ST. DAVID’S CHURCH, NAAS.
By the Ven. Archdeacon de Burgh.
I shall commence my observations by drawing your attention to the site of the church. There can be little doubt that it is erected on the spot where the great Apostle of Ireland, St. Patrick himself, proclaimed the tidings of salvation. It is a matter of history that, in the course of his apostolic journeyings, St. Patrick paid more than one visit to Naas. The “ Tripartite Life “ tells that, passing from Meath, he went to Naas. And further (to quote the words of the “ Tripartite Life”), the site of his pupal (or tent) is the green of the fort to the east of the road; and his well is in the north of the fort, where he baptised Dubhlang’s two sons, Oillil and Illaun, and Oillil’s two daughters. All these places may still be traced. The fort (or dun) is the North Moat. The road is the present Mainstreet of Naas. The Green (or faitche) of Naas lies south-east of the dun, extending to the South Moat. The name still survives; a portion of the old Green is still called the “The Fair-green.” Now, the site of St. David’s Church exactly corresponds with that assigned to the pupal or tent of St. Patrick. It is in what was the Green of the Fort, and it is to the east of the road, i.e. the present Mainstreet of Naas.
There are strong reasons for believing that a church was erected on this site in very early times, dedicated to St. Patrick; and in the judgment of Mr. Drew, the ancient baptismal font (of which I shall say more presently) is a relic of the Dominica of Naas, which existed before the present edifice
But of the origin of the present church there can be very little question. The barony of Naas was granted to William Fitzgerald by Henry II in 1176. This Anglo-Norman possession was followed by the settlement of a colony from Wales; and these colonists built the church, and dedicated it to the great saint of Pembrokeshire, whence they came – St. David.
I believe that about Wexford there are certain ruined churches built by Welshmen at the same time, and dedicated to St. David, but I do not believe that any one of these is still used as a parish church; and I think I may claim for this church that it is the only church in Ireland dedicated to St. David in which Divine Service has been held from the date of its consecration
Mr. Drew is strongly of opinion that the builders of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and of St. David’s, Naas, were one and the same. He states that Mr. George Edmund Street, the architect who planned the restoration of Christ Church, has established the connexion with and similarity between Christ Church Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. David in Wales; and he says that here at Naas are found capitals – not of a common type – characteristic enough to support a theory that they are precisely of the time, and the production of the same builders who erected, in 1190, the beautiful nave of Christ Church for Archbishop Comyn.
The present church is but a portion, though doubtless the larger portion – in fact the nave – of the original edifice. Mr. Drew states that in the Inquisition of James I, in 1606, we find that in the Church of St. David of Naas there were three chantries, viz. the Holy Trinity, St. Mary, and St. Catherine. There is no doubt about the position of the chantry dedicated to St. Mary. We can clearly trace the foundations of St. Mary’s “aisle,” as it was called within the memory of old inhabitants of Naas, along the south side of the present edifice, and nineteen feet distant from the present wall. It was separated from the present church by a row of heavy arches, which are now built up, and in each of which a window of the plainest and most hideous design has been inserted. The outline of these arches can be clearly traced, and a solitary corbel projecting from the south wall marks the position, and gives a clue to the roof
In fact, a large portion of this aisle formed an integral part of the church when my predecessor, the Rev. Walter de Burgh, first came here in 1830. In an evil hour he, with the best intentions, invoked the aid of the late Ecclesiastical Commissioners to improve the church, which they did, with a vengeance, sweeping away the remains of St. Mary’s aisle, wherein the prayer desk and pulpit were situated, and erecting an enormous structure of a lofty pulpit and expansive reading pew right in front of the chancel arch
The church, as existing, has some peculiarities. It is one foot wider at the east end than at the west end, and the east wall is remarkably out of square, the south wall being about two feet longer than the north one. The chancel has, in consequence, the appearance of inclining to the north side. This is, however, no unusual occurrence in old churches of the time. I well remember when more than thirty years ago we commenced to restore the east end of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, we found a similar irregularity.
Mr. Drew thinks that there are good grounds for conjecture that in old times the church was disposed of as follows :—The present nave may have contained the chantry of St. Katharine; the south aisle the chantry of St. Mary; where the present chancel stands, the chantry of the Hoiy Trinity. He notes that in some alterations made some years ago, the present vicar and he traced the remnants of some cut-stone arch dressings, very decayed and honeycombed, indicating a chancel arch or opening of some kind
On the other hand, I would draw your attention. to the distinct traces of an old arch in the north wall, about half way down
I would especially direct your attention to the two ancient window openings on the north side of the church. You may observe in each the moulded arches enriched with “nail-head” ornament. One window has been restored under the careful superintendence of Mr. Drew as a memorial to the late Earl of Mayo. “ Fragments though these be,” to quote the words of Mr. Drew, “ the old dressings of the jambs fix a period and point a history. Their probable date, within twenty or thirty years, would be at once pronounced by a skilful observer. There is a characteristic peculiarity in the mouldings of the capitals which connects them with the builders of the choir of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.
The east window has been designed in strict accordance with these ancient relics by Mr. Drew. It is a memorial to the late Rev. Walter de Burgh, for twenty-nine years vicar of the parish
We must not leave the interior of the church without giving our attention to the ancient font, the basin or upper portion of which, Mr. Drew considers, held. its place in an older edifice than the present church. He ascribes it to the eleventh century. When my uncle first came here lie found it lying out in the churchyard. He brought it into the church, where for many years it rested on props of turned wood. It has been judiciously restored, under the auspices of Mr. Drew, by T. J. de Burgh, Esq., of Oldtown
The ivy-clad tower, which looks so venerable, is in truth a modern addition, very little more than one hundred years old, as appears from an inscription on a marble entrance into the church –
“Ruinam inveni pyramidem reliqui.
I need not remind so learned assembly as the present that this is an ambitious adaptation of Augustus’ saying respecting the city of Rome –
“Lateritiam inveni, marnioream reliqui.
I suppose that the design was to crown the present tower when completed with a steeple, and “pyramidem ” represents the best Latin equivalent that could be found to “steeple.”
Alas ! that a more truthful inscription now would be –
“Ruinam inveni et ruinam reliqui.”
It is rather a curious coincidence that in the south transept of Chester Cathedral there is a large, black marble font, and on a slab on the wall close by there is the inscription –
“Lateritium hic olim invenit Baptisterium Infans Gulielmus Moreton Marmoreum Idem instituit Episcopus Kildarensis. Anno Dom., 1687 “
There is a fine old bell in the tower which bears the inscription –
“R.P.W.C., 1674. Os meum laudabit Dominum in ecclesia S. Davidis de Naas.”
The registers of the church go back as far “July the 10th, 1674.” Under the date Feb. 27th, 1690, the following curious entry occurs :-
“Two strangers buried, which were taken out of John Lawler’s house by the Rapparees, and cuppled together like dogs, and drowned in the Millpond at Sigenstowne; the said strangers were Englishmen.”
[ We hope in some future number of the Journal to give a plan of St. David’s Church; which unfortunately is not ready for insertion in this number. – Ed. ]