The last classical Dublin church – St Audeon's

A spate of Catholic classical church building took place between the opening of the Pro-Cathedral (1825) and the Famine (1847). All the churches have artistic merit and express the competitive Catholic self-confidence of the time.

The first three are by different architects: St Francis Xavier, Gardiner St (John B Keane: 1829-32); St Nicholas of Myra, Francis St (John Leeson: 1829-34); St Andrew's, Westland Row (John Bolger: 1832-37).

The last three are by the same architect: Patrick Byrne. They are: 'Adam and Eve's', Merchants Quay (1834), St. Paul's, Arran Quay (1835-42) and St Audeon's, High St (1841-47).

Patrick Byrne began his architectural training as an apprentice in the office of James Gandon, working with Malton, of Malton print fame, with whom he did the detailing of the Custom House. Byrne was a supreme classicist, though he later succumbed to the fashionable Gothic revival, designing the Catholic Church of St John the Baptist in Blackrock. The beauty and unity of his work on Adam and Eve's has been lost in subsequent alterations.

The classical portico of St Audeon's with pillars and statuary is outstanding. The interior is a flood of space and light, elegant with fluted Corinthian pilasters, cornices and high-level windows. It also has a coffered ceiling with barrel vaulting.

The high altar has fine classical reredos. And there is a beautifully carved wooden pulpit that was used for the first mission ever preached in Ireland. Newman liked it and considered using it as his University Church.

The sanctuary was never updated after Vatican II, so the church has recently become the focus for Tridentine Latin Mass enthusiasts, styling themselves "Ecclesia Dei – Ireland", who gather on Sundays for the 11 o'clock Missa Cantata. The rubrics of the Roman Missal of 1962 are scrupulously observed. The priest celebrates Mass with his back to the people, many following eagerly from their pre-1962 missals. And altar-boys (no girls!) relish in the precise execution of the complex ritual.

The church is closed during the week. Its revenue may come from the premium rented parking space in the piazza.

Paddy Duffy

St Audeon's Church, High Street, Dublin 8