Co Down church completes unique stained glass collection of Irish saints

St Brongh has joined a collection of other Irish saints at St Columbanus Parish Church in Ballyholme, Co Down
St Brongh has joined a collection of other Irish saints at St Columbanus Parish Church in Ballyholme, Co Down

A Co Down church has completed a unique collection of stained glass windows depicting a gallery of Irish saints.

Parishioners at St Columbanus Parish Church in Ballyholme joined Bishop Harold Miller on Sunday for the dedication of two striking new windows at the Church of Ireland building, which is a key site on the Ards and North Down Christian Heritage Trail.

The 'Pelican' window is one of the latest additions at St Columbanus Parish Church

The 'Pelican' window is one of the latest additions at St Columbanus Parish Church

The latest additions round off a collection of colourful images marking an array of local saints.

The distinctive windows are often admired by pilgrims visiting the area.

One of the new windows depicts St Bronagh, a sixth century Christian woman and disciple of St Patrick, who was associated with Rostrevor and Kilbroney.

Bronagh built a church there, founded a community of prayer and became its abbess.

Pilgrims visit St Columbanus Parish Church to admire the gallery of distinctive stained glass windows

Pilgrims visit St Columbanus Parish Church to admire the gallery of distinctive stained glass windows

To denote her authority, Bronagh is depicted carrying 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 second window features a pelican pecking its breast to feed her young, which is 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.

Rector of Ballyholme, Canon Simon Doogan, explained the origins of the distinctive gallery.

“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,” he said.

“And of course, on our doorstep we have Bangor Abbey and Movilla Abbey and all the names and saints and prayers associated with 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 Bridget, 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.”

He added that 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 Co Down woman at that,” Canon Doogan added.