The Wall Decorations

Three bands of marble of different depths and colours decorate the sidewalks of the church.  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, depicts the life of birds in its carved alabaster capitals. The second consists of eleven arch-shaped panels with lunettes painted by Pollen. Three can be found in the sanctuary opposite the choir-gallery with four facing each other across the nave. Each lunette boasts a standing saint on a gold background by angels and decorative foliage on either side.

The Lunettes

The patrons of Ireland, St Patrick and St Brigid, and the Dublin patron St Laurence O’Toole are honored in the lunettes by the Sacred Heart statue in the sanctuary,  while Sts. Peter and Paul (the church’s secondary patrons) are portrayed in the small panels on either side of the pulpit. The lunettes in the nave bear the image of saints relevant to university life. Those on the right side honor Sts.  Dominic, Anthony of Padua, and Philip Neri along with Blessed John de Britto, an Indian Jesuit martyr beatified in 1853. Those on the  left wall honor Sts. Benedict, Thomas Aquinas, Fiachre, representing Ireland’s missionary activity in Europe and beyond, and Ignatius Loyola.

Above the three bands of marble and a series of large paintings installed in 2006 to replace copies of cartoons by Raphael that had so darkened over the years as to be indecipherable. 

Attempts were made to restore the paintings in 1962, 1979 and 1991 and a 2004 assessment by the National Gallery resulted in the decision to have them removed. Thanks to a generous donation from the Office of an Taoiseach, Bertie Aherne, the new works were installed “…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 was carried out under the supervision of the Offices of Public Works. Directed by Brian Maguire of the National College of Art and Design, the paintings were produced in 2006 at the studios of the Istanbul-born artist Levent Tuncer (b 1952) in New York.

The original paintings were copies of cartoons by Raphael  for tapestries to be hung in the Sistine Chapel and the Abbey Church of Tre Fontaine outside Rome. The larger paintings depict moments in the life of Peter and St Paul, interspersed with smaller images of the other apostles.  On the right hand wall, we find 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.