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Building of the Month - December 2013

Holy Trinity Church, Newport Street, WESTPORT DEMESNE Td., Westport, County Mayo

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 01 - Representative View

Figure 1: Holy Trinity Church, Westport, County Mayo.  Click here to view a photograph of Holy Trinity Church from the Wynne Collection (1880)

 

Holy Trinity Church, Westport, was begun in 1869 and was consecrated on Thursday 26th September, 1872 (fig. 1).  It was built in Newport Street on a site, formerly wooded, donated in 1868 to the parish by George John Browne (1820-96), third Marquess of Sligo.  It replaced the old parish church built in 1797 in the grounds of Westport House.

By the 1860s the old parish church was no longer fit for purpose for the congregation in Westport.  The town was expanding and the introduction of the railway in 1866 had brought about a considerable growth of tourism in the area.  The Marquess of Sligo, alongside some prominent business people, was the prime instigator of a new church and without his input it is unlikely that such a magnificent church could have been erected.

The church was designed by Thomas Newenham Deane (1827-99) of Cork and Dublin and is believed to be one of the finest of his churches.  Deane favoured the neo-Gothic style of architecture and Holy Trinity Church displays many characteristic features.  The church takes the form of a single cell structure finishing in a polygonal apse.  The almost freestanding tower is also polygonal and its crowning feature, a slender pencil spire, rises to 185 feet.  The stone used on the exterior is a siliceous sandstone believed to have been brought from Toehead Quarry near Louisburgh.  Its roughened finish brings to mind a parish church for a small congregation rather than a large cathedral-like building.  The decorative detailing is fashioned from softer calcareous sandstone whose origin is as yet uncertain.

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 03 - North Door Holy Trinity Church, Westport 04 - North Door Tympanum

Figures 2-3: A general view and detail of the north door whose tympanum features a pineapple, ears of corn, and a bunch of grapes amongst other fruits

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 05 - South Door Holy Trinity Church, Westport 06 - South Door Tympanum

Figures 4-5: A general view and detail of the south door whose intricately carved creamy sandstone tympanum features sheaves of corn, apples, pears and other fruits

Unusually, the doors are placed on the north-west and south-west corners rather than on the West Front: a narthex or porch runs the length of the building between the two doors.  Today, the visitor frequently enters the church via a door at the base of the tower which, like the principal doors, is made of iron, wrought to create floral forms.  All of the doors are surmounted by highly carved tympana depicting fruit and foliage with the carvings over the north door depicting Harvest (figs. 2-3) and those over the south door depicting Spring (figs. 4-5).  The tympanum over the tower door shows a pelican with its young surrounded by foliage: the pelican was a common Christian symbol due to the belief that it would pierce its breast to feed its young with its own blood, thus standing for the sacrifice of Christ (fig. 6).

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 07 - Tower Door Tympanum

Figure 6: A detail of the tympanum over the tower door

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 08 - Interior

Figure 7: Having bequeathed the site, and donated £1,200 towards the cost of construction, George John Browne (1820-96), third Marquess of Sligo, was also responsible for much of the decoration of the church, the result being one of the finest interiors in County Mayo.  The Hammerbeam roof compares favourably with Deane's unexecuted proposal (1866) for the central hall of the Law Courts in London.  Click here to view a photograph of the interior from the Lawrence Collection (between 1865-1914)

The interior of the church is highly decorated (fig. 7).  As with the carvings on the exterior, the interior stone work again follows neo-Gothic precepts and features a wide variety of foliage, fruit and semi-hidden animals.  "God is in the details", these carvings seem to say.  They encourage the visitor to look carefully and marvel at the beauty and variety in every aspect of Creation.

The church seating is in the form of open benches which give the entire congregation an unobstructed view of the altar.  When the church opened it was lit by gas lamps suspended from the ceiling.  Electric lighting was installed in 1930.  The church was originally heated by means of a large turf-fired furnace situated in the boiler room beneath the vestry and the pipes and iron grilles in the floor are still in situ.  Tradition says that it took a day and a half and two cart loads of turf to get the church warm enough for Sunday service.

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 09 - Browne Memorial Window Holy Trinity Church, Westport 10 - Alexander Gibbs Window

Figures 8-9: Holy Trinity Church boasts two stained glass windows by Alexander Gibbs of London.  The first is dedicated: 'In Memory Of Hester Catherine Marchioness Of Sligo/Died Feb 17th 1878'.  The second depicts, from left to right, The Crown of Life, Christ Walking on the Water and The Risen Christ Appears to Mary Magdalene.  The cartoon for one of the windows survives in the Westport Estate Papers and is inscribed: 'Designed by Alex Gibbs.  Subsequently known as Arthur Savelle of Cambridge and of Albany Road, London'

Originally the church featured only two stained glass windows including the Rose Window on the West Front.  Inscribed 'THIS WINDOW WAS PROVIDED BY THE LADIES OF THIS PARISH', the Rose Window has been attributed to William Wailes of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  The windows on the north and south sides are formed of tripartite lancets with a rose contained within the arch overhead.  The brightly coloured stained glass was installed over a period of time and was commissioned from a number of studios.  Four windows, fine examples of Victorian stained glass, were commissioned from Clayton and Bell of London from 1874 to 1877.  In 1878 and 1880 two final windows were installed on the north side, the work of Alexander Gibbs of Covent Garden, London (figs. 8-9).  The two windows in the organ cell adjacent to the altar, depicting Saint George and Saint Patrick, were reclaimed from the deconsecrated All Souls' Church (1905) in nearby Beclare (fig. 10).

 

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 11 - Saint George

Figure 10: A stained glass window reclaimed from the deconsecrated All Souls' Church (1905) in Belclare depicts Saint George and carries the monogram of Archibald Keightley Nicholson (1872-1937) of London

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 12 - The Last Supper

Figure 11: Among the artistic highlights of the church is the series of inscribed white marble murals showing scenes from the Old and New Testaments.  Commissioned by the Marquess of Sligo, the original series (1878) lined the north and south walls of the nave.  Later murals (1889-90) included a copy of The Last Supper (1495-8) by Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519)

In addition to its fine collection of stained glass, Holy Trinity Church is distinguished by the series of murals decorating the upper level of the nave.  The twelve panels on the north and south walls were installed in 1878, commissioned and paid for by the Marquess of Sligo and furnished by Mr. Samuel Poole of M.T. Bayne and Company, Westminster.  Each panel depicts a scene from the Old and New Testaments, the pictures inscribed on white marble using an inlay of black cement on a gilt background (fig. 11).

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 13 - Apse

Figure 12: A view of the embroidered altar cover gifted to the church in 1893 by John Thomas Browne (1824-1903), later fourth Marquess of Sligo.  Holy Trinity Church is the subject of some local legends and it is said that the Carrara marble lining the apse was washed ashore on Clew Bay from a shipwreck.  There is no documentary evidence to support this tale

The polygonal apse is enclosed by a brass altar railing and inscribed marble kneeler dedicated to the memory of Captain Thomas Plunket Cather DSO (d. 1889) and Montague Lowther Chapman Cather (d. 1892): the railing replaced the Gothic-style timber railing shown in early photographs of the church.  The red velvet frontal which drapes the altar was gifted by John Thomas Browne (1824-1903), later fourth Marquess of Sligo, in 1893 (fig. 12).  The brass eagle lectern was donated by the Livingstone family in memory of William Livingstone (1832-94) who had been actively involved in the building and completion of the church.  The polychromatic pulpit was installed in 1895 and carries a dedication to Henry Darley Livingstone of Belclare.  The lower walls of the apse are finished with Carrara marble while the upper walls are decorated with mosaics depicting David, Saint Peter, the Four Evangelists, Saint Paul and Moses.  These were completed in 1877 and frame a set of four windows supplied in 1874 by Clayton and Bell.

The organ, supplied by Telford of Dublin, was taken from the old parish church where it had been installed as a memorial to Ellen Sydney (d. 1852), first Marchioness of Sligo.

Holy Trinity Church, Westport 14 - Wall Monument

Figure 13: Holy Trinity Church features an array of wall monuments commemorating the Brownes of Westport House and fellow members of the landed gentry including William Edward Rutledge Fair (d. 1931) of Rosbeg and Percy David Rees (d. 1945) of Cherry Cottage.  Other monuments remember members of the congregation killed in action during international conflict including Arthur Richard Howe Browne (d. 1915), a casualty of the First World War, and Anthony Howe Browne (d. 1940) and Peter Raleigh Howe Browne (d. 1940), both killed during the Second World War

 

The embellishment of Holy Trinity Church continued for at least twenty years after it was consecrated.  Many items were donated as memorials to the dead and have inscriptions to that effect.  Wall monuments commemorate not only the Brownes of Westport House, but also record the young lives lost at war including the Afghan War and the First and Second World Wars (fig. 13).

Holy Trinity Church was very important to the Marquess of Sligo who took an active role in every aspect of its design, construction and decoration.  It has delighted worshippers and visitors since 1872.  The week-long celebrations to mark its centenary in October 1872 initiated a sense of community ownership of the building.  This was further enhanced by a community-wide involvement in the restoration of the church in 1984 and the by the shared use of the church with the parishioners of Saint Mary's Catholic Church in 2004 when major structural repair of their church was underway.

Holy Trinity Church is open to the public and is a treasure trove for enthusiasts of ecclesiastical art and architecture.

 

Caitríona Hastings has a background in Heritage Studies, working on the Heritage Studies programme in GMIT Castlebar until her retirement in 2010.  She also writes in Irish for children.  Her husband, Archdeacon Gary Hastings, was Rector of the Aughaval group of parishes, including Holy Trinity Church, Westport, from 1995-2009.  Caitríona really loved the church and began her research on it soon after arriving in Westport.

This Building of the Month is a condensed version of an article by Caitríona Hastings titled "A History of Holy Trinity Church, Westport" in Clarke, Aiden (ed.), Cathair na Mart: Journal of the Westport Historical Society Volume 27 (2009), pp.5-27.

Further information on the history of Holy Trinity Church is available in the Select Vestry Minute Books held in the Representative Church Body Library, Braemor Park, Churchtown, Dublin 14.  Further information on the stained glass in Holy Trinity Church can be found by visiting Gloine – Stained Glass in the Church of Ireland, a research project carried out by Dr. David Lawrence on behalf of the Representative Church Body

Figures 1-8, 11-12 by James Fraher from the forthcoming NIAH publication An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Mayo

  Holy Trinity Church, Westport 15 - Mayo Introduction

 

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