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Left: St. Fin Barre's Cathedral, looking at the east end, with the Resurrection Angel crowning the sanctuary roof, seen from the south side, in close-up. Architect: William Burges (1827-81). Designed 1862-63; consecrated 1870; towers and spires 1879, Cork limestone, Cork, Republic of Ireland. A cathedral has overlooked Cork from this spot since as early as the seventh century, but in 1865 the remains of the medieval structure, and its eighteenth-century rebuilding, were demolished to make way for a new, larger and grander edifice. To win the competition for it, Burges had designed a compact yet impressive cathedral in the French Gothic style, narrow inside but soaring to a great height, with three spires — one at the crossing and two others at the west.

Left: Windows of the south transept. Right: West front.

Burges also designed a wealth of architectural sculpture, especially for the west front. Amongst other figures below the intricately carved rose window are those in the highly wrought resurrection scene of the tympanum, while the wise and foolish virgins, the latter dejectedly holding their empty lamps, approach the bridegroom on each side of the central doors (see Matthew 25:1-13). Numerous gargoyles and other embellishments can be seen throughout: see related material below for links to more images of these.

Left: Closer view of the Tympanum, west front. Right: Foolish Virgins by central west double doorway.

Rightly described as "one of the most coherent expressions of Victorian church architecture in Western Europe" ("The Present Cathedral"), this is the only one of the three cathedrals designed by Burges in which he could realise his vision for such a project: his designs for a cathedral in Lille were taken over by French architects, and another cathedral designed for Brisbane was never built at all (see Turnor 70). Here, however, he could put his heart and soul into the work. The "Resurrection Angel," seen at the top right, was a mark of his commitment to St Fin Barre's. It is made of copper covered with gold leaf, and, like the use of gold leaf elsewhere in the external decoration, it serves as a preparation for the glowing interior.

Left: Detail of tympanum. Right: Ironwork on the doors.

Everything here, including the church fittings, furnishings, mosaics, ironwork and stained glass inside, shows Burges's distinctive hand, making the whole cathedral a memorial to him and to his own distinctive style of "Burgesian Gothic."

Related material

Bibliography

Crook, J. Mordaunt. "Burges, Wiliam (1827-1881)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 23 August 2009.

"St Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork" (welcome leaflet available in the cathedral).

"The Present Cathedral" (Cathedral website). Viewed 23 August 2009.

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford, 1950.

Williams, Matthew. William Burges, 1827-81. Andover, Hants: Jarrold Publishing (Pitkin Guide), 2007.


Last modified 18 November 2019