Archive of the Month
The Church of Ireland Commemoration of St Patrick in 1932
Archive of the Month – March 2013
Returning to a Patrician theme for March 2013, this Archive of the Month will present a selection of the literature produced for a programme of commemorations organised by the Church of Ireland to mark the 1500th anniversary of the coming of St Patrick to Ireland, in 1932.
Last March we demonstrated how Church of Ireland efforts to re–connect with its roots in the early Christian Church had been copper–fastened by the foundation of the Irish Guild of the Church in 1914, and subsequent activities – of which Douglas Hyde’s translation of St Patrick’s Breastplate , ‘the great Trinity Hymn of Irish Christianity’, in 1916, was a contribution. See www.ireland.anglican.org/about/131
In the autumn of 1930, it became known that the Vatican had sanctioned the next Eucharistic Congress to be held in Dublin in June 1932, timed to celebrate 1500 years since St Patrick’s arrival in Ireland. The Catholic Truth Society for Ireland produced its 15th centenary memorial book – St Patrick to chart the succession from St Patrick from a Roman Catholic perspective, which provided a contrasting narrative to that to be produced by the Church of Ireland. The positive spirit of the most recent Congress held in Dublin in 2012 some 80 years later (which included a day devoted to Christian unity and had ecumenical participation with a Liturgy of Word and Water at which the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin was invited to give the address www.ireland.anglican.org/news/4121) back in the 1930s, when relations between the main Churches were very different, and the period was marked by sectarian tension.
Recent research carried out at the RCB Library by Dr Miriam Moffitt using the papers of Professor Walter Alison Phillips, Lecky Professor of History at Trinity College Dublin (1914–39), has discovered that publication of the three–volume history of the Church, which the Church of Ireland had commissioned Phillips to edit, was deliberately timed to coincide with the 1500th anniversary, and as a counter–weight to the Eucharistic Congress.
The year 1929 had seen the centenary celebrations of Catholic Emancipation, and as a minority in the evolving Free State, the Protestants of Ireland including members of the Church of Ireland, were feeling particularly sensitive, many having perceived the events as overtly triumphalist. For example an editorial published in the Irish Times on 22 June 1929 had complained that ‘too frequent suggestions’ were made that Protestants represented ‘an alien creed, an alien culture and alien aspirations’. Later the Most Revd Charles Frederick Darcy, Archbishop of Armagh (1920–38) would publicly remark that the celebrations adopted a tone ‘of a persecuting spirit’, while his counterpart in Dublin, the Most Revd John Allen Fitzgerald Gregg, Archbishop of Dublin (1920–1939), anticipated a rise of sectarian tensions by 1932, warning Phillips that ‘the drums [will] beat during that year’. It was for this reason that he directed:
‘If, after the offensive has taken place we come in with our reply, there is less fear of its being ignored or swamped than if the other side has all the field to itself to demonstrate in’.
In the end, Phillips’ three–volume history was not ready until 1933, and in June 1932 Archbishop Gregg would become embroiled in an ugly public war of words with Cardinal Joseph MacRory, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh arising from the Cardinal’s Lenten Pastoral in which he stated that the Church of Ireland had not existed prior to the Reformation and furthermore that the Church ‘denounced the Mass as a blasphemy’. In spite of the delays with the history, and against this backdrop of sour inter–Church relations and insecurities, the Church of Ireland had a whole series of other events in train to mark its own commemoration of St Patrick.
In the autumn of 1930, anticipating the potential of the 1500th anniversary to galvanize Church of Ireland members and give them a sense of purpose, the archbishops and bishops had begin to set in train the elaborate plans for commemoration. By February 1931 a pastoral statement signed by ‘Charles F. Armagh and John Dublin’ was sent to every ordained member of the church, with the order that on St Patrick’s Day 1931 it was to be:
‘read in every Church under our jurisdiction in which Divine Service is held’, to encourage parishioners ‘to prepare for and join in, the Commemoration of St Patrick in 1932, in a manner worthy of the Church of Ireland the Fifteenth Century of the coming of this great man’.
The text of statement, together with its covering letter can be read here.
Its tone clearly focused to reinforce Church of Ireland identity and its continuity from the earliest Christian heritage, reminding the hearers that the commemoration:
‘should be not merely an occasion for remembering the past, but a time of spiritual inspiration for our Church in the present. We are to honour the memory of one of the greatest of our Christian Missionaries, which will remind us of the missionary duties of the Church today. We are to think of the past glories of Irish Christianity, which should inspire us to greater zeal for God’s glory in the Ireland of our own time. We are to remember that we stand in a great tradition, and that this involves a responsibility for the future of our Church. Used aright, next year’s celebration will, under God, bring a renewal of faith and zeal to the whole Church of Ireland’.
A form of prayers for use on St Patrick’s Day and at other special services throughout the year, including an anniversary service before the annual General Synod were produced, and may be viewed here.
Each diocese was urged to contribute funds, as it was estimated that the sum of £1,000 was required to cover the costs of the year. Like the pastoral letter above, various fund–raising literature was dispatched through the Representative Church Body headquarters at number 52 St Stephen’s Green.
A Handbook of Celebrations, Lectures and Literature etc followed for wide distribution outlining the ‘Preparation and Arrangements’ so that the wider Church would be well informed how the year’s events would pan out.
Cover of A Handbook of Celebrations, Lectures and Literature etc, produced in advance to outline and educate the wider during for upcoming commemoration year of events from a Church of Ireland perspective
The handbook may be viewed here.
A short and interesting life of St Patrick had been written by Canon Chamberlain, and published by the Church of Ireland Printing Company at 61 Middle Abbey Street. Copies could be purchased at the moderate price of one shilling, or one shilling six pence for a cloth–bound edition.
In addition, a series of pamphlets were in preparation, to be ‘brought out in attractive form, with specially designed covers’. At just one penny an item, the overall aim was to instruct Church members in preparation for the year’s events.
So too the series of ‘lantern lectures’ with accompanying slides, prepared by the Revd W. E. Vandaleur, Warden of the Divinity Hostel, and Mr G.A. Ruth of the Irish Guild of the Church, which aimed to visually present Patrick’s ‘Life and Times’; the ‘Missionary Tradition of the Irish Church’ and the ‘Connection of the Parishes of the Church of Ireland with the ancient Irish Church’. Hiring of each set of slides would cost 10s.6d, and would be posted for free, together with the typed copy of each lecture.
A colourful poster ‘for Church porches’ provided further notice of the preparatory literature, prayers and lantern slide lectures, and also the availability of the specially designed flag of St Patrick, for use not only on St Patrick’s Day but at other times throughout the year, together with the badge of similar design suitable for a ‘coat or dress’ that clergy were ordered to ‘encourage their people to wear’.
On 9 June in Armagh, three weeks before the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, a special service of commemoration was held in the diocesan cathedral – ‘founded in 444AD by St Patrick’. Full of symbolism and highly ceremonial, the order of service reveals that the archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland processed with invited dignitaries including the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, the Primus of the Church of Scotland, the Archbishop of Wales, and the Archbishop of Canterbury who preached, and an elaborate programme of music including the English translation of the great Breastplate hymn. The Order of Service may viewed here.
Further events followed at Saul, Belfast and Downpatrick.
All was building up of course for the main event of the year – the Church of Ireland Conference, to be held at the Mansion House in Dublin from the 11th to the 14th October. It is believed that the availability of the Mansion House represented an important ecumenical dimension to the proceedings, because the permission of the then Lord Mayor, Alfie Byrne, who was a practicing Roman Catholic, would have had to be secured.
Having encouraged ‘every parish throughout the entire country’ to be represented, the organising committee (commissioned by Archbishop Gregg from his hosting diocese of Dublin) was in fact overwhelmed when October came around, that so many people wished to participate. Indeed, its only organisational difficulty was ‘to find room for all’. Reduced rail fairs and special hostel rates, the efforts a hospitality sub–committee to ensure there would be ‘closer communion’ especially for those coming from ‘isolated parishes’ had attracted over 1000 participants.
The ‘gathering’ – as the event was billed in much of the promotional literature was originally intended to take place in one of the smaller halls of the Mansion House, but in the event, such was the response only the Round Room – the largest available assembly hall in the city at the time – plus an adjoining hall would suffice for the throngs who actually attended. The Church of Ireland Gazette editorial of 14 October 1932 observed:
‘It is a good thing for our people to be reminded how much that is interesting is to be learned about our own land and our own Church’.
The pitch was clearly about boosting the confidence of the Church at large, making connections north and south, and embedding in the hearts and minds of the people that they belonged to the nation. In his opening address to the ‘gathering’ Archbishop Gregg reminded participants that:
‘We assemble in Conference today as the Church of a minority in this country. We, too, have known the day of trouble. Perils on land still confront us. Perils of divided counsels and distracting strife, perils of civil unrest, of social disintegration and financial collapse, perils which peculiarly beset us outside Ulster, of reduced and reducing numbers, and I must add one more peril of inflammatory speech wherein courtesy and charity are shrivelled up in a blaze of wild invective’.
But he encouraged them not to despair:
‘The situation is not entirely devoid of hopeful signs. It is easier for people to trust themselves when they find that others trust them in the ordinary experiences of human life. In remote places in the south and west, where our people are but a mere fraction of the surrounding population, we find the members of the Church of the minority trusted and respected. If honesty and truthfulness are great virtues in national life, we find that our clergy and laity are reputed to possess them by the community in which they live. This is, in itself, a striking fact. For it means the Church whose faith they profess has a valuable contribution to make to Irish life’.
The first two and a half days of the conference programme (Tuesday to Thursday lunchtime) were devoted to various aspects of Church of Ireland history, emphasising the continuity of succession from St Patrick, though the ‘ancient Irish period’, the medieval, Reformation and post–Reformation periods. On the Thursday afternoon, a half–day session was ‘conducted wholly in Irish’ leaving the evening session on that day, and the full day on the Friday to examine current issues. In seminars under the broad titles of the ‘Moral witness of the Irish Church’ and ‘the Church of Ireland today’ invited speakers tackled some of the burning issues of the day, on the themes of ‘War and peace’, ‘Gambling’, ‘Tolerance’ and ‘Social Service’, ‘Church and State’, ‘Education’ (both primary and secondary), ‘The Administration of the Poor Law’ (which drew specific attention to the role of Church of Ireland charities in poverty relief, most especially in the tenements of inner city Dublin) and finally ‘Church Buildings since Disestablishment (which purposefully set out to refute the ‘farcical challenge that we are using houses which we have – presumably! – stolen from some mythical owners of former days’ as the Church of Ireland Gazette reported).
Performances of the pageant play, written specifically for the conference by Ethel Davidson,
with music (much of it using the Breastplate hymn text) by George Hewson, organist and choirmaster of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and produced by Lennox Robinson of the Abbey Theatre, was performed by enthusiastic cast of voluntary actors and choral singers, adding drama to the proceedings, and bringing the life of St Patrick to life for the audiences.
The official handbook of the conference, including the text of the pageant play and accompanying advertisements – the latter provided colourful insight to the people and businesses who supported the initiative may be viewed here.
In his sermon preached in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, at the conclusion of the four–day spectacle, and having journeyed with participants through their intellectual understanding of ‘how things in Ireland came to be’, Archbishop Gregg was able to state with conviction that ‘the Church of Ireland is the most Irish thing there is in Ireland’.
We hope that this presentation will serve as a tool for understanding the identity issues facing the Church of Ireland during the 1930s, but also as a reminder of how far the Churches have come in their journey of reconciliation in the decades since.
We acknowledge the assistance of Dr Miriam Moffitt, who is preparing a historiography of the Church of Ireland, including further background on the writing and reception of W.A. Phillips’ History of the Church of Ireland, for sharing her research.
All of the original materials may be viewed in the RCB Library, Dublin.
Direct Link ? A Handbook of Celebrations, Lectures and Literature to commemorate the 1500 anniversary of the coming of St Patrick to Ireland
Direct Link ? The Official Handbook for the Church of Ireland Conference, the Mansion House, Dublin, October 1932
Direct Link ? The Form of Prayer devised for use during the St Patrick Commemorations 1932
Direct Link – Order of Service for the 1500th anniversary of the coming of St Patrick to Ireland, held at Armagh Cathedral, 9 June 1932
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
Churchtown Dublin 14