James Rice: A 15th century Irish pilgrim to Santiago de Compostella

The names  and stories of the vast majority of  medieval pilgrims  have gone unrecorded in the Irish historical sources but thankfully there  are some  exceptions to this rule.   During the 15th century, two  pilgrimages of a Waterford  man  called James Rice to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella were recorded in  contemporary sources.

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St James Cathedral Santiago de Compostella

Who was James Rice?

James Rice was born into a wealthy Anglo-Irish merchant family in the port town of Waterford in 15th century.  The exact date of his birth is known but  the name chosen by his parents suggests they had a devotion to St James whose cult from the 12th century onwards enjoyed great popularity across Europe.

We know also that James’s father Peter Rice  held the office of Mayor of Waterford on two occasions the first in 1426-27 and the second in 1427.  Following in the footsteps of his father,  James also  became a politician and held the office of Mayor of Waterford a staggering  eleven times.

Like the majority of people living in medieval Ireland,  James would have performed many pilgrimages  throughout his lifetime.  He  would have visited  local and regional pilgrim sites perhaps heading to Ardmore,  Co Waterford or to Lady’s Island in Co Wexford.   Unfortunately local and regional pilgrimages  tend not  to be recorded in contemporary sources as they were seen as everyday  occurrences.

Long distance pilgrimages  were very expensive and would have been beyond the finances of  most ordinary of people. Therefore to embark on a long distance pilgrimage was a rare and significant occurrence and when undertaken successful brought prestige to the pilgrim.  Being a man of means James Rice was able to  go on at least two long distance pilgrimages that we know of  to the shrine of St James at Santiago do Compostella in Spain.  To give you some idea of the  expense of such  a journey,    Irish pilgrims making the return journey from Spain to Ireland  on-board the ill-fated ship the  La Mary London  in the 15th century paid seven shillings and six pence per head  just for the return leg of  the journey (1400 miles sea voyage).   This was the equivalent  of several weeks wages for an average working man.

So why go all the way  to  Santiago  when there were many pilgrim sites closer to home?  At a basic level James Rice probably had  a great devotion to his namesake St James who was one of the most popular saints in  Ireland.  Santiago was also a high status pilgrim site,  one of the most popular pilgrim destinations in the  medieval  world,  attracting vast numbers of pilgrims from across Europe. It was  also associated with miracles and  it was a place where  indulgences could be obtained.

Pilgrimages to Santiago

In  1473 James made his first pilgrimage to Santiago.  At the time he held the position of  Mayor of Waterford.  His pilgrimage was recorded as he was vacating his office for the duration of the pilgrimage  and protocol required that he applied for permission to parliament to appoint a deputy mayor in his absence.  His request was  granted and  he embarked on  pilgrimage.

As Waterford was a port town  with trade links with France and Spain its likely James travelled by boat to the port of Corunna and then headed  on foot to Santiago. Having arrived at his destination he  would have found somewhere to stay.  Most pilgrims spent the night  in a vigil within the  cathedral in front of the high altar. The next day pilgrims  attended mass and  during the ceremony they presented their  offerings.  Pilgrims would also have made confession and  obtained  certificates of pilgrimage in the Capilla del Rey de Francia.  There are no records detailing James experiences but he must have visited the relics of the saint and perhaps even purchased some souvenirs.  From the 12th century scallop shells were sold to pilgrims in the cathedral square and a small number have been found in Irish medieval burials.

 

Ten years later Rice decided to go on a second pilgrimage to Santiago in the year 1483.  1483 was the Jubilee year at Santiago. In 1181  Pope Alexander III granted jubilee years to the shrine, whenever the feast of St James fell on a Sunday.  Pilgrims  who came at this time  received a plenary indulgence (a remission from all sin) once they made their confession, attended Mass, gave a donation for the upkeep of the shrine, and undertook to perform good works.

Rice was again in public office as the Mayor of Waterford.  The Statue Rolls of the Irish Parliament record that prior to his departure  on pilgrimage, Rice’s made a formal requested to take up the pilgrim staff.  Permission was granted  to embark on his  second pilgrimage under the proviso that the mayor and  the two bailiffs who accompanied him were to appoint replacement deputies acceptable to Waterford city council for the duration of their absence ). The names of his bailiffs were Patrick Mulligan and Philip Bryan.

Prior to departure on this second pilgrimage Rice commissioned a chapel dedicated to St James and St Catherine  connected to Christ Church Cathedral  in Waterford.  The chapel was  consecrated in 1482 (Bradley & Halpin 1992, 119).  Following the completion of his pilgrimage James returned to Waterford where he lived out the rest of his days. He was eventually laid to rest with the chapel in an elaborate  tomb. The chapel was later taken to extend the cathedral yard and moved into  the nave of the  Cathedral church.

 

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Tomb of James Rice

 

The tomb consist of a  chest  with images of saints carved on all sides.  The apostles are found on the north side; James the minor, Thomas, John, James the Major, Andrew and Peter and on the south side:  Matthias Jude, Simeon, Matthew, Bartholomew and Philip.

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St. James Major (N. side, 3rd from W. end of the Rice tomb taken from the Edwin Rae Collection TRIARC http://hdl.handle.net/2262/56205

The west end of the tomb bears the images of St Margaret of Antioch, the Virgin and Child and St Catherine of Alexandria.  The east end depicts St Edmund the Confessor, the Holy Trinity and St Patrick.  An elaborately carved  cadaver  lies on top the tomb. It is wrapped in a shroud knotted at the head and feet  which has fallen open.

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Image of Cadaver from the Edwin Rea Collection TRIARC  http://hdl.handle.net/2262/56072

Frogs and toads are emerging from the body which is surrounded by  a Latin inscription that translates as

Here lies ‘James Rice,one time citizen of this city,founder of this chapel,and Catherine Broun, his wife.

Whoever you may be, passerby, Stop, weep as you read. I am what you are going to be, and I was what you are.

I beg of you, pray for me ! It is  our lot to pass through the jaws of death.

Lord Christ, we beg of thee, we implore thee, be merciful to us!

Thou who has come to redeem the lost condemn not the redeemed.

 

James Rice is just one of many  Irish people who  went on pilgrimage to Santiago  its likely if he had not been in office at the time of his  pilgrimages they would have gone unrecorded.

References

Bradley, J. and Halpin, A. 1992. The topographical development of Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman Waterford City. In (eds) Nolan, W. & Power, T.  Waterford History and Society Interdisciplinary Essays on theHistory of an Irish County.  Dublin: Geography Publications, 105-130.

Connolly, P. (ed.) 2002. Statue Rolls of the Irish Parliament, Richard III-Henry VIII. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

McEneaney, E. 1995.  A History of Waterford and its Mayors, from the 12th century to the 20th century. Waterford: Waterford Corporation.

 

 

 

 

St Non’s chapel: a destination for Irish pilgrims to Wales in medieval times

During  medieval times  Irish pilgrims  travelled on pilgrimage to British shrines.  One of the most popular destinations was the shrine of St David located in Pembrokeshire in Wales.  It not surprising St Davids was such a popular destination given it possessed the corporeal relics of St David and in the later medieval period two pilgrimages to St Davids  was equal to one to Rome.  For Irish pilgrims a trip to Wales was a lot less expensive and time-consuming  then one to Rome.

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St David’s cathedral in Wales

Like many  important pilgrim sites  St Davids was at the centre of an extensive pilgrim landscape composed  of minor outlying pilgrim shrines/foci connected to the saint.  As well as praying at the relics of St David,  pilgrims would have also visited some of these minor shrines more often than not prior to visiting the primary shrine.  This post focuses on one such site namely the chapel of St Non’s.  This site is located in a field  over looking St Non’s Bay approximately  a mile from St Davids.

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View of St Non’s  Bay.

St Non (also known as Nonna or Nonnita) was the mother of St David.  Her feast day is the 3rd of March and her cult spread to  Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. The daughter of Lord Cynyr Ceinfarfog, she was born around AD 475.  As a young woman she  became  a nun at Ty Gwyn near Whitesands Bay (Dyfed).  St David was conceived when  she was raped by  Sanctus, a king  of Ceredigion.  Tradition hold that the  chapel was built on the site  where she gave  birth to St David.  St Non’s chapel is one of a number of sites which claim to be the location of St David’s birth.

Today the site consist of  the ruins of  a  single room building aligned north-south. The walls do not survive to any great height and  the present structure cannot be dated easily as there are not  any  distinguishable features. The alignment of the building  is very unusual as churches  are normally aligned  east-west.

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St Non’s Chapel.

 

Fenton writing in 1818 states

In digging for earth within the walls of the chapel, stone coffins were found, and part of a curious image of pottery glazed, being the head and shoulder of a male figure.  It was hollow, and filled with a prodigious hard cement, and is now in possession of Mr Archdeacon Davies.

 

An early  medieval cross slab, of 7th/8th century date,  is located in the corner of the interior of the chapel.  When I visited the site in late June there were a number of  beach pebble with names written on them, left in front of the slab perhaps  as modern votive offerings.

 

 

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Early medieval cross slab at St Non’s Chapel.

A holy well also dedicated to the saint is located  very close to the chapel. The  waters of the well  flow into a rectangular chamber  covered with  superstructure with a rounded top.  The water then flows into a second  rectangular stone  trough.

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St Non’s well

Local tradition holds that the well burst forth from the ground upon the birth of St David.

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The water from St Non’s well flows into a stone rectangular trough.

The well and a small area around it  are enclosed with a stone wall.  A niche  in the wall opposite the well holds a small statue of St Non with out stretched arms. Modern pilgrims have left a number of offering at her feet including a brown  scapula , money and rosary beads.

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Statue of St Non at St Non’s well

The oldest written account of pilgrimage  here is found in a 15th century poem and concerns the pilgrimage of Edudful ferch Gadwgon and her sons.  The text records that Edudful  visited St Non’s chapel and holy well on her way to St Davids. When she  arrived here she washed her head in the holy water.  She also prayed at an image  of the St Non, most likely a statue and lit candles before the altar in the chapel. When her pilgrim rituals were complete she proceeded to her primary destination St David’s where as part of her pilgrim rituals  she left an offering of wax and money (Cartwright 2007, 190).

On Sunday Edudful comes

to pray sincerely to God;

puts her head in the well,

raises her hands merrily,

worships the holy image,

lights the large, yellow candles,

and puts all of them on the altar;

From there she passes to

the good close of St David’s church;

makes an offering of crimson wax

and money and kisses the saint; ( ibid after Johnson 2007, 371)

Browne  Willis (1717)  writing in the 18th century quotes an early 16th century description of the well by George Owen of Henllys

There is a fine Well beside it , cover’d  with a Stone-Roof and inclosed within a wall, and Benches to sit upon round the Well  (ibid., 190).

Cartwright (2007) suggests  the superstructure over the well was  more substantial than it is today. The present covering may date to the 19th century  but it was  extensively restored in 1951.

The waters of the well are said to have healing powers and to be of particular use for eye complaints. In 1811  the following account of the well is given in Fenton’s Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire

…a most redundant spring arched over, and at one time inclosed with a wall. The fame this consecrated spring had obtained is incredible, and still is resorted to for many complaints. In my infancy, as was the general usage with respect to children at that time, I was often dipped in it, and offerings , however trifling , even of a farthing or a pin, were made after each ablution, and the bottom of the well shrone with votive brass.

The immersion of children in the waters of holy wells were carried out at many Irish sites in the 19th and 20th century such as at St Moling’s well at Mullens in Co Carlow and at St Keeve at Glendalough.

A second chapel can be found a  short distance from the well,   in the grounds of St Non’s Retreat house . This chapel which has an ancient appearance was built-in 1934 by Mr Morgan-Griffith a solicitor from  Carmarthen who had it built for his wife who had converted to Catholicism.

The building was constructed with  recycled stones from cottages and possibly also from monastic buildings at Whitehall.

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Our Lady and St Non’s Chapel built-in the 1930s.

The modern chapel is dedicated to Our Lady and St Non.  Within are a number of beautiful stain glass windows of the William Morris school  depicting Welsh saints including St Non see image below.

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Stain glass window of St Non

The base of this window depicts a scene of  St Non and her son St David arriving in Brittany by boat.

 

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St Non and St David arriving in Brittany by boat.

Another interesting feature within the chapel  is the altar which incorporates numerous pieces of medieval architectural fragments.

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Altar incorporating pieces of medieval architectural fragments.

Today the  Passionists are the owners of the property and they have granted the Sisters of Mercy a licence to occupy and manage St Non’s Retreat Centre and chapel.

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Looking out from the interior of Our Lady and St Non’s Chapel.

The ruins of St Non’s Chapel and holy well has a long tradition of pilgrimage. The stunning scenery and peaceful setting at the site makes it a must see for modern pilgrims. The modern church of Our Lady and St Non is also a lovely place to spend some time.  Although there  are no accounts of Irish pilgrims travelling here I suspect the majority of Irish pilgrims to St Davids would have also visited the site.

 

References

Cartwright, J. 2007. ‘The Cult of David’, In (eds.) Evan, J. W. & Wooding, J. St David of Wales Cult Church and Nation. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 182-206.

Fenton, R. 1811. Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & co., 112-113

Johnston, D (ed)   Gwaith Lewys Glyn Cothi. Walse: Welsh University Press.

Rees, N. 1992. St David of Dewisland. Llandysul: Gomer Press, 21-24.

 

2013 Pattern day at Old Leighlin Co Carlow

Last year I attended the pattern/patron day celebration in honour of St Laserian  at Old Leighlin, Co Carlow.  I had planned to write this post the following day but life got in the way as it so often does, and before I new it days, weeks, months and over a year had gone by.  So better late than never.

Old Leighlin is a small sleepy village  a short distance from Carlow town.  St Gobban founded a monastery here in the  7th century.  He was succeeded by St Laserian  also known as Molaisse , who became the patron saint of the site and surrounding area.  In 630 AD, during Laserian’s  rule, a synod was held here to consider the correct time for the celebration of Easter (see my post on the Easter Controversy). Laserian died in AD 639 and tradition holds he was buried  here  and it is likely his grave was visited by pilgrims from an early date, although the site of his grave has long been forgotten.

Following Laserian’s death the  settlement  prospered and grew in strength and influence, becoming one of the foremost churches in Leinster.   By the 12th century it became the see of the diocese to which it gives its name. All that remains of the  medieval settlement are  the medieval Cathedral church, a holy well, bullaun stone,  two early medieval cross slabs and early medieval stone cross.  Following the reformation the Old Leighlin Cathedral came into the possession of the Church of Ireland and  it continues to function as a place of worship.  I will discuss the medieval and post-medieval evidence for pilgrimage  at a later date.

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St Laserian’s Cathedral church at Old Leighlin, much of the fabric dates to the late 13th century.

Modern Pilgrimage

Today as in  medieval times St. Laserian is the focus of a yearly pilgrimage at Old Leighlin  on the 18th of April.  The modern pilgrim celebrations at Old Leighlin  takes place each day  on the saint’s feast day, when an ecumenical  service  is held at  the Church of Ireland Church (medieval cathedral of Old Leighlin) followed by a procession to the nearby holy well dedicated to St Laserian. This year in 2014 the feast day fell on Good Friday and it was held Easter Sunday.

The service is normally presided over by two bishops,  the Anglican Bishop of the United Diocese of Cashel , Ferns, Leighlin, Lismore, Ossory and Waterford and the Catholic  Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, highlighting the importance of St Laserian within both diocese.

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Doorway in the south wall of the cathedral nave.

In 2013 the ecumenical service was held  in the evening  at around 7.30pm.  The Cathedral which is dedicated to St Laserian  is a very beautiful structure.

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The cathedral with a magnificent stained glass window behind the alter.

The Cathedral has many interesting features such as a  magnificent stain glass  window designed  by Catherine O’Brien, in the east gable.  The window depicts Irish and Universal saints  Moling, Bridget, Fiach, Canice, Patrick, John, Paul and  Laserian.

The 2013  service was presided over  by Right Reverend Michael Burrows, the Anglican Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin, as the Catholic diocese of Kildare and Leighlin was without a Bishop at the time.  As well as commemorating St  Laserian  with prayers and hymns, 2013 marked a special occasion for Old Leighlin, with the unveiling of an icon of St Laserian that had been specially commissioned for the Cathedral.

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The unveiling of the icon of St Laserian in 2013

The Old Leighlin pilgrimage is one of only a handful  of modern Irish pilgrimages that incorporates a procession.  Following  service all of  those present lined up and walked behind  by the bishop(s) and clergy of both churches in a  processional walk, from the Cathedral along the main road which skirts alongside the north wall of the Cathedral graveyard  to St Laserian’s  holy well.

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Pilgrims leaving the church following the ecumenical service.

The procession began outside the church leaving via the main church gates and on to  St Laserian’s  holy well a  few hundred metres to the west of the church.

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2013 processional walk to St Laserian’s holy well.

As the procession approached the holy well a  band who had been waiting patiently in the car park, beside the holy well, began to play music as the pilgrims approached.

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Procession as it approached the holy well.

The well is located within a landscaped green  field that slopes  sharply to the south.   The  clergy gathered at the well, located at the base of the slope.  Most pilgrims  gathered at the top of the slope  with a second group  standing around the rag tree near the holy well.

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Pilgrims begin to gather for the blessing of the waters.

Once everyone was assembled a short prayer service then took place and the waters of the wells  were blessed.

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Blessing of the waters of St Laserian’s holy well.

 

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Pilgrims gathering for the blessing of the well.

Following the blessing of the water, and despite the rain  most of the pilgrims  assembled at the well to drink  or take home its water.  Many pilgrims had brought plastic bottles with them to carry the water home.

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Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well.

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Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well.

The  evening ended  on a very social note  with most people  heading to the nearby local community hall for a very welcome cup of  tea, cake and a chat.

Each summer from mid June until the end of August  the Old Leighlin Cathedral is  open to the public from  Monday-Friday from 10.a.m. until 4 p.m  so I hope this post might encourage some of you to visit, as it is an amazing place.    I plan to write another post about  history of the Cathedral the  more ancient  pilgrimage traditions at the site  later in the year so watch the space.

 

Links to information on Old Leighlin

http://www.carlowcountymuseum.com/carlow-county/pages/old-leighlin-cathedral.aspx

http://carlowtourism.com/st-laserians-cathedral-3/

http://cashel.anglican.org/information/diocese/cathedrals/leighlin.html

 

 

The Pattern day at Durrow Co Offaly

Last Monday the 9th of June I  attended the pattern day celebrations in the parish of Durrow Co Offaly.

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Banner of St Colmcille/Columba.

Durrow is a small village about 5-7 km outside of Tullamore town.   St Colmcille/Columba is the patron saint of the parish  and the local community celebrate his feast day on the 9th of June each year.  Tradition holds the saint founded a monastery here in the 6th century close to the holy well.  Durrow was an ecclesiastical settlement of great importance  and part of the  early medieval Columban federation of churches.  I will discuss the  history, the archaeological  remains at Durrow and the medieval evidence for pilgrimage in more detail in a later date.  This post will focus  only on this years pilgrimage.

Modern pilgrimage

Each year  the people of Durrow continuing on a centuries old tradition,  commemorate the feast day of  St. Colmcille.  It is also the traditional day that   the children from the parish make  their first communion.

This year the communion mass  was held at 10 am and a second mass in honor of Colmcille was held at 12am.  Following mass the community walk in procession to St. Colmcille’s holy well and  after  all the religious celebrations  a sports day  was held in the afternoon .

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Processional route from Durrow Roman Catholic Church to St Colmcille’s holy well ( map taken google maps)

When I arrived in Durrow  it was about 12.2o and mass was underway.   The church  was decorated in bunting and flags.

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Roman Catholic Church at Durrow.

Following mass  everyone assembled  at the church gates and  fell into line  behind a banner with an image of the saint.  The parish priest and other  clergy from the diocese and two musicians walked in front with the rest of the pilgrims following.

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Pilgrims beginning to assemble outside the church gates for the procession.

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Musicians John Buttivant and Dick  relaxing before the procession. There are normally joined by a piper who was unfortunately not able to attend this year due to illness.

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The procession as it leaves the church and turns soutj down the N52.

The procession heads from the church gates south along the N52 road .  The event  literally stops traffic as the community walk along this busy road.   St Colmcille’s day is very important to the local community and one lady told me that  many people will take the day off work  to attend.

Everyone was in good spirits  as they walked along  oblivious to the lorries and cars behind them, thankfully the an Garda Síochána were  also present to regulate the traffic.

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The procession as it heads down the N52.

After walking for approximately  0.5 km the procession leaves the N52 road and heads  into Durrow Abbey Demesne.

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The procession as it enters the N52.

The next stage of the procession, which is about 0.6km in lenght,  could not be more different from the first section of the walk.  The pilgrims  proceeded down a leafy driveway that leads to the St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland and Durrow Abbey House.

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Pilgrims walking along the road within Durrow Demesne.

The procession continued past  St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland

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St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland at Durrow.

and  along a small  trackway which leads  to a D shaped , tree covered marshy area known as the island.

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Pilgrims walking down the trackway leading to St Colmcille’s holy well.

St Colmcille’s  holy well is located at the center of this area.

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St Colmcille’s holy well at Durrow.

Everyone  congregated around the well and tried to avoid the more marshy areas.  Some boards had been placed towards the entrance to make access easier.  Once everyone had arrived a  number of prayers were recited blessing the well and those present.

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Prayer being said at St Colmcille’s holy well.

Following prayers many people  went to the holy well to take home water in plastic bottles and milk cartons.   A young man  and woman  stood by the well and  filled bottles with water for the pilgrims .

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Pilgrims taking water from St Colmcille’s holy well at Durrow.

Durrow was certainly one of the most stylish pilgrimages I have attended, probably because it coincides with communion day and everyone looked great in their suits and dresses.   This  event has such a great community feel and its really a  great social occasion too.

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Pilgrims chatting at St Colmcille’s holy well.

As I headed back up the trackway towards the church, which houses the 9th century high cross (will discuss in another post),  I could hear singing  and when I went to investigate further   I found a fantastic choir  who were singing within the church.

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The choir singing within the church at Durrow.

I really enjoyed my time at Durrow and it was really lovely to attend such  a vibrant pilgrimage.

References

http://www.tullamoreparish.ie/durrow-mainmenu-177%5B/embed%5D

 

 

Irish pilgrims and the medieval shrine of St Wulstan at Worcester

St Wulfstan of Worcester

The 19th of January is the feast day of St Wulfstan (also known as Wulstan or  Wolstan) an 11th century Anglo-Saxon saint associated with Worcester. This post sets out to explore the saint’s connections with Ireland.

Wulfstan was born in the year 1008 at Long Itchington, Warwickshire.  As a young man he entered the priory of Worcester as a novice, he went on to become the cathedral prior before becoming the Bishop of Worcester in 1062. He had a reputation as a pious man.

He devoted his whole life to the care of his diocese, visiting, preaching, and confirming without intermission, rebuilding his cathedral  in the simple Saxon style, planting new churches everywhere, and retaining the ascetic personal habits which he had acquired in the cloister.  His life, notwithstanding his assiduous labours, was one of continuous prayer and recollection; the Psalms were always on his lips, and he recited the Divine Office aloud with his attendants as he rode through the country in discharge of his episcopal duties (Hunter-Blair, 1912).

Wulfstan was also a vegetarian.  It was said that once while preaching he became distracted by the smell of cooking meat and from that day forth abstained from eating meat.  He was an outspoken opponent of the slave trade between Ireland and Bristol and played a large part in the ending of the practice between the two countries.

Following the Norman Conquest of England, Wulstan submitted to King William I and was permitted to retain his position as bishop. By 1075 he was the only Saxon prelate left in England.  Wulfstan died at the age of 87 in the year 1095 during his daily service of washing the feet of twelve of the poor of Worcester and he was buried at the cathedral.  A rash of miracles were recorded at Wulfstan’s tomb in the year following his death. His  cult seems to have remained local until the early 1200′s.

Shortly  after his death, Wulfstan’s Life  was composed by his former chancellor Colman. The text which was written in English has not survived but it was translated into Latin by the medieval chronicler and historian William of Malmesbury in the late twelfth century,  prior Wulfstan’s canonisation in 1203 .  This text records many miracle by the saint performed during his lifetime and in the years following his death.  Fires at the cathedral and priory in the years 1113, 1147, 1189 and 1202  left Wulfstan’s  tomb  intact and without damage. This was seen by some as further evidence of his sanctity and fanned the flames of his cult.  Wulfstan was canonized in 1203 by Pope Innocent III following a papal commission into the authenticity of his cult and miracles at  his shrine.

By 1218 the earnings from offerings of pilgrims to Worcester was sufficient to have contributed to the rebuilding of the church and a new shrine for the saint (Spencer 1988, 40).  King John (1166-1216) who had a great devotion to Wulfstan was one of the most high status pilgrims to visit Worcester. Such was his devotion to the saint he went on pilgrimage several times and requested to be buried in front of the high altar between St Oswald and St Wulfstan.

So what are St Wulfstan’s connections with Ireland?

The cult of Wulfstan would have arrived in Ireland through the long-established the trade links with Bristol and Dublin  and through settlers from Bristol (Spencer 1988, 38). Bristol was located at the edge of the diocese of Worcester the heartland  of Wulfstan’s cult.

John Comyn archbishop of Dublin, was on the panel religious appointed by the Pope Innocent III  to verify the authenticity of miracles attributed to the saint prior to canonisation (Darlington 1928, 141-3). Given his testament to  Wulfstan’s sanctity perhaps he also had a role in promoting the saints cult in Dublin.

Devotion to the saint is represented by the dedication of the  Abbey of St Wolstan’s  (a variant of Wulfstan), established near Celbridge Co. Kildare by Adam de Hereford, as a monastery in the Order of St Victor circa 1202. This was around the time  Wulfstan was canonised by Pope Innocent III  (Kildare Historical Website).  According to Cane (1918, 55) this abbey was also known as ” Scala Coeli” or ” the Ladder of Heavan” and it grew to become one of the largest monasteries in Ireland with extensive lands in Kildare and Dublin, its buildings covering an estimated 20 acres. It was the first Irish monastery to be dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII.  No physical trace of the monastery remains today but Crane states in the early 1900′s

The remains of the priory buildings consist of two large archaways which I imagine formed the north and south gates of the main enclosure, 200 yards apart, a tall square tower or keep 50 yards further.

We know of two Irish people went on pilgrimage to Worcester.  The first pilgrim was mentioned  in the Vita Wulfstani/Life of Wulfstan. The Vita records a miracle bestowed on an Irish pilgrim to Worcester.

This miracle refers to the healing of an Irishman named Pippard, whose tongue had been cut out by Hugh de Laci, Earl of Ulster from 1205 until his expulsion from Ireland in 1210. The Annals of Worcester record that Pippard built a church in Ireland in honour of St Wulfstan and gave it to the church of Worcester together, with 30 carucates of land (a carucate being the amount of land that could be tilled by a team of eight oxen in a ploughing season) (Roswell 2012; Darlington 1928, 141).

This passage implies Irish pilgrims were visiting St Wulfstan’s shrine in the late 12th/early 13th century prior to and following the canonisation although it is difficult to quantify in what numbers.  To reach the shrine pilgrims would have  travelled by ship to Bristol and  then on  to Worcester.

Evidence of a second Irish pilgrimage  and  devotion to the saint was discovered during excavations of medieval Dublin, when a pilgrim ampulla (tiny flask) from the shrine at Worcester, was found at High Street.  The ampulla  is now on display at the National Museum of Ireland at Kildare street.

Pilgrim ampulla found in excavations at High Street, Dublin in the late 1960s. The object is thought to date c.1225–50. © The National Museum of Ireland, published with permission

Pilgrim ampulla found in excavations at High Street, Dublin in the late 1960s. The object is thought to date c.1225–50. © The National Museum of Ireland (Image http://vidimus.org/issues/issue-58/feature/)

The flask is decorated on two sides, on one side there is an image of St Wulfstan dressed as bishop, the Virgin Mary appears on the other side. Worcester cathedral was dedicated to St Mary and from the 12th century  it  was in possession of a statue of St Mary which attracted great devotion and pilgrims. By the 15th century devotion to this statue suppressed that of Wulfstan and Oswald.

From the 12th century many pilgrim shrines sold specially designed souvenirs such as badges and ampullae, that depicted imagery specific to the shrine to pilgrims.  Ampullae were especially popular in England. The Dublin ampulla which dates to the 13th century was purchased by an Irish pilgrim at Worcester and would have contained holy water obtained at the shrine (Spenser 1988, 40). The Dublin find is very unique as it is the only known pilgrim souvenir from Worcester to have survived.

It’s very likely that these  two pilgrims represent only a fraction of  Irish pilgrims to who travelled Worcester.

References

Darlington, R. 1928.  (ed.), The Vita Wulfstani of William of Malmesbury, London: Royal Historical Society.

Flower, R. 1940. ‘A Metrical Life of St Wulfstan of Worcester’, National Library of Wales Journal, i/3, 119-130.

Hunter-Blair, O. 1912. St. Wolstan. In The Catholic Encyclopaedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 14, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15687a.htm

Kildare Local History. ‘History of Celbridge’, http://kildarelocalhistory.ie/celbridge/history-of-celbridge/churches-monasteries/

Roswell, R. 2012.  ‘Medieval Painted and Stain Glass at Worcester Cathedral Priory, Part II: The Priory Cloisters’ Vidimus Journal  Vol. 58, http://vidimus.org/issues/issue-58/feature/

Spencer, B 1988. ‘Pilgrim Souvenirs’, In Wallace, P (ed.) Miscellanea 1. MedievalDublin Excavations 1962-81(Series B) Vol.2 Fascicules 1-5. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 33-48.

Medieval Pilgrimage to the Relics of the Nativity

Being Christmas week this  post has a Christmas theme and provides a  brief overview of the relics of the nativity venerated by medieval pilgrims.

Nativity by Cypriot folk painter Parthenios  (image(1790(?)-1848(?)(image taken http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2012/12/two-cypriot-icons-of-nativity-of-christ.html)

Nativity scene  by Cypriot folk painter Parthenios (image(1790(?)-1848(?)(image taken http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2012/12/two-cypriot-icons-of-nativity-of-christ.html)

The Holy Land

The Holy Land was the ultimate destination for medieval pilgrims, it was here that Jesus Christ  was born, lived, died and was resurrected.   So you could say, the  pilgrims who came here were spoilt for choice,  having access to wide range of sites associated with the New and Old Testament and the life of Christ.

Bethlehem,  the birthplace of Jesus,  was a must see for medieval pilgrims and many would have timed there visit to coincide with Christmas.

Pilgrims coming to Bethelehm at Christmas time (circa 1875) by photographer Félix Bonfils (Library of Congress)

Pilgrims coming to Bethlehem at Christmas time (circa 1875) by photographer Félix Bonfils (Library of Congress)

 

Within the town of Bethlehem, the traditional site of the  birth of Christ was marked by the Church of the Nativity.

Interior of the Church of the Nativity 1930's  (Library of Congress)

Interior of the Church of the Nativity 1930′s (Library of Congress)

The church was built over a cave that was believed to be the manger where Christ was born.

Grotto of the Nativity under the Church of the Nativity takenca. 1890 and ca. 1900 (Library of Congress)

Grotto of the Nativity in  the cave  under the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. Image  taken ca. 1890 and ca. 1900 (Library of Congress)

Pilgrims were flocking to Bethlehem from the 2nd century AD.  The  Church of the Nativity was commissioned in 327 AD by the Emperor Constantine and his mother St Helena.  This first church was not completed  until 339 AD and  it was later destroyed during the Samaritan  revolts in the 6th century.  The current church was built on top of the aforementioned  one in 565 AD by the Emperor Justinian.  This link will take you to a  3D virtual tour to the current   Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

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View of Church of the Nativity in 1833 by Maxium Vorobiev (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nativity_vorobiev.jpg)

 Today the church is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Since early medieval times the Church has been increasingly incorporated into a complex of other ecclesiastical buildings, mainly monastic. As a result, today it is embedded in an extraordinary architectural ensemble, overseen by members of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Church, under the provisions of the Status Quo of the Holy Places established by the Treaty of Berlin (1878). (UNESCO Website)

In modern times Christmas services for Roman Catholics and Protestants are celebrated on Christmas eve and Christmas day, the 25th of December. The orthodox Churches ( Coptic, Greek, etc) celebrate on the 6th of January and the Armenian Orthodox on the 19th of January.

One of the early pilgrims to Bethlehem was St Jerome who visited here while on a pilgrimage around the Holy Land,  before taking up permanent residence  in 386 AD. While living in Bethlehem he  set up a monastery and pilgrim hostel to help provide hospitality to the pilgrims who were visiting here.

The main street leading from the Church of Nativity, Bethlehem. It was created in 1880 (http://www.old-picture.com/american-adventure/Bethlehem-Street.htm)

The main street leading from the Church of Nativity, Bethlehem circa  1880 (http://www.old-picture.com/american-adventure/Bethlehem-Street.htm)

Bethlehem was a  small quiet place and was described  circa 1231 AD as having only one street.  This must  have provided pilgrims with a nice change from the hustle and bustle of  Jerusalem. The pilgrims who travelled here often  came on donkeys  as did the English pilgrim Margery Kempe in 1413 AD ( Chareyron 2005, 102). In the late medieval period pilgrims entered the church in a processional order signing hymns and carrying a lighted candle (ibid).  The pilgrim Jean Thenaud arrived here bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and was greeted outside the shrine by candle-sellers . He describes his visit as follows

Pilgrims entered “a small room with a vault of fine marble and mosaic”. There beneath the rock, was the place where the Lord was laid, the crib for the ox and the ass, and the rock itself the place for the nails that held the rings for tethering the animals and the hole through which the star that guided the Magi was said to have  disappeared and the place where they worshipped Him (Chareyron 2005, 103).

Irish evidence for pilgrimage to Bethlehem

Time does not allow for a full discussion of Irish pilgrimage to the Holy Land  and I do intend to come back to the topic  in another post.  So very briefly it is hard to gage how many Irish  pilgrims  visited the  Holy Land. The Irish annals record 6 pilgrimages  to Jerusalem between the years 1060 to 1231 AD and the Chartularies of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin record the pilgrimage of  Richard and Helen de Trum (Trim in Co Meath) in the year 1230 AD.   The most detailed account of an Irish pilgrimage  to the Holy Land is that of the  Irish Friar Symon Semeonis who set forth from Clonmel in 1323 AD with his companion Hugh the Illuminator and who on his return he complied  an account of his travels. These records represent only a fraction  of Irish pilgrimages to the Holy Land and tell us little about how the Irish pilgrims experienced the Holy Land.

Nativity Relics in Europe

Pilgrims did not have to  travel  as far as the Holy Land  to venerate the birth of Christ,  as relics of the nativity, ranging from hay from the manger to the shift the Blessed Virgin gave birth in,  were to be found at shrines across European. The following   is a snapshot of some of these relics.

The Relics of the Magi at Cologne

The cathedral church of Cologne in  Germany held the  relics of the Three Magi  and was a major centre of pilgrimage in the late medieval period. Located on a number of important trade route including the River Rhine the city attracted vast numbers of pilgrims each year.

The reliquary of the Three Magi at Cologne Cathedral (image taken http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cologne_Cathedral_Shrine_of_Magi.jpg)

The reliquary of the Three Magi at Cologne Cathedral (image taken http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cologne_Cathedral_Shrine_of_Magi.jpg)

According to the Gospel of Mathew the ‘Magi’ were three Kings from the east who journeyed to Bethlehem following as star to pay homage to the ‘one who has been born king of the Jews’. The Magi were also the first Christian pilgrims.

So how did the  Three Magi end up in Germany? According to legend the corporeal relics of the Magi were discovered by St Helena (mentioned above), the relics were translated to the church of Saint Sophia at Constantinople and at a later date were brought to Milan. In 1160 AD following the sack of Milan, Frederick Barbarossa brought the relics  from the Basilica de Sant’ Eustorigo to Cologne.  Later an elaborate reliquary of gold silver and enamels and precious stone was  constructed to hold the holy relics. The reliquary was commissioned by Philip von Heinarch Archbishop of Cologne (1167-1191)  and made by Nicholas of Verdun.   Pope Innocent IV granted a plenary indulgence to Cologne in 1394 AD which was an additional attraction for pilgrims to visit here.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales  tells that the wife of Bath  had travelled  thrice to Jerusalem and once to Cologne implying the shrine was well-known to English  pilgrims.

Irish devotion to the Thee Magi  is represented in Irish medieval sculpture for example the  east face of Muiredach’s High Cross at Monisterboise,  has a depiction of the Adoration of the Magi.

The Adoration of the Magi on the east face of Muiredach's High Cross (image taken http://ireland.wlu.edu/cross/Muiredach/east/5.htm)

The Adoration of the Magi on the east face of Muiredach’s High Cross (image taken http://ireland.wlu.edu/cross/Muiredach/east/5.htm)

The Adoration of the  Magi is also represented  on the gable  of Ardmore Cathedral church.  Also one of the alters at the Franciscan Friary in Waterford city was dedicated to the Three Magi.

Three Magi at Ardmore Cathedral

Three Magi at Ardmore Cathedral

The fifteenth century tomb  at Strade abbey in  Co Mayo depicts the Three Magi, St Thomas á Beckett, SS Peter and Paul and the figure of pilgrim  kneeling. It is very likely that the iconography of the tomb  indicates the deceased had been on pilgrimage to Cologne, Canterbury and Rome.

Tomb depicting the three magi at Strade

Tomb depicting the three magi at Strade Abbey (image taken  http://hdl.handle.net/2262/39072)

Relics of the Nativity at Aachen

Approximately 61km from Cologne is the shrine of Aachen, another very popular European pilgrim shrine.  Aachen  had a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary along with a number of relics of the nativity. The relics included the nightgown worn by the Blessed Virgin, the swaddling clothes of the Christ Child, the loin cloth of Christ and  a cloth that the decapitated head of St John the Baptist was laid on.  It was also the burial-place of the Emperor Charlemagne who was canonised in 1165 AD and the cathedral also possessed the relics of St Ursula.

 Marienschrein (1238)/The shrine of Mary, contains the relics , shift of lessed Virgin, the swaddling-clothes of the Infant Jesus, the loin-cloth worn by Christ on the Cross, and the cloth on which lay the head (image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aachen_cathedral_007.JPG)

Marienschrein (1238)/The shrine of Mary, contains the relics , shift of the Blessed Virgin, the swaddling-clothes of the Infant Jesus, the loin-cloth worn by Christ on the Cross, and the cloth on which lay the head (image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aachen_cathedral_007.JPG)

Many high status pilgrims travelled here and the Queen of Hungary came to Aachen in 1337 AD, with an escort of 700 knights.

Aachen  became an immensely popular pilgrim site and attracted so many pilgrims  it became tradition  to display the relic  every seven years for 15 days,  between the 10-24th of July, on  the Aachener Heiligtumsfahrt.  This is a tradition which continues to  present time. The first  “Heiligtumsfahrt” (pilgrimage) took place in 1349 and 2014 will be the date for the next. To give you some idea of the shrines popularity, in 1496 AD the gatekeepers counted  147000 pilgrims  entering Aachen during the 15 days the relics were on display. It was said the pilgrims left 85000 gulden at the shrine (Chunko 2009, 1-2). The shrine also offered a plenary indulgence to pilgrims.

The well known  English pilgrim Margery Kempe made pilgrimage to here in 1433 AD  when she travelled  on pilgrimage from Danzig to Wilsnack and on to  Aachen,  where she saw the ‘virgin’s smock’.

Late 15th century pilgrim badge from Aachen at Museumof London (http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-37968&start=120&rows=1)

Late 15th century pilgrim badge from Aachen at Museum of London (http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-37968&start=120&rows=1)

The shrine also sold pilgrim badges  depicting the relic of the Virgins nightgown/shift. These badge began to be made from the 1320s  and some of these badges have turned up in archaeological excavations in London.

Chartres in France

The cathedral church at Chartres in France possessed the Sancta Camisa the shift worn by the Blessed Virgin when she gave birth to the Christ child. The relic was given to the church in 876 AD by Charles the Bald, who had brought it here from Constantinople.  It was enclosed in a reliquary shrine called the Sainte-Chasse and many miracles are associated with this relic.  Most pilgrims came here for the Marian feast of the Presentation, Annunciation and Assumption and the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin.  As at Aachen pilgrim badges depicting the holy garment were sold to pilgrims in  the later medieval period.

The relic of the Virgins nightgown at Chatres Cathredral (image takenhttp://sites.tufts.edu/textilerelics/2011/02/08/marian-relics/)

The relic of the Virgins nightgown at Chartres cathedral (image takenhttp://sites.tufts.edu/textilerelics/2011/02/08/marian-relics/)

Other Relics of the Christ Child

From the 11th and 12th century  devotion to the Christ Child increased in Europe with SS Bernard of  Clairvaux and Francis of Assisi  actively promoting devotion to the Christ Child, and  relics of the umbilical cord, foreskin, fingernails and milk teeth of Christ were  to be found across Europe.

Rome with its vast collections of relics also had relics of the Nativity. The church of St Maria Maggiore possessed part of the crib in the form of boards from the manager. The board  are believed to have supported the crib used by Christ and  were brought here by Pope Theodore (640-649)  from the Holy Land.

Relic of the Holy Manger (Image taken www.stuardtclarkesrome.com)

Relic of the Holy Manger (Image taken http://www.stuardtclarkesrome.com)

Another Nativity relic was found at the Archbascilica of St John Lateran where a section of the ‘Holy Umbilical Cord’ of Christ was kept. The last milk tooth of the Christ Child was housed at  the abbey of Saint Médard at Soisson  in France. Finally up to 8- 14 churches claimed to possess the Holy Prepuce/ Foreskin of Christ .  These churches include Antwerp, Coulombs, Chartres, Charroux, Metz, Conques, Langres, Anvers, Fécamp, Puy-en-Velay, Auvergne, Hildesheim, Santiago de Compostela and Calcata.

Closer to home  Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin  had in its  relic collection  a fragment of the crib while  Reading Abbey in England had another  a relic of the umbilical cord and Our Lady’s Shrine at  Walsingham, also in England attracted pilgrims to visit relics of Mary’s milk.

Conclusions

The birth of Christ  was one of the most important feasts in the Christian calendar and each year it was celebrated  by  Christians with special liturgy and nativity plays.  There was great devotion to the Christ Child and the Blessed Virgin in the Medieval world.   Christmas time would have  inspired  some to take their devotion further by embarking on a pilgrimage to either the Holy Land or one of the many relics of the nativity which were scattered across Europe.  As most people preferred not to travel in Wintertime most would have stayed at home for Christmas and planned their pilgrimages for Spring or Winter.

References

Bugslag, J. 2009. ‘Chartreuse de Champol’ In Encyclopaedia of Medieval Pilgrimage. Boston: Brill, 96-99.

Chareyron, N.  2005. Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages.. Translated by W. Donald Wilson. New York: Columbia University Press.

Chunko, B. 2009. ‘Aachen’, Encyclopaedia of Medieval Pilgrimage. Boston: Brill, 1-2.

Donovan, S. 1908. Crib. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 22, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04488c.htm

Lins, J. 1907. Aachen. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 20, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01001a.htm

Lutz, G. 2009. ‘Cologne Cathedral’  In Encyclopaedia of Medieval Pilgrimage. Boston: Brill, 114-115

MacLehose, W. 2009. Relics of the Christ Child’ In Encyclopaedia of Medieval Pilgrimage. Boston: Brill, 601-603.

Mulcahy, E. 2012. ‘Symon Semonis The Franciscan Pilgrim.’ http://edelmulcahy.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/symon-semeonis-franciscan-pilgrim/

Aachen Cathedral . http://www.live-like-a-german.com/germany_related_articles/show/Aachen-Cathedral

Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1433

Marian Relics 20011. http://sites.tufts.edu/textilerelics/2011/02/08/marian-relics/

http://www.medievalists.net/2013/12/09/the-holy-foreskin/

http://www.mariedenazareth.com/8137.0.html?&L=1

http://www.animatedmaps.div.ed.ac.uk/Divinity2/pilgrimages.html

he Aachen Cathedral is a major pilgrimage church and the burial place of Charlemagne and Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. The shrine to St. Mary holds the four great Aachen relics: St. Mary’s cloak, Christ’s swaddling clothes, St. John the Baptist’s beheading cloth and Christ’s loincloth. Following a custom begun in 1349, every seven years the relics are taken out of the shrine and put on display during the Great Aachen Pilgrimage. This pilgrimage most recently took place during June 2007. – See more at: http://www.live-like-a-german.com/germany_related_articles/show/Aachen-Cathedral#sthash.PcI6PX27.dpuf
he Aachen Cathedral is a major pilgrimage church and the burial place of Charlemagne and Holy Roman Emperor Otto III. The shrine to St. Mary holds the four great Aachen relics: St. Mary’s cloak, Christ’s swaddling clothes, St. John the Baptist’s beheading cloth and Christ’s loincloth. Following a custom begun in 1349, every seven years the relics are taken out of the shrine and put on display during the Great Aachen Pilgrimage. This pilgrimage most recently took place during June 2007. – See more at: http://www.live-like-a-german.com/germany_related_articles/show/Aachen-Cathedral#sthash.PcI6PX27.dpuf

Molana Abbey, Co Waterford

Molana abbey has been on my list  of  places to  visit for a such a long time and I finally got my chance this week and boy was it worth the wait!!

The abbey is  located  on an island in the Blackwater estuary on the  Ballynatray estate just outside of Youghal. On private property the site is open to the public during the summer months on  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays.

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View of Molana Abbey, hidden among the trees

History of the Molana

Molana was  founded in the 6th century by a little known Irish saint  called  Maol Anfide, a contemporary of St Mochuada of Lismore. The saint  built a monastic settlement here on a small island  called Dairninis  or the ‘island of  the oak’ . No architectural evidence remains of this early settlement and today the ruins on the island date to the late 12th and  13th century.

In 1806 Dairninis  Island was joined to the mainland by a causeway and bridge  by Grice Smyth the then owner of the Ballynatray estate.  I was delighted to see oak trees still growing on  the island and along the causeway continuing the tradition of the place-name origins for the site.

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Causeway leading to Molana Abbey

Turtle Bunbury’s excellent blog post Molana Abbey from the Stone Age to Dissolution tells of the sites early history

By the early 8th century, Molana was a major stronghold of the Céili Dé (Servants of God), a monastic order determined to reform the church. Its abbots subsequently played a key role in the subsequent introduction of Continental ideas to Ireland. Indeed, as Dr Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel noted in her thesis on the island, the Abbey’s greatest hour came in about AD 720 when its Abbot, Ruben Mac Connadh of Dairinis, working with Cu-Chuimne from the island monastery of Iona, produced the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis. This was a profoundly valuable and important book for the church, written in Latin, effectively dictating the first rules of Canon Law. Its very title reflects its origin as a compilation of over two hundred years worth of canon law and synodal decrees. The text itself drew heavily upon previous ecclesiastical regulations and histories, all dating from the centuries prior to 725. It also included papal epistles, acts of synods, eccleiastical histories, a definition by Virgilius Maro Grammaticus, a compusticial tract by Pseudo-Theophilus, spurious ‘Acts’ of the council of Caesarea, the so-called dicta of Saint Patrick and several quotes from all but one of the works of Isidore of Seville.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that Molana Abbey may have been home to the first library in the south of Ireland. Unfortunately, none of these original manuscripts have survived but copies can be found in archives all over the Continent. Collectio Canonum Hibernensis was circulated throughout Western Europe for the next four hundred years

Despite this fascinating early history no physical remains of what was once an important and influential monastery are to be found.

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The ruins of Molana Abbey on Dairinis Island

By the 12th century Molana abbey was re-established as an Augustinian Priory  by Raymond le Gros FitzGerald, who tradition holds was buried here. References to the later history of Molana are sketchy. Interestingly in 1450 Molana was at the centre of a scandal.  Pope Nicholas V compiled a mandate for the investigation of claims that the Prior of Molana John McInery, was guilty of simony, prejury and immorality.

The abbey was granted an indulgence in 1462, by the then Pope Pius II , to all those who came here to pray and to give money to the maintenance of the abbey. Such an indulgence would have made the abbey a focus of pilgrimage for at least the duration of the offering of the indulgence.

The names of some of the later priors of Molana are also mentioned in historical sources.The abbey was suppressed in 1541 and fell into the hands of Sir Water Raleigh. By the 19th century the abbey was in possession of the Smyth family and was a focal point on their estate, with their stunning Georgian mansion looking across at the ruins.

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View of Ballynatray House from Molana Abbey

The Architectural Remains

Today the sites consists of a number of ruined buildings  that date to the late 12th /13th century. The buildings included a  church, monastic buildings and a cloister all  built of a red sandstone, which gives the site a lovely warm feeling . There are a number of cracks in the walls so some of these building do not appear to very stable.

The church is  large (17m x 7.6m)  with an undivided nave and chancel . The nave is the oldest part of the building and appears to incorporated part of an  earlier church. The chancel  was a later addition and dates to the 13th century. It has eleven large lanclet windows (tall, narrow windows with a pointed arch at its top) which must have looked quiet magnificent when the church was in use.

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Undivided church at Molana

The east wall of the church is in a poor state of repair but traces of a decorated  moulded window embrasure still remain.

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Decorated moulding of window in the east wall of church

Attached to the north wall of the chancel are the remains of  a two-story building which was probably used as the abbot’s or prior’s accommodation. It has a fine  pointed doorway of dressed sandstone and a spiral stairs.

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Building on the north side of chancel of church

At the centre of the ruins is a small cloister (19.65m N-S; c. 14.75m E-W). There is no evidence of an arcade but corbels in the outer walls of the surrounding  buildings suggest a roofed walkway.  Today the cloister is dominated by a  19th century statue which depicts the founding saint.

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Cloister of the Abbey

The statue was placed here in 1820 by Mrs Mary Broderick Smyth, the wife of Grice Smyth. A  plaque  on the statue plinth has the following inscription

This statue is erected to the memory of Saint Molanfidhe who founded this abbey for Canon Regular A.D. 501. He was the first Abbot and is here represented as habited according to the Order of Saint Augustine. This Cenotaph and Statue are erected by Mrs. Mary Broderick Smyth A.D. 1820

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Statue of St Mael Anfeid

The saint is dressed in a cloak and robe  with a very pretty floral pattern on the hem.

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Floral pattern on the hem of the statue

The building on the SW side of the cloister has traces of plaster and some  orange paint which may indicate traces of a wall painting. According to the Archaeological Inventory for Co Waterford  in 1908 traces of a wall painting were noted in the refectorum.

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Traces of possible wall painting in the building at the SE side of the cloister

In the same room, a plaque is set into a window embrasure on the south wall. This plaque was also placed here by Mrs Smyth,  and has the  following inscription

Here lies the remains of Raymond le Gros, who died Anno Domini 1186

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Plaque dedicated to Raymond Le Gros set into a window embrasure

The fascinating  history, architectural remains combined with  the stunning setting all  make Molana a truly amazing, spiritual and peaceful place.

References

Bunbury, T.  Molana Abbey from Stone Age to Dissolution

Moore, M. 1999. Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford. Dublin: Stationery Office.

Power, Rev. P. 1898. ‘Ancient ruined churches of Co. Waterford’, WAJ 4, 83-95, 195-219.

Power, Rev. P. 1932. ‘The abbey of Molana, Co. Waterford’. JRSAI 62, 142-52.