Located in the Liberties district on Thomas St., this distinctive red sandstone and granite building is commonly known as John's Lane Church. In fact, its correct name is the Church of St. John the Baptist and St. Augustine --- a bit of a mouthful! Little wonder that locals preferred to name it after its location at the corner of John's Lane, a steep and narrow side-street. It is served by the Augustinian Order of monks and is a fully functioning Catholic church with all associated services.
This is a gorgeous, tranquil, atmospheric church, filled with colour and artwork, yet overlooked by tourists trekking from the city centre to the Guinness Storehouse. The exterior is Flemish in style, while its interior has a more French neo-Gothic character. The church steeple, measuring around 60 metres / 200 ft, with its unusually rectangular tower, is the highest in Dublin. Flemish in style, the spire was not originally designed for church bells, but a spiral staircase was added for access, and bells rang for the first time on St. Patrick's Day, 1873. Striking Gothic wooden confessionals line both sides of the interior, while paintings depicting the stations of the cross, in wooden frames, adorn the walls. A great time to visit the church is in the morning, when early light floods through the variety of stained glass windows, brilliantly illuminating the whole church. Some of the windows are designed by artist Harry Clarke --- who also created the windows in the Grafton Street's Bewleys Cafe.
Great video of the striking interior of John's Lane Church
Ireland's First Hospital
John's Lane Church stands on the site of Ireland's first hospital, built in 1182. It was constructed by Aelred, a Norman who had returned to Dublin after returning from the Crusades to the Holy Land. At the time, pilgrims often wore or carried palm leaves, and were called "palmers", which is how Aelred acquired the name Aelred the Palmer. The name later gave rise to the area known as Palmerstown in Dublin. Thankful that no harm had befallen him during the Crusades, Aelred decided to dedicate the rest of his life to God. He founded a hospital with the help of Augustinian monks, naming it the Hospital of St. John the Baptist.
Over the years, both the hospital and the monastery that were attached to it became both expanded. In 1316 Edward Bruce, younger brother of the King of Scotland Robert Bruce, and pursuing his own claim to the Irish throne, marched toward Dublin with the intention of vanquishing it. Bruce's soldiers deliberately set fire to Thomas Street. Flames spread to the hospital and, along with surrounding dwellings, burned it to the ground. This was not the end of the monastic community and its hospital, however. By the time the British crown dissolved all monastic settlements in Ireland in
This was not the end of the monastic community and its hospital, however. By the time the British crown dissolved all monastic settlements in Ireland in 1539, and took ownership of their assets, the "Palmer's Hospital" as it was then known is recorded as being quite a substantial property, with a large house, church, great bawn, mill, kiln and much land.
Building the Church - First Phase
In 1860, Edward Welby Pugin, architect of over 100 Catholic churches in England, Scotland and Ireland, made plans for a new church on the site. The first phase of construction began on Easter 1862, and the building took 33 years to complete. Money to fund the construction came mainly from the Irish diaspora in England, the United States, Australia, and Canada, through the aggressive fund raising efforts of clergy and local families. Construction began at an economically difficult time in Irish history, when the Great Irish Famine of 1845 - 1852 was fresh in the memories of the congregation.
The second phase of the building began in 1892 under the design supervision of William Hogue, who is known for the tall spire. The roof was completed by 1895 and the interior by 1911.
John's Lane Church. Image by Eric Atkins