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Exhibition on Church of Ireland’s historical architectural drawings

By Sarah Mac Donald - 07 May, 2019

Collaboration between Irish Architectural Archive and the Representative Church Body Library (RCB) is one of the Church of Ireland’s events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Disestablishment.

Castlejordan parish church, Co. Meath: entitled ‘Design of a Church & Steeple or Tower for Castle Jordan’, by Chas Lilly Arch. 8 Merrion Row Dublin’, with the approval of the Bishop of Meath: ‘I approve of this plan T.L. Meath [Thomas Lewis O’Beirne Bishop of Meath, 1798–1823] Oct 7 1820’.

Archbishop Richard Clarke of Armagh will this evening open a new exhibition at the Irish Architectural Archive on the Church of Ireland’s historical architectural drawings.

Entitled ‘A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World’, the exhibition is curated by Dr Michael O’Neill FSA.

It draws on his extensive research into the Church of Ireland’s architectural history, which has included the digitisation of over 8,000 drawings to safeguard them for future generations.

The exhibition highlights how the Church of Ireland’s churches, cathedrals and glebe houses have made “an indelible impression on the Irish landscape”.

According to organisers, “Spires, towers and pinnacles punctuate the skyline while in subtler ways the residential aesthetic of the glebe houses provide visual indicators of the former pre-eminence of the Church of Ireland – the Established or state Church until 1871.”

This is one of the Church of Ireland’s events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Disestablishment.

It is a collaboration between the Representative Church Body Library (RCB) and the Irish Architectural Archive, which will house the exhibition between May and August. A series of lectures is planned for Heritage Week later in the year.

While many of the churches featured no longer function as places of worship, and the surviving glebe houses have either passed to private ownership or simply disappeared, an extensive collection of almost 9,000 original drawings (plans, elevations, sections and details) documents this ecclesiastical world, providing an important resource for understanding the architectural, liturgical, social and cultural development of the Church of Ireland through the centuries.

The collection also covers many churches and rectories that are still in use and occupied by the Church of Ireland.

There are 860 drawings of the cathedrals of Christ Church and St Patrick’s in Dublin as well as the diocesan cathedral of St Canice’s in Kilkenny, while a further 300 drawings are of glebe houses, but the majority (some 7,600 drawings) show varying aspects of the parish churches throughout the island.

Some of these are the work of distinguished architects such as John Semple, James Pain, Joseph Well and William Farrell, William Atkins, Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, J. Rawson Carroll, and W.J. Barre, and are beautiful artworks in their own right.

‘A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World’ is arranged chronologically and thematically, aiming to guide the viewer through a representative selection of the overall collection and literally open a window to the past, telling the story of who designed these buildings – why and when they were built (or rebuilt). Dr Michael O’Neill FSA has digitised and catalogued the entire collection.

Ahead of the official opening, Dr Michael Webb, Chairman of the Irish Architectural Archive and Chairman of the RCB Library and Archives Committee, said it was “a particular pleasure to bring both organisations together for this exhibition.”

The Architectural Archive has the national collection of architectural drawings and is custodian of over 500,000 drawings of buildings from all over Ireland.

The RCB Library has a unique collection of almost 9,000 drawings of churches and rectories.

“It is wonderful to be able to display a selection of these drawings in the gallery which was specially designed for architectural drawings,” Dr Webb said.

Dr Susan Hood, Librarian and Archivist at the RCB Library, said the exhibition showcases in public for the first time some of the original drawings making up the collection at the RCB Library.

“It also marks the culmination of over eight years of hard work by Dr Michael O’Neill to catalogue and digitise the entire collection making it available for a worldwide audience through the Church of Ireland website.

“This painstaking and dedicated work (generously supported with church and other funding) demonstrates the Library’s capacity to digitise and share its unique holdings – literally opening a window to the past!”

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