Nun’s Cross Church, Co Wicklow and its Treasures 1817-2017

Patricia Butler
Killiskey Select Vestry, 2017
pp 228 fully illustrated h/b
€25.00 ISBN: 978-1-909751-59-0
Nicola Gordon Bowe

This handsome, diligently researched and beautifully photographed study (with photography by Mark Boland) amounts to more than a lavish guide book celebrating the 200th anniversary of Nun’s Cross Church at Killiskey, near Ashford, County Wicklow. Before documenting the history of the present church’s architectural structure and furnishings, with particular attention to those who commissioned them and the architects and craftsmen and women involved, the author provides a contextual account of the nearby earlier medieval church with its ancient graveyard at Killuskey, closely associated with the great monastic foundation of Glendalough. Thus, she records a site of Christian worship that goes back over a thousand years, from its first
mention in a papal document of 1179 ad. After the early building’s ruinous decline by the 18th century, permission was sought from the Archbishop of Dublin for a new church to be erected on a neighbouring site to be provided by the major Wicklow landowner, Charles Tottenham, that would not interfere with existing graves. Patricia Butler describes in detail the construction of this simple, elegant church erected in typical ‘First Fruits-Gothic’ style with its distinctive Regency plain glazing and ribbed vaulting (still intact), as well as its locally carved plaster head corbels suggesting the possible architectural involvement of Francis Johnston, who had worked on distinguished houses for Tottenham and the church’s other major patron, Francis Synge.

The author documents the architectural additions, restorations, amendments and embellishments to this clearly cherished church (including its venerable bell and rare turret clock) during the 19th and 20th centuries, backed up by plans, images of those who implemented and paid for them, and whatever diocesan archives have survived. Furthermore, every quotation and observation within the text refers the reader to a careful selection of reliable published, unpublished or oral sources, helpfully listed after each chapter in endnotes that offer further information. These include full biographical notes of donors and craftspeople, technical explanations, details of inscriptions and pertinent local and international connections.

The author documents the architectural additions, restorations, amendments and embellishments to this cherished church

The principal chapters of the book are dedicated to the exceptionally interesting wood carving, its Minton tiles, to the twelve meticulously documented stained glass windows by major English and Irish studios in the church, and to its stone and marble memorials. The carved wood pulpit, lectern and prayer desk by Bruges-based Pieter De Wispelaere and the communion rail and hymn board by his County Wicklow Arts & Crafts apprentice, Sophia St John Whitty anticipate local artist Nancy Evans’ spirited vestry door, while the stained glass includes Dublin-born Michael O’Connor’s splendid Truell memorial, identified for the first time. The many local individuals and families commemorated include long-time resident Seamus Heaney.

Nicola Gordon Bowe is the author of Wilhelmina Geddes: Life and Work (2015).

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