Scenes from the life of St. Augustine in the Limerick Church
St. Augustine’s church in the heart of Limerick city is in the care of the Augustinians who trace their origins back to St. Augustine of Hippo in North Africa, to his spirit and spirituality. In 1256, a number of scattered communities following the Rule of St. Augustine came together under one Prior General. They quickly spread through Western Europe. By the end of the 13th Century they had expanded into Ireland and to Limerick.
Here, we take you on a spiritual tour of the Augustinian church on O’Connell St. When you visit the church itself, we invite you to begin a “walk in faith” guided by these spiritual landmarks.
The Main Entrance Stained Glass Window
The large stained glass window at the back of the organ gallery over the church main entrance has been described as “a symphony of light and colour”. It can be seen at its most beautiful at evening time when you stand at the entrance to the worship space with your back to the high altar. Looking upwards you are inspired by the four long panels depicting scenes from the life of St. Augustine (from left to right):
- St. Augustine’s conversion
- Consecration as bishop
- Writing his Confessions
- St. Monica and St. Augustine at Ostia
Directly underneath there are four symbolic representations of the Saints life: the book and quill, twin crests of the Augustinian Order and the scales of Justice.
St. Augustine’s Conversion
After his young years of wild excesses and his restless search for the truth he found some stability in fifteen years of faithfulness to his mistress. His brilliant mind and his intellectual curiosity got the attentions of a wealthy Roman patron who recommended him for the Chair of Rhetoric in Milan.
His mother Monica put him in contact with St. Ambrose in that city. In his Confessions he describes a decisive moment in his journey towards God. He heard the voice of a child directing him to read a passage from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (13:13:14): “No drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ: forget about satisfying your body with all its cravings”. These words prompted him to receive instruction in the faith and baptism from St Ambrose. Together with his friend Alypius, his son Adeodatus and in the presence of his joyful mother St. Monica he was received into the Catholic Church. The remainder of his life was a continuous process of conversion to love and truth.
In the stain glass image we see Augustine kneeling and reading the decisive Scripture passage. St. Monica looks on from the top left hand corner!
Consecration as Bishop
In the late 388 A.D. Augustine returned from Milan to his home town of Thagaste. He had already gathered a small group of friends around him. Gradually he formed them into a community of prayer, service, study and sharing their belongings. On one occasion he visited Hippo, a city 100 kilometres west of Thagaste. He met a man who was interested in joining his community. Bishop Valerian of Hippo was aware of Augustine’s presence and spiritual gifts. By public acclamation and with the consent of the Bishop he was ordained as a priest and later consecrated as Bishop of Hippo succeeding Valerian in the office. Augustine continued to live in community. The exacting pastoral responsibility of his position meant that he had to move to the bishop’s house.
The second panel in the window pictures the consecration ceremony.
Augustine Writing his Confessions
Augustine had no intention of setting up a Religious Order when he gathered his group of friends together in his own home in Thagaste. The move to Hippo and the establishment of other monasteries for men and women made it necessary that, some structures and guidelines be put in place for their lives together. The Rule was written by the Saint in the year 397. It ensured a common way of life among the various groups when his responsibilities as a bishop took him away from the monastery in Hippo. In his writing of the Rule he was influenced by the Scriptures and the model of the early Christian community in Jerusalem. His Rule was short and simple without detailed prescriptions. There is a good balance between responsibility for the life of the community and concern for the individual member. The structures were flexible and humane. He provided general guidelines for living and sharing in community, for common prayer, for health and care for the sick, mutual responsibility, poverty and simplicity of life, dealing with conflict, the exercise of authority and obedience with some final words of encouragement. The Rule of St. Augustine withstood the test of time and is still as valid for the 21st century.
The third panel shows St. Augustine writing his Rule with the rays of the Holy Spirit shining down on him.
St. Monica and St. Augustine in Ostia
In the year 388 A.D. Augustine and his mother Monica left Milan, to make a return journey back to their home town of Thagaste in North Africa. They travelled to the port town of Ostia for embarkment to Africa. Before their planned departure they entered a deep experience, sharing the joy of Augustine’s conversion at a window. He recounted the conversations and the spiritual experience in the Confessions. Her prayer had been answered and closure was brought to the pain and conflict between him and his mother. A few days afterwards she contracted a serious illness. As death approached, she let go of her wish to be buried with her husband, Patricius in her home town of Thagaste, North Africa. Monica was no longer interested in her place of burial. Her last request was expressed as follows: “Lay this body anywhere and be not concerned about it. This one thing I ask of you, that wherever you may be, you will always remember me at the altar of God”. She articulated the dying wish of generations of Catholics and their wish to be remembered. Monica was buried at Ostia, the seaport close to Rome.
St Monica’s mystical experience with her son St. Augustine is celebrated in the fourth panel of the stain glass window. The scene is also presented in a painting by Ary Scheller (1798-1585) in the shrine and altar dedicated to St. Monica and St. Augustine on the right side as you face the main altar of the church.
Symbols in the Stained Glass Window
Pen and Quill:
Pen and Quill referring to St. Augustine’s vast corpus of writings. Despite his busy life as a Bishop his output in philosophy and theology stretched into several volumes including his Rule, his Confessions the City of God, sermons and commentaries on the Scriptures, hundreds of letters, references to political and church issues of his day. Augustine is constantly quoted and discussed in books and articles by contemporary scholars and spiritual writers.
Tolle Lege (Take up and Read):
These two identical mottos on the stain glass panel pertain to the words of a child which he heard in the garden of his villa in Milan. At the time he was struggling with his decision to surrender to God in faith. He was directed to read Romans (13:13.14).
The words summoned him away from his life of conflict, promiscuity and cultic involvement. Other elements in the Augustinian crest include a pierced heart, a Bible, a bishop’s mitre and crozier and a cincture. More simplified versions are now in circulation. You will find the crest in various locations around our church e.g. at the entrance to the Abbey Bookshop, on the floor in front of the High Altar.
Scales of Justice:
This symbol applies to Augustine’s work of peace and justice. He constantly worked for reconciliation among Augustinian communities, within his diocese, the African church, with political opponents and theological adversaries. In public debates he searched for common ground with conflicting elements. His concern for all who were treated unjustly is evident in all his writings. He had a heart of love for the poor and the marginalized.
The stained glass window over the main doors of the Augustinian church in Limerick is dedicated to Fr. Joseph Hennessy O.S.A. (1872-1941) who played a key role in the planning and building of the present church. Shortly after the foundation stone was laid, Fr. Hennessy passed to his eternal rest in 1941.