the High Altar scattered about the interior. The Ciborium of Turnerelli’s High Altar was conserved and placed on a squat disproportioned plinth on a lower plain. The result has been the complete loss of the graceful, proportioned, symetrically articulated dimensions of the Apse and of the building itself which now lacks a central focus and suffers from the same focal void as Longford and Thurles. It seem strange that nobody seems to have realized that the High Altar was custom built to a location it occupied for 150 years. Attempts to relieve the focal void by drapery have not been convincing. It is suggested that at the time of the reordering, the significance of the High Altar and its provenance may not have been known to the architect responsible for its demolition. In Irish circumstances, the destruction of such a major work of art may possibly have cultural significance not too dissimilar to the bombing of Monte Cassino or the feuerblitzing of the Frauenkirche in Dresden.
Just registered. Wonderful information on the Cathedrals. Many thanks. I wondered whether the image of the sculptor was Turnerelli? For one exciting moment I thought it might be John Smyth (c1773-1840) on whom I am doing M.A. research. As you mentioned he executed the Ascension in the Pro. Have you come across any image of him? I feel that this Ascension is somewhat unsatisfying when viewed from the door. Do you think that the reordering of the sanctuary might have accentuated this impression? Anything on John Smyth from anyone would be most welcome.