Terence Sheehy takes a leisurely tour around the most ideal places to see Dubliners at prayer
THERE is nothing like a church -crawl in Dublin to brighten flagging spirits. Matthew Arnold once remarked that the Catholic Church was "the pellmall of all the men and women of Shakespeare's plays".
I have often thought of this quotation on seeing the crosssection of people coming out of Mass from a Dublin church. They are all there, the bus driver, the bank-clerk, the turf accountant, the school teacher, the housewife, the publican. All walks of life and ages, the spiritually rich and the financially poor.
The Pro-Cathedral is as good a church as any to see Dubliners at prayer. It is in Marlborough Street, the Church of the Immaculate Conception. It is a "Pro" Cathedral because at the socalled Reformation, St Patrick's Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Christchurch) were lost. The "Pro" was built between 1815 and 1825. The architect was John Sweetman of Raheny, who was exiled for his part in the 1798 Rising. It was inspired by the Church of St Philippe du Route in Paris.
The Palestrina Choir, internationally famous, was founded 'here by Edward Martyn.
For sheer exuberance of prayer it would be hard to beat the congregations of the Church of Adam and Eve, the Franciscan church on Merchants' Quay.
In a time of persecution, a little chapel to St Francis of Assisi was set up in Rosemary Lane beside the site of the present church, and next door to a 16th century tavern, "Adam and Eve". Under cover of the tavern sign, penalised Catholics stole into Mass.
In Upper Gardiner Street, past the once fashionable Mountjoy Square, stands the Jesuit Church of St Francis Xavier. It was built in 1829 after the style of the Jesuit Church in Rome.
The Ionic portico is surmounted by statues of St Francis Xavier, of the Sacred Heart, and St Ignatius. Its main claim to fame is that it is the headquarters of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of Ireland.
Arguably the most gracious and accessible church in Dublin is the Carmelite Priory in Whitefrairs Street, just off Grafton Street. It has just about the best confessional service in the city, a plethora of daily Masses, and is famous for its statue of Our Lady of Dublin, a carving in oak after the school of Albert Duren The Priory once stood in the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary, and was partially burnt when the building was destroyed by fire during the Reformation. For a long time it lay face downwards as a trough in a Dublin yard before its restoration to Its present site.
Beneath the high altar is a magnificent marble statue of Christ taken down from the cross, by the Irish sculptor Hogan.
The greatest gem of a church in Dublin is surely the Byzantine chapel of the Catholic University Church founded by Cardinal Newman.
This delightful chapel stands next to 86 St Stephen's Green, on the southside of the square.
Newman built the chapel for £4,000 next door to the original university buildings of 85 and 86 St Stephen's Green. it was here that the Jesuit poet, Gerald Manley Hopkins, taught as professor of Greek.
It is hard to believe, nowadays, that the kitchens of Newman's university were rat infested, and the drains so filthy that Gerard Manley Hopkins contracted typhoid, and after six weeks of illness, died of fever on the eighth day of June in 1889.