Major renovations planned for Glenstal Abbey’s church

Donal O’Regan


Donal O’Regan

An artist's impression of how the church in Glenstal Abbey will look after once work is completed
The COMMUNITY of Glenstal Abbey is planning €750,000 worth of “exciting renovations” to its church – the first Benedictine one built in Ireland since the Reformation.

The COMMUNITY of Glenstal Abbey is planning €750,000 worth of “exciting renovations” to its church – the first Benedictine one built in Ireland since the Reformation.

The Abbot of Glenstal, Mark Patrick Hederman, says the windows, after 60 years, have begun to fall in.

“The original heating system, abetted by the radiant gas-fired system from the 1980s, is valiantly but extravagantly failing to heat the vast spaces around them. The wiring is antiquated to the point of danger and the amplification no longer fit for purpose. The only obstacle remaining is the money to pay for this exciting renovation,” said Abbot Hederman. Underfloor heating will put paid to the days of frozen knees on frosty morns.

He says the dynamic centre of every Benedictine monastery is its church.

“Every other thing that happens in the monastery receives its energy and is given sense and meaning by our worship in that church. This is the identifying hallmark of all that we do and are. It was with this in mind that the Glenstal community, who were founded in 1927, built the first Benedictine church in Ireland since the Reformation.

“In 1951 Dom Sebastian Braun OSB, a monk from Maredsous, Belgium – from where Glenstal Abbey was founded in 1927 – started designs for a new church. His designs were based on 12th century Romanesque architecture deriving from early Christian basilicas,” explained Abbot Hederman.

A vast scheme was drawn up but his “flamboyant designs” were unrealistic and would never be completed.

“In 1958 when the church was blessed, a spate of letters went to the press expressing disappointment with the squatness of the church as unfitting for a Benedictine Abbey. They had built a body without a head,” said Abbot Hederman. The monks always knew they would have to finish the church.

“Every church needs regular maintenance, and every generation needs its own spiritual ambience. In 1979, twenty-three years after its opening, the church was revisited. The re-decoration which then took place went beyond a necessary new coat of paint. By daring use of colour, an attempt was made to remedy structural difficulties of length and height, endemic to the inherited building,” said the abbot.

The ceiling’s colour scheme of vibrant red and green flows in a Celtic pattern through the proscenium arch in an attempt to link the nave and sanctuary.

“It was so flamboyant that one of the monks vowed he would never again look at the ceiling but would keep his eyes fixed on the floor; another said it was no longer a church but a discotheque,” said Abbot Hederman.

Through his connection with the le Brocquy family he met Hughie and Clare O’Donoghue.

“I invited them to visit Glenstal. We all agreed that the spaces above the choir stalls in our sanctuary in the church at Glenstal Abbey might be a good place to hang some of his work. They suggested his Blue Crucifixion which we could borrow on permanent loan from the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and the The Red Crucifixion, which they have in their own studio, and which they would donate to us as an outright gift,” said Abbot Hederman, who describes it as a “unique privilege” for Glenstal.

And so starts a new chapter in the story of Glenstal Abbey’s church. Work is hoped to commence shortly.