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.

Coole Abbey Co Cork

Coole Abbey  is a really interesting site, located about 4-5 miles outside of the scenic town of Castlelyons in Co Cork.  The site of an early medieval  monastery,  founded  by St Abban in the 6th century,  today  all that remains of  the early monastery  are two churches and a holy well. Of the surviving churches the  smaller of the two  sits in a field beside the road from Conna to Castlelyons. The  larger church is located c. 200m to the northeast  in an  historic graveyard.

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Location map of the churches and Holy well at Coole (taken from Bing Maps)

Placename Evidence

Cúil  is the Irish for Coole and it translates as corner or nook.  Early medieval documents  refer to the abbey as Cúil  Chollaigne.

The Saints Associated with Coole

Coole is associated with two saints  Abban (Abán)  and Dalbach.

St  Abban  was born into the Uí Chormaic (Dál gCormaic ) dynasty in Leinster. He is associated with the churches of Mag Arnaide (‘Moyarney’/Adamstown, near New Ross, Co. Wexford) and Cell Abbáin (Killabban, Co. Laois) . In Munster  he established a monastery at  Ballyvourney, Co Cork  which he later surrendered to St Gobnait. He is also associated with Killagh Abbey near Milltown Co Kerry and Kilcrumper near Fermoy and  he founded  the church at Coole  (Cúil Chollaigne). Abban has two feast days the 16th of March and the 27th October (O’Riain 2012, 51-52; 254).

The second saint  association with Coole is St Dalbach. Dalbach  and the church at Coole were associated with the anchorite movement known as the ‘Céili Dé’ (clients of God)  who flourished in Ireland  between 750-850. The saints pedigree links him to a Cork based tribe known as the Uí Liatháin. The saints obit was entered in the annals for the year 800 and his feast was assigned to the 23rd October ( O’ Riain 2012 ,254).

There are few  early medieval historical references to the site. One that is of interest is found in Mac Carthaigh’s Book a collection of annals that date from 1114 to 1437.  The annals for the year  1152  states the churches of

 Cork, Imleach Iubhair (Emly), Lismore, and Cúil Chollainge (Coole) were burned in the same year.

The Annals of the Four Masters also record that in 1151

Gillagott Ua Carrain, lord of Ui-Maccaille, was killed at Cuil-Colluinge, by the Ui-Mictire

Architectural remains

The Cork Archaeological Survey mentions the  presence of a  low curving earthen bank   that can be picked out  c. 70m north of the smaller church. The bank  curves northwest – eastnorthwest  in the field and it may  represent evidence of an early  ecclesiastical enclosure.

The two surviving churches date to the  12th & 13th centuries. The smaller  church is  built of sandstone and most of the fabric dates to the 12th century. It  is rectangular in shape, with  only the east gable surviving to any great height.

Smaller church beside the road

Smaller church beside the road

A modern style has been inserted into the west gable.  The church has some pre-Romanesque feature such as antae which  project from the  east ends of the north and south wall. It is thought antae which are corner projections  found on some early stone churches  were attempts to imitate  wooden churches  which  had stout corner posts jutting out beyond the gable-wall. Another early feature is  a gable headed (triangular headed) east window with exterior rebate  which is found in the east gable.

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East gable of church showing gable headed window and antae

Archaeologist Tomás Ó Carragáin (2010, 102-103)  suggests the gable headed window  dates to the  11th century.  Within the church there is a stone altar which sits in front of east window.  It is likely it was  restored at some point in the past by the office of public works (ibid., 336). There is  also a local traditionally that  mass was said here in penal times .

Altar in front of the wast window

Altar in front of the east window

The second church is larger in size and  it functioned as the parish church in late medieval times. Today it  is situated within a historic  graveyard  filled with 18th and 19th century gravestones.

Larger church at Coole

Larger church at Coole

The  church consist of a nave and chancel.  The nave appears to be Romanesque  c. 12th century  in date  and the west wall has traces of a roll-moulded jambs in the lower course of the door. The nave  is a later addition and dates to the 13th century.  The east gable of the nave has a piece of Romanesque sculpture in the form of  a finely carved  rosette.  Similar rosettes stone in England date 12thc century. This stone was  probably re-used from an earlier church here.   A similar type stone is found c. 20 miles away  at another small monastic site at  Kilmolash in Co Waterford.

Rosette  carving in the -- gable

Rosette carving  east gable

A large  well carved pointed arch,  which appears to be  a later insertion, joins the nave and chancel.

Arch between  chancel and nave

Arch between chancel and nave

The  chancel  is later then the nave and was  added in the late medieval period  (Ó Carragáin 2010,  307).

Door into ----

Pointed doorway in the south wall of the  church

Records dating to 1615 state the church’s nave  was ruinous but  the chancel was in repair. The building ( chancel) was in use until the 18th century  when it was finally abandoned.

Relics of Coole

The Pipe Rolls  of Cloyne  mention a relic  called the Coole missal  upon whose page margins  important memoranda of the lands and rights of the church were recorded (Power  1919, 47)

Waters (1927, 53) writing in 1927  mentions that a relic of Saint Patrick’s tooth was kept here but he does not say where he came across this information and I cant find any reference to this relic in the   Lives of Abbán  etc or in antiquarian books relating to Cork. If there was a relic of  St Patrick’s tooth here it is likely to have come here in the  later medieval, as Patrician links in Munster  for the early medieval period are minimal or its equally possible it is folklore that developed around the site in the post medieval period. These are just some initial thoughts and I will delve into this  more deeply in the coming weeks and keep you posted on what I find out.

Holy well

Below the church is  a lovely holy well. There is little information about the well  but it is  still in use as a number of statues and votive offerings sit on top of the small corbelled well house that covers the well.

The well is marked simply as  holy  well  on the 1st edition OS  maps and Power in 1919 who is usually most detailed in his recording of sites also refers to the site as simply the holy well (Power  1917, 51) and  that  it was ‘still venerated’

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The information plaque at the sites  connects the well to St Devlet  and suggests this is an Anglicisation of St Dalbach. The plaque gives the following  folk tale of the origin  for the well.

Long ago the blessed well at Coole was just a spring. A female inhabitant of Coole Abbey House was reputed to have  seen a monk praying at this spring and she ordered an oratory to be built over it.

It also states that the waters here hold a cure for sore eyes and warts but one has to visit the well and ‘pray at  each of the seven kneeling  stones exposed around the outside  of the well chamber’.

Id love to hear from anyone who knows more about the well and the traditions associated with it. If anyone does have any information you can email me at pilgirmagemedievalireland@gmail.com.

References

Thanks to Terry O’Hagan the author of the blog Vox Hibernionacum  for discussing the cult of St Patrick in Munster, but any omissions or misunderstandings are my own.

http://www.askaboutireland.ie/learning-zone/secondary-students/art/irish-churches-monastic-b/early-monastic-churches/

http://www.castlelyonsparish.com/history/historical-areas/coole-abbey/

Ó Carragáin, T. 2010. Churches in Early Medieval: Architectural, Ritual and Memory. Yale Press.

O’Keeffe, T.  2003. Architecture and Ideology in the Twelfth Century Romanesque Ireland Dublin: Four Courts press.

 O’Keeffe, T 1994 “Lismore and Cashel: Reflections on the Beginnings of Romanesque Architecture in Munster “JRSAI 124, 1 18-52.

Ó Riain, P. 2011. A Dictionary of Irish Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Power, Rev. P 1919. ‘The Churches of Coole County Cork’ JRSAI Vol.1 , 47-54.

Pilgrimage to St John’s well at Mushera Mountain Co Cork.

On Monday evening last on mid summers day  I headed to the annual  pilgrimage at St John’s holy well on the slopes of Mushera Mountain.  So after work armed with directions from my friend Cork based archaeologist Flor Hurley, I headed off to find the well and got very lost …. Nothing to do with Flor’s directions and a bit to do with my bad sense of direction  but I  did find my way eventually. My short unplanned diversions helped me to appreciate  that this is truly a beautiful part of the country. I noticed a lot of signposts for wedge tombs, stone circles and standing stones in my travels  so I will have to take a trip back to do some exploring.

The well

The holy well sits at the edge of a forestry plantation close to the road through the mountains.

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St John’s well and surrounding landscape

The well is a natural spring that is cover by a large grotto.   Within  is a statue niche with a large statue of St John. There were lovely bunches of wild flowers and  some cups left beside the statue. The well is accessed through a rectangular opening below the statue and I noticed that some coins had been thrown in. There was also a box for petitions or notes what would be written by pilgrims to ask the Saint to intercede on their behalf.

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Statue of St John and recess for access to Holy Well

A circular area has been tarred in front of the grotto/well and  twelve stations of the cross are found along the edge of this area. This circular area is linked to a lower car park and the main road via a small tarred roadway.

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Station of the cross along the edge of the car park in front of the well

The modern grotto was erected in the 1950′s and the car park and stations of the cross are also a recent creation. There are a number of benches which have been donated by families in memory of loved ones which make for a peaceful place to sit.

The site looked very different  in the past as this photo from the 1920s shows  it consisted of a small corbelled structure set in heath land.

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St John’s well in 1920

Traditional Stations at the Well

Those partaking in the traditional pilgrim rituals at the well  are said to be “paying of the rounds” this is an expression I haven’t heard before as  at other well sites the pilgrim is described as “doing the rounds”.  The rounds consist of  Seven Our Fathers and Seven Hail Mary’s and Seven Gloria said while kneeling in front of the well. Then one decade of the rosary is said three times as the pilgrim circles the well. The prayers conclude with the Rosary being said in front of the well.  I noticed two flat portable stones with crosses incised by pilgrims on the step in front of the grotto. The incising of the crosses appear to be part of the modern pilgrim traditions here.

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Stone incised with crosses made by pilgrims

This well is one of   three holy wells located on Mushera mountain. All three  are called St Johns’s Well and all dedicated to the same saint. One is in the adjoining  parish of  Aghina  on top of the mountain and the   second is located on the old Butter road   in Banteer parish.  The well discussed here is  found is  in the parish of Millstreet.  Devotion to the other wells has waned over the years and now  the well in the parish of Millstreet is the main focus for devotion in the area. Time didn’t allow for me to visit the other wells but I do plan to head back before the end of the summer.

Like many other Irish wells the waters here are believed to have a cure . The wells waters are reputed to cure warts and one lady I spoke with at the pilgrimage mass told me her son had been cured of warts after coming to the well.

Folklore of the Saint

Tradition holds that  the saint came to the  Muskerry hills with  his three sisters.   His  three sisters  were saint’s  Lasair,  Ingean Bhuide and Latiaran who I discussed  earlier in the year on Facebook page. The feast days of the sisters   were honoured at quarterly periods and may be associated with pre Christian religion. The connection with the well here with mid summer may also suggest that St John like his sisters evolved from pre Christian deity at the well when an earlier cult at the well was Christianised.

Past Pilgrimage & the Pattern Day Tradition

Like many  holy wells this was the focus  of a pattern day festival

The Millstreet.ie blog  gives the following  discussion of the pattern day

June 24th is the feast day of St John and down through the ages it has been a big occasion on the mountainside.  Up to about 1940, St John’s Day had a pattern as will.  The pattern consisted of tents set up abut a mile and a half from the well on the Macroom side, in the townland of Moulnahourna.  There were sweet and cake stalls, lemonade, cigarettes and porter tents, and of course the indefatigable three-card-trick men.  Occasions for celebration at that time were few and far between, Christmas, St John’s Day and March fair which lasted three days in Millstreet.  Due to this and the presence of the porter, these occasions rarely ended without a fight, these may have been faction fights.Two sisters from Millstreet, Han and Judy Murphy sat on either side of the Well “selling the water”.  One of them would fill a saucepan with water from the Well and received payment for it.  Pilgrims wisited the Well in the morning.  It was normal practice from Ballinagree and Rylane areas to visit the Well on top of the mountain in their own parish.  Most other pilgrims visited the Well  on the Millstreet side as is the case today.  After doing the “round” they continued on to the pattern to enjoy the remainder of the day.  An old character from Ballinagree, Bill O’Dea always turned up to entertain the crowd with his songs.  Another man from Bawnmore, nicknamed   St Joseph because of his long white beard also sang to the crowds.  His real name was Lucey.  Over the years the crowds got smaller at the pattern until eventually it was no longer held.  The dancehalls took over at that time, but local people still come to pay their “rounds” as usual.

Modern Pilgrimage at St John’s Well

This years  pilgrimage consist of mass which began at 8pm at the well on the 24th of June.  Many people visited the well before and after mass and took water home in bottles.  Despite it being June it was really cold probably due to the altitude of the site.

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Pilgrims assemble for mass at St John’s Well

Many of the older people parked in the area in front of the well and some stayed in their cars throughout. The rest of the people gathered around the edge of the  circular carpark.

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The Priest saying mass

Three priests  officiated at the mass Canon Jackie Corkery, Fr Frances Manning and Fr James McSweeney. The Millstreet Pipe band and the choir provided music throughout.

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The Millstreet Pipe Band at St John’s well

This is a real community  event and people from all the surrounding areas assemble here each year. I look forward to returning to find the other Holy Wells and seeing what I can find out about the history of the site.

References

http://www.millstreet.ie/blog/history/st-johns-well

The ‘Deer Stone’ a 19th century pilgrim station at Glendalough

Today is the feast of St Kevin of Glendalough. In recent months I have been doing some work on the 18th and 19th century Patron ( pronounced Pattern) Day celebration at Glendalough. Given the day that is in it, I will briefly talk about one of the post medieval stations visited by pilgrims to Glendalough called the ‘Deer Stone’.

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The Deer Stone at Glendalough

Location
The ‘Deer Stone’ is located beside the main ecclesiastical settlement at Glendalough. It sits on the south side of the Glenealo River, directly opposite ruins of St Ciarán’s church,
beside the green road leading to the upper lake.

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Ordnance Survey 25 ” map showing location of the Deer stone

What is the The Deer Stone ?
The Deer stone is a bullaun stone. It is one of a large cluster found around the main monastic settlement and the lower reaches of St Kevin’s road. I have explained what bullaun stones are in earlier post but just to recap. Bullaun stones are artificial basins or hollow/depressions in rocks, boulders and stones. They are thought to date to the early medieval period. The majority are found at early medieval ecclesiastical sites but some are found in isolation.

There is a lot of debate as to their original use and function. Some argue that they are medieval pilgrimage stations/monument pestles of ritual or devotional use for  turning stones within the hollows. Others think they has a more practical use such as for grinding metal ores or herbs.It is interesting that an archaeological excavation carried out in 1979 prior to the construction of a car park for the visitor centre revealed large amounts of slag. Slag is a waste product of metal processing and its presence implies an iron working industry at Glendalough.

Whatever their original use many of these stones over time developed associations with the saints and were part of the post medieval pilgrim rituals.

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The basin of the Deer Stone at Glendalough

The Deer Stone is a large granite boulder ( .77m by .86m by .30m) with a single conical depression or basin. It is not mentioned in medieval sources but it was a point of devotional object for post medieval pilgrims.

Where did the stone get its name?

The stone derives its name from a legend associated with St Kevin. The legend hold that the wife of one of the saint’s workmen died giving birth to twins. The workman came to the saint to ask for help. St Kevin  set about solving the problem and having prayed to God for help  a doe came to a certain spot and everyday shed milk into a hollow in a stone while the workman sat on a nearby boulder. Legend has it that the man’s finger prints caused the hollow in the boulder  which was hence forth known as the ‘Deer Stone’.

The origin legend of the stone appears to be an adaptation of a story mentioned in the Saint’s Life. St Kevin fostered  a  boy child called Foelán. Fostering began when the boy was still a baby. To feed the baby a  doe came down from the mountain each day and waited until she had been milked by one of the monks. The child thrived  and ultimately inherited his father’s estate.

Evidence for Pilgrimage

Glendalough was a place of pilgrimage from the time of St Kevin’s death and pilgrimage is recorded sporadically throughout the early and  late medieval period, it is generally expected that Glendalough was a centre of regional if not national pilgrimage during this period. Following the reformation  pilgrimage continued within the valley and the main burst of pilgrimage activity were focused on the saint’s feast day the 3rd of June. Like the patron day celebration elsewhere in Ireland St Kevin’s day at Glendalough was a mix of pious devotion and boisterous merriment hat involved eating and drinking, dancing and something fighting.  The day also attracted tourist who came to observe the patron day celebrations. In 1813 Joseph Peacock painted  the patron day at Glendalough and it shows the secular side of the celebration.

The patron day celebration  was suppressed by Cardinal Cullen in 1862 as part of a movement by high-ranking Catholic clergy to wipe out the celebration. They believed that the secular elements brought the religion into disrepute and that the religious devotions  rounding, walking in bare feet or crawling in bare knees were backward and superstitious.

Accounts of the pilgrimage from the 19th century suggest that the devotional landscape of the pilgrimage was confined to the area between the upper and the lower lake ( main monastic cluster).  Bullaun stones and holy wells played a central part of the 19th century pilgrim landscape at Glendalough. The Deer Stone was one of several devotional stations for pilgrims.

I am still in the process of researching  this landscape  and the Deer Stone but here are some comments on the stone.

Writing in 1873 William Wilde

The Deer Stone was visited by strangers and pilgrims, and always found to contain water.

Fitzgerald writing in 1906 noted

There is  said to be a cure obtained from the water lodged in the hollow in “Deer Stone”; but to be effective, it should be visited fasting before sunrise on a Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the same week and on each occasion a part of the ceremony is to crawl round it seven times  on the bare knees with the necessary prayers.

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Woman in prayer at the Deer Stone (Photo taken the Roundwood & District Historical & Folklore Society Facebook page)

 

 

An exciting day out in the King’s River Valley

On Saturday I gave a lecture on St Kevin’s road  at  the Hollywood  Co Wicklow . The  audience  was great  and made me feel so welcome.   While having a cup of tea and a chat afterwards   I was told about a number crosses and old roads at the northwest end of the King’s River Valley.  The following  morning I set off to see some of these sites  in the company of  four local people  C.J, Ite, Francis and John,  who kindly gave up their Sunday to  show me around.

So armed with out maps we headed up the Johnstown road  to Valleymount to the townland of Ballintubber.

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View of Poulaphouca Reservoir from the Johnstown road

In Ballintubber is one of the most amazing archaeological site I have ever visited. The site is an enormous broken  granite cross.

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Broken high cross with Francis who is 5 ft 7″ acting as a scale

This large cross was in the process of being moved onto its side  when it broke and was abandoned. As I looked at this  broken cross  I couldn’t help but wonder what the mason said when it broke, I imaging given the effort involved in get the cross  to its semi completed state there was a lot of cursing. The cross was carved from a single piece of rock  probably a large boulder like those scattered around the field.

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Top of the cross

The shaft of the cross is approx. 3m in length and the head is 1.95m. This makes the entire cross approx 5 m tall.  Tool  marks left by the mason  are on the upper face of the cross. The cross really puts into perspective the efforts involved in creating the many high crosses that are found on monastic sites around the county.

For a detailed discussion of this cross see Chris Corlett’s  excellent  article   ‘The abandoned cross at Ballintubber,  Hollywood, Co Wicklow’ (complete reference below).

The next site we visited was a set of stepping-stones on the Kings River in the townland of Walterstown.  These stones could very well be part of an ancient route used by travellers and  pilgrims. They are marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey Map of 1840.

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Stepping-stones across the King’s River

Directly opposite the stepping-stones  within a modern forest is  a large flat top mound which may possibly  be a small  Anglo-Norman motte . The site is marked as an enclosure on the RMP maps but  it clearly isn’t one and is a flat topped mound.  If this is  an Anglo-Norman motte its  presence could confirm an ancient route in the area.

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Possible Anglo-Norman Motte close to the stepping-stones on the King’s River

From  the stepping-stones  we headed on to see a standing stone also in the townland of Walterstown.  This stone  is directly in line with a mountain pass and may also have acted as a route marker for a prehistoric route.

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Standing stone in Walterstown

After a fantastic day  I   said goodbye to my companions   and I headed home via Blessington where I  stopped to see  two high crosses.  Geographically these crosses are the closest  to the Ballintubber cross that I  visited earlier.

The  two crosses were formerly located at Burgage More church and graveyard  but moved to there present locations at the graveyard in Blessington when the  Liffey Valley was flooded. The larger cross is known as   St Mark’s cross,  it is very tall and has unusually long arms and a central boss design. It stands 3.95m high.

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St Mark’s cross in Blessington

The Ordnance survey letters  (1840) refer to the name of the cross as St Mark’s or  St Baoithin’s cross.

The second cross is broken with one of the arms missing and  is  more squat.

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Smaller cross at Blessington

So all in all I had a great weekend and can highly recommend a trip to west Wicklow.

Reference

Corlett, C. 2011.  he abandoned cross at Ballintubber,  Hollywood, Co Wicklow’. Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 25,  No. 2, 26-28.

Pilgrimage to St Gobnait at Ballyvourney, Co. Cork

Saint Gobnait: first impressions

I first came across St Gobnait when I wandered in to the Honan Chapel  around 14 years ago.  The Honan chapel is  very  beautiful  church located on the campus of University College Cork. It has many splendid stained glass windows by Harry Clarke, who in my opinion was Ireland’s finest stain glass artist.

As I wandered around the chapel I looked up at one of the many windows which depicted various Irish saints and there was Gobnait. Her window is one of the most beautiful depictions of a saint I had ever seen. The window shows  Gobnait of Baile Bhúirne/Ballyvourney adorned in blue robes and surrounded by bees, at her feet  are two men with   fearful expressions.  My curiosity immediately demanded that I find out who this saint was, where she came from and most importantly what was the connection with the bees?

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Stain glass image of St Gobnait in the  Honan Chapel . Taken by Fergal of Clabbagh (http://www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/6388195535/)

Who was Gobnait and where did she come from?

Much of what we know about Gobnait comes from folklore. Unlike many other Irish saints, Gobnait’s  life story was not written down during the medieval period. Tradition  and  links with  St Abban (also associated with Ballyvourney) suggests  she lived during the 6th century.  Today the main centres of devotion to Gobnait are  on  Inis Oírr/Inisheer ( one of  the Aran Islands), Dún Chaoin in West Kerry, Kilshanning, Co. Cork  and Baile Bhúirne/Ballyvourney near the Cork/Kerry border, where the local people venerate the saint on her feast day,  the 11th of February. Evidence of the saint’s cult  is also found in the dedications of churches and holy wells in the counties of Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Waterford.

There are two  folk versions of the  saints life. One  tells us that Gobnait was born in  Co Clare and due to a family feud fled of to the island of Inisheer where she founded a church. One day an angel appeared to her  and told her to head inland and  to find the  place of her resurrection. She was told she  would know this spot as it would be marked by  the presence of 9 white deer. She travel south in search of  this place and her  many stops  are marked by  churches and  holy wells dedicated to her, such as the medieval church at Kilgobnet,  Co Waterford.

At various stages of her journey Gobnait met  with white deer of varying numbers but it was only when she reached Ballyvourney that  she found the nine deer grazing  and it was here she  ended of her journey. In a Kerry version of her life, Gobnait  was said to be the daughter of a pirate who came ashore at Fionntraigh (Ventry, Co. Kerry).  Once ashore an angel appeared to her and  told her to go forth and search for the site  of her resurrection  and to travel on until she saw nine white deer grazing, which she did in Ballyvourney.

I will post more in the coming months about  Gobnait’s journey around Ireland and the other sites associated with her.  This post  will focus on the  evidence of  pilgrimage at Ballyvourney.

Metal working and bees

Gobnait was likely the patron saint of iron workers. The hypocoristic (pet name) form of her name Gobba come from Gabha which means smith.  Excavations  St Gobnait’s House/Kitchen at her shrine in Ballyvourney  in  the 1950′s,  prior to the erection of the modern statue of St Gobnait, revealed evidence  of iron working (smithing and smelting).

Gobnait was also the patron saint of bee keepers and kept her own bees.  There are a number of  legend  in which she unleashes her bees to attack enemies. In one  story soldiers came to Ballyvourney and stole livestock, as they left the village the saint  let loose her honey-bees upon them.  Another version of this tale has a band of robbers stealing her cattle and she sends her bees  after them and they promptly return the  cattle. It is this legend that inspired the Harry Clarke window. Many modern depictions of the saint  associate her with bees such as the  statue at her shrine in Ballyvourney by  Séamus Murphy.

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St Gobnait in the rain. Statue of St Gobnait created by Seamus Murphy in the 1950s.

Medieval Pilgrimage at Ballyvourney

Gobnait is not the only saint associated with Ballyvourney. St Abban had established a monastery here prior to her arrival. Abban gave her land and  helped she established a nunnery here. The traditional  site of Gobnait’s nunnery is the old graveyard and medieval parish church known as Teampall Ghobhatan ( the church of Gobnait).   I will come back to St Abban and his links to Ballyvourney in another post.

There is  little evidence  to suggest when pilgrims first began to come here. Unfortunately the archaeological and historical sources tell us nothing about pilgrimage prior to the 17th century.  Given the popularity of the saints cult  in the 17th century it is likely pilgrimage  likely  began many centuries prior to this date.

The silence of the historical and archaeological record concerning pilgrimage at Ballyvourney, should not be seen as  evidence that pilgrimage was not taking place in the early or later medieval period. Pilgrimage is seldom mentioned in the historical records and the act of pilgrimages  in most cases leaves little physical trace behind.

The earliest written reference to pilgrimage at Ballyvourney dates to the early 1600′s.   In 1601 Pope Clement VIII granted a special indulgence  of 10 years to those who, on Gobnait’s  feast day, visited the parish church, went to Confession and Communion and who prayed for peace among  ‘Christian princes’ , expulsion of heresy and the exaltation of the church’.  It is clear from this and other 17th century references,  such as the  poetry  of Dáibhidh Ó Bruidar, the writings of Don Philip Ó Súilleabháin and Seathrún Céitinn, that Gobnait’s  cult  was strong and popular during this period.

In 1603 Donal Cam Ó Súilleabháin during  his flight from Béara  stopped at Ballyvourney with his men to pray at Gobnait’s shrine, to offer gifts and to ask for her protection. The importance of Gobnait’s cult  is also attested by the  visited of  the Papal Nunico Rinuccini   in 1645 (Ó hÉaluighthe 1958, 47).

Devotion to Gobnait is again mentioned in the writings of Sir Richard Cox  in 1687,  who stated

Ballyvorney, a small village, considerable only for some holy relick (I think of Gobbonett) which does many cures and other miracles, and therefore there is great resort of pilgrims thither.

The relic  described by Cox is  a small  13th century medieval statue of St Gobnait, now in the care of the parish priest of Ballyvourney.

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Medieval statue of St Gobnait

Gobnait’s statue was again mentioned in 1731 when it is noted that

this Parish is remarkable for the superstition paid to Guibnet ‘s image  on Gubinet’s Day.

The literary sources suggest that  the hereditary keepers of the shrine and relics of Gobnait (the statue) were the  O’ Hierlihys family. Many of the relics of Irish saints  survived the reformation as they were kept  by individual families and passed down from generation to generation. These families were descendants of the family of stewards, or airchinnaigh, who controlled monastic lands and were often remunerated with a specific plot of land and fees when the relic was used. During the 18th & 19th century many of these families  fell on hard times and sold the relics some have been lost but thankfully many are now in the National Museum of Ireland. The statue of Gobnait continued to be cared for by the O’Herlihy family until 1843 when the statue was given into the care of the parish priest and it remains  in the care  to  church of Ballyvourney to this day.

John Richardson, a protestant gentleman with a low opinion of pilgrimage, gives an account of the 18th century pilgrimage at Ballyvourney in his book The Great Folly of Pilgrimage.  His account suggests that  devotion was focused on the aforementioned statue of St Gobnait  and makes no mention to any of the stations visited by modern pilgrims.

An Image of Wood, about two Foot high, carves and painted like a Women, is  kept in the Parish of Ballyvourney, in the Diocese of Cloyne, and the County of Cork; it is called Gubinet. The pilgrims resort to it twice a year, viz on Valintine’s Eve and on Whitsun Thursday…. it is set up for adoration on the old ruinous walls of the church. They go around the image trice on their knees saying a certain number of Paters, Aves and Credos. Then following prayer in Irish ‘A Gubinet, tabhair slan aon Mbliathan shin, agus sábháil shin o gach geine agus sórd Egruas, go speicialta on Bholgach’ and they conclude with kissing the idol and making an offer to it every one according to his ability, which generally amounts in the whole to 5 or 6 pounds.  The image is kept by one of the family of the O’ Herlihy’s and when anyone is sick of the small-pox, they send for it and scarifice a sheep to it, and wrap the skin about the sick person, and the family eat the sheep. But the Idol hath now much lost its Reputation, because two of the O Herlihys died lately of the Small pox. The Lord Bishop of Cloyne was pleased to favour me with the narrative of his rank idolatory, to suppress which he hath taken very proper and effectual methods (Richardson 1723, 70).

He goes on to say

Pilgrims kissed the statue, rubbed aching limbs to it, tied handkerchiefs about its neck, to be worn afterwards as a preventative against sickness (Richardson 1723, 71).

Richardson’s writings are very anti Catholic and written at a time when pilgrim was viewed as superstitious and backward by the established church, despite his negative tone his writing provides one of  the most detailed of the early accounts of pilgrimage at Ballyvourney.   During the  18th and 19th century pilgrimage was not just under pressure from the established church, many Irish pilgrimages were suppressed by the Catholic clergy  but thankfully the efforts of the then Bishop of Cloyne  to eradicate the pilgrimage at  Ballyvourney were in vain.

The modern pilgrimage at Ballyvourney on the saint’s feast day

I have been to Ballyvourney  on a number of occasions,  but this year was the first time I attended a pilgrimage. I arrived in the village around 10.30 am.   I was  told by some people i meet that was mass in honour of Gobnait, would be said at   11.30am  &  16.00pm  and that a rosary would be said at the shrine at 15.00 pm.  I was also informed  that people  visit the statue of Gobnait and  the shrine &  holy well to do their ’rounds’ (pilgrim prayer) throughout the day .

I headed first to the church to see the medieval statue of St Gobnait. The statue is a treasure possession of the parish of Ballyvourney and it is fascinating to think that it has survived here in this parish since the 13th or 14th century. Made of oak, it is approximately 27 inches/ 68 cm tall. The back is hollowed out from the shoulder to the feet. The face is now very worn and traces of  paint can be seen  on the front of the statue.  The folds of the saint’s dress and a belt are still visible. The feature of her face are now undiscernible but the details of her hands  (one hand is raised  to her chest and the other by her side) are clearly visible.

St Gobnait's Statue showing detail of hands

St Gobnait’s Statue, photo  showing detail of hands & robe

On the saint’s feast day the statue is displayed within the church. On the occasion of my visit it  was placed on a small table in the church in front of the altar.  A table with a large jar of colourful ribbons, key rings and booklets about Gobnait (all for sale) was located a few meters away  from the medieval statue in front  of a modern plaster statue of the saint.  People queued up and purchased fistful of ribbons and formed orderly lines to approach the medieval statue. The pilgrims armed with their ribbons (which they had brought with them or just  purchased) , were  no ready to  perform the ritual called St Gobnait’s measure. This is a practice  were pilgrims use the ribbons  to ‘measure’ the statue.

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Pilgrim’s taking ‘St Gobnait’s measure’ after mass in Ballyvourney church.

The ribbon(s) is held along the length of the statue and then wrapped around the neck, then the  waist and finally the feet of the statue. Some pilgrims make the sign of the cross when this is done, others pick up the statue and kiss it, while  others bless themselves with the statue.  The ribbon or in most cases ribbons are  then brought home and  used to ward off and to cure sickness.  Farmers often  placed  the ribbons in outhouses where there is livestock. As I sat in the church waiting for mass there was a constant line of people waiting to get to the statue. The scene reminded me of Richardson’s description  of pilgrims in 1723,  which tells of pilgrims tieing  handkerchief to the statue and then wearing them about the neck  as a preventative against illness.  It was fascinating to see that  modern pilgrims  are interact with  the statue in much the same manner as their ancestors almost 300 years before.  The church soon filled to capacity and a  mass was said in Irish.  There was a mix of people from within and outside the parish in attendance. Many  people had travelled some distance to get  here  and I heard one man say he came  that morning with his son from Killorglin in Co Kerry.

After  mass a new group of  people lined up  to visit the statue with their ribbons. I was told people would come throughout the day to visit the statue but the main burst of activity focused around mass times. When I passed by the church later at 16.15 the car park was again chock-a-block with cars.

Pilgrim stations at St Gobnait’s shrine.

A short distance from the village is St Gobnait’s shrine,  the other focus of devotion for pilgrims to Ballyvourney. As I mentioned above St Gobnait’s shrine is the traditionally held to be the site of St Gobnait’s nunnery and the burial-place of the saint. Throughout the year it  attracts pilgrims on a daily basis. The main peaks in pilgrimage are Whitsun, the feast of St Gobnait, on the 11th of February and an open air mass in July.

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Aerial shot of St Gobnait’s shrine (taken from http://www.leevalleywalking.com/about.htm)

The landscape of the shrine is divided  in two  with  St Gobnait’s house, holy well and statue  separated from  the other stations by a  modern road.  During the course of my visit  I meet another  blogger  Richard Scriven  (Geography UCC)  who is currently doing PhD research  on the modern pilgrimage at Ballyvourney. For more details of Richard’s research check out his blog http://liminalentwinings.com/.

The day was  very cold with light to heavy showers but during the time I was here there was a constant  stream of pilgrims. Most  pilgrims  were  in  small groups of two or three and many were alone.  A small crowd gathered  at  15.00, for the rosary ,  in the area beside St Gobnait’s house.  Many of the people here who attended  the rosary  left afterwards perhaps to catch the 16.00 mass, while a small group remained to do the stations.

Pilgrim's at the Rosary  at Ballyvourney

Pilgrim’s  hiding from the rain during the recitation  of the rosary at Ballyvourney

Modern  information boards  are found  beside all the  pilgrim stations and detail the required prayers for each stations.

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One of the modern notice boards located at the shrine.

The  following details of the rounds is taken from the book  Saint Gobnait of Ballyvourney by  Bernie Donoghue Murphy written in c. 2007.

Pilgrimage begins in front of the  statue of Gobnait.  The  pilgrim recites  7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria,  then walks clockwise ‘ ar deiseal’  around the outer path (around the periphery of the site) reciting the Apostles Creed. The practice of  pilgrims walking in a clockwise circuit can be traced back to early medieval times and  continued in post medieval and modern times.

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Pilgrims beginning their round  before the modern statue of St Gobnait.

At St Gobnait’s House (station 2)  the pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria.  The pilgrim  walks clockwise around the  station reciting the apostles creed. I also saw people go inside the hut and walk clockwise around the interior and finish by marking a modern pillar with a cross.

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Pilgrim within St Gobnait’s house marking the centre pillar with a cross.

This station  was in ruins  1950s. It was restored   following an  excavation of the site by M. J. O’Kelly  and rebuilt  to its current state. The results of this excavation suggests the structure was used for craft working in the early medieval period. Large amounts of slag (the waste product of  iron smelting),  a crucible  and other artifacts connected with iron working were recovered. Two  bullaun stones (stones with man-made depressions), artifacts which many scholars believe were used to grind metal ores are found close by at the site of Gobnait’s grave.

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Pilgrim praying at St Gobnait’s house (Ó hÉaluighthe 1958, Pl. 2)

Modern pilgrims  have marked  stones around the  shrine  with crosses as part of their prayers.  The two entrance stones to St Gobnait’s house are marked by crosses,  as are the  modern  cylinder shaped pillars within the  hut and various stone in St Gobnaits church. This practice is seen at other pilgrim sites such as St Declan’s well at Ardmore. Such activity dates to  post medieval and modern times. Small pebbles are left on top of these stone for  pilgrims to  incise the sign of the cross.

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Crosses marked on the top of the modern pillar.

Having finished the prayers at station 2 ,  the pilgrim goes to the near by holy well , one of two wells associated with Gobnait at the shrine. The pilgrim then kneels down and  drinks some water from the holy well.

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Holy well beside St Gobnait’s house.

The remaining stations are  found  within the old graveyard. The pilgrim then crosses the road and enters the old graveyard.

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Crosses etched on the modern styles

Station 3 & 4 are located beside each other, close to the main entrance to the graveyard.  At station 3  the pilgrim  recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria. The pilgrim  walks  twice clockwise around the this station ( station 4 is at the centre of this path) reciting the apostles creed.

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Pilgrims praying at Station 3 & 4.

Station 4  is a sod-covered mound of loosely packed stones (4m N-S; 5.6m E-W; H 1.3m) known as  St Gobnait’s grave. The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria.  The pilgrim then walks  twice clockwise around  this station reciting the apostles creed.

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Station 4 St Gobnait’s grave.

On top of the mound is a large flat slab which pilgrims  have  incised with a  cross. A small pebble is left beside the cross. This station is very colourful and eye catching. Pilgrims have  left  behind votive offerings such as  holy statues, medals,  rosary beads & crucifixes.

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Cross incised by pilgrims on slab on top of St Gobnait’s grave.

From here the pilgrim walks past the 19th century Church of Ireland to Station 5, located at the corner of the  old church. The pilgrim  recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria.  The pilgrim  then walks  around St Gobnait’s church 4 times, reciting at each  circuit,  one decade of the Rosary.

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Pilgrim’s doing rounds of the church.

The pilgrim then enters the interior of the church. Station 6  is located  at the east gable of the church.  The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria .

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Station 6 in the interior of the church.

Modern pilgrims have left there mark within the church. There are statues placed in putlog holes ( small square holes used to hold wooden beams,  used in the initial  building of the church) some of the stone in the fabric of the church and   two 19th century grave stones have  had  crosses incised on them.

The pilgrim then moves on to station 7, located at the window at  east end of the south wall of the church. A  rectangular recess (cupboard) has been filled over the years by pilgrims  with statues and beads and other religious memorabilia.  The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria.

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Station 7

On completion of prayers  the pilgrim reaches out through the window and makes the sign of the cross above the top lintel on a piece of  medieval sculpture known as  Sheela-na -gig. Sheela  are  figurative carvings  of naked women, usually bald and emaciated, with lug ears,  squatting and pulling apart their vulva.  These carvings are found many medieval churches, sometimes castle sites in  Ireland and England. There is much uncertainty as to their original function some think, they were used to ward off evil, warn against lust or even fertility figure.

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Window with Sheela-na-gig

The pilgrim then moves outside of the church to station 8, which is known as the  priest’s grave.  The grave marks the burial of Fr Daniel O’Herlihy  was buried here in 1637. The pilgrim then  recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria  at this station.

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Station 8, the priest’s grave

Station 9 is at the southwest corner of  the west gable of the church. The focus of devotion  is a polished  agate stone ball, call the bulla. The ball is located in a rectangular recess and  is renowned for its healing power. The  pilgrim  recites  7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria. Some pilgrims had left a religious medals  and a  piece  of paper probably with a petition to the saint beside the ball.

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Station 9  the polished agate ball surrounded by votive offerings.

There is a folktale associated the with the stone.  Legend has it an invader decided to build a castle in the area. Gobnait could see the castle walls from her church.  Throwing the bulla  at the castle  she razed the castle walls to the ground.  The stone then miraculously returned to the saints hand. Each time the walls of the castle were rebuilt the saint would knock them down again with the bulla. Finally the invaders gave up and move away.

To complete the pilgrimage the pilgrim walks down the road to St Gobnait’s well (Station 10). The pilgrim recites 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary’s and 7 Gloria,  one decade of the rosary and drinks the water from the well.

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St Gobnait’s well

Like many holy wells in Ireland  St Gobnait’s well is associate with a  rag tree and there is a tradition of leaving votive offerings at this tree. Below is a photo of the tree taken when I last visited here in 2006,  as you can see is covered rags and bead  and tokens left be pilgrims. I think it  looks quiet lovely.   Since my last visit   most of these offering have been removed but a few are still to be found.

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Tree beside St Gobnait’s well taken in 2006.

I came across another book  called Saint Gobnait  of Ballyvourney by  Eilís Uí Dháiligh written in 1983. This book notes that many pilgrims begin there stations with the traditional prayer

Go mbeannaí Dia Dhuit, a Ghobnait Naofa,

Go mbeannaí Muire faoi mar a bheannaím féin dhuit.

Is chughatsa a thána ag gearán mo scéal leat,

Go dtabharfá leigheas i gcuntais Dé dom.

May God and Mary bless you,

O Holy Gobnait, I bless you too,

and come to you with my complaint.

Please cure me for God’s sake.

She also notes the traditional finishing prayer is

A Ghobnait an dúchais

do bhiodh i mBaile Mhuirne

Go dtaga tú chugamsa

le d’chabhair is le d’ chúnamh

(O St Gobnait of Ballyvourney, come to my aid).

Uí Dháiligh  gives instructions for  the pilgrimage as follows (taken directly from her book pages 25-26).

There are five  Stations or Ulacha and each has a particular significance.

I The First Station or Ula Uachtarach is the site of Gobnait’s House. (Stop 1 & 2).

II The Second Station or Ula láir is her grave (stop 3 & 4).

III The Third Station brings us to her Church (stops 5 & 6).

At each of the three stations the pilgrim walks ar deiseal, that is clockwise, and prays. The  customary practice is to say seven Paters; seven Aves; and either seven Glorias or the Apostles’ Creed at the outer ring of each Station which is traversed twice. The same is repeated around the inner circles twenty-eight Paters; twenty-eight Aves; and either twenty-eight Glorias or four Creeds in all.

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Pilgrim praying at Station 5 and a group of pilgrims praying at Station 9 the bulla stone

IV The Fourth Station (Stops 7 & 8) is inside the church where one pater; one Ave; and either one Gloria or one Creed is said. The pilgrim pauses at the south window in honour of the effigy over the window head through by some to be an old image of Gobnait herself.

V The Fifth Station consists of a visit to the Priest’s Grave which lies outside the right corner of the East Gable, where one pater; one Ave, and one Creed are said (stop 9); a visit to the bulla in the south corner of the west gable (Stop 10) and the journey to the well (Stop 11). The pilgrim goes down the main road a little distance and enters the grove where he will find the old Well. Here he says one Pater, one Ave, and one final creed. He drinks the water and says a final prayer.

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Cups and statues left on top of St Gobnait’s well.

Conclusion

Despite the lack of  evidence for pilgirmage in the medieval period, I have no doubt that pilgrims were coming to Ballyvourney from an early date. Gobnait’s reputation as a healer and miracle worker  would have attracted pilgrims from the immediate locality and further afield. We can never know how medieval pilgrims interacted with the shrine, but the  pilgrim rituals would not have been  static and  would have  constantly evolved as evident from the slight variation of the accounts of the modern stations described above.  The  medieval pilgrims to Ballyvourney like those in the 17th , 18th century  would have  come here for much the same reasons as modern pilgrims, to ask for help from the saint and in search of  healing.  Above all it is  the devotion to Gobnait  through the  little wooden  statue  that links the people of Ballyvourney with their medieval forefathers.

© Louise Nugent 2013

References

Chaomhánach, E. ”The Bee, its Keeper and Produce, in Irish and other Folk Traditions’. Department of Irish Folklore.http://www.ucd.ie/pages/99/articles/chaomh.pdf accessed 8/07/2012.

Power, D. 1997. Archaeological Inventory of County Cork: Mid Cork v. 3. Dublin: Stationary Office.

Henry, F. (1952) The decorated stones at Ballyvourney, Co. Cork. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 57, 41-42.

MacLeod, C.  1946.  ‘Mediaeval figure sculpture in Ireland’ JRSAI Vol. LXXVI, Part II.

Harris, D. 1938. ‘Saint Gobnet, Abbess of Ballyvourney’, JRSAI Vol. LXVIII, 272-277.

Ó’ h-Éaluighthe, M. A. 1958. ‘St. Gobnet of Ballyvourney’, JCHAS Vol. LVII,  43-62.
O’Kelly, M. J. (1952) St Gobnet’s House, Ballyvourney, Co. Cork. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 57, 18-40.

Richardson, J. 1727. The great folly, superstition, and idolatry, of pilgrimages in Ireland; especially of that to St. Patrick’s purgatory. Together with an account of the loss that the publick sustaineth thereby; truly and impartially represented. Dublin: Printed J. Hyde

http://www.dioceseofkerry.ie/page/heritage/saints/st_gobnait/ (accessed 21/01/2013).

http://www.seandalaiocht.com/1/post/2010/11/st-gobnets-house-ballyvourney-co-cork.html (accessed 18/02/2012).