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A Little Map with a Big Story

An early history of St John the Evangelist, Sandymount

A Little Map with a Big Story

by Bryan Whelan

In 2019, the RCB Library received numerous invaluable items from local parish custody to augment the already substantial collection held for St John the Evangelist, Sandymount. Of particular interest was one document, with an attached map, outlining the designation of parochial district boundaries, dated 6 November, 1867.

St John the Evangelist, Sandymount is somewhat unique in the Church of Ireland as it was one of the few within the Church that participated in the Catholic Revival movement which would later become known as the Tractarian Movement. Although the Tractarian Movement would have a particularly significant contribution to the Church of England, reemphasizing as it did the Patristic and Catholic nature of that Church’s outlook, the political atmosphere in Ireland during the 19th century meant that its influence was not as great. Another significant difference is that St John’s is a trustee church, which meant that it was an ‘estate church’ with an independent liturgy, and one that was financed independently. Another unique aspect of St John’s is the existence of The Community of St John the Evangelist, the first religious order of Anglican nuns in Ireland. The RCB Library has an extensive archival repository for the Community, the hand–list of which you can view here:

https://www.ireland.anglican.org/cmsfiles/pdf/AboutUs/library/manu/detaillist/MS713.pdf

A photo taken of the church on July 25, 1993. From the RCB Library Photographic Collection.
A photo taken of the church on July 25, 1993. From the RCB Library Photographic Collection.

The architecture of the church itself is also noteworthy. Embracing a neo–Norman Romanesque influence, the church sat in stark contrast with the prevailing fashion in Dublin at the time for neo–gothic architecture. The church was commissioned by the Right Hon. Sidney Herbert (who would also commission St Bartholomew’s in Ballsbridge) and built between 1844 and 1850 by the architect Benjamin Ferrey, who had worked on numerous churches in Hampshire and Somerset during the 1840s. Indeed, St John the Evangelist bears a striking resemblance to the architect’s previous work, that of St Nicholas, East Grafton, Wiltshire, which was completed in 1844. St John’s is often said to be a replica of a 13th century Norman church, and there is some suggestion that St Nicholas in East Grafton was heavily influenced by St Pierre in Thaon, Normandy. The tower of the church originally had modillons (grotesque figures) displayed, but these were removed after a visit of the Archbishop prior to consecration. Interestingly, the church retained some 19 modillons lining the gutters around the apse. The inside of the church was also designed by Benjamin Ferrey, and perhaps unsurprisingly reflects a neo–Norman Romanesque influence. Of particular interest is the font, the interlocking arcature aveugle on the pulpit, and the archway to the chancel. The eleven stained glass windows in the church are also noteworthy, with some interesting examples of the work of Irish stained glass companies from this time, specifically the work of Joshua Clarke & Sons and Earley & Co., as well as the work of London firm Ward & Hughes. You can see the stained glass for St John the Evangelist, Sandymount, by clicking here: https://www.gloine.ie/search/building/2985/sandymount  

The map showing the proposed parochial district, dated November 6, 1867. RCB Library P306.15
The map showing the proposed parochial district, dated November 6, 1867. RCB Library P306.15
A detailed look at the map showing the area surrounding the church of St John the Evangelist, Sandymount.
A detailed look at the map showing the area surrounding the church of St John the Evangelist, Sandymount.

The church was originally designed as a chapel–of–ease for the parish of Donnybrook with construction beginning in the 1840s on lands donated by Sidney Herbert (1810–1861) and was opened for divine service on Palm Sunday, 24 March, 1850. By 1867, it was felt necessary to determine in explicit terms the parochial boundaries that pertained to St John’s, and it is with this in mind that the letter and map was produced. This district was accordingly ‘bound thus starting from Merrion Gate and running north to Seafort Avenue. It is bounded in the east by the sea, on the north by Sandymount Avenue, including its east side running back to Nutgrove Park and the houses on west side of Sandymount Green taking in the north west side of the Green and running at back of the houses on the west side of Seafort Avenue reaching down to the sea. On the west side it is bounded by the Dublin and Kingstown Railway as far as Sidney Parade Station from which point the boundary line runs along the centre of Ailesbury Road as far as its junction with the high road to Kingstown. From that point the boundary line rungs along the centre of the High Road as far as Merrion Gate, which said district is marked and coloured on sheets of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland annexed hereto.’

The letter that accompanies the map makes explicit reference to the fact that Revd Arthur Gore Ryder, ‘the rector of the parish of Saint Mary Donnybrook’ does ‘hereby consent that the townlands and district within the deed mentioned and particularly described shall be constituted into a district for the within mentioned church called the church of Saint John the Evangelist, Sandymount’. This letter was signed by Revd Ryder in the presence of John Hasler Samuels, the Dublin Diocesan Registrar.

The letter which accompanies the aforementioned map.
The letter which accompanies the aforementioned map.

It is interesting to note that the purpose of the map and the accompanying letter appears not simply to outline the parochial district, but also to remind the ‘incumbent or curate’ of his duties, namely that of ‘the tithes of baptism, confirmation and the Churching of women and the Holy sacraments of the Lord’s Supper shall be solemnized or performed in the said church called the church of Saint John the Evangelist, Sandymount’.

A detailed hand–list of the collection in the Library for St John the Evangelist, Sandymount, can be viewed by clicking here: http://ireland.anglican.org/cmsfiles/pdf/AboutUs/library/registers/ParishRegisters/PQRSTUVWZ/SandymountParishRegisterList.pdf

For more information about St John the Evangelist, Sandymount you can access their website by clicking here: http://sandymount.weebly.com/

The title page of the first baptism register of St John the Evangelist, Sandymount, (RCB Library P306.02.1) recording baptisms from 1850-77. The status of the new church is clearly shown as a chapel-of-ease for the 'parish of St Mary's, Donnybrook'.
The title page of the first baptism register of St John the Evangelist, Sandymount, (RCB Library P306.02.1) recording baptisms from 1850-77. The status of the new church is clearly shown as a chapel-of-ease for the 'parish of St Mary's, Donnybrook'.