introduction to the building by Fr. Pat Conlon OFM
The Highlanes Gallery is located in the former Franciscan Friary Church
which was built in 1829 around an earlier Franciscan Foundation. The ancient
friary was located about 100 meters away, though no trace remains today.
On entry to the building from the Courtyard / Gallery
level, visitors will notice the late nineteenth stained glass windows in the
old nave of the church. Each window has the refrain, B. N, ora pro nobis,
written in Latin, meaning ‘Blessed Saint N, pray for us’. The dual windows are
also paired across the nave of the church.
St Bonaventure is depicted on the first north facing window
and is balanced by St Anthony on the southern wall, both of whom were leading
theologians who promoted unity within the Franciscan Order.
St Bernadine is balanced by St Peter who were both leading
ascetics and reformers. King Saint Louis is opposite Queen St Elizabeth,
patron and patroness of the old Third Order, now the Secular Franciscan Order.
St Margaret is paired with St Colette, both penitents and
mystics. Visitors will note the heart and three nails at the top of the first
pair of windows, indicating the dedication of both saints to the Passion of
Christ as a source of inspiration and prayer.
St Bonaventure (1221-74), theologian and Minister General
of the order, was born at Bagnorea in Italy. It is reputed that he was
healed while ill by St Francis of Assisi.
He later joined the Franciscans and was an effective and dedicated priest who
experienced ecstasy during prayer. As professor of theology at the University of Paris, he wrote on theological problems
as well as the higher levels of spirituality and prayer. When acting as
Minister General he drafted new constitutions for the Franciscans and strove
for unity within the Order. He was appointed Bishop of Albano, and later made a
cardinal by Pope Gregory X. Bonaventure was appointed to direct the
Council of Lyons but died from the strain before the end of the Council. The
window shows him wearing a cardinal’s hat. The angel above the St. Bonaventure
may be seraphim, symbolising his title of Seraphic Doctor (the Seraphic Order
is another name for the Franciscans).
St Bernadine of Sienna (1380-1444), reformer and preacher,
was orphaned and reared by relatives. Even as a young man he was dedicated to
prayer and helping the poor; he was inspired by Our Lady and joined the
Franciscans and preached devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus over the length and
breadth of Italy.
He also introduced a stricter life among the friars, Bernadine is shown in the
religious habit carrying the symbol ‘HIS’. This is an abbreviation of the Name
of Jesus about which Bernadine preached. The Jews traditionally omitted the
vowels in writing sacred names. Thus JeHuS became IHS. In medieval times a line
was placed over a word to indicate contractions – HIS. Later the line turned
the top of the H into a cross.
A pelican feeds three young above the second pair of
windows; this is a symbol of Christ pouring out his blood for the salvation of
the mankind, particularly in the Eucharist.
King St Louis of France (1215-70) was regarded as a
wise ruler and patron of the Secular Franciscan Order. His devout mother,
Blanche, trained him to live in the light of faith. On becoming King Louis IX
at the age of twelve, he later joined the Third Order of Saint Francis. An
extremely wise and just ruler, he made France
the leading power in Europe, organizing the
Sixth Crusade to fulfill a solemn promise. Louis was captured while on crusade
in 1250, however, the French people paid a ransom for his release he
subsequently undertook the Seventh Crusade but died of the plague near Carthage. He is depicted
wearing a king’s crown. The crossed sword and scepter represent his dedication
to wise government and his efforts to recover the Holy
Land, while the cord is the symbol of the Franciscan Third Order.
St Margaret of Cortona (1247-97), penitent, had a hard life
as a child. She was determined to make her mark in the world, leaving home as
eighteen. Her beauty led her into a life of sin, which ended when her partner
of the moment was murdered. She became a penitent, living a secluded life of
prayer and working for her food. She joined the Third Order and used its rule
to guide her life of penance. She became a contemplative and could read the
inmost secrets of the many that came to her for advice. Her incorrupt body is
preserved in Cortona. Margaret is shown wearing the hood of a penitent, while
the symbols of the Passion, on which she based her spirituality, are shown
around her, the Cross, spear, sponge, pliers, scourge and whip.
A chalice and host, symbols of the Eucharist, are over the
saints on the first window on the far side. St Colette of Corbie (1381-1447)
who was a mystic and reformer. She was born in France - the first child of a
mother aged nearly sixty. As a young girl, she was known for her compassion for
the poor, prayer and mortification. She joined the Franciscan Third Order after
the death of her parents, living as an anchoress in a hut adjoining the local
church, as was a common feature by such people in the late middle ages.
Inspired by the Lord to introduce a strictly form of life among the Poor Clares
or Second Order of Saint Francis, she left her hut and founded many monasteries
of strict observance based on deep prayer and simplicity of heart. Colette is
shown in the habit of a Poor Clare. The three arrows in her hand represent the
difficulties she overcame in life and the importance of her religious faith.
St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-31) was a charitable
monarch who achieved much in her short life. A daughter of King Andrew of Hungary, she
was betrothed at three years of age to Louis, future Langrave of Thuringia and
Hesse. They married when he succeeded his father. She spent much of her time
looking after the sick and poor while acting as a wise regent when Louis was
absent, he died while on the way to participate in the crusade led by Emperor
Frederick II. Elizabeth
was driven out by her brothers and was forced to live in a shack and spin flax
for a living. Restored to her castle, she refused the hand of Frederick II to
live a life of seclusion and poverty. She joined the Third Order of Saint
Francis and lived a religious life while nursing the sick in hospitals. Elizabeth is shown with
the crown of a queen as well as fruit and flowers, symbols of her feeding the
poor and her life of prayer.
The Greek letters A and Ω (alpha and omega) are over
the last set of windows on the southern wall on the upper gallery level. They
are the first and last letters of the alphabet and symbolise the beginning and
end of life, both in terms of the world and each individual soul.
St Peter of Alcantara (1499-1562), preacher and reformer,
was born in Spain and joined
the Franciscans while attending the University
of Salamanca. He began a
strict life of prayer and mortification, wearing an iron belt studded with
spikes and scourging himself until he bled. He became a famous preacher in many
parts of Spain
and erected a mission cross wherever he preached. A humble man, he was forced
to become a provincial and revitalise the Franciscan Order in Spain. Peter is
shown in the form of Franciscan habit that pre-dated the Leonine Union of 1897.
The dove and golden rays represent his closeness to the Spirit and the graces
that he enjoyed, which help us establish the approximate dates of these
wonderful stained glass windows.
St Anthony of Padua
(1195-1231), theologian and preacher, was born in Lisbon and joined the Canons Regular of St
Augustine. He was inspired by the example of the Franciscan Martyrs of Morocco.
He became a Franciscan and set out for North Africa.
Illness curtailed his plans, while the ship bringing him back to Spain ended up in Sicily,
from whence he attended the general chapter of the Order at Assisi
in 1224 and ended up in the little friary at Forli. There his abilities as a preacher were
discovered, as well as preaching in Italy
and the south of France
he also lectured young friars in theology. He was elected provincial of upper Italy dying in Padua. Anthony is shown as a young friar,
full of energy and love of god. The symbols show the rosary, indicating his
devotion to Mary, a book of the Gospels, remind us that he is known as the
Evangelic Doctor, and the lily of purity.
A modern stained glass window (ca. 1960s) has replaced the
original depiction of a saint at the back of the church on the top balcony - it
shows a red T or Greek ‘tau’. St Francis of Assisi used this to sign his letters. The
Latin inscription is from the blessing Francis gave to Brother Leo: ‘May the
Lord Guard You and Keep You’.
The arms of the Franciscan Order on the west gallery wall
show the bare arm of Christ crossing over the arm of Francis in a habit, both
palms showing the mark of a nail, surmounted by a simple cross.
The original window, on the upper level, depicted Blessed
John Duns Scotus (1265-1308). Scotus means Scot and Duns and is a place in Scotland.
Leading Irish Franciscan theologians of the seventeenth century took him as
their model because they believed he was Irish. He graduated at the University of Paris
and later taught at Cambridge, Oxford
and Cologne. He
is famous for promoting the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The Old Nave, Sanctuary and related areas
Descending into the old nave, you find a monument to Fr
Seraphin Mullen. He was born in Drogheda in 1858, joining the friars in his
native town in 1875, before going to Italy for studies. Ordained in Rome in 1881 and returning to minister for short periods in
Ennis, being appointed novice master in 1885, he brought the novices to the
German house at Harraveld as part of the reform and left them there. He
volunteered for the mission in Australia,
arrived in Sydney
in 1887 and ministered in the parishes around Waverly. When he returned
to Ireland in 1900, he spent
a few years in Galway before becoming superior in Drogheda
in 1908. He remained there until his death in 1923. He was the last Black Friar
in Drogheda, as the house was proclaimed for
the reform after his death (see above).
There is a bas-relief nearby in the blue and white style of
glazed terra cotta in the style of Luca della Robbia. This became popular in Ireland during the 1950s and may have been
imported from Italy
in 1954. It shows Saints Francis of Assisi and Dominic embracing. Although
Francis grew up in Italy and
Dominic in Spain,
the same spirit guided both. Francis founded the Franciscans in 1209 to give
witness to a genuine way of Christian living. Dominic founded the Dominicans in
1215 to preach against heretics in the south of France. They met in Rome at the house of
Cardinal Hugolino, later Pope Honorius, probably early in 1216.
The former sanctuary with the high altar in the middle and
two side altars may be dated to 1855 are is typical of the period from the
First Vatican Council to the Second (1870-1970). Extra altars were needed so
that each priest in the community could say mass on their own. The side altars
also served as shrines to particular saints. Traditionally three steps led to
the altars. Mouldings and obilisks in plaster divide the back wall into three
areas, each surmounted by a cross.
The high altar bears a Latin inscription indicating that it
was a ‘privileged altar’ consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Dixon on 4 November
1857. A priest saying mass at a privileged altar could get a special indulgence
for a suffering soul in purgatory. The door of the tabernacle, dating to around
1927, is an excellent example of the art of the late Irish Celtic Revival
period with intricate interlacing etc.
Above the high altar are three wonderful sainted glass
windows produced by Craftworkers and installed in 1929 at a cost of £80. The
principal artist at Craftworkers was William McBride, who may also have been
responsible for the design of these windows. Craftworkers departed from the
Harry Clarke studio but followed his tradition; the Drogheda windows while
reminiscent of the work of Clake, are more traditional but show a strong late
Celtic revivalist style.
The central window shows the Immaculate Conception,
promoted particularly by the Franciscans. This dogma states that Mary, right
from the first moment of her conception, was preserved free from the stain of
original sin. She is shown in the traditional blue and white, with twelve stars
around her head and the moon under her feet. Unlike usual representations of
the Immaculate Conception, she does not have the Child Jesus in her arms or the
serpent under her foot. Overhead God gives his blessing, with a bag of riches
ready for distribution, a reference to the many graces that Christ would bring
to the human race.
The window on the left shows Saint Francis of Assisi with the stigmata
(marks of the Passion) on his hands, feet and side. He is carrying the Book of
the Gospels, on which he based his life. The crossed arms of the Order are also
shown. The window on the left shows Saint Clare of Assisi,
who founded the Second Order of Saint Francis, as usual she carries a
monstrance as a symbol of her dedication to the Eucharist and a reminder of how
she saved Assisi
from destruction by showing the Blessed Sacrament to attackers who fled. She
also carries a crucifix, while overhead is a chalice surmounted by a host, a
versions of the arms of the Poor Clares.
The altar on the left was dedicated to Our Lady, with her
statue in the niche. That on the right was dedicated to Saint Francis. Both
originally had angels over the niches, but these were painted over during the
renovations in 1990. This was typical of the mood of the time that aimed to
bring out meaning by reducing clutter and introducing simplicity.
Behind the altar on the rear service corridor, the sacristy
area where the priests prepared for services still contains the ancient
Sacrarium, which had a drain that led directly into the soil for water used in
cleaning the sacred vessels. There is also little niche that probably held the
oil press where the sacred oils used in various sacraments were stored.
Near the sacristy are steps leading down into the crypt,
which is outside the public area of the gallery. During the eighteenth century
friars working in parishes were buried beside the parish churches. When Friars
opened vaults in their own churches early in the nineteenth century, the coffins
were slid into prepared places. Ten friars were buried in the crypt at the
Highlanes Gallery and in anticipation of possible renovations to the church,
eight bodies were translated to Saint Peter’s Cemetery in May 1973 and the
remaining two in September, that year.
Fr Pat Conlon OFM is a historian.