About the Church: The Sanctuary and Nave

newman05Moving into the nave, from which another door leads to the side driveway, one finds the flat red-timbered ceiling divided into mullioned compartments on which are painted sprays of vines. There are irregularly grouped windows, glazed with knots of glass, acquired from the Dublin Glass Bottle Factory in Ringsend, at the very reasonable costs necessitated by the financial constraints of Newman’s budget.

The sanctuary is raised above the nave by five steps behind the alabaster columned communion rails. The alabaster altar frontal has twelve discs of Derbyshire fluorspar crystals set in two groups of six. In the centre of the frontal is the outline of a Byzantine cross. Christ in Glory appears in the centre with the Evangelists John and Mark on his right and left and Matthew and Luke above and below him. In the corners are the doctors Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory and Jerome.

Three tall wooden candlesticks, but gilded to make them look like metal, stand on either side of the brass Crucifix with its ivory figure above the tabernacle. A ‘clever Dublin tinker’ executed the Crucifix from Pollen’s design and carpenters, employed by the contractors JP Beardwood & Son of Dublin’s Westland Row, carved his candlesticks. Above the altar is a deal baldachino framed into the wall behind. Its five small domes and decorative carving further extend the Byzantine idea of the sanctuary.

On either side of the baldachino are formal patterns of circles filled with flower motifs and linked with latticework. The circles and lattices are of glazed ceramic tiles. This band separates the semi-dome above the baldachino from the marble inlay on the lower walls of the apse and it also serves as a kind of reredos where circular studs of glass are set into the alabaster and marble framework to give a jewelled effect as they reflect the candlelight from the altar.

The Church of San Clemente in Rome inspired the semi-dome above the sanctuary. In the centre is the Virgin, enthroned as Seat of Wisdom (Sedes Sapientiae), as patroness of the church. Above her is a dove with outstretched wings representing the Holy Spirit and a jewelled cross represents Christ. At the top are brilliant colours emerging from the hand of God the Father.

Rising from the centre, a vine extends its branches in coils of circles to fill the entire area of the semi-dome. The circles contain virgins of both sexes bearing palms. Various birds, including a pelican, and insects inhabit the tendrils. Deer, rabbits and other animals, representing the homage of creation, can be seen at the roots of the vine. This motif is continued into a border at the base of the semi-dome and this houses small medallions of further birds and bunches of grapes.

A choir-gallery stands on the left hand side of the sanctuary. Supported by seven marble pillars with alabaster capitals having plant designs, it is accessed from the sacristy and topped by a wooden screen of pierced lattice panels. Opposite the choir-gallery is the pulpit, supported by four marble pillars bearing the symbol and names of the four Evangelists. It is approached by a stone staircase with an alabaster balustrade and its platform is encased with panels of marble of various colours. The pulpit has a canopy with two marble pillars between which is an ivory and ebony Crucifix showing the Madonna and St John at the foot of the cross.