THE relationship between faith and the architecture of city churches is being explored in a new exhibition that aims to start a conversation about what to do with these places of worship in a changing society.
Limerick: City of Churches, an exhibition looking at the architectural legacy and social history of the city’s many places of faith, was launched last week.
The exhibition is part of the City of Culture programme and was spearheaded by Limerick Museum and Archives and archivist Jacqui Hayes, who hopes it will help to “reimagine and breathe new life” into some of the city’s most historic buildings.
“Limerick has so many churches and we just take them for granted,” she explained at the launch in Christ Church on O’Connell Street.
“Why do we have so many? I don’t think it is that we are particularly holy or anything, I just think it is to do with our history. This exhibition covers all faiths. It asks the question - do we need buildings? A lot of churches start out life without any buildings. And also the question of what we are going to do with these buildings? Society is changing.
“It is about architecture really, as much as the faiths,” she added.
The secular exhibition documents many of Limerick’s churches and is scheduled to visit a number of venues - representing different faiths.
“It focuses on the records, buildings and impact of the various churches, while a fascinating document, produced by Emma Gilleece, collects information about more than 70 churches based around Limerick.
“It is high on images with bite-sized information, very well researched – but easily digestible for people to understand,” explained Ms Hayes.
“That is our link to it really, that all the faiths have the most important records - pre-official registration, which is where the majority of our records go back to.
“We like to encourage them, we are there to support them as record keepers, that is our real umbilical cord to this exhibition. Peter Carroll, course director of the school of architecture in UL, opened City of Churches and said it offers an opportunity for a process of “re-evaluation”.
The city is widely considered to have more places of worship on its main street than any other in Ireland, but Mr Carroll has claimed they are largely “undervalued”.
“I think you can’t ignore them, they are there and you need to appreciate them and I think we need to value them even more,” he said.
“From an architectural point of view, I am always surprised that they are relatively undervalued, they are overseen almost and I think now is the time where we need to really focus our view on them again and re-evaluate them. There is an opportunity there to do that.”
Carroll said Limerick was a “city of rooms”.
“If you think about being able to enter buildings, churches are always open. They are seen as relatively undistinguished spaces, yet if you stand back and look at all the idiosyncrasies and particularities of each, not one of them is the same.
“There is a clear opportunity there to begin an even bigger inventory. This exhibition, with Jacqui and Emma, is a wonderful document, but I think we can go even further than that.
“Particularly at a crossroads in the city’s future, when you have 2030 visions being planned, we do have to value what we have on our doorstep now, rather than speculating on the future.”
Ms Hayes said the exhibition, currently located at Central Buildings, 51a O’Connell Street until the end of April, would travel to seven different venues within the city, including the Augustinians and St Mary’s Cathedral, allowing it to “achieve an exhibition accessible to all irrespective of denomination or faith”.
Mayor Cllr Kathleen Leddin attended the opening and said: “Limerick can boast a wide variety in faiths and denominations, some of which remain today while others have dissipated through the years.
“The archives of these religious bodies are a major legacy and have led to the creation of this unique exhibition.
“It encompasses the histories of Limerick city’s churches and displays them in a high quality. These churches and places of worship were the foundation of Limerick’s social life for generations and as such it is important the story of their records, buildings and impact on the history of Limerick be told.”