New stained glass windows in Ballyholme complete a gallery of Irish saintsTuesday 18 September 2018
Bishop Harold joined the parishioners of St Columbanus, Ballyholme, on Sunday 16 September for the dedication of two new stained–glass windows on the south side of the building. The addition of a window depicting St Bronagh completes a unique gallery of Irish saints.
St Bronagh faces St Brigid on the north side and recalls a sixth century Christian woman associated with Rostrevor and Kilbroney. Bronagh built a church there, founded a community of prayer and became its abbess (Kil is the Irish for church and broney denotes Bronagh). To denote her authority, Bronagh carries her abbess’s staff in one hand and the ancient Bronagh’s Bell in the other. The bell is a relic of the original church which lay concealed among its ruins for centuries. The St Bronagh window is the gift of the Manogue family.
Above it, The Pelican window depicts a pelican pecking its breast to feed her young and is another traditional symbol of Christ sacrificing himself for humanity. It complements the Lamb of God window that faces it on the north side of the church. The narthex in Down Cathedral contains tile mosaics of both the Agnus Dei and Pelican in a similar north/south, left/right symmetry. The Pelican window is the gift of the Bell family.
The windows are in a small transept that lay hidden from view until the organ and choir moved as part of the restoration and reordering in 2016. The three existing plain glass windows have now all been transformed by the CWS Design Studio in Lisburn. The first was dedicated in October last year and was gift of St Columbanus’ MU. It features a hands–around–the–world Mary Sumner design.
The newest windows make a striking addition to the Celtic theme and colour of the existing St Columbanus gallery of Irish Saints which already attracts pilgrims who are visiting Bangor.
Rector of Ballyholme, Canon Simon Doogan, explains the origins of this distinctive feature of the church:
“It goes back to the 1950s and a group of Church of Ireland clergy who wanted to reclaim a pre–Reformation, pre–schism Celtic tradition. And of course, on our doorstep we have Bangor Abbey and Movilla Abbey and all the names and saints and prayers associated with that. 24–7 Prayer was actually born in Bangor Abbey – we like to insist on that!
“So, when a new church was being built here with plain glass windows, it presented an opportunity to mark the local saints. Here we have Gall, Comgall, Columbanus, Patrick, Columba, Finnian, Brendan and Brigid, all depicted. That’s unique. There’s no other church that we know of, especially on the Protestant side, that would major on that distinctly Irish Christian tradition.
“Canon Jack Mercer, who was rector of Ballyholme for 37 years was always very keen that every window would be filled. We think he would be delighted that St Bronagh occupies the last space – a great woman of prayer who founded a community of prayer and a County Down woman at that.”