The Last Judgment — the bas relief with gilded background in the tympanum of the central double doorway of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork. Designed by William Burges, and, like the two narrower tympanums over the flanking single doorways; the full-size figures” by the doorways; and the symbols of the four Evangelists round the great rose window, modelled” by Thomas Nicholls, with on-site carving into the Cork limestone” by Charles William Harrison (1834-1903) of Dublin. 1873-83.

The figures in the middle are awakening to life and rising from their tombs, raising their arms in exultation as angels reach down to them; those on the right have been rejected as unworthy, and banished to the flames of hell.

Left: The central west door, rose window, and sculptural enrichment. Right: Symbols of two of the four Evangelists that occupy the corners of the great rose window. On the left is the winged lion representing St Mark, on the left is the winged ox representing St Luke.

Flanking the main double doorway are single doorways with narrow tympanums [for a full view of the west front doorways, click here]. Carved against the same glittering background, these show: (left) above, King Solomon dedicating his temple; below, Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac; (right) above, the Archangel Raphael with his fiery sword banishing the fallen Adam and Eve from Paradise, and below, Adam toiling and Eve with her children. The scene on the far left, with fire in the background (as in one of the stained glass windows inside the Cathedral) appears to show Cain about to kill Abel.

Full-size figures flanking the doorways

Left: Leading up to the central double doorway, on the right are the foolish virgins, disappointed at being rejected” by the Bridegroom whose figure stands slightly higher than them in the middle of the doorway. Right: Four of the apostles at the single doorway to the left: St. Mark with his gospel, St. Matthew with his money-pouch (he had been a tax collector before becoming a disciple), St. Jude (clutching an image of Jesus to his breast) and St Peter with his large keys.

[Click here for a close-up of the flanking arched doorway on the left, which also shows the position of the gargoyles.]

Bases of the statues in the doorways

Aids to identifying the figures of the apostles can be found in the bases of the statues, which are also intricately carved. Peter, along with his brothers Andrew, James and John, was a fisherman — hence the fishing boat on the right here, and its fine catch of fish. This is carved into the base for St Andrew.

Archivolt scenes of working life

Curving around the inner arches of the doorways are quaint little rectangular carvings. The south portal shows women at work, and the north and central portals show male occupations. Left: A woman milking a cow and below another with a pig (animal husbandry). Middle: A woman sewing and another sweeping a floor with a broom (domestic tasks). Right: A wheelwright and a barrel maker (artisan skills).

Left: An astrologer with a globe, and a ferryman. Right: A blacksmith and a basket weaver. There are many more, including those engaged in the arts, such as a sculptor or stonemason, an architect, and someone playing the organ.

Burges never leaves out the human element. All manner of folk are part of the iconography here; all are to be drawn into God's holy place and God's plan. The chancel mosaics too will show people of every calling, from scribes, to builders, to soldiers, and animals as well. His vision is wonderfully inclusive, truly all-embracing.

Photographs by Robert Freidus, formatting and image correction by George P. Landow, and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Related material


Crook, J. Mordaunt . William Burges and the High Victorian Dream. Revised and Enlarged Edition. London: Francis Lincoln, 2013. [Review]

Harrison, Charles William. Dictionary of Irish Architects. Web. 14 November 2019.

Searching for the New Jerusalem: The Iconography of St Fin Barre's Cathedral, with a Foreword” by the Very Revd Nigel Dunne, Deane of Corke, and Michael Murphy, President, University College Cork, and "Searching for the New Jerusalem," an essay” by Richard Wood. Cork: Lewis Glucksman Gallery and the University of Cork, 2013. [Review]

Van der Krogt, René & Peter. Sculptures at St Fin Barre's Cathedral. Statues: Hither and Thither (a very helpful website). Web. 14 November 2019.

Last modified 10 November 2019