Cappella del Pontificio Collegio Irlandese is the main chapel of the Pontifical Irish College and is dedicated to All Saints of Ireland. Intended as a temporary chapel when the seminary was completed in 1926, the planned free-standing chapel of the College was never built, and its renovation over the period 2008-2010 has confirmed its status as the permanent chapel of the College.

The main address is Via dei Santi Quattro 1, in the rione Celio, although the College's Villa Irlanda pilgrimage hotel is at number 7.

An English Wikipedia page is here.

History[edit | edit source]

Franciscan foundation[edit | edit source]

The Pontifical Irish College was established in 1628 by as a seminary to train Irish priests for ministry in Ireland at a time when anti-Catholic penal laws made it impossible for priests to be trained in Ireland. The founders were Ludovico Cardinal Ludovisi (Cardinal Protector of Ireland) and the Francisican friar and theologian Luke Wadding.

Fra Wadding, a voluminous writer and a very forceful personality. had been resident in the friary of San Pietro in Montorio when the unfinished Spanish Franciscan friary and church of Sant'Isidoro a Capo le Case went bankrupt in 1624. The property devolved to the central Curia of the Franciscan order at Santa Maria in Aracoeli. He had the idea of founding a friary and house of studies for Irish Franciscans, and the Curia handed over the complex to him. The new convent was ratified by a bull from Pope Urban VIII in 1625, with Fra Wadding as superior.

As part of the same project, the Collegio Ludovisiano was founded for Irish secular students for the priesthood, who were to study at Sant'Isidoro. Fra Wadding drew up the house regulations and was the supervisor, but the governor and patron was Cardinal Ludovisi. The latter was famous as the builder of the nearby country villa and gardens of the Villa Ludovisi. The first six students took up residence in a house opposite the convent in 1628, in what is now the Via degli Artisti.

The first Rector of the college was the secular priest Fr Eugene Callahan from Killaloe, but the next two were Franciscans: Fra Martin Walsh, and Fra John Punch the theologian. Complaints hence came from the Irish secular clergy, about how the new college was apparently being treated as a Franciscan institution. The cardinal must have taken note, but made no intervention during his lifetime.

The College worshipped in the church of Sant'Isidoro.

Jesuits[edit | edit source]

Cardinal Ludovisi died in 1634. As well as leaving the College a huge annuity and several vineyards (including a very extensive one at Castel Gandolfo) in his will, he left the administration of the College to the Jesuits. This was a horrible surprise for the Franciscans, but there was nothing they could do about it. The cardinal also instructed his heir to purchase a new residence for the College.

The Jesuits hence took over in 1635, and had the students study at their Collegio Romano with its church of Santa Marta al Collegio Romano. The College's new home was ready in 1639, being what is now Via degli Ibernesi 20. Back then, incredibly, only the main streets in Rome had names and side-streets were identified by a short description. When the Nolli map of 1748 was surveyed, streets were finally given proper names and the one containing the College was named after it ("Hibernians").

One of the vineyards keeping the College members in drink was down the Via Portuense, where the Via degli Irlandesi preserves its memory. They probably sold the wine from Castel Gandolfo for good money, and drank the local stuff themselves. It was standard practice for Roman religious institutions to own vineyards.

The Rectors of the College were not always Irish -for the 135 years that the Jesuits were in charge, the Rector was Italian for 64 of them. The two nationalities would have communicated in Latin.

The Via degli Ibernesi premises might have contained a private chapel, but the local parish priest would have kept a close watch to ensure that no manifestations of public liturgical worship developed. This was taken very seriously at the time. The nearest parish church was Santa Maria in Campo Carleo.

The Jesuits were suppressed in 1773, having been deprived of the College in the previous year. The administration was taken over by Irish secular priests under an Italian Rector until the College was shut down and the Irish expelled by the French under Napoleon in 1798.

Santa Lucia dei Ginnasi[edit | edit source]

The Papal government was formally re-established when the Congress of Vienna in 1815 adopted a policy of returning Europe to a status quo ante as far as possible. However, at Rome it proved impossible to restore many premises of suppressed religious institutions to their former owners. In the case of the College and its former residence of the Palazzo degli Ibernesi, the fact that the College had been dissolved as a legal entity was an issue, and also that the property had been sold on and was being used for charitable purposes.

In fact, in 1855 it became the Roman headquarters of the Sœurs de Notre-Dame de la Compassion, a French active sisterhood founded at Marseilles in 1840. They ran a safe house here for young women in between jobs in domestic service, who were horribly vulnerable to exploitation and to the risk of joining the sex industry. (Note that the name of this sisterhood is being erroneously reproduced in publications concerning the College.)

So, when the College was finally re-founded in 1826 it had to be provided with new premises. Pope Leo XII assigned a vacant part of the Palazzo Ginnasi to Michael Blake, the first new Rector. He had been a student at the old College when it was suppressed, and went on to serve as Bishop of Dromore.

The new premises, including the church of Santa Lucia dei Ginnasi, had been the home of the Collegio Umbro-Fuccioli founded in 1785. This had existed as a residence for students from Umbria studying at Rome. However, after the Napoleonic period the Collegio proved impossible to resuscitate and its part of the palazzo complex was granted to the Academia dei Lincei in 1807. This had moved away in 1826, leaving the accommodation available.

The premises were cramped, and the church was in the charge of the Confraternità dei Sacerdoti Secolari dei Santi Pietro e Paolo. They ran a small hospice in the complex for poor and infirm elderly priests, and sharing the complex and the church with the College was not satisfactory.

Sant'Agata dei Goti[edit | edit source]

At the former Benedictine monastery of Sant'Agata dei Goti, the congregation of Maestre Pie Filippini had opened a school for girls in 1820. In 1836, however, on the orders of Pope Gregory XVI, the sisters exchanged premises with the College. Santa Lucia became their Generalate, and the College had its own church at long last.

In gratitude, the College commissioned a bust of the pontiff with the following epigraph:

Gregorio XVI, pontifici maximo, quod collegium Hibernorum ex Ginnasiano domicilio in has ampliores et amoeniores aedes transtulerit et, D[ivus] Gregorium Magnum imitatus, templum S[anctae] Agatae virg[inis] et mart[yris] sacrum a diuturno neglectu asserendum et populum Romanum ad veteram erga martyrem pietatem excitandum curaverit, Collegii praeses anno MDCCCXXXVII.

("To Gregory XVI, supreme pontiff, because he moved the Irish College from the Ginasian residence to these more spacious and delightful quarters and, imitating holy Gregory the Great, took care to restore the temple of St Agnes virgin and martyr from its long period of neglect and to encourage the people of Rome in veneration of the ancient martyr. Governors of the College, 1837".)

The new residence might have been "more spacious and delightful", but the College soon found that the drains were bad.

During the Irish College's tenure at Sant'Agata, the church became the burial place for the heart of the Irish political leader Daniel O'Connell. Heading to Rome on pilgrimage, the Liberator died at Genoa, commending "his soul to God, his body to Ireland and his heart to Rome." The memorial erected to him left Sant'Agata when the Irish College decamped to the Coelian Hill, but O'Connell's heart may still be buried in the crypt of Sant'Agata.

The planned expansion of the adjacent Banca d'Italia made the monastery buildings unsuitable for the seminary community, so the Irish moved to a purpose-built College on the Coelian Hill in 1926. According to the tradition, the Rector of the Irish College Monsignor John O'Hagan petitioned the Vatican for help in securing a new location. A commission of Cardinals visited Sant'Agata and Hagan pointed out that the noise of banknotes being printed next-door already rendered things difficult for his seminarians and that the situation would be much worse when the Bank took over much of the College's property. The Cardinals responded sympathetically to the College's situation and recommended that the Irish be given assistance to re-locate. and O'Hagan was later told that he was especially fortunate that the Bank happened to be printing currency at the time of the Cardinals' visit as this straightened his case immeasurably. "In Rome," O'Hagan replied, "anything can be arranged!" 

New home[edit | edit source]

In 1591, a Pia Casa for the higher education of orphan boys had been founded at the parish church of Santa Maria in Aquiro. This, the Collegio Salviati, was sponsored by Cardinal Antonmaria Salviati. Part of its patrimony was a vineyard near the Lateran, the Vigna del Collegio Salviati, which was to become the permanent location of the College in 1926.

The foundation of the Collegio Salviati had required the expulsion from Santa Maria in Aquiro of a certain Confraternità dei Santi Pietro e Paolo, the same one that ended up sharing the church at Santa Lucia with the College. Small world.

The vineyard occupied an awkward triangular site between two very old roads. The Via di Santo Stefano Rotondo had begun as a Stone Age hilltop trackway from the lowest fording point on the Tiber at Bocca della Verità (the reason Rome existed in the first place), and became the route for medieval pilgrims travelling to the Lateran after arriving by boat. The Via di Santi Quattro was a donkey track short-cut between the Lateran and the fortress monastery of Santi Quattro Coronati, when the only good road hereabouts was the Via Labicana and the Lateran was a cathedral hamlet in the vineyards.

The College boundary (ex-vineyard) walls are worth examining. They are undatable and must have been rebuilt several times, but they contain reused ancient Roman bricks and are on foundations at least a millennium old.

The vineyard was intact when Rome was conquered by Italy in 1870, but the Capuchins then established a missionary college here, the Collegio di San Fedele. This had been founded in 1841 and had occupied a building at Via delle Sette Sale 6-8 near San Pietro in Vincoli, but this had been sequestered by the Italian government in 1873.

The current purpose-built College building was begun in 1922, with the College moving there from Sant'Agata dei Goti in 1926. The architect was Giuseppe Momo, famous for his work at the Vatican around the same time.

Part of the original project was a separate chapel edifice, but this was put on hold and an internal house chapel provided instead.

Remodelling[edit | edit source]

The College's house chapel was of little artistic interest to anybody outside the College for the next eighty years. The altar had a painting by the noted Sligo artist Bernard McDonagh, executed in 1953 and depicting various scenes from the history of the Church in Ireland.

Then, in 2008 a contract was entered into with the Centro Aletti to provide new sanctuary furnishings, stained glass windows and wall mosaics. The main artist employed was P. Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ, who finished his work in 2010.

The refitted chapel was dedicated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2010.

The chapel is now of major artistic interest, since the mosaics are recognised as among Rupnik's finest works.

The public profile of the chapel has also been raised by an increase in the number of wedding held in it. This is a result of the loss to the Irish of San Patrizio a Villa Ludovisi, when that formerly Irish national church was handed over to the Americans. The handover ensued after the Irish Augustinian friars left Rome.

Exterior[edit | edit source]

Layout and fabric of college[edit | edit source]

Giuseppe Momo, the architect, responded to the awkward triangular site by erecting an edifice consisting of three wings occupying the three shorter sides of a trapezoid. The fourth, longest side at the back was to have the permanent chapel, which was never built.

The edifice has three storeys and a flat roof, and stands over a cellar range. The style is amazingly "retro" for the time, and in fact could be mistaken for something erected two hundred years earlier. It could be described as Palladian with neo-Baroque features, although the design details are not "correct" according to Classical architecture.

The Irish would have known all about Palladian architecture back home, and one wonders if Momo was influenced so as to produce something which might have been erected in Ireland by a member of the Ascendency in the 18th century.

The entrance frontage is especially impressive, standing back from the entrance behind a triangular garden.

Garden gates[edit | edit source]

The ornate iron railing entrance gates to the garden bear two plaques. Collegio Irlandese in Italian to the right means "Irish College", but on the right in Irish Gaelic is Coláiste na nGaedheal in Gaelic script which means "College of the Gaels". Those with a knowledge of Irish history might suspect an allusion to the former Cumann na nGaedheal political party, but this is not the case as Monsignor John O'Hagan who is responsible for the signage was closely associated with Éamon deValera of the rival Fianna Fáil party. On the other hand, some local Romans think that the epigraph is in Greek.

Entrance façade[edit | edit source]

The three-storey entrance frontage has nine bays, with a row of nine windows in each storey except the first one which contains a single central entrance. The cellar range is lit by windows looking out onto narrow areas either side of the entrance.

The first storey of the entrance frontage is rendered so as to resemble rusticated ashlar stonework, and has round-headed windows in molded frames. It is separated from the second storey by an entablature lacking an architrave, and an attic plinth. A blank horizontal rectangular tablet in a wide frame is fitted into the attic plinth beneath each window of the first storey, except the central one.

The other two storey are rendered in a pale tan colour, with architectural details in white. They are embellished by ten gigantic Tuscan Doric pilasters, the ones at the corner being slightly wider. Apart from the central pair, these have no bases but rise immediately from the plinth. The capitals are connected by a simply molded string course, and support a crowning roofline entablature with an exaggerated cornice. Instead of modillions, the latter is supported by strap corbels which intrude into the frieze. The corbels over the pilasters are doubletted, and in between them are blank unframed rectangular tablets.

The roofline has a low pin balustrade, and the second and third storeys are separated by a deep but plain string course without molding.

The second storey windows have triangular pediments, raised on posts supported by incurved volutes themselves supported by ribbed pilasters each having a rosette at the top. The third storey windows have Baroque frames, with the sills intruding into the dividing string course.

Entrance[edit | edit source]

The entrance is fun. The first storey façade is brought forward slightly below the central pair of pilasters above, and contains a simple round-headed portal with no door-case. This is approached by a flight of stairs, in between a pair of derivative Ionic columns with thin swagged volutes (like butterfly proboscides). These columns stand on deep double plinths, and themselves support a pair of deep posts which hold up a pin balustrade balcony in front of the central window of the second storey. So, this balcony doubles up as a porch. The balusters of the balcony are more ornate than those of the roofline balustrade.

The entablature separating the first and second storeys is continued under the balcony, where it is provided with an architrave and is embellished with rosettes and triglyphs. There is a triglyph on each post, too.

Over the entrance is a high-relief medallion bearing the College's heraldry. This features St Patrick treading on a snake and holding the Bachal Isu, with the text Collegium Hibernorum de Urbe ("The College of the Irish of the City") and the motto Ut Christiani ita et Romani sitis ("As Christians, thus may you be also Romans"). The latter tag is lifted from a liturgical rubric in the Book of Armagh considered to be one of the DIcta Patricii -the complete text is: Ecclesia Scotorum immo Romanorum, ut Christiani ita et Romani sitis, ut decantetur vobiscum oportet omni hora orationis vox illa laudabilis Curia lession [sic!] Christe lession. Omnis ecclesia qui sequitur me cantet Curia lession, Christe lession. ("Church of the Gaels, but rather of the Romans! That as Christians you may also be Romans, it is necessary for you to have that praiseworthy saying "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison chanted at every hour of prayer. May every church that follows me sing Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison"). The context of this rubric was a monastic community with no Greek.

It's a shame that the medallion is not in the proper heraldic tinctures (colours), especially since the saint's chasuble and the lawn on which he stands should be in Vert (Irish green). You can see what it should look like if you look above the entrance door once inside.

The same criticism applies to the high-relief heraldry inserted into the broken pediment of the central window of the second storey, above the entrance. This is of Pope Pius XI, and is accompanied by two heaps of flowers on the pediment as well as the traditional crossed Keys of St Peter. The heraldry should be: Argent three torteaux Gules, and on a chief Or an eagle displayed Sable, armed Gules. ("Three red balls on a silver background, top half yellow with a black spread eagle having red legs.")

Chapel[edit | edit source]

The chapel has almost no external profile, but if you go round to the far end of the left hand side wing you will see its little semi-circular apse. This has a tiled roof in three very shallow triangular pitches. The apse looks as if it once had four round-headed windows, but if so the inner two have been blocked up and the outer two have been reduced to small vertical rectangles.

Interior[edit | edit source]

Stoae[edit | edit source]

The side wings of the College each have a stoa or internal walkway, facing each other across a central trapezoidal courtyard which is sadly now a car park. This stoae are not arcaded but are trabeated, and each has three bays separated by two massive piers. The bays each have three Tuscan Doric columns supporting the trabeation, making a total of nine square portals. Unfortunately these do not function as they should, because there are areas below them giving light to the cellar range windows.

The chapel and its antechamber occupy the first storey of the left hand wing, with the major axis parallel to the left hand stoa.

O'Connell Monument[edit | edit source]

Here on the travertine internal wall is the cenotaph of Daniel O'Connell, by Giovanni Maria Benzoni. It is a neo-Classical work, comprising a slab aedicule in Tuscan Doric style, executed in shallow relief in grey-veined Carrara marble with two bas-reliefs in finer white marble.

This sculptor's Irish connection arose from his studio being next to Sant'Isidoro a Capo le Case in the early days of his career. Have a look at the monument to Cardinal Angelo Mai, 1857 in the church of Sant'Anastasia -the pediment of this much more ornate work is almost identical to the one here.

The aedicule has a pair of pilasters supporting a raised curved pediment, which is slightly ogival with side volutes and an acanthus finial. The main relief, which is round-headed, has three figures. The seated female one is allegedly Rome in allegory, holding a funerary urn and addressed by an angel pointing to heaven. They are accompanied by a dog which is allegedly an Irish wolfhound. Below is the epitaph, very unusually in English -the sculptor would have had no understanding of the language, and used the Italian Genova for Genoa:

"This monument contains the heart of O'Connell who, dying at Genova on his way to the Eternal City, bequeathed his soul to God, his body to Ireland and his heart to Rome. He is represented at the Bar of the British House of Commons in MDCCCXXIX [1829], when he refused to take the anti-Catholic declaration in these words: - "I, at once, reject this declaration: Part of it I believe to be untrue, and the rest I know to be false." He was born VI [6th] August MDCCLXXVI [1776], died XV [15th] May MDCCCXLVIII [1847]. Erected by Charles Bianconi Esq., the faithful friend of the Immortal Liberator and of Ireland, the land of his adoption.

The epitaph is signed by the sculptor. The scene referred to is in the second bas-relief, below on the plinth.

The very odd thing about this monument, which used to be at Sant'Agata dei Goti, is that before 1926 everybody thought that O'Connell's heart was in a casket in a niche behind it. When the monument was removed to take it to the new college, nothing was found. The fate of the Liberator's heart is unknown -there are hopes that it is somewhere in a crypt below Sant'Agata, but apparently the adjacent bank took over the vaults after the College moved. If so, the heart possibly ended up in a common grave at Campo Verano when the vaults were cleared of human remains.

The donor of the monument is worth remembering as a great pioneer in Irish public transport.

Kirby monument[edit | edit source]

Another monument was brought here from Sant'Agata, and is now at the end of the stoa. It is in memory of Tobias Kirby 1895, who had been College Rector for forty-one years from 1849. He was influential in the Roman Curia, and his extensive correspondence in the College archives is an important historical source.

The wall monument consists of a very long epitaph on a square white marble slab, within a black marble Baroque frame. On top is a lunette bas-relief, around which the frame runs and which depicts allegorical symbols. The frame is topped with flower garlands here. Another dog is shown in the relief, as well as the Harp of Erin. On top of the lunette is an ornate corbel, interrupting the frame, which bears a Classical bust of the deceased.

Chapel fabric[edit | edit source]

The chapel is a room of three bays, delineated by two massive transverse ceiling support beams. The first two bays are the nave, and the second is the sanctuary. The latter also includes a semi-circular apse, which has a triumphal arch lacking imposts or piers and which has a shallow ovoidal curve to the archivolt. This has a third support beam over it.

The nave has four windows in the left hand side wall, and two in the right. These are round-headed, but are within deep rectangular embrasures. There is a single window in the left hand side of the sanctuary, making a total of seven.

At the bottom of the nave is a huge square portal reaching up to a fourth support beam and usually filled with a screen. This can be removed to connect the chapel with an antechamber beyond, for very well-attended liturgies -this feature was part of the original design.

Apart from the mosaics, the walls and screen are in white and the floor is in pale grey.

The ceiling is a fine work, and is original. Each of the three compartments has a large central coffer surrounded by subsidiary coffering. The ribs are in white, but the coffering has stucco floral motifs in white and gold on blue. The second compartment features the heraldry of Pope Pius XI.

Windows[edit | edit source]

The seven windows form one set of stained glass, designed by P. Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ and executed by the Roman firm Vetrate Giuliani. They are in an abstract style dominated by white and greyish tones, with brighter colours in smaller areas. Each is designed around a text relevant to the sacred history of the Church in Ireland, which is readable with a bit of effort (rather like CAPTCHAs, actually).

The texts are, anti-clockwise from the bottom right:

  • "Pilgrims for Christ's sake". (Actually a quotation from a poem entitled The Pilgrim Fathers by William Henry Burleigh 1841, but here refers to the legendary exile of St Columba and companions to Iona.)
  • Naomh Bríd, a Mhuire na nGael guí orainn. ("St Brigid, Mary of the Gael, pray for us". From the "Gaelic Litany of St Brigid", here.)
  • "Do whatever he tells you". (Gospel of St John 2:5.)
  • "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.". (Gospel of St John 21:15, 16.)
  • Ut Cristiani ita et Romani sitis. (College motto, a saying of St Patrick: "As Christians, thus may you also be Romans".)
  • "Oliver Plunkett. For the glory of God". The latter is taken from a letter that the saint wrote in 1664 while travelling secretly on mission in Ireland: "Snow mixed with big hard hailstones was falling, a cutting wind was blowing into our faces and the snow and hail blew so strongly into our eyes and affected them so much that we are hardly able to use them even yet. Finally, after frequent danger of being suffocated by the snow in the valleys, we arrived at the house of a poor gentleman who had nothing to lose, but through bad fortune he had a stranger in the house, by whom we did not wish to be recognised, and so he put us in a fine room under the roof where we have remained without chimney or fire for eight days now, may it be for the glory of God and the good of our souls and of the flock committed to us."
  • "We Irish are disciples of Peter and Paul." (A quotation from a letter by St Columbanus to Pope Boniface IV, AD 612.)

Rupnik mosaics -overview[edit | edit source]

The mosaics in the church are all by Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik. His style is immediately recognisable, being neo-Byzantine with strong influences from Christian Ethiopian art. The symbolism of his work here is dense. There is a focus here on fire and water, on the eschatological parousia of Christ and on the sacraments.

The nave has two mosaics, and the sanctuary four (one on each side wall, one encompassing the triumphal arch and one in the apse).

For fans of the mosaicist, here are other churches in Rome where his work can be found:

Mosaic of St Patrick[edit | edit source]

On the right in the nave is a depiction of St Patrick.

He is shown standing in a well, which is an allusion to St Patrick's Purgatory and the legend that Christ showed the saint a cave or well there which was the entrance to Purgatory. The fish in the well with him is the ancient Christian symbol of the Ichthys. The well also evokes baptism, and so the saint's status as the "Apostle of Ireland".

He is holding a scroll with the first line in Gaelic of the hymn "St Patrick's Breastplate" -Chríost liom, Chríost romham ("Christ with me, Christ before me"). The Christ-child emerges from his breast, which is Rupnik's take on the ancient Byzantine icon of the Blachernitissa or "Our Lady of the Sign" showing Christ as Wisdom enshrined in the body of Our Lady (the illustration in the Wikipedia article is erroneous).

The flames and Dove of the Holy Spirit are above, and the mountain behind is Croagh Patrick. However, over the mountain is the "bright cloud" of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor which represents God the Father and hence gives the mosaic a Trinitarian iconography.

The deer peering over the mountain is another allusion to "St Patrick's Breastplate", which has the alternative title "The Deer's Cry" from the first line of Psalm 43: "Like the deer which yearns for flowing springs".

Snakes are shown fleeing away to the lower right, rather than being killed or trampled as is usual in the saint's iconography (the legend is that Ireland has no snakes because St Patrick got rid of them -if so, he also got rid of the moles and woodpeckers). There is an allusion to Isaiah 27:1 "Leviathan the fleeing serpent", and so to the conquest of primordial evil as well as the obliteration of Original Sin in baptism.

Mosaic of the angel[edit | edit source]

On the left hand side of the nave is a smaller mosaic depicting an angel. He is holding a rod which has sprouted at one end, and a flaming lamp. The former alludes eschatologically to the New Temple which the angel measured up with a measuring rod in the prophecy of Ezechiel, chapter 40, and the sprouting leaves to the Rod of Aaron. Aaron's Rod turned into a snake and ate the snakes which the magicians of Egypt made of their rods, so this symbolism links with that of the St Patrick mosaic opposite.

Angels hold censers in the Scriptures, not lamps, but see Acts 12:7 when St Peter was rescued by an angel from prison (another allegory of baptism) and also Gospel of St Luke 12:35: "Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning" (evoking the Parousia).

A further symbolism relates to the nearby lectern, and the Psalm text "Your words are a lamp for my feet, and a light for my path" (Ps 119:105).

Sanctuary furniture[edit | edit source]

The sanctuary has a two-stepped platform with an outward curve to the steps.

There are five separate items of sanctuary furniture provided by the Centro Aletti and designed by Fr Rupnik:

  • The free-standing altar is a pure white marble block, on a square plan. Each side has an inset gilded mosaic in the form of a cross, featuring a little portrait of an angel.
  • The lectern or ambo is also in white marble, and presents a vertical rectangular slab bearing a gilded device featuring a fire with three flames. This is a Trinitarian symbol.
  • The free-standing tabernacle seems to be a wooden box, but it is inset with panels of gilded and chased metal and the door is gilded metal too. The latter is embellished with a Celtic cross device. The tabernacle stands on a marble pier of square cross-section, and below it this pier has a mosaic in the form of conjoined tongues in red. These point downwards, so seem to be depicting the Precious Blood flowing from the tabernacle.
  • A free-standing crucifix in metal embellished with gilding stands next to the altar, in lieu of the usual altar crucifix. The cross is in the form of a lopped tree, invoking the ancient allegorical tradition that references to a tree in the Old Testament are prophecies of it.
  • The apse contains the seating of the liturgical ministers, in the form of a continuous semi-circular bench with a back, all in white marble. A president's chair with a higher back and arms is incorporated into this. The altar of the chapel would have been in the apse before 1970.

Mosaic of St Brigid[edit | edit source]

St Brigid of Kildare is depicted in a mosaic on the right hand side wall of the sanctuary. She is patron of those called Bridget, Bridie or Biddy.

The saint is credited with having founded the pre-eminent nunnery of Ireland at Kildare in about AD 480. According to the developed legend, she took over a shrine of the Celtic goddess Brigid, which contained an eternal flame or a fire which was never allowed to go out. She and her community continued this tradition, and the ruins of a "Fire-house" are still pointed out near the old Kildare Cathedral (the latter mostly rebuilt as a Protestant church).

"Kildare" is from the Gaelic Cill Dara, which is usually translated as "church of the oak". However, cill is from the Latin cella meaning "room in a house", hence "pagan temple sanctuary" (where the cult-statue "lived") or "monastic cell". The identification of dara with the Gaelic dair "oak" is not entirely certain.

When the saint founded the monastery, the local ruler rather contemptuously granted her as much land as her cloak would cover. The cloak miraculously expanded to cover the Curragh.

All of the above influenced the symbolism of the mosaic. The saint is shown in the orans position, wearing a blue mantle and standing on her miraculous cloak. The front fold of the mantle holds a depiction of the old Cathedral and the adjacent Round Tower, the former apparently on fire. The flames are actually an allusion to the Holy Fire, and the way they divide to the "tongues of fire" at Pentecost.

Behind is an oak tree, in which is perched a white dove. As well as alluding to the name Kildare, it acts as a double rebus in that it alludes to St Columba (columba is Latin for "pigeon") and his monastery at Derry (Gaelic doire, "oak grove").

Mosaic of St Joseph[edit | edit source]

The left hand side wall of the sanctuary has a mosaic of St Joseph. He is shown attending to the Presentation of Christ at the Temple, carrying the prescribed sacrifice of "two young pigeons" . They are recognisably a pair of Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) squabs -NOT "a pair of Turtle Doves" (Streptopelia turtur), which the Mosaic Law gave as an alternative option for poor people. Rupnik obviously knows his birds, whereas art critics tend not to.

Triumphal arch mosaic[edit | edit source]

The otherwise unadorned triumphal arch is embellished with gilded tiles. A deep blue triangle in the top right hand corner of the wall evokes the Trinity. A conduit on the left hand side pours fourth water, alluding to the Water of Life and baptism.

Behind the tabernacle are red tongues, here pointing upwards and not downwards and so representing fire not blood. Above is a red disc. This can be interpreted as the rising sun of the Resurrection, or as a total eclipse of the moon at the Parousia ("the moon will turn to blood" -Joel 2:31).

Apse mosaic[edit | edit source]

The apse mosaic is a developed Deesis, a very ancient iconographic tradition depicting Christ reigning in glory and accompanied by Our Lady on his right and St John the Baptist on his left. Here, Christ holds a book reading Ego sum pastor bonus ("I am the good shepherd").

Our Lady and St John are accompanied by six others. From left to right, they are:

  • Blessed Columba Marmion, a Benedictine abbot of Maredsous in Belgium who was born in Dublin.
  • St Columbanus.
  • St Patrick.
  • St Oliver Plunkett, principal patron of the chapel.
  • St Brigid.
  • Fr Ragheed Ganni. As can be discerned from the lack of a halo, he is not canonised (yet). He was a Chaldean Catholic priest who had studied at the College, and was martyred with three companions in Mosul, Iraq in 2007. His cause for canonisation was formally introduced in 2018, so Fr Rupnik may need to add a halo fairly soon.

Above the Deesis, a blue Trinitarian triangle emits an arc resembling a jet of water over the figures to the near right hand side of the apse, which could be interpreted as Divine grace or approval. The background is otherwise in gold.

Access[edit | edit source]

The chapel is open to the public on Sundays and Holy days at 10am.

It is also usually possible for visitors to request admittance to the College and visit the chapel when the College Office is open from 8.30am to 5.00pm, (excluding lunchtime) Monday to Friday.

The College run a pilgrimage hotel, the Villa Irlanda.

Liturgy[edit | edit source]

Public Mass in English is celebrated at 10am on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation.

The Feast of All the Saints of Ireland is celebrated on 6 November.

Weddings are hosted in the chapel, but six months' notice needs to be given. For further information, see the College web-page here.

External links[edit | edit source]

Official diocesan web-page

College website

"Villa Irlanda" website

"Centro Aletti" web-page

"Annas Rom Page" (excellent, in Danish.)

Article on O'Connell monument

Wedding photos

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