Beggars and Artisans: A Cultural History of Cork’s Franciscan Friary / Images as Narratives: Mosaics in St Francis Church, Cork

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

Images as Narratives: Mosaics in St Francis Church, Cork

The figural mosaics in St Francis Church depict different scenes, yet they are all tied together by the unifying theme of life. This is most clearly illustrated in the apse mosaic, where the main image is divided into three zones: the first showing Christ in Majesty attended by angels and representing life in heaven, the second including eight saints, who connect their life on earth with the heavenly court, and the third zone with the images of the four elements of fire, earth, water and air depicted in the lower section of the apse. All the mosaics that appear in the church were designed by an Italian artist, Professor Umberto Noni from Rome and executed by Commendatore Tullio Monticelli.

Photo showing the apse in St Francis Church, Cork. The photo depicts Christ in Majesty seated holding a book in one hand and his other hand raised. Two angels are on either side and eight saints stand below him.
Christ in Majesty with eight saints, view of the apse, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.

Accompanying the main apse mosaic are the mosaics displayed as backdrops to the side altars, which are dedicated to the Sacred Heart, St Francis, Our Lady and St Joseph. In the altar of the Sacred Heart, Christ stands upright with a hand placed on his heart which emits golden rays. Two angels are holding his cloak aloft. The altars of Our Lady and St Joseph are found side by side, reminding the viewer of their spiritual attachment to one another. Mary is depicted with outstretched hands and flanked by two angels. St Joseph is pictured against the backdrop of a starry night sky, he is shown standing and protecting the young Jesus.

Two views of the Altar of the Sacred Heart in St Francis Church in Cork. One is a photo taken in 2021 and the other is a picture from "St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide."
Left: Altar of the Sacred Heart, St Francis Church, Cork. Photograph from St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide (1961). UCC Library, Special Collections.
Right: Altar of the Sacred Heart, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.
Two views of the Altar of Our Lady in St Francis Church in Cork. One is a photo taken in 2021 and the other is a picture from "St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide."
Left: Altar of Our Lady, St Francis Church, Cork. Photograph from St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide (1961). Special Collections, UCC Library.
Right: Altar of Our Lady, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.
Two views of the Altar of St Joseph in St Francis Church in Cork. One is a photo taken in 2021 and the other is a picture from "St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide."
Left: Altar of St Joseph, photograph from St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide (1961). Special Collections, UCC Library.
Right: Altar of St Joseph, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.

St Francis, who is the patron saint of the church, is represented twice in mosaics: in the main apse and in one of the side chapels. Unlike in the apse mosaic, where Francis kneels before Christ, bearing the stigmata in a position of reverence, here he is represented in a more relaxed attitude with open arms. He kneels and seems to converse with a wolf and a lamb shown next to him. A small copy of the San Damiano Cross is tucked into the cord tied around his habit as a reminder of the story of St Francis being spoken to by the cross. This account is described in more detail in the blog post titled ‘From Assisi to Cork’. The scene is set in a simple, rural setting, a stream flows across the bottom of the image with flowers growing along its banks. Behind St Francis is a tree with different types of birds nesting in it and the words of the Franciscan motto ‘pax et bonum’ (‘peace and goodwill’) are intertwined through the branches.

Two views of the Altar of the Sacred Heart in St Francis Church in Cork. Both are photos taken in 2021.
Left: St Francis with a wolf and a lamb. Altar of St Francis, St Francis Church, Cork (detail). Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.
Right: Altar of St Francis, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Martha Ewence.

The mosaic of St Francis with animals is an artistic interpretation of the Legend of the Wolf of Gubbio. The story is told in the so-called Little Flowers of St Francis, a text composed after 1337, over a century after the death of the saint. The event took place when Francis was leading an ascetic life, living simply with his companions, wandering from town to town, preaching and begging for alms. In Franciscan Cork, Jerome O’ Callaghan retells the story and describes how the townspeople of Gubbio had been terrorized by a wolf and sought help from Francis. When the saint found the wolf, he blessed him and assured the animal that he would have plenty of food if he refrained from attacking the town. Miraculously, the wolf placed his paw in the hand of St Francis and nodded in agreement. From then on, the wolf went from door to door asking for his food and became a friend of everyone in the town, so much so that the townspeople grieved on his death two years later. There is even a suggestion that the wolf was given a burial as there is evidence that the remains of a wolf were found in 1872, when Gubbio’s church was undergoing building work.

A poem 'The Wolf of Gubbio' by Eily Esmonde which is to the right of an image of St Francis of Assisi with a wolf.
Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953) includes a poem by Eily Esmonde titled ‘The Wolf of Gubbio’. Special Collections, UCC Library.

Since it was first recorded in the fourteenth century, the story about the wolf of Gubbio has captured the imagination of artists and writers alike. A series of paintings created for the San Sepolcro Altarpiece in 1444 represents scenes from the life of St Francis and includes an image of the saint holding the paw of the wolf to the great astonishment of the townspeople gathered behind him. Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo also known as Sassetta (d. c. 1450) is the artist and seven of the scenes from the altarpiece are on display in the National Gallery in London.

A painting showing St Francis of Assisi holding the paw of a wolf. Other people stand behind him and another person sits to one side.
Sassetta, The Wolf of Gubbio, 1437-44. Egg tempera on poplar, 87 x 52.4 cm Bought with contributions from the Art Fund, Benjamin Guinness and Lord Bearsted, 1934 NG4762, The National Gallery, London.

In his Life of St Francis, composed c. 1228-1229 to commemorate the canonisation of Francis, Thomas of Celano (d. 1260) stresses Francis’s love for all creatures and the way Francis, through his own experience, taught others to follow him in this regard. On one occasion, Thomas of Celano describes how ‘after the birds had listened so reverently to the word of God, he [Francis] began to accuse himself of negligence because he had not preached to them before. From that day on, he carefully exhorted all birds, all animals, all reptiles, and also insensible creatures, to praise and love the Creator’.

In 1979 St Francis was declared the patron saint of those who promote ecology.

Martha Ewence

Further reading

Billinge, Rachel, ‘Some Panels from Sassetta’s Sansepolcro Altarpiece revisited,’ National Gallery Technical Bulletin 30 (2009), 8–25.

O’ Callaghan, Antóin, The Churches of Cork City: An Illustrated History (Dublin, 2016).

O’ Callaghan, Jerome, Franciscan Cork: Souvenir of St Francis Church, Cork (Killiney, 1953).

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J.A. Wayne Hellmann and William J. Short (New York, 1999-2001), vols 1-3.

Poland, Pat, ‘Heavens Above! Cork Church is 65 Years Old’, The Evening Echo, 12/07/2018.

St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide (Cork, 1961).

Vauchez, André, Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint, translated by M.F. Cusato (New Haven, 2012).

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Beggars and Artisans: A Cultural History of Cork’s Franciscan Friary / Styles and Stained Glass in St Francis Church

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

Beggars and Artisans: Styles and Stained Glass

Architecture and iconography of the modern St Francis Church in Cork merge various medieval stylistic traditions, ranging from eastern Byzantine elements to western Gothic influences, which together are suggestive of the geographical spread of the Franciscan Order.

On the left is the book cover of "Franciscan Cork: Souvenir of St Francis Church, Cork." On the right is a view of Christ in Majesty in the apse of St Francis Church in Cork.
Left: Cover page of Franciscan Cork. Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), with an article by Father Jerome O’Callaghan. The cover displays the apse mosaic with a detail of Christ in Majesty in St Francis Church, Cork. Special Collections, UCC Library.
Right: Christ in Majesty. Apse mosaic, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.

The church’s main apse mosaic presents a magnificent image of Christ in Majesty. The overall composition of Christ enthroned, surrounded by angels and accompanied by saints, draws heavily from artistic traditions of the early Christian apsidal mosaics. The dominant use of gold in the image is evocative of early Christian and Byzantine art. Father Jerome O’Callaghan, OFM, noted that the church has many Byzantine features in its mosaics, floor design and sculptural details. For example, Greek letters are incorporated within the apse mosaic, column capitals and the terrazzo flooring by the front doors. The letters IC XC that flank the head of Christ in the apse, represent a Christogram or a sacred monogram of Christ and stand for the abbreviated Greek words: Jesus Christ. The letters Alpha (Α) and Omega (ω) carved on capitals are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; in the Christian tradition they came to signify Christ as the beginning and the end of things, evoked in the Book of the Revelation 1:8.

On the top left is the IC XC monogram surrounding Christ's head. On the lower left are various examples of IC XC monogram. 
On the right are the alpha and omega letters on a column in St Francis Church, Cork.
Top left: The IC XC monogram, the apse mosaic, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.
Lower left: Examples of Christograms recorded by Father Jerome O’Callaghan in Franciscan Cork: Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953). Special Collections, UCC Library.
Right: The Alpha and Omega letters, column capital, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.

Western medieval inspirations are seen in stained-glass windows that comprise a series of figurative windows placed in a transept as well as a large window in the façade, which consists of seven round-headed lights under the tracery. Four figurative windows are situated at either side of the central apse in the transept arms. Each window is round-headed with double lights. These transept windows depict eight figures: in the left transept we see the pairings of St Elizabeth of Hungary and St Bernardine of Siena, and St Francis of Assisi and Christ (Sacred Heart of Christ), in the right transept there are the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, and St Paschal and St Louis IX.

Two photographs of four of the saints in the stained glass windows in St Francis Church.
Stained-glass windows with saints: St Elizabeth of Hungary and St Bernadine of Siena, St Francis and the Sacred Heart, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.
Two photographs of four of the saints in the stained glass windows in St Francis Church.
Stained-glass windows with saints: the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, and St Paschal and St Louis IX, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.
Colour design for three stained-glass windows in the church of St Francis in Cork, featuring St Louis of France, the Virgin Mary and St Elizabeth of Hungary. The image is from the Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Colour design for three stained-glass windows in the church of St Francis in Cork, featuring St Louis of France, the Virgin Mary and St Elizabeth of Hungary. IE TCD MS 11182/565, The Board of Trinity College Dublin.

The stained-glass windows in Cork’s St Francis Church were designed by the Harry Clarke Studios situated on North Frederick Street in Dublin. Harry Clarke (1889-1931) was a renowned stained-glass artist, who started by working for his father Joshua Clarke (d. 1921), a builder and glassworker, before studying his craft at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. During his career, Harry designed many windows to great acclaim, including multiple windows in the churches of Cork, such as the Honan Chapel and the Holy Trinity Church. Plagued with ill health, Harry Clarke died in 1931, but his studios continued to produce commissions until 1973.

The preparatory sketches from the Harry Clarke Studios show how St Francis Church stained-glass windows took shape and the importance of both the content of images and the precision required in moving the plans from paper to glass.

Notes and pencil sketch for a stained-glass window with an unidentified standing figure, done by the Harry Clarke Studios for St Francis Church, Cork. The image is from the Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Notes and pencil sketch for a stained-glass window with an unidentified standing figure, done by the Harry Clarke Studios for St Francis Church, Cork. The image contains measurements of the window. IE TCD MS6088-2-1_1, The Board of Trinity College Dublin.

A letter addressed to Reverend Father Gerald, that dates from 23 October 1956, gives an insight into the collaboration between the friars and the Studio in choosing the imagery for the new church.

Letter from William Dowling to Rev. Father Gerald submitting designs for stained-glass windows for St Francis Church, Cork. The image is from the Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Letter from William Dowling to Rev. Father Gerald submitting designs for stained-glass windows for St Francis Church, Cork. IE TCD MS6088-13-1_1, The Board of Trinity College Dublin.

Further letters from the building contractors M.L. Cowman and Sons to the Harry Clarke Studios illustrate the necessity for correct measurements, not only for the windows but also other glass panelling in St Francis Church.

Letters from M.L. Cowman of M.L. Cowman & Sons Building Contractors to the Harry Clarke Studios regarding measurements for glass panels at St Francis Church, Cork. The images are from the Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Letters from M.L. Cowman of M.L. Cowman & Sons Building Contractors to the Harry Clarke Studios regarding measurements for glass panels at St Francis Church, Cork. IE TCD MS6088-13-3_1 (left) and IE TCD MS6088-13-4_1 (right), The Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Photograph of the Father Thomas Dowling, OSFC, stained glass Memorial Window, in the Holy Trinity Church, Cork.
Image of the Father Thomas Dowling, OSFC, Memorial Window, the Holy Trinity Church, Cork.
Photograph: Elaine Harrington

The planning stage of church glazing is not always a straightforward process as seen in the case of the Capuchin friary of the Holy Trinity in Cork. A memorial window was commissioned for Father Thomas Dowling by the Cork District Trades and Labour Council in recognition of his work in setting up the first Conciliation Board in Cork in 1919, to mediate disputes between trade unions and employers. Harry Clarke was the chief designer on the project, but problems arose in the planning stage concerning the Council’s insistence on having a large inscription in the window. Clarke felt that the inscription would detract from the window’s artistic integrity and could not be read easily from the ground. The situation worsened, when it emerged that there had been a mistake in window measurements, and he demanded to be paid for the extra work he incurred as a result of delays. The issue was eventually resolved when Joshua Clarke offered to finish the commission, while using Harry’s original design.

The saints included in the windows and the apse mosaic of St Francis Church act as visual expressions of Franciscan identity, so that viewers can be inspired by their exemplary lives and learn about the history of the Franciscan Order.

St Francis of Assisi (1181/82-1226), the founder of the Franciscan Order, is pictured in the stained-glass window holding up his hands to display the stigmata on his hands and feet. Two doves are included in the image reminding the viewer of the Saint’s affinity with animals. In the same window, Christ displays the wounds on his hands and feet, and his heart shines brightly from inside his scarlet robes. The design of the window strikingly highlights the connection between Francis and Christ, and the two images express a theme of Francis as the Other Christ.

St Bernadine of Siena (1380-1444) was an Italian Franciscan most well-known for his expressive preaching. He is pictured in the window holding the Holy Name monogram, which he used in preaching missions to promote this devotion. To his left stands a striking figure of St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) wearing a Byzantine style headdress and colourful garments. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and married Louis IV of Thuringia at the age of fourteen. Elizabeth devoted her life to looking after the poor and the sick, building a hospital at the foot of Wartburg Castle, where she personally nursed the infirm. After her husband’s death on route to the Sixth Crusade, she joined the Third Order of the Franciscans and built another hospital in Marburg in Hesse dedicated to St Francis. She is often represented giving food to the poor as on the print from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Three images of St Elizabeth of Hungary. The image on the left is a colour design for a stained glass window and it is from the Board of Trinity College Dublin. The image in the centre is a a black & white print of St Elizabeth giving aid to a young boy. The image on the right is a black & white drawing of a mosaic from "Franciscan Cork: Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork."
Left: Colour design for the stained-glass image of St Elizabeth of Hungary by the Harry Clarke Studios, Dublin (detail), IE TCD MS 11182/565, The Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Centre: St Elizabeth of Hungary by Hieronymus (Jerome) Wierix. The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Right: Drawing of a mosaic depicting St Elizabeth of Hungary in the main apse, St Francis Church, Cork, reproduced in Franciscan Cork: Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), 69, Special Collections, UCC Library.

The right transept windows represent St Paschal Baylon and St Louis IX, King of France. St Paschal Baylon (1540-1592) was a Spanish Franciscan lay brother, who was admired for his strict observance of the Rule of Francis and devotion to the Eucharist. He was sent by his superior to France to defend the Eucharistic doctrine in a debate with a Calvinist preacher. As a result, he was chased and almost killed by an angry mob.

St Louis IX (1214-1270) was the King of France from 1226 to 1270, and was involved in two crusades, dying in Tunisia. He was a patron of the mendicant orders and displayed a strong devotion to the Passion of Christ. He is depicted in the window holding a crucifix, a sceptre and a sword, signs of his royal authority and devotions.

The image on the left is a colour design for a stained glass window of St Louis and it is from the Board of Trinity College Dublin. The image on the right is a black & white drawing of a mosaic of St Louis from "Franciscan Cork: Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork."
Left: Colour design for the stained-glass image of St Louis IX by the Harry Clarke Studios, Dublin (detail), IE TCD MS 11182/565, The Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Right: Drawing of the mosaic depiction of St Louis, King of France in the main apse, St Francis Church, Cork. St Louis IX is shown holding a cross and a crown of thorns, the relics of which he purchased in Constantinople. These relics were housed in Sainte Chapelle. Image from Franciscan Cork: Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), 69, Special Collections, UCC Library.

The remaining figures in the windows represent Mary and Joseph. The Virgin Mary is shown with outstretched hands, wearing her signature blue garments. St Joseph occupies the space to her right wearing green robes and holding a lily, which is considered as his emblem.

The image on the left is a colour design for a stained glass window of the Virgin Mary and it is from the Board of Trinity College Dublin.
Colour design for the stained-glass image of the Virgin Mary by the Harry Clarke Studios, Dublin (detail), IE TCD MS 11182/565, The Board of Trinity College Dublin.

The tradition of using stained-glass windows in Franciscan churches goes back to the medieval times, when splendid visual schemes were executed in glass in the great churches of the Order such as the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi and Santa Croce in Florence. Franciscan writers, including Bonaventure (1217-1274) believed that stained-glass windows with their transparency and coloured luminosity, could help with contemplation and devotion, because as he stated through the corporal light ‘we are thoroughly led to understand even the spiritual.’

Martha Ewence

Further reading

Curtin-Kelly, Patricia, An Ornament to the City: Holy Trinity Church and the Capuchin Order (Dublin, 2015).

Dunne, Aidan, ‘A Colourful Window into Harry Clarke’s World’, Irish Times, 3 March 2018.

Frazier, Adrian, ‘Harry Clarke and the Material Culture of Modern Ireland’, Textual Practise 16 (2002, online edition).

McKee, Ruth, ‘God is in the Detail: Harry Clarke’s Stained Glass’, Irish Times, 27 June 2020.

Ó Clabaigh, Colmán, ‘The Other Christ: The Cult of St Francis of Assisi in Late Medieval Ireland,’ in Rachel Moss, Colmán Ó Clabaigh, and Salvador Ryan, eds, Art and Devotion in Late Medieval Ireland (Dublin, 2006), 142-162.

O’Callaghan, Jerome, Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church Cork (Killiney, 1953).

Pieper, Lori, The Voice of a Medieval Woman: St Elizabeth of Hungary as a Franciscan Penitent in the Early Sources for Her Life (New York, 2016).

Spieser, J.M., ‘The Representation of Christ in the Apses of Early Christian Churches’Gesta 37, no. 1 (1998), 63-73.

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Beggars and Artisans: A Cultural History of Cork’s Franciscan Friary / From Assisi to Cork: Architecture of the Modern Church of St Francis

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

Beggars and Artisans: Architecture of the Modern Church of St Francis

Nearly four hundred years after the dissolution of the monasteries, the Franciscans in Cork saw the opening of their new church in the city centre. Father Jerome O’Callaghan wrote in Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork: ‘Long expected was the great day; it came – the day of the blessing and opening of the new St. Francis.’ This ‘great day’ took place on 14 July 1953. O’Callaghan continues: ‘We may well call the event an epoch-making event. It is the third ‘permanent’ church of the Order to be built in Cork.’ The first Franciscan house in Cork was the medieval friary discussed in the previous post, the second house was the so-called Old St Francis on Broad Lane, and the third the present-day church.

An image of the old St Francis Church in Cork City with pews in front of the altar. There are statues on either side of the altar and Latin writing over the altar and statues.
By 1950, the so-called Old St Francis on Broad Lane (pictured above) was in a state of disrepair, with one third of the roof and side walls being replaced with a temporary roof of timber and felt. Photograph reproduced in Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953). Special Collections, UCC Library.
Map of Cork in 1801 showing North Main Street and the laneways off that street. Broad Lane is one of these.
Map of Cork, 1801. Broad Lane is seen in the centre of the map. Special Collections, UCC Library.

The opening of the Church was hailed as an event of great importance for Cork city.

A photograph from "Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork " of crowds attending Mass on the day of laying the foundation stone for the new St Francis Church.
Crowds attending Mass on the day of the laying of the foundation stone, 2 August 1949. Photograph from Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), 62. Special Collections, UCC Library.

O’Callaghan’s description of the completed 1953 church encapsulates a sense of awe and wonderment, not dissimilar to the views of medieval western writers towards ecclesiastical architecture. O’Callaghan states that anybody seeing the church was ‘struck by this immense lofty building of rustic red brick which dominates the surrounding areas. (…) The large dominating tracery window, the artistic portico and graceful flanking towers, invest the whole scene in dignified grandeur.’ His selection of words recalls an account of churches in England, France and Italy that were visited by an early fourteenth-century Franciscan pilgrim from Ireland, Friar Simon. Simon, for example, mentions a ‘wonderfully beautiful’ church in Amiens, the ‘glittering’ shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury and the Church of Notre Dame in Paris ‘furnished with lofty towers’.

A model of the new Franciscan friary which is to the left of a model of St Francis Church.
Model of the new Franciscan friary reproduced in Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), 16. Special Collections, UCC Library.

The façade of St Francis Church is flanked by two towers and adorned with a large stained-glass window, above which is the life-size replica of the famous San Damiano Cross. The cross seems to crown the entrance to the church and is a reminder of a seminal story in the life of St Francis. Bonaventure’s (c. 1217-1274) Life of St Francis also known as the Legenda Maior, recounts a time when Francis, still a merchant, visited the San Damiano church outside Assisi. There, he heard a voice speaking to him from the painted cross. According to Bonaventure, the voice told Francis ‘go and repair my house which, as you see, is all being destroyed.’ The use of this particular image on the façade of Cork’s friary alludes to the Franciscan ideals of spiritual renewal and restoration, as well as the actual act of building a church.

A photograph showing the facade of the St Francis Church in Cork with the San Damiano Cross in the centre.
View of the façade with the image of the San Damiano Cross, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.

‘On reaching the church proper the impression we receive, is one of beauty, dignity and even grandeur.’ It is clear from O’Callaghan’s words that the interior of the church building was planned to reflect the grandeur and wonder of the building’s exterior. Mosaics and stained-glass windows adorn the walls of the church and will be examined in the following sections of this exhibition.

A view of the apse of St Francis Church in Cork showing Christ in majesty.
Apse mosaic, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.

To finish this post, we may quote again from Father O’Callaghan’s Franciscan Cork, in order to convey the impression, which the church left on its visitors in 1953: ‘Almost invariably one hears a first-time visitor uttering the spontaneous whisper: “Oh how beautiful!” and beautiful it is indeed in every line and feature.’

Morgan Hole

Further reading

Bonaventure, The Major Legend of Saint Francis, in Regis J. Armstrong, J.A. Wayne Hellmann and William J. Short, eds, Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol.2 (New York, 2000), 525-683.

Esposito, Mario, ed. and trans., Itinerarium Symonis Semeonis ab Hybernia ad Terram Sanctam (Dublin, 1960).

O’Callaghan, Jerome, Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church Cork (Killiney, 1953).

St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide (Cork, 1961).

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Beggars and Artisans: A Cultural History of Cork’s Franciscan Friary / A Lost Medieval Friary

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

Beggars and Artisans: A Lost Medieval Friary

Historical maps of Cork city give a clear indication about the location of the medieval Franciscan friary. UCC’s Special Collections houses a copy of the Civitates Orbis Terrarum or Cities of the World, a six-volume work, first published in Cologne and Antwerp between 1572 and 1618. The publication presents bird’s-eye views, maps and plans of all major cities of the world and its sixth volume contains a page with maps of the four Irish cities, namely Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork, the latter is pictured below and was the subject of the online exhibition created by the MA in Medieval History students in 2020.

A map of Cork from the early 17th century. The map is oriented west-east. The city is walled and surrounded by marshes and river. The city encompasses North Main Street and the various laneways.
Map of Cork, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Cologne, 1618, edited by Georg Braun, engravings by Abraham Hogenberg. Special Collections, UCC Library.

The Civitates map of Cork marks the Franciscan friary with number 3 and shows it as being positioned on the north bank of the river Lee, in the vicinity of the bridge. The map is oriented east-west, so the Franciscan church features on the left, which is north, with two other mendicant churches of the Dominicans (number 4) and Augustinians (number 9) being located on the right side of the map, which corresponds to the south side of the city.

The size of the medieval Franciscan friary was restricted by topographical features of the river to the south and the red sandstone cliff to the north of the friary complex. Evidence concerning the medieval structure of the friary is limited, but its size and appearance can be discerned from documentary sources, archaeological excavations and early modern maps.

A 17th century map of Cork oriented west-east. The Franciscan friary is on the right of the map. The city is walled and surrounded by river.
Map of Cork, published in Pacata Hibernia, London, 1633 (detail). The text of Pacata Hibernia deals with the Elizabethan wars in Ireland. The map of Cork is oriented west-east with the city’s north side shown on the right side of the map. The Franciscan friary (‘Sanden Abby’) is on the right side of the map. Map from the 1810 reprint, Special Collections, UCC Library.

On the Pacata Hibernia map, the church of St Francis is visible on the north side of the city (right side of the map), where it is labelled as ‘Sanden Abby’ meaning Shandon Abbey. As on the Civitates map, here the church also appears as a simple structure, possibly having one nave. The Civitates map displays a side transept and the Pacata Hibernia map indicates the existence of a tower. Early modern sources, such as Annales Minorum compiled by a Franciscan historian Luke Wadding (1588-1657) state that the church was a notable one, divided in two parts by high columns, which may imply that columns separated the nave from the transept. In 1541, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the church and its tower were to be demolished: this confirms that the friary indeed had a bell tower, which was a typical architectural feature of mendicant Irish churches. The seventeenth-century Pacata Hibernia map retains the tower, in spite of chronological discrepancies regarding the tower’s demolition.

Archaeological surveys of Cork’s medieval Franciscan friary are limited, however the findings on the site of the Dominican friary of St Mary’s of the Isle provide important comparative information on the architectural structure and decorative elements of mendicant houses in medieval Cork. In both cases, a friary complex consisted of a church, most likely with one nave and a tower, and conventual buildings that were grouped around a central cloister. Cork Public Museum houses a collection of architectural fragments from St Mary’s Dominican site, such as parts of ornate window arches and funerary stone slabs.

A fragment of a double ogee-headed window, now inserted into the wall of the Distillery House on Wise’s Hill, was found in the nineteenth century near the site of the medieval friary and probably came the Franciscan house.

Drawing of a double ogee-headed window, now inserted into the wall on Wise’s Hill. The letters S, B, M and C are present on the stone.
Drawing of a double ogee-headed window, now inserted into the wall on Wise’s Hill. From Michael Holland, ‘The Monastery of St. Francis at Cork’, The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 23 (1917), 122.

In 1804, during the construction of houses on the North Mall, which was the site of the medieval Franciscan friary, some stone coffins were found and subsequently recorded in 1852. The description of burials was cited in the 1917 volume of The Journal of Cork Historical and Archaeological Society: ‘The red stone rock which rises perpendicularly at the back of the buildings had on ledges at various heights coffins cut out of the solid stone, and the lid fitting so closely that to the casual observer it would appear to be part of the original rock’. The now-lost medieval Franciscan friary is still remembered in the street names, such as North Abbey Street and North Abbey Square.

By the time Father Donatus Mooney, OFM, Ireland’s minister provincial, visited all Franciscan houses in Ireland possibly between 1615 and 1616, the friary had been mostly dismantled following the dissolution of the monasteries. All that remained by that time were the ruined walls of the church and as Mooney recorded the place was ‘inhabited by an English Protestant, who has erected a dwelling house within the precincts’. As a result of the friary’s destruction, the friars of St Francis were forced to inhabit a rented house in the city.

Later maps of Cork allow us to trace the subsequent history of the friary building. The 1801 map does not show the Franciscan friary, as it was no longer extent at that time, yet it displays the area where it had been originally positioned by retaining the name of North Abbey.

Beauford's Map of Cork, 1801.
Map of Cork, 1801. The site of the medieval Franciscan friary is noted only by the name of North Abbey, seen on the enlarged detail of the map (below). Special Collections, UCC Library.
Detail from William Beauford's map of Cork focusing on the North Mall which includes a reference to 'North Abbey.'
Map of Cork, 1801 (detail). Special Collections, UCC Library.

A sketch pictured below and dated to 1831 shows the remains of the Franciscan friary, which were demolished in 1836 during the construction of buildings on present-day Abbey Square. The arches pictured in the centre of the sketch were identified as remnants of the medieval friary building and may have been part of a cloister arcade.

A sketch showing arches from the old medieval friary on the now North Mall in Cork. These arches are surrounded by buildings.
Sketch by T.C. Croker dated 1831, showing arches that were identified as part of the medieval friary. From Michael Holland, ‘The Monastery of St. Francis at Cork’, The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 23 (1917), 121.

A map below (created on OpenMap ) shows archaeological sites located in the area of the medieval Franciscan friary. The two red dots mark the sites of archaeological importance: the dot placed closer to the river references the friary, the red dot north of that shows the location of the holy well.

Map created on OpenMap showing archaeological sites in the area of the medieval Franciscan friary. A dot closest the river references the firary and a dot further north references a holy well.

The photograph below, reproduced in the 1953 Franciscan Cork, shows the houses on the North Mall and suggests the location of medieval sections of the friary: number 1 indicates the place of arches noted in the 1831 sketch and number 2 shows the site regarded as the entrance to a Franciscan well.

Photo of North Mall in Cork. Two points are placed on the photograph to indicate where remains of the old medieval friary were.
Photo taken from North Gate Bridge, c.1953. Number 1 indicates arches seen in T.C. Croker’s sketch (above), and number 2 indicates the entrance to a well. Image from Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), 10. Special Collections, UCC Library.

Although there is no longer a physical structure on the site of Cork’s medieval Franciscan friary, place names on the North Mall recall this once prominent building that Luke Wadding described as ‘a mirror of the whole Ireland’.

Morgan Hole

Further reading

Cork City Council, Heritage Churches of County Cork (Cork, 2015).

Holland, Michael, ‘The Monastery of St. Francis at Cork’, The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 23 (1917), 121-125.

Hurley, Maurice F. and Sheehan, Cathy M., Excavations at the Dominican Priory: St Mary’s of the Isle, Crosse’s Green, Cork (Cork, 1995).

Kelleher, Hilary, McCarthy, Fintan and Brett, Ciara, ed., Cork City’s Burial Places: A Study of the Cemeteries, Graveyards and Burial Places within Cork City (Cork, 2011).

Mooney, Canice, ‘Franciscan Architecture in Pre-Reformation Ireland (Part I),’ The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 85 (1955), 133-173. 

Mooney, Canice, ‘Franciscan Architecture in Pre-Reformation Ireland (Part II),’ The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 86 (1956), 125-167. 

Mooney, Canice, ‘Franciscan Architecture in Pre-Reformation Ireland (Part III),’ The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 87 (1957), 1–38. 

O’Callaghan, Jerome, Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church Cork (Killiney, 1953).

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George Boole: Academic, Author, Husband and Father

Sepia coloured studio photograph of George Boole in a long-coat suit with dickie-bow tie standing with his hands at his side, his head slightly turned to the left as we look at it.

In 2015 University College Cork and UCC Library celebrated the life and scientific achievements of George Boole, first Professor of Mathematics, Queens College Cork (QCC), with George Boole 200*.

You may wonder why George Boole is the subject of a blog in 2021. UCC Library Archives has recently listed material dating from the 19th and 20th centuries that is now open to researchers as the George Boole Ancillary Collection. It contains Boole-related material that was housed in Special Collections, UCC Library, on permanent loan from the Royal Irish Academy, and original letters by George Boole and related material donated by Emeritus Professor Des MacHale (School of Mathematics, UCC) to UCC library after the main Boole Collection was listed.

The original letters and related material of George Boole (BP/1/A/2) show his dedication to scholarly pursuit and his joy of family.  We learn a little more about his lodgings in Cork close to College when he first arrived in 1849.

Part of a letter written by George Boole in Oct 1849 from Queen's College Cork to his sister, Mary Ann.

“I have got lodgings close by the Colege {sic} in a delightful situation quite indeed like the country”

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Ever dedicated to his classes he closes this letter with his having to attend to the copying out of papers in preparation of an examination.

There are lecture notes to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society “On a district in the south of Ireland” published in the Lincoln Chronicle in 1851 (BP/1/A/2/2).

First page of handwritten lecture notes to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society given by Boole, published in the Lincoln Chronicle in 1851.

“I have selected this subject partly because it is an interesting, and in some respects a misunderstood subject, but still more, because it is one of the very few subjects…of which I possess any personal knowledge.”

Second page of lecture notes by George Boole given to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society in 1851.

“The lofty Galtee range of mountains protecting the region overlooked by their Southern slopes from the extreme & violence of the north & east winds…the southern & western shores are washed by the warm waters of the Atlantic, which [can] retain some portion of the temperature imparted to them by the Gulf Stream.”

There is an example of student / lecturer difference of opinion on examination results in 1858, the student [Thomas Henry Marmion] and George Boole write to Sir Robert Kane, President of Queens College Cork arguing their case on the matter.

[Marmion] writes “a letter from the Registrar to me intimating that I had received a qualifying mark in Mathematics, Dr. Boole…appears to be under some misconception as he declined to sign my certificate until I should have passed a supplemental examination.”

Extract from a letter from Thomas H. Marmion to President Kane, QCC, questioning the actions of “Dr. Boole” (BP/1/A/2/4)

Boole’s response is fairly matter-of-fact “the value of Mr. [Marmion’s] answering as calculated from the marks which he obtained was 2…as his answering did not appear to me to be sufficiently good to qualify him for passing I added a recommendation for a supplemental examination which I should be ready to give him if [decided] to do so.”

Letter by George Boole in 1858
Extract from a letter from George Boole to President Kane, QCC, on the results of one of his students [Thomas H. Marmion] – (BP/1/A/2/5)

Within a heavily used original copy of Purcell’s Commercial Cork Almanac (1865) is a newspaper cutting in which its author praises Boole’s lecture on Newton to the Lincoln Mechanics’ Institute when Boole was only nineteen years old (BP/1/A/2/6).

I mentioned a little earlier that from this material we also get a deeper insight into George Boole ‘the person’ from a letter addressed to a “dear friend“, who I suspect is Dr. Bury after checking The Papers of George Boole. Boole writes as a proud father and husband, relaying the birth of his eldest daughter, Mary Ellen, in 1856.

First page of a handwritten letter from George Boole to a friend, dated June 1856, announcing that he has become a father for the first time.

“…I am now a father. My little first born – a daughter – came with the [world] two days ago. It is a fine healthy child and its dear mother is wonderfully well”.

BP/1/A/2/3

He describes his wife’s health during the pregnancy “…she was able to take an amount of exercise very unusual for person in her situation up to the very day of her confinement. Her step remained as light as ever…” He goes on to describe her labour, how she was afterwards and breastfeeding “the only sypton {sic} she noticed…was a little giddiness at the moment when the child first began to suck.” He is of the mind that;

Excerpt from a handwritten letter from George Boole to a friend, dated June 1856, describing how well his wife and baby are.

“a great deal of suffering, certainly to mother & probably to child, is due to the neglect of natures [plainest] dictates…my wife took no medicine whatever – nor has she taken any since…”

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If you are interested in learning more about these documents, or any other items in the Boole Collections, please contact specialcollectionsarchives@ucc.ie

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