Fascinating details about the Church of the Holy Trinity, Allen
“Allen: Catholic Church – cut stone Gothic Revival church built in 1866 to the designs of J. S. Butler. Plate tracery in the façade and the adjoining belfry. Detached colonettes articulate the fenestration of the side elevations. Sculptural capitals remain incomplete. Simple interior apart from the painting and mosaics of the polygonal apse. Stained glass by Earley.
“J. S. Butler also designed Broadford Catholic Church.”
(From: A Companion Guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921, by Jeremy Williams)
The Church of the Holy Trinity, Allen, was designed by J. S. Butler and built in 1866. This was just a short time after the Great Famine in Ireland when the country was still recovering from that overwhelming natural disaster.
Externally, it is a perfectly proportioned Church that appeals to the innate sense of the beautiful within us. Inside, the painted decoration is simple, except for the area of the polygonal apse. There is a uniform decorative scheme which encompasses the entire sanctuary area. The rich decorative scheme was specially designed to celebrate the Holy Trinity. There are three levels of decoration on the walls and the three levels of the ceiling.
Celebrating the Holy Trinity
The lowest level of painted design consists of a complex stencilled pattern in red, brown, cream and gold. There are symbolic lilies and castellated designs with three peaks.
The second level of decoration is lighter. The design is flowers and block work with gold highlights. There are three lozenge shaped paintings of St Brigid, St Conleth and St Patrick holding some shamrock – a symbol of the Trinity. These paintings are on a gold background.
The third level of decoration is lighter again, consisting of a geometric latticework pattern. Inserted in this design are series of roundels containing symbols of the Trinity including three roses, a fleur-de-lys, the Ark of the Covenant, and so on. These are all enriched with gold leaf.
The ceiling in the sanctuary - in the style of an illuminated manuscript
The ceiling decoration similarly has three orders, consisting of two orders of angels and a central plaque with IHS (Iesu Hominum Salvator, that is, ‘Jesus, Saviour of Men’) directly over the alter. This area of painting is amusing in a way. The obvious intention was to follow the theme of the Holy Trinity but, because of the shape of the sanctuary, there was an even number of spaces. The solution was ingenious.
Angels with their hands crossed and wide open
There are three angels with their hands crossed, three angels with their hands wide and four using thuribles – but one of these angels has his censer swinging the opposite way so that it reads three and one, thus conforming to the Holy Trinity theme. Once again, there is a liberal use of gold to highlight the scheme.
The Wayward Thurifer
Symbols of Christ's Passion
The window architraves are surrounded by symbols of the passion: nails, Christ’s gown, a ladder, three nails, a pierced heart and so on, all painted on gold. The window reveals have a cross and a fleur-de-lys. Elsewhere, grapes, acorns, roses, lilies and heads of corn are used to symbolise spiritual riches and rebirth.
Symbols and icons associated with Christ's Passion in the Church of the Holy Trinity
The alter panel has a central image of Christ with the cross, surrounded by harvest images which symbolise the resurrection. The two side altars facing down he church are richly painted in red and blue appropriate to the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin. High up on the chancel arch are central images of God the Father, the Holy Spirit and the four evangelists.
This well-thought-out painting scheme represents a huge investment by the congregation of Allen in the 1860s. It is rich and complex, liberally enriched with gold, and beautifully executed. It is as fine today as it was when it was first painted. It must have cost a great deal of money at a time when the local people could ill afford to pay. The liberal use of gold demonstrated their generous faith.
We should spare a thought for the craftsmen who created the decorative scheme and for the congregation who made sacrifices to create the artwork that we continue to enjoy today. It is a treasure to be cherished.