Met an old colleague during the week to discuss a job, and he presented me with a slim beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated book.
We thumbed the pages, looked at the photos and reminisced about the trade of our youth, recalling yarns and remembering the people in the photos featured in the book.
He worked in Gunning’s,
I worked in M.H.Gill & Son.
The book brought up memories of the old times, the camaraderie, the pride the craftsmen had in their work and in the products of their particular workshop, the competition between the different firms in Dublin at that time, and the fantastic work they produced.
We were both delighted to see this work been brought to the attention of the public at large.
I went on to work in Royal Irish Silver, the silversmithing firm that evolved out of Gunning’s, and there are some photos of the Royal Irish workshop in the little volume.
The book is “The Irish Monstrance” by Leo Madigan.
It’s the story of a Monstrance (A monstrance is a sacred vessel in which the host of the Eucharist is exposed for veneration at Benediction) from its conception to its completion and arrival in Fatima in the year of 1949 and its history since.
The monstrance was paid for by public donation of money and personal jewellery.
The book explains how the monstrance design evolved as more and more money and jewels arrived at Gunning’s Ecclesial Art Metalworks premises.
It was designed by Larry Gunning and made by a team of craftsmen, many of whom I would imagine, had an input into the design as the work evolved.
Contributions from the public of money and jewellery at this time for sacred vessels and later on was not uncommon.
The Monstrance is 42” High, made of gilded sterling silver.
It weighs 8 kilos and is studded with 1,700 jewels, of which 650 are diamonds.
Even though the Monstrance was complete, money and jewellery continued to arrive at Gunning’s so they decided to “make an 18ct solid gold lunette and house it in a custos of silver gilt studded with diamonds, the custos, in which the Eucharist is placed when not exposed in the Monstrance, was a creation in itself.”
The Monstrance and Custos are heavily chased all over with Celtic interlacing and other motifs and up the stem of the Monstrance is a chased figure of the Blessed Virgin.
The Monstrance is also encrusted with rings that had their shanks cut off and the head with the stones were set in the Monstrance.
The author takes us on what he calls a tour of the Monstrance in which he explains and shows with beautiful photos the symbolism of the overall design and the details of the Monstrance.
This is all very interesting, but what gave me the creeps was this interpretation by Mr. Madigan.
“At the base of each of the rays are smaller irregular rays such as one might find in illustrations of the the sun to evoke dazzling light.
These were incorporated to represent the flames of hell as seen in the horrifying vision of the place of damnation granted to the Fatima seers on July 13th 1917”
I do not accept for a minute his interpretation of the irregular rays representing the rays of hell, and I think it’s nothing short of blasphemy to suggest it !
It was a convention of the time that this was the way the rays of a Monstrance were configured to represent light emanating from the Host.Healing light as opposed to destructive flames.
When I read this it brought me right back to when I was a young impressionable, sensitive, child being fed a constant diet of this kind of terror the scars of which I still bear.
So much for the Good News.
The Catholic Church, before Vatican 11, gave great employment to many people in the precious metal business, of which I was one.
It was a great time for chasers as most work, like for example, The Irish Monstrance, was heavily chased and decorated.
No Institution or Corporate body has ever come near to replacing the church as an employer of silversmiths, mores the pity.In some ways this book reminds me of the pamphlets that were to be found at the back of catholic churches in the nineteen fifties and sixties.
However, it wins me over for a number of reasons........it's quirky and different, AND it has great photos.
It’s a history or snapshot of Gunning’s and the trade in Dublin of that time, it also gives an indication of how the work from these workshops is spread all over the world, the pieces besides the Monstrance shown in the book are now in churches all across the USA.
It’s a celebration and a recognition of the many great craftsmen and women who worked on this Monstrance and the other examples of sacred metalwork illustrated in this little gem of a book.
This period might be termed the Golden Age of Celtic Revival Church Metalwork.
I would never tire of picking up this little book up and leafing through it.
It’s a major contribution to the history of the precious metal and brass finishing trades in the Dublin of the nineteen forties, fifties and sixties.
The book can be purchased at the following link :