‘He Comes to Life With Every Dawn’
By Karen Dietrich
On the western fringes of the Emerald Isle, where the Irish language and traditional devotions survive to this day, the legends of Ireland’s ancient native saints from the Dark Ages endure.
Saints Fursey, Fechin, Enda, Gormgail, and Dymphna can also be found, however, throughout Ireland in the magnificent stained glass windows of the famous Irish artist Harry Clarke (1889 – 1931).
Saint Fursey (died 650), one of the “Four Comely Saints”, was an Irish monk who did much to establish Christianity throughout Ireland, Scotland and particularly in East Anglia, England. He reportedly experienced angelic visions of the afterlife.
The “Four Comely Saints” (Irish: An Ceathrar Álainn) is a collective name for the Saints Fursey, Brendan of Birr, Conall, and Berchán of the early Irish Christian church. At their reputed burial place on Inishmore — the largest Aran Island – stands a ruined fifteenth-century church dedicated to them.
In Ireland, one work of beautiful sacred art often inspires another. This ancient church inspired a well-known poem, Teampal an Cheathrair Álainn (‘The Church of the Comely Foursome’) by Máirtín Ó Direáin (1910 – 1988), one of Ireland’s most famous Gaelic poets. A reputed miraculous cure at the nearby holy well inspired John Millington Synge’s (1871 – 1909) play The Well of the Saints.
Harry Clarke, the late 19th- early 20th Century artist who represented the richly spiritual world of these holy folk, was much influenced by his childhood holidays on the Aran Islands, where devotion to the traditional saints was strong in his day. A Dubliner by birth, he was a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement.
Stained glass was central to his career, his work being distinguished by the finesse of its drawing and his striking use of rich colors. Aran flora and fauna often adorn Clarke’s work.
Visiting Dublin? Here’s a Secret Catholic Insider’s Tip: Check out the windows of Bewley’s Café on Dublin’s Grafton Street for Clarke’s work. Prepare for this treat by picking up Strangest Genius: The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke by Lucy Costigan. This magnificent book contains the entire stained glass collection of Harry Clarke. Also, click here to discover where to see Clarke’s work.
A friend, the Irish writer Lennox Robinson, once wrote: “Harry Clarke in the east end or transept of many a church in Ireland and elsewhere comes to life with every dawn and will have his daily resurrection.”
VISIT THE AUTHOR: www.karendietrich.com
PHOTO CREDIT: harryclarke.net