It is a sad fact that your average man in the street still thinks that everything inside the Honan Chapel is by Harry Clarke. Thankfully, in recent years, the work of the Oppenheimer family in the stunning floor mosaics is finally receiving the recognition that it so richly deserves.
Just as with the corbel sculptures at St Fin Barre’s, the inspiration for the chancel floor in the Honan Chapel is taken from the Book of Daniel. In this case, Chapter 3:24-90, where all of creation sings God’s praise from ‘everything that moves in the waters‘ through to ‘every kind of bird‘ and ‘all animals wild and tame‘ as well as more abstract concepts such as ‘Light and Darkness‘ and ‘Lightnings and Clouds‘.
Daniel 3:24-90 is one of the so-called ‘Additions to Daniel’ which only appear in the Greek Septuagint Bible and not the Hebrew Masoretic text. As such, it is only accepted as canonical by the Catholic and Orthodox traditions and is usually missing from most Protestant Bibles such as the KJV (although it is included as a devotional hymn in the Book of Common Prayer). Perhaps a somewhat ‘sectarian’ text then, to choose for the Honan’s chancel?
Symbolically, the fish-filled river in the spectacular aisle mosaic is that which ‘flows out of Eden‘ in Genesis 2:10. If we follow the river to its source in the chancel, we see the Garden of Eden itself represented in the central roundel, identified by the two ‘Trees of Paradise’ from Genesis 2:9: the Tree of Knowledge (whose fruit caused such bother for Adam and Eve) and the Tree of Eternal Life.
However, if you look a little closer, you can see a third plant incongruously flourishing amidst the Honan’s Garden of Eden — the humble Shamrock!
Obviously, the Trinitarian symbolism of the Shamrock is a factor, but surely the Oppenheimer’s are also making the touching suggestion that Ireland itself is a little piece of Paradise on Earth.
Bórd Fáilte would be proud!