The College Chapel is one of the most beautiful places of worship in Ireland. The College was founded in 1795 as the National Seminary, and this is the principal Chapel of the College. Over 11,000 priests have been ordained from Maynooth since its foundation, and they have ministered in every parish in Ireland, and most parts of the world.
Built between 1875 and 1891, this Chapel has 454 carved stalls, making it the largest of its kind in the world. Augustus Welby Pugin had designed the adjoining quadrangle in the 1840’s and the Chapel was designed by JJ McCarthy, professor of Architecture at the Catholic University. The spire was added to commemorate the first centenary of the College in 1895, and was designed by W Hague. Completed in 1902 at 273 feet, it is the tallest building in Leinster.
The funds for the Chapel’s construction were collected from the Irish people at home and abroad. It is a safe presumption that most Irish visitors to the Chapel will have had relatives who contributed to the construction of this building during the difficult years of the Land Agitation.
As you enter the Chapel by the main door at the western end, the first impression is the neo- gothic style, everything points heavenwards, the arches, the ceiling, the windows and the finials.
“Laus Deo” or “Praise God” is the theme of the Chapel, and the decoration supports this theme with all of God’s creation portrayed praising God.
- The vegetable kingdom is illustrated in the wooden carved finials, each different, and each pointing heavenward praising God.
- The animal kingdom is represented in the stringcourse carvings above the Stations of the Cross.
- On the ceiling, the heavenly host is illustrated praising God.
- Meanwhile the carved oak choir stalls contain the students and staff of the College, raising their voices in praise.
The mosaic floor carries the theme with the words of the psalm inviting young men to holiness –
Laudate pueri Dominum,
Psallite Deo, Psallite
Quoniam rex omnis terrae Deus,
Young men praise the Lord,
Sing praise to God, Praise Him
For God is King of all the earth,
Praise him wisely
The fleur-de-lis is prominent in the mosaic of the main aisle. Through the centuries, the three petals of the fleur-de-lis have been associated with the Trinity. It is also an enduring symbol of France, and as the College was founded just six years after the French Revolution, it reflects the College’s long standing connection with France. Of the early professors, six came from the Sorbonne. The cost of mosaic at the time of laying this floor was quoted at “20 to 35 shillings per square yard fixed” – there were 20 shillings in a pound.
The Church is 222 feet long, the largest choir chapel in the world, having 454 carved oak choir-stalls, row upon row of church seats facing across the aisle rather than towards the altar, to facilitate the public recitation of the divine office. The oak carvings are the outstanding feature of the Church. While their detail suggests medieval craftsmen, they were produced by a Dublin firm, Connollys of Dominick Street.
The finials, or end pillars of the rows of stalls are also carved in detail, each one to a different design, representing the wild plants of Ireland. Each points upwards in the gothic style, continuing the theme of the vegetable kingdom praising God.
Stations of the Cross:
Above the oak carvings are the life size Stations of the Cross painted by Nathaniel H J Westlake of London. The stations are painted on canvas, and affixed to the walls. The names of the donors are inscribed on them, just a few of the thousands of individuals who gave generously to the College from Ireland and all over the world wherever Irish priests had gone to preach the Gospel.
String Course and Corbels:
Over the Stations of the Cross are the string course and corbels, carved in French stone from Caen. Continuing the theme of “Laus Deo” are representations of the Animal Kingdom, birds and animals, stating that all creation sings the praise of God.
In the carving of the corbels are represented angels holding the various instruments such as the stole, cruets of water and wine, the keys, the missal, the chasuble, which are given to the clerical student as he ascends the various ministries and orders up to priesthood. Those who reach the fullness of priesthood as Bishops are also reflected in the two angels nearest the altar, who hold the mitre and crozier.
The Rose Window at the west end of the Chapel is best seen in an evening light. The design of this window is based on that of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Reims, where the Kings of France were crowned.
The central figure is Christ the King in glory, holding the orb of the Universe, surmounted by a cross. His right hand is clearly pierced, as are his feet. In the ring surrounding the figure of Christ, top and centre is Saint Michael the Archangel with the other Archangels, followed by the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph, St John the Baptist and the Four Evangelists. The Apostles and Prophets are in the outer ring.
“Laus Deo” (“Praise God”) is the theme of the College Chap
Saint Michael’s premier position directly above Christ the King can be explained by the fact that he is credited with extraordinary zeal at the time of Satan’s rebellion, giving him an exalted position as patron and protector of the Church. His feast day is celebrated on September 29th, and is known as Michaelmas, traditionally the name given to the first term in College.
The windows in the nave tell the story of the life of Christ in chronological order in the main panels, while above them in the sexfoil panels are corresponding scenes from the Old Testament.
Starting near the sacristy are scenes from the private life of Christ. The corresponding Old Testament scenes from the sexfoil window at the top, being given in brackets:
- The three mysteries of Our Lady by which she was prepared to become Mother of God, Immaculate Conception, Annunciation and Visitation, (The vision and sending forth of Abraham, Genesis 16.16)
- The Nativity, (the finding of Moses by the Daughter of Pharaoh)
- The Presentation of Our Lord, (the presentation of Samuel to the prophet)
- The Holy Family, (the family of Tobias)
- Christ teaching the Doctors in the Temple, (Daniel interpreting the dream ofBalthazar, King of Babylon)
- The Descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove at the Baptism of Christ, (the dovereturning to the Ark of Noah to signal the end of the Flood)
- The Miracle of Cana, (Moses striking the rock to bring forth water in the desert).On the opposite side of the Church are scenes from the public life of Christ. Starting from the main door, the windows are:
- Christ and the Canaanite woman, (Solomon and the Queen of Sheba)
- The Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, (the healing of Naaman the Syrian)
- The Raising of the Widow’s Son at Naim, (the raising of the widow’s son at Jezreel)
- Mary Magdalen washing the feet of Christ, (Ruth who washed the feet of Boaz)
- Christ teaching from the boat on the Lake of Genesareth, (Jonah preaching on theboat)
- The Multiplication of the Loaves, (the widow and the miracle of the loaves in theBook of Kings)
- The Giving of the Keys to Peter, (the giving of the Law to Moses)
- The Transfiguration, (Moses veiling his face before God on Mount Sinai).The windows are of Irish, English and German stained glass. The windows in the sanctuary and the two nearest the main door at the bottom of the church on the south side were made by Messrs. Cox, Sons, Buckley and Co., a great deal of the work being done in their glass kiln at Youghal. Most of the remaining side windows were made by Mayers of Munich.
On the ceiling of the body of the Church there is a vast heavenly procession, led by ministering angles carrying censers and lighted torches. Behind them are the Madonna and Child, St Joseph and St John the Baptist, followed by numerous angels each carrying a symbol of the passion. These are followed by a large number of the Irish saints: the missionaries Columbanus, Cillian, Gall and Romold. Next come the Irish saints representing the monastic schools of Clonfert, Clonard, Clonmacnois, Bangor and Lismore, while St Malachy, St Laurence O’Toole, St Patrick and St Brigid represent the pastoral bishops.
Over the main doorway are the Archangels Raphael and Gabriel, and in the next row are Saint Patrick & Pope Saint Celestine who sent Patrick to Ireland, with Saint Brigid opposite. She is the only female saint on the ceiling, excepting the Blessed Virgin near the altar.
Around each of the medallions, in Gothic characters, is painted a sentence or phrase from the scriptures, Psalm 83/84, Psalm 127/128, the Te Deum and the Canticle of Zacharia. The paintings on the ceiling were designed by Westlake, and executed by Mannix.
The magnificent College organ is on the gallery over the entrance to the Chapel. It was built by Herr Georg Stahlhuth (1830-1913) of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1890. The Maynooth organ was a revolutionary instrument in its time, because of its system of electro-pneumatic action which was fashionable at that time. The organ was rebuilt in 1927 and again in 1978, with new pipes added, bringing the total number to 2,983, some of which had to lie horizontally so as not to interrupt the view of the Rose Window.
The High Altar dates from 1911, and replaced a smaller altar. It was the gift of Monsignor Gerald Molloy, Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin. The altar was consecrated in 1912 by the former President, Monsignor Daniel Mannix, shortly before his departure for Australia as Archbishop of Melbourne. The centrepiece of the altar is a relief of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Over the High Altar the windows represent the principal mysteries of the life of Our Lord. Appropriate for a seminary chapel, the central window represents the sending out of the Apostles. In the small windows overhead are pictured the principal areas of the priestly ministry. Starting from the left hand side of the sanctuary the windows show:
- Christ’s triumphant entry to Jerusalem, (in the small window overhead Baptism is being administered)
- The Last Supper, (Holy Communion)
- The Descent from the Cross, (Ordination)
- Christ and the Eleven, (Crucifixion)
- The Resurrection, (Offering Mass)
- The Descent of the Holy Spirit, (Confirmation).
Opposite the sacristy there is an illustration of an angel carrying a scroll inscribed Laus Deo, the theme of the Chapel. Underneath are the letter IHS, often said to mean “I have suffered”. The real meaning comes from the Greek, pronounced JESOS HUIOS SOTER, meaning Jesus, Son, Saviour.
Beneath the windows are a series of six paintings of outstanding incidents in the lives of the Irish saints. The sequence from left to right is:
- St Laurence O’Toole appealing to the Norman soldiers at the gates of Dublin not to sack the city
- St Brigid and her companions pronounce their religious vows
– Brigida ejusque sociae vota religiosa emittunt
- Saint Bernard greets Saint Malachy on his way to Rome
– Malachiam salutat Bernardus Romam pergentem
- St Patrick preaches in the presence of the High King of Ireland
– Patricius coram summo Rege Hiberniae praedicat
- St Columbanus oversees the foundation of the Monastery of Bobbio
– Columbanus monast(erium)Bobien(se) stabiliendum curat
- St Columba sets sail from the port of Derry.
– Columba navem a portu Derriensi solvit
Behind the High Altar are five side chapels in the style more common on the continent of Europe. Their windows depict:
- Saint Brigid
- The flight into Egypt
- The Presentation of Mary in the Temple
- The Sacred Heart
- Saints Flannan & Molua of Killaloe Diocese.
The most noteworthy of the Chapels is the Lady Chapel in the centre where blue is naturally the dominant colour. The Venetian Glass Mosaics are of very fine quality, and depict the four principal mysteries of the Rosary, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Assumption and the Coronation of our Lady. They were designed and produced by the Manchester firm of Oppenheimer & Co, and installed by the Earley Studios of Camden Street. Around the walls just beneath the ceiling, the words of the Ave Maria are worked into the mosaic.
Many Royal dignitaries have visited the College Chapel:
- 24th July 1903: Their Majesties King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra
- 9th July 1911: Their Majesties King George V & Queen Mary
- September 1963: HSH Prince Rainier & Princess Grace of Monaco
- 1st October 1979: His Holiness Pope John Paul II
- 2nd July 1986: Their Majesties King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain.
The restoration of the College Chapel was started in the 1990’s in anticipation of the College’s bicentenary in 1995. Through the generous support of Friends of Maynooth in Ireland, the United States and several countries around the world, €10 million has been spent so far. The result is magnificent, and this national treasure is being preserved for future generations. The College Chapel Organ was restored in 2014 by the Firm Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua. All in the College are indebted to those who have made the restoration possible.
The Restoration of the College Organ – Dominic Mc Namara (Síolta 2014)
The original organ was installed soon after the College Chapel was built (1875 – 1891) under the direction of the first professor of music in the College, Fr H. Bewerunge. Built by the Stahlhuth firm of Aix-la-Chapelle around 1890, in its time it was considered very distinctive, using electro-pneumatic controls, which enabled the console to be placed at the back of the Chapel, but distant from the pipes in the gallery. This kept the organist close to the seminary choir which sang from the back of the Chapel on the opposite side.
Due to the distance between the console and the pipes, there was a distinct time-lapse between striking the keys and hearing the sound, which made it difficult to play. The major restoration of the 1970s by Kenneth Jones under the supervision of Professor Gerard Gillen addressed this problem by moving the console to the gallery.
Over the last forty years however, the organ gradually deteriorated to a point where several of the stops could no longer be used. Even the casual observer could see that some of the large pipes on view had collapsed under their own weight. Most of the stops control 61 pipes, so if even one of them is damaged, that stop cannot be used. By 2005, there were several stops out of commission, and each year the situation became worse. The total rebuild had become a priority for the College, if we were to ensure that the organ was to keep its place as the principal musical instrument of the liturgy, as required by Vatican II. The nature of an organ is not unlike a sophisticated car, and needs to be maintained and serviced regularly. With thousands of pipes, each of which needs cleaning and tuning, an annual service is desirable, and a major restoration is needed every thirty years or so.
President Connolly put a committee together to examine the challenge, consisting of Professor Gerard Gillen, Dr John O’Keeffe and myself. Organ companies from Ireland, England, Hungary and Italy competed for the job, and the firm of Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy was selected. It took two years to build, but the organ in Maynooth College Chapel is now among the best in Ireland. Following its completion in 2013, it has a warmth and richness of sound that is hard to match.
The best of the original organ has been retained and restored, as well as some of the amendments made over the century. The beautiful casework which is what the public see was also retained, and has been beautifully restored by Irish craftsmen.
Statistics for the new and restored College Chapel Organ:
- Keyboards: Three Manual and one Pedal
- 50 stops
- 3,106 pipes & 12 bells
- Carbon fibre mechanical trackers
- Digital recording / playback option.
History of the College Chapel Organ – Kevin Macolmson (Síolta 2014)
Fr. Heinrich Bewerunge appointed Professor of Ecclesiastical Music and College Organist. He was also an authority on the art of Organ Building. As the College Chapel was nearing completion he commissioned Stahlhuth of Burtscheid & Aix-la- Chapelle to build a suitable instrument for the Chapel.
The organ was completed in 1890 and the opening recital was held on August 6. The instrument consisted of a Great Organ, Swell Organ and Pedal Organ. It was run by voltaic battery. (Later converted to mains supply). The organ console was detached from the organ itself. It was positioned in the area now occupied by the candle presented to the College by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1979. It was described as a revolutionary instrument for its time.
The detached console caused problems, however, as it was difficult for the organist to hear the true sound of the organ and there was a considerable time-lapse between depressing a key and hearing the corresponding sound.
Fr. M. Treacy succeeded Bewerunge as Professor of Ecclesiastical Music in 1923. He proposed a major overhaul of the organ. Mr. Guy Weitz, Organist of Farm St. Church in London was appointed as organ consultant. The contract was given to Henry Willis & Sons of London. Much of the original pipework was re-scaled and re-voiced. A Choir Organ was added over the Swell Organ. The work was finished in 1929.
By 1976 the organ was again in serious need of attention. Many stops were out of commission and some of the larger pipes had collapsed. Dr. Gerard Gillen, Lecturer in Music at UCD and later Professor of Music in NUI Maynooth, was appointed as organ consultant in 1978. The contract was awarded to Kenneth Jones Organ Builders of Glendalough. The project was an ambitious one. The vision was “an instrument capable of permitting faithful interpretation of the widest possible range of organ music of all styles and periods”. 1,600 new pipes and a fanfare trumpet were added. The console was relocated to the organ gallery and a completely new Positive Division was added. The Opening Recital was held on May 14th 1978 and included performances by Professor Stockmeier of Cologne and Nicholas Danby of Farm St. Jesuit Church, London.
In 1978, Kenneth Jones described the College Chapel Organ as: “a monumental and majestic organ of fullness and power…one which has a classical quality and particular clarity”. However, by the beginning of the 21st century time had once again taken its toll and a major re-building was required.
The current restoration, re-building and enhancement of the organ builds on the legacy of Stahlhuth, Willis and Jones, while employing a richer and more subtly varied tonal concept and a more striking visual impression. The organ now consists of over 3,200 pipes, 50 stops and a set of 12 bells. This project will greatly enhance the musical, spiritual and liturgical formation of many future generations of students on these campuses, and most importantly, give glory and honour to God. The blessing and dedication of the organ took place on 8th December 2013.
Organ Dedication and Blessing – Msgr. Hugh Connolly, President (Síolta 2014)
The great organ of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth has been completely restored. The original organ of the College Chapel was built by the Stahlhuth firm of Aix-la-Chapelle, Belgium around 1890. After 120 years of great service, it needed a total rebuild, as many of the 3,000 pipes were no longer playable. The organ has had two major rebuilds in its life, in the 1920′s and again in the 1970′s. In addition, it has been regularly maintained, with several modifications. The firm of Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy was selected to do the work which took two years. The organ was dismantled in September 2011 and transported to Italy. The rebuilt instrument returned in September2013 and after extensive ‘voicing’ and ‘fine tuning’ is now fully ready for service.
The organ’s magnificent music features at all the great liturgical events during the college year including the Easter ceremonies, ordination to the diaconate, opening of the academic year mass, Pontifical graduation ceremonies and annual carol services and choral concerts. The organ is also used by some of the seminarians and students of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth and their colleagues in National University of Ireland, Maynooth who are pursuing
studies in Music. The considerable restoration costs were, for the most part, independently fundraised by Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The project was capably supervised by Professor Emeritus Gerard Gillen and Dr John O’Keefe, Director of Sacred Music.
At a special Sunday Evening Vespers at which the new instrument was blessed and dedicated the President of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth Msgr. Hugh Connolly said:
‘Above all this organ will be a servant of the liturgy, the Eucharist that gives our Campus Community the weekly rhythm for our lives here upon our pilgrim path. Its music will help us to bring the whole spectrum of human experience to our daily prayer. Its pure notes and perfect pitch will soar heavenward as students, staff and passers-by pause to reflect here on their daily lives bringing their prayers of loss and fulfilment, doubt and trust, confusion and conviction, happiness and grief, gratitude and praise to God’.
(The President also thanked the extraordinary generosity of those whose donations helped make this extraordinary dream become a reality.)