Monday, April 10, 2006

An Taisce on Cobh’s Cathedral

An Taisce is the National Trust for Ireland. These are excerpts from An Taisce’s submission to an oral hearing on the proposed reordering of St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh. Submissions for and against the reordering can be found at Friends of St. Colman’s Cathedral. FOSCC have also published a book.

The planning process was academic as the outcome had to be the same. . . . Through the choreography used, the Bishop, I feel has not won the hearts and minds of the people. . . . Should the Applicant [the Bishop, et al.] be successful I fear it will be a hollow victory with the consequence of hollow collection plates for the continued restoration of this fine Cathedral.
—Noel O’Driscoll, Secretary, An Taisce Corcaigh, Closing Statement From An Taisce

The architects of St. Colman's set out to produce a Victorian building, not a mediaeval one, contrary to the claims made in the proposal for “re-ordering”. They borrowed the vocabulary of mediaeval gothic, but the church was carefully planned to conform precisely to the post-Tridentine liturgy in use in the nineteenth century. Unlike mediaeval churches, which are boxed off into compartments, Cobh has a clear visual sweep from the narthex to the elaborately decorated apse, riveting the viewer's attention on the altar, which is of the Benedictine style pioneered by E.W. Pugin. From the west, the effect is of looking down a tunnel to the light at the end, and this is cleverly emphasised by the fact that the transepts are almost invisible because of the nave, triforium and clerestory arcades running across their entrances without a break. This too is a characteristic of the architecture of Pugin and Ashlin, as is the shallow and almost rudimentary nature of the transepts themselves. This emphatic and extremely deliberate emphasis on the long axis of the church means that the proposed changes will completely destroy the architectural coherence of the building, resulting in visual chaos. Pugin and Ashlin created no architectural focus at the crossing (unlike, for instance, William Burges in St Fin Barre's in Cork), and attempting to establish one by extending the sanctuary floor, removing the altar rails and introducing furniture, will result in a visual conflict with the existing layout .
—Noel O’Driscoll, Submission to an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanala into the decision of Cobh Town Council to grant Planning Permission to the Trustees of St. Colman’s Cathedral Cobh for extensive alterations to the interior of the Cathedral.

2. Cobh Cathedral was designed very specifically for the liturgical requirements of the time – long tunnel-like interior structure, transepts whose entrances are obscured by columns, and a great emphasis on a dramatic east end focussed on the high altar. It has been argued quite correctly in the applicant’s respone to appeals that this format was not the only interpretation of the liturgical requirements of the 19th century church, and Cardinal Newman’s very different approach has been cited [the University Church in Dublin and Brompton Oratory], which resulted in more centrally-planned, classically inspired buildings, which, like the classical churches in Italy, would be more easily converted to the style of interior now desired by the applicant. It is worth noting, however, that in the nineteenth century, as now, there was more than one interpretation of ‘liturgical requirements’, and, as now, more than one ‘correct’ type of building to satisfy them. It is also worth noting that the liturgical requirements of the time are not the same as those today [as also emphasised by the applicant], and that one thing we can be absolutely sure of is that, sooner or later, the liturgical requirements of the future will be completely different from those of today. In the meantime, if this proposal goes ahead, a valuable piece of Irish history will have been partly destroyed – in order to comply with a temporary fashion. ‘Liturgical requirements’ are being presented by the applicant as both timeless and non-subjective, and clearly they are neither.
—Statement by Ann Wilson, BDes, Mlitt



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