Consents to Alterations in Churches
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A long running project to index the records of consents to alterations in churches has recently been completed in the RCB Library by Mary Furlong. All 26 volumes of consent forms, covering the years 1876 to 2012, have been indexed and the index can be viewed here or from the link on www.ireland.anglican.org/about/113.
Prior to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by the Irish Church Act of 1869, the fabric of the church, its ornaments, furniture and fittings were under the jurisdiction of the bishop and could only be altered by obtaining a faculty from the bishop’s court. Most of the records of the ecclesiastical courts were destroyed in the fire in the Public Record Office in 1922 and so there is little surviving documentation about pre–disestablishment church alterations. However, for the post–disestablishment period the Representative Church Body’s records of the consents to alterations, which replaced the pre–disestablishment faculty system, provide a substantial and sustained record of church alterations.
The 40th Canon of the Church of Ireland (Chapter iv of the 1871 Statutes), which dealt with the ornaments of the church, required that no change would be made to the structure, ornaments or monuments of a church without the consent of the incumbent and select vestry, and the bishop or Ordinary.
In pursuit of this, in 1876, the Representative Church Body, provided advise on how potential applicants should proceed.
A copy of the Canon and the advice circular were incorporated into a ‘Form of Certificates of Consent to Alterations’ which when signed by incumbent, the secretary of the select vestry, the architect and the bishop was sent to the RCB for approval.
These forms provide valuable information on alterations to church structures some of which may not otherwise be recorded. It seems reasonable to assume that large–scale works such as those in Ballyclug in Co. Antrim, in 1883, which involved the reseating of the church, the re–location of the vestry and the addition of a chancel would be recorded in the vestry minutes or reported in the local press but smaller works like putting ‘ventilations’ in the end walls of Glengarriffe church or changing the location of the bell in Lusk, Co. Dublin, may have gone unnoticed.
There is much in the consents about alterations to church furnishings which provide colourful detail about internal changes to buildings – a new oak pulpit ‘to cost about £50’ was installed in Stillorgan church in 1880, a pitch pine lectern was to be erected in St Jude’s church, Ballynafeigh in 1881, while in Kilpipe, Co. Wexford, in 1883,the old pews were replaced with open seats and a new pulpit, desk and communion rail were provided. Such re–ordering of churches might simply reflect a desire to modernize but might also suggest an open–ness to new patterns of worship or suggest a particular style of churchmanship.
Many consents deal with the erection of memorials and while a proposal, like that for Macully church, for a ‘Memorial Tablet in Church’ does not provide much information, those proposals which named individuals and families may be valuable for genealogical purposes. For example, in Castehaven church, Co. Cork, there was to be a brass memorial to Mrs Emmeline Eyerton Bushe while in Kilseily church, Co. Clare, Mrs Phelps sought permission to erect a tablet in memory of her husband, John Leckey Phelps. Such information is especially valuable in instances where the church has been demolished and the memorials have not been recorded – not everywhere was like Moyliscar, in Co. Meath, where memorials to Colonel and Captain Danefield were taken from the old church and erected in the new church.
Often, too, memorials took the form of stained glass windows and the consents can provide useful evidence for dating the installation of windows.
The consents are likely to be of interest to local and parish historians, architects and genealogists. In themselves they are a useful source of miscellaneous pieces of information about churches and their contents but used in conjunction with parish records and especially with the on–going efforts to complete the online catalogue of the architectural drawings of churches in the RCB Library, to date at this link www.archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org they have the potential to add considerably to our knowledge of the built heritage of the Church of Ireland.
For guidelines about current practices to re–order liturgical space, the published work of the Church of Ireland Liturgical Advisory Committee, Liturgical Space and Church Re–Ordering Issues of Good Practice (Church of Ireland Publishing, Dublin, 2010) is available to order via the Church of Ireland Publishing catalogue available here www.cip.ireland.anglican.org.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood