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The Library of the Representative Church Body (RCB) provides a repository for the Church of Ireland’s archives, manuscripts and related objects which tell the story of the Church’s community. Among its resources are important collections of architectural drawings.
The Church of Ireland’s churches, cathedrals and glebe houses have made an indelible impression on the Irish landscape. Spires, towers and pinnacles punctuate the skyline while in subtler ways the residential aesthetic of the glebe houses provide visual indicators of the former pre-eminence of the Church of Ireland – the Established or state Church until 1871.
Whilst many of the churches no longer function as places of worship, and the surviving glebe houses have either passed to private ownership, or have simply disappeared, an extensive collection of over 9,000 original drawings (plans, elevations, sections, details) documents this ecclesiastical world, providing an important resource for understanding the architectural, liturgical, social and cultural development of the Church of Ireland through the centuries.
The drawings were created for the most part under the auspices of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (1833 onwards) which had succeeded the Board of First Fruits (founded in 1711). Most were initially accumulated in the diocesan registries to which they related, while others passed directly into the custody of the RCB, the charitable trust created after Disestablishment in the 1870s. Over the decades, these have been carefully accessioned and arranged in the RCB Library, founded in 1931.
In 2011, the Library secured a grant from the Esme Mitchell Trust to conduct a pilot project to digitize and catalogue these drawings and the architectural historian, Dr Michael O’Neill was engaged to carry out this work. Following the successful completion of the pilot project the Library was awarded a grant of €12,000 under the Built Heritage element of the Environmental Fund by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Gaeltacht (now the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media) enabling him to complete the first phase of the catalogue. Support from both Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, St Patrick’s Cathedral, and individual dioceses, combined with a sustained and significant funding commitment by the RCB has seen 9,500+ digital surrogates of church, cathedral and glebe house drawings digitized, catalogued and available for a worldwide audience to freely peruse online.
The Architectural Drawings Catalogue and more specifically the glebe house and rectory drawings were featured as the RCB Library’s Archive of the Month in February 2017. Please click here to view the article.
The Drawings Collection was further showcased in a public exhibition entitled A Visual Window to an Ecclesiastical World held in the Irish Architectural Archive during 2019. Further information about the exhibition is available here.
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