About the Church: The Wall Decorations

newman06The sidewalls of the church are decorated with three bands of marble of different depths and colours. The black marbles come from Co Kilkenny, the green from Co Galway, the red from Co Cork and the brown and grey from Co Armagh and Co Offaly. The first band, with its fictive pillars and alabaster capitals on which rest the carved Stations of the Cross, depicts the life of birds. The second consists of eleven arch-shaped panels with lunettes painted by Pollen. There are three on the sanctuary wall opposite the choir-gallery with four facing each other from the opposite walls of the nave. Each lunette has a standing saint with an angel on either side and with decorative foliage. All have a gold coloured background.

The saints depicted have a relevance to university life with maybe the exceptions of the patrons of Ireland, St Patrick and St Brigid, and the Dublin patron St Laurence O’Toole whose lunettes are in the sanctuary and St Peter and St Paul (the church’s secondary patrons) on either side of the pulpit. The right hand side lunettes in the nave present St Dominic, St Anthony of Padua, St Philip Neri and Blessed John de Britto, a Jesuit martyred in India in 1693 and beatified in 1853. The left wall lunettes contain St Benedict, St Thomas Aquinas, St Fiachre, representing Ireland’s missionary activity in Europe and beyond, and St Ignatius Loyola.

Above the three bands of marble are a gilt moulding and a series of large Raphael tapestry copies. Over the years these have become so darkened as to be almost indecipherable except in bright early morning or late evening light. Attempts at restoration in 1962, 1979 and 1991 failed and a further examination in 2004 by personnel from the National Gallery resulted in the decision to have them recopied. Thanks to a generous donation from the State, through the Office of an Taoiseach, Bertie Aherne TD this work is now taking place “…in recognition of the role of Newman in the founding of the Catholic University in 1854 and of the opening of the University Church in 1856. Although the University he founded has both changed in form and in location, the Church that he saw as the centre of a community of scholars remains today in the heart of the City of Dublin”.

This work is being carried out under the supervision of the Offices of Public Works. Directed by Brian Maguire of the National College of Art and Design, the actual painting is currently (March 2006) taking place at the studios of the Istanbul-born artist Levent Tuncer (b 1952) in New York and it is hoped some of the finished work will be in situ by Ascension Day 2006, the 150th anniversary of the opening of University Church.

The original paintings, completed in Rome by the French artists M Sublet and M Souslacroix, although this is possibly Charles Soulacroix (Paris 1825- c1900), were copies of Raphael tapestries designed for the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and the Abbey Church of Tre Fontaine outside Rome. The paintings, depicting aspects of St Peter and St Paul, and separated by pictures of the other apostles, show the following incidents; – on the right hand wall – The Descent of the Holy Spirit; The Conversion of St Paul; St Paul Preaching at Athens; Christ’s Threefold Command to St Peter; The Miraculous Draught of Fishes and The Death of Ananias. On the left hand wall can be seen The Stoning of St Stephen; St Paul at Lystra: The Blinding of Elymas and The Healing of the Lame Man at the Beautiful Gate.