Thursday, August 13, 2015

European Heritage Open Days 2014 | Belfast | Part I: St Mark’s, Dundela

Over the past few years I’ve attempted to get out on European Heritage Open Days and explore various parts of east and central Belfast. In turn, I’ve tried to present some of these heritage sites on this blog. For 2014 I got out to see more sites than I’d ever managed previously but, other than a brief note, I’ve not found the time to write up my experiences into blog posts. With the 2015 event fastapproaching, I’d better get on with it, consoling myself that, perhaps, leaving it this long may just provide sufficient inspiration for readers to get out and see some of these sites for themselves!

The first place on my list in September 2014 was St Mark’s Dundela and I was immensely glad I’d chosen to go there. Coming in through the door I was immediately and warmly greeted by Jacqui D, a long-time family friend and chorister at St Mark’s, who offered me tea and a tour of the building. Regular readers of this blog will be aware – probably all too much so – that I’m not religious, but I do have a love of church architecture. However, my appreciation of St Mark’s goes beyond that. At various times I take notions to go walking in attempts (of varying degrees of success) to drop some weight. Inevitably, my assorted routes take me out by Knocknagoney, and I’m faced with the long, upwards trek home along the Holywood Road. There lies St Mark’s, with its 180ft high spire, on top of Bunker Hill, itself the highest point in the local landscape. Some evenings the blinking lights of the spire (a necessity, considering the proximity of the City Airport) are a beacon, urging me forward … on other nights they are a baleful presence, reminding me how far I have to go and how much my limbs hurt. I’ve crested this hill in all weathers, from soft summer evenings, to seeing the fallen leafs scurrying in eddies, directed by the wind. I’ve trudged past the place under snow and frequently seen coruscating sheets of rain bend and twist in the floodlights that surround the site. For all that, I’ve only once ventured inside … and that was for an EHOD event many years ago. In the company of my well-read and rehearsed guide, I got to see the building with new eyes and a new appreciation.

The church was built in in what was then largely open countryside, Belfast’s urban expanse not having quite reached so far east at that time. Rather than use a local architect, the organising committee approached William Butterfield. Butterfield was a well-known Victorian architect, who worked chiefly in the Gothic Revival style and was closely associated with the Oxford Movement. He appears to have specialised in the design of churches, mostly in England. St Mark’s is one of only two Butterfield buildings on this island, the other being St. Columba's College Chapel in Dublin. Sir John Betjeman famously described St Mark’s as ‘Butterfield at his best.’ The church was consecrated on 22 August 1878, even though only the nave and tower were complete. It wouldn't be until 1891, and with the assistance of a generous benefactor, that the nave was completed, resulting in the edifice we see today.

I hope you enjoy the photos of the church, and are moved to visit this architectural gem of east Belfast. In the meantime, I would direct you to the church’s own guide book to the building: here.

The Chancel and the eagle lectern, presented by the Lewis family
Memorial to Miss Catherine Mackay Henderson. Stained glass, erected in 1921, by Shrigley and Hunt. The three lights bear symbolic figures representing, Faith, Peace, and Love.
Memorial to Major R Lloyd Thompson (d. in action 1917). Stained glass by Ward & Partners, Belfast, erected in 1919. The three lights symbolise, Sacrifice, Love and Valour. The bottom left of the window shows his Military Cross, while the right corner shows a bird with open wings on a torse, above the words Dum spiro spero, the motto of the Thompson family
A view of Butterfield's polychrome sanctuary
The baptismal font where CS Lewis, among others, was baptised 

Just one of the beautiful original features of the church - an iron rail and drip-tray for umbrellas

A view from the choir

Looking from the nave towards the altar
Looking across the nave
Wide-angle panorama, looking from the chancel along the nave

Overview of the Lewis Memorial window. It was presented in 1933 by the author C. S. Lewis and his brother, the historian Warren Hamilton Lewis, in memory of their parents. The stained glass is by Michael Healy of Dublin. The three lights depict St. Luke, St. James and St. Mark. In the central light St. James is holding a chalice similar to the one presented to the church by the Lewis family in 1908. Three churches appear in the window, the central one is said to be St. Mark’s Dundela. The Latin inscription reads "To the greater glory of God and dedicated to the memory of Albert James Lewis, who died on 25 September 1929, aged 67 and also his wife, Flora Augusta Hamilton, who died on 23 August 1908, aged 47" (Source)

Detail of St Luke on the Lewis Memorial. Luke is shown with his symbol, the winged ox

Detail of St Mark on the Lewis Memorial. Here Mark is accompanied by his evangelical symbol, the Lion ... who looks just a little bit like how I imagine Aslan ... coincidence?

St Mark's exterior

For anyone interested in the other EHOD properties I’ve seen and written about my find the following of interest:

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