Photographic Exhibition on Foundation Ceremony for St Thomas’s Church, Dublin (1930)

The RCB Library is showcasing a remarkable collection of photographs depicting a service conducted for the laying of the foundation stone for St Thomas’s Church in Dublin in 1930. These photos illustrate the pomp and grandeur of the ceremony, capturing some of the leading figures of the Church of Ireland at the time, as well as glimpses of the everyday life of Dubliners during this period, and the interest that such a ceremony held for those passing by.

St Thomas’s Church replaced the old St Thomas’s, which was situated on Marlborough Street, immediately to the south of the new building. The old St Thomas was built between 1758 and 1762 from designs by John Smieith, and was consecrated on 21st December 1762, the feast day of St Thomas. The old St Thomas’s Church suffered fire damage during intense fighting in Dublin in early July 1922. After the end of the fighting, fire spread to the old church on 6th July, 1922. In the immediate aftermath of the fire damage of the old church, a licence was issued on 13th July 1922 to hold services in the Parochial Hall, situated just to the north of the church, which is where the new St Thomas’s would be constructed.

A photograph of St Thomas’s Church during construction

The construction of a new church (also dedicated to St Thomas) in the late 1920s was significant – representing as it did, a period of rebuilding and renewal, both for Dublin which suffered such extensive destruction, as well as Ireland as a whole. The Dublin of the 1920s witnessed substantial rebuilding, with large areas of social housing being built, as well as a reimagining of the urban landscape. The new St Thomas’s Church was representative of this change, showcasing a modern building to reflect this period of hope for the future.

The church was important within the context of the Church of Ireland as well, specifically in terms of replacing the old St Thomas’s Church, but also in the idea of a new and modern church in such a central location in Dublin’s inner-city.

An early photograph of St Thomas’s Church (undated)

The building was also recognised as being important in an architectural sense, and would win two significant architectural awards after its consecration, the 1932-33 Royal Institute of Architects Ireland Prize, as well as a silver medal at the Tailteann Exhibition. Designed by Frederick Hicks, the building was recognised as an ‘architectural gem’, and one that paid particular attention to the aesthetic of the newly-created Cathal Brugha Street, and the surrounding buildings.

The photos that are presented in the online exhibition are of the ceremony to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone of St Thomas’s Church on 28th June, 1930. This was conducted by the then Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr John Gregg (1873-1961). Identifying which event the photographs represented was initially difficult, as they are undated, and could possibly have referred to the consecration ceremony the following year, but as the church is still in a state of construction, it can be assumed that this is the beginning rather than the end of the building project. The church was officially opened on St Thomas’s Day on 21st December 1931, exactly 169 years after the consecration of the original church.

Ceremony to mark the laying of the foundation stone, 28th June 1930