The Oratory of St.Finbar


Entering the Oratory, the richness of the altar and the originality of design at once attract attention.  It is made principally of St.Maximin creamy-toned marble from the Jura.  The "mensa" or table slab, is made of blue Hainault limestone.  The plinth is of red Namur marble, while the columns of the arcades are of richly veined red African marble from the quarries of Jugurtha, in Namibia.  The panels are carved with "interlacs" or interlacing bands of serpentine and bird forms, relieved by gold background, such as exists in the sarcophagus in Cormac's Chapel, and as will be noticed in the churches of Ravenna,  Lucca, and San Clemente in Rome.  The gilt metal door of the Tabernacle is set with crystals, and is designed after an antique model of a cover of the Book of the Gospels.  Three arcades on the front of the altar represent Our Lord in relief, in the attitude of blessing, and holding in his left hand the Book of Life, after a mosaic in Ravenna.  On the right is St.Helena, in Byzantine regal costume, and holding the Cross and the Crown of Thorns, and on the left is St.John the Baptist.  The pose and the modelling of the statues and the delicacy of the interlacing are very effective.  The six candlesticks and the lamp of the sanctuary are likewise of Celtic design: they are upheld by lizard forms, in allusion to a tradition which says that before St.Finbar's time a  lizard like monster infested the locality.  The altar rail, the sedilia, and the credence table are of "rose oak", and carved in Byzantine style.  The flooring of the sanctuary is of mosaic tiling of early design, and in keeping with the style of the church.

The interior is lighted by eight stained glass windows, and their gracefulness of design, their richness of tone, their harmony of colour, make them the object of especial attention.  Each window contains the figure of some saint connected with St.Finbar's life or the parish.  In the two lights over the altar is a figure of the Blessed Virgin and Patrons, after the style of Murillo, and beside it is a figure of the saint himself, vested in the episcopal vestments of the time, bearing an early Irish pastoral staff in one hand,  and blessing the people with the other.  A lambent flame above his head and a white doe in the background, a monster beneath his feet, refer to traditions of his life.  St.Ita, the foundress of many schools and convents in Munster:   St.Gobinetta of Ballyvourney, is represented with a hive of bees from a tradition that a swarm of bees defended her convent against the invading Norsemen; St.Eltin of Kinsale; St.Fachnan Bishop of Ross, who studied in St.Finbar's school, and succeeded him in that see; St.Colman, Bishop of Cloyne, who closed our saint's eyes in death; St.Brendan, the Navigator, is represented bearing a primitive ship, and was the saint who predicted the future greatness of Finbar, as is noticed in his Life.  The vaulted ceiling will be decorated in strict harmony with the rest of the Oratory, and after the best specimens of Celtic and Byzantine that can be obtained at home and on the continent.

Extract from "Life of St.Finbar" by The Rev. C.M.O'Brien originally published in 1902