Saturday 21 January 2012

Strawberry Hill in Kildare and Leighlin - Ballyroan

This Church almost made it into 'The ones that got away' because, as you can see from the shot of the plans below, it was recently proposed to 're-arrange' the Church but, despite having been happily held up by the planning authorities, the re-ordering went ahead. If this Church could run it should have run faster!

When I visited the Church there was a mesh over the ceiling but there is a fine plasterwork ceiling there somewhere, probably a worthy match of the eastern wall, which is in a fine 'Strawberry Hill Gothic'. Once I have completed the series on the ones that got away, I intend to look at the ones that didn't, beginning with those that have 'Strawberry Hill' features.

By Strawberry Hill Gothic I understand a style of decoration established by Horace Walpole at his London residence of that name. Walpole wrote in 1794 that "every true Goth must perceive more the works of fancy than imitation" about his house, for which Walpole coigned the word 'gloomth' (as in warmth) that typifies 'the gothic' as a literary genre, which he also pioneered through his novel The Castle of Otranto, that established 'the gothic novel' as a primary prose form for a generation and which continues to resonate in our own day.

As an architectural form, Strawberry Hill Gothic (often spelled with a 'k' to distinguish it from the other forms of neo-gothic architecture) is a flamboyant and decorative gothic in the architectural sense of those words, broadly based upon the English perpendicular, even to the extent that the triforium is completely absent.

Without denigrating the form, it strikes me as more superficial and decorative in the romantic sense of picturesque, in contrast to the more archaeological methods of Ruskin and Pugin the elder, and the total immersion of the Arts and Crafts and pre-Raphaelite movements. Strawberry Hill Gothic aims for sensual effect rather than the material and social change that the Gothic Revival would later espouse. There is no clear transition from the Palladian to the Gothick, in that classicists such as Robert Adam and Charles Barry were equally comfortable providing decoration in either for a demanding patron and can be seen as a form of the roccoco.

The decorative effect of the spandrel, the thinner mullion, the ogee and the pendent are used to maximum effect. As an easier medium for delicate and complicated decoration and, I think, as typical of the style, wood is more common in this 'gothick' than in other forms of gothic. Thus we see on the eastern wall at Ballyroan a riot of wooden decoration and also in the nave windows. The form of the wooden mullions here can also be in Churches in various parts of the Diocese where those windows have been retained. For example, they can still be seen in the Church of the Assumption in nearby Vicarstown and older images of St. Conleth's in Newbridge show the same form in the windows of the nave, well into the 20th cent.

It was our Catholic heritage. Why couldn't they leave it alone?


Bizzy Izzy said...

What a shocking thing to make modifications to such a beautiful structure.

Phographic Mementos said...

I always love this style. It has a fantastic look and feel. Some more detailled photos would be great.

VCrowe said...

Still is our Catholic heritage and they should leave it be. Good article. Looking forward to more.

Dodger said...

Taking a bit more trouble to examine the photos it is clear that this church, while obviously beautiful and a treasure house of artistry, is also a monstrous garble of styles. The strawberry hill reredos (actually the whole east wall) is a well drawn example that carries a unity throughout the various elements but that is where the harmony and unity of style end. The central altar makes no attempt to sit within that style. The statuary is very inferior in artistic ambition. The windows, in their subjects, their execution and their structures make no pretence at gothik, as you put it. I applaud your survey but I worry that it is ignoring the eclecticism that already existed in the interiors even before the iconoclasm of the present pigmy age.