The Derrynaflan Monastery and Easter Pilgrimage

Derrynaflan is best known for its medieval metal work, including a two-handled chalice known as the Derrynaflan chalice, on display in the  National Museum of Ireland.

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The Derrynaflan hoard (the chalice and associated ecclesiastical objects)

The  chalice along with a paten, a liturgical strainer and basin were part of a hoard of treasure found by metal detectorist on land close to the  monastery of Derrynaflan Co Tipperary.  The complications, surrounding their discovery, helped to instigate Ireland’s current metal detecting laws which make it illegal for anyone to engage in metal detecting without a licence.

As a child I remember going on a school trip to the National Museum at Kildare St. After all these years I still remember  this visit clearly, along with  our teacher pointing out this treasure (Derrynaflan Chalice) found in my home county. I also purchased a small booklet in the museum shop on the chalice which I still have, once a nerd always a nerd.  The craftsmanship of the chalice and other objects  is  true breathtaking.

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Decoration on the Derrynaflan paten (a plate used to hold the host during the celebration of the Eucharist).

Location

The hoard is associated with the monastery of Derrynflan.  The monastery  sits on an island  in Littleton  raised bog,  in the townland of Lurgoe, approx 11km from the  modern town of Thurles in Co Tipperary.

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Aerial shot of Derrynaflan (from the Slieveardagh Rural Development http://www.slieveardagh.com/history/towns-and-villages/derrynaflan/).

In early medieval times  it was located close to the territorial boundary of the territories of the Éile and the Éoghanact.  As you can see from the photo above much of the surrounding bog has been processed and removed by Board na Mona, giving the land a desolate and unappealing vista.  One can only imagine what his site and its surrounding landscape would have looked like in medieval times.

Although  built-in the middle of a bog, Derrynaflan was far from isolated and recent archaeological excavations in the surrounding bogland, has revealed the presence of several bog roads and trackways, some of which line up with the site.  These roads and tracks linked the monastery to the wider world.

The Irish and Latin Lives of St Ruadhán  recounts an interesting tale concerning one of these roads.  St Colmán Mac Dáirne of the monastery of  Daire Mór  decided to bring a gift of butter to St Ruadhán who at the time was residing at Derrynaflan. Conn Manning (1997) has identified the monastery of Daire Mór   as Longfordpass alias Durrihy, located north of Thurlas.   Colmán placed the butter in a vessel which was carried by two oxen and set off on his journey. We are told that he two monasteries were divided by bog but Our Lord miraculously made a road spring up through the bog so that Colmán could deliver the butter.

Founding Saints

Derrynaflan was  founded by  St Ruadhán of Lorrha in  the 6th century (Harbison 1970, 226) but the site gets its name from  two other saints who lived here during the 9th century.  In Irish Derrynaflan  is Doire na bhFlann,  in English the name means ‘the wood of the two Flanns’.  This placename  remembers two  saints both called Flann (meaning red or blood-red) who are associated with the site.  The saints were Flann son of Foircheallach and Flann son of Dubh Tuinne (Conna), both acted as co patrons of the area. The calendars of Irish saints note Flann Foircheallach died in  825 and his feast was commemorated in the 21st of December.

The monastery acquired its present name by the association with two prominent clerics of the early 9th century, Fland mac Duib Thuinne of Dairinis who died in 821 and Fland mac Fairchellaig, abbot of Lismore who died in 825 (ibid.).

Derrynaflan was linked to the Ceilí Dé movement  and the annals suggest links to other Céili Dé churches at  Lismore, Emly and Cork.  Additionally it is included in a list of sites in ‘union’  with Máel Ruain, and the asceticism practices by Flann son of Dubh Tuinne is elsewhere specified  in the rule attributed to  Máel Ruain who was the patron of Tallaght (Ó’Riain 2011, 345).

The site today

The approach to the Derrynaflan is little bit difficult but so worth the effort.  I visited here during the summer with Conor Ryan of the South Tipperary Development Company who is currently working in a project to develop an   The Derrynaflan trail  linking this site and other church sites such as Holy Cross Abbey in east Tipperary Slieveardagh area.

We approached the site from the north  the townland of Liskeveen and  followed a small  surfaced bog road  and then headed cross county  through some scrub.  It is also possible to  approach  the site from the  south.

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Approach to Derrynaflan from the south

After a little bit of  walking  we came to the base of a hill  and were rewarded with view of the ruins of the monastery sitting on top of a hill.   The monastic site  consists of a series of earth work and the ruins of a church and  a single wall of another monastic  building.  The island was originally enclosed by a bank and outer fosse (ditch) which is visible only in places and the eastern side of the enclosing bank and fosse are now covered by a build up of bog and peat (Ryan 1980, 10).

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View of Derrynaflan church

Today the most visible remains are the church. This is a nave and chancel church with two phases of construction. The nave of the church appears to be pre-Norman, a separate church in its own right. In the 13th century the chancel was added on this earlier church then became the nave of the new building.

Interior of Derrynaflan Church

Interior of Derrynaflan Church

Only the  walls of the chancel  in the north, south and east survive to any great height .  The earlier church (nave) was built of coursed Cyclopean limestone masonry (large blocks), of which only the lower courses of the south wall survive (Ryan 1980, 11).

The east gable contains two single-light trefoil-headed windows, while there are three single-light trefoil-headed windows in the south wall.  At the east end of the south wall  there is a re-used Romanesque window which was used to frame a decorated sandstone piscina.

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Romanesque window reused to frame the piscina

Within the  interior of the church  there is a triangular-shaped gable finial with socket for a cross belonging to the original roof of the 13th-century church.

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Stone roof slates

Along the top of the north side of the east gable are stone roof slates,  additional stone roof slates from the medieval chancel were also found during previous excavations (Ó Floinn 1985, 37).

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East gable of Derrynaflan church

Gobán Saor

Derrynaflan is also associated with a mythical figure called the Gobán Saor.  The Gobán  was a highly skilled smith or architect in Irish history and legend.  Tradition holds he was responsible for  building  many of Ireland’s castles and churches including Holy Cross Abbey.

Local tradition holds that the Gobán Soar was buried at Derrynaflan and the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map marks the site of  his grave to the north-east of the church.

1st ed Ordnance Survey map of Derrynaflan from http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,617960,649614,6,8

1st ed. Ordnance Survey map of Derrynaflan (from http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,617960,649614,6,8)

Farrelly (2011) notes that White writing in  1892 say

‘further down the slope to the north, are the graves of the Gobann and his wife and two children. Stones of coffin shape mark the place and bear quaint figures and curious celtic tracery. Heretofore, these relics were religiously preserved, but latterly they have suffered in some ways. A barabarian smashed one of the stones some years ago and obliterated the tracves with a chisel’. Traditionally the Gobaun was said to have been Grand Master of the ancient order of Freemasons in Ireland (ibid).

Today the area  is  an area defined by a timber fence.   Inside the fence are three  very worn medieval grave slabs one which is held to mark the Gobán’s grave. I will come back to the Gobán again in the new year as I think this very interesting character is deserving of his own blog post.

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Grave of Gobán Saor

  Easter Pilgrimage

This quiet site is transformed into an annual place of pilgrimage at Easter time when there is a celebration of a dawn mass on Easter Sunday. The tradition was started by Canon Liam Ryan, PP, Killenaule-Moyglass, in the 1990s and attracts large numbers of pilgrims from the surrounding areas.  I am hoping to attend this pilgrimage in 2014.

My friends at Abarta Heritage have a great a audio guide for this and some of the other sites in the area .

References

Byrne, F. J. 1980 Derrynavlan: the historical context. In JRSAI 110, 116-26.

Farrelly, J. 2011. ‘Derrynaflan’ http://webgis.archaeology.ie/NationalMonuments/FlexViewer/
Ó Floinn, R. 1987 ‘Derrynaflan’, Lurgoe: Monastic settlement. In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1986: summary accounts of archaeological excavations in Ireland, 33. Bray. Wordwell.
Ó Floinn, R. 1988 ‘Derrynaflan’, Lurgoe: Monastic settlement. In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1987: summary accounts of archaeological excavations in Ireland, 24-5. Bray. Wordwell.

Manning, C.  1997.  ‘Daire Mór identified’ Peritia 11, 359-69.
Ryan, M. 1980 An Early Christian hoard from Derrynaflan, Co. Tipperary. NMAJ 22, 9-26.

http://www.abartaheritage.ie

http://www.abartaheritage.ie/product/derrynaflan-trail-audio-guide/

http://www.nationalist.ie/news/your-community/easter-sunday-dawn-mass-planned-for-famed-derrynaflan-site-1-4929037

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).

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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.

Kilronan medieval church & holy well at Glebe, Co Waterford.

A few days ago, I visited one of County Waterford’s hidden treasures, the medieval  parish church of Kilronan.  I am in the process of doing some historical research into this site but  here are some of my initial  observations.

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Kilronan medieval parish church at Glebe, Co. Waterford.

Location

Kilronan church is located in the townland of Glebe,   in the barony of Glenihery, close to the Tipperary Waterford country boundary. It is a short drive from the town of Clonmel (c. 6km), just off the  Dungarvan-Clonmel near the crossroads at Kilmanahan.  This area is in the diocese of Waterford and Lismore, which came in to existence in the later medieval period following the amalgamation of  the dioceses of Waterford, Lismore and Ardmore .

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Map showing Kilronan church and holy well taken from Bing maps.

Placename

The name  Kilronan or Cill Rónáin means the Church of Ronan which suggests there was an early medieval church of some sort in the area.   There are several saints called Ronan listed in the early medieval calendars of  Irish saints, however there is no way of knowing which of them was connected to this area.   There is no trace of an early medieval church at the site or anywhere else in the parish. The diocesan system in Ireland came into being in the 12th century and the present  church was built after the 12th century,  it may be possible it was built on an earlier church. The townland name Glebe, refer’s to church land. Glebe  land  was used to support the parish priest.  According the  Ordnance Survey Letters of the 1840’s the church  was remodeled in the 15th century, when it and the parish were re-dedicated to St Laurence.

The Church

Kilronan church  sits  in a rectangular graveyard with  gravestones range from  late 1700’s to modern times.   19th century farm buildings are built  against the church on the north and west side. It is surprising that there has been little academic discussion of Kilronan as it has some very unusual  and interesting architectural features.

East gable and south wall of Kilronan church

East and south wall of Kilronan church

As you can see from the photo above a  layer of very thick  ivy  covers much of the  walls of the church.  It is difficult to accurately date the church as it is so over grown but it is mentioned in a document written by Pope Nicholas’s   in 1291, which suggests it was constructed prior to the late 13th century. The original building was altered   in the 15th century  and  a number of  new windows and a door  were added.

The church is built of sandstone and is entered through a door at the west end of the south wall.  The door way is a lovely 15th  century hooded  moulded doorway. If you look closely at the photo you can see the  door way was inserted into an earlier larger doorway.

Doorway in the south wall of the church

Doorway in the south wall of Kilronan church

It is difficult to see all the windows with the ivy. Rev. P.  Power, the former head of Archaeology at UCC, writing in 1938 counted 6 windows and suggest there was at least one more.  I noticed  two window (one blocked) on the  west side of the doorway, and a twin-light, cusped ogee-headed window at the east end of the south wall. There is a blocked windows in the north wall. All the windows have very wide embrasures.

Kilronan windows

Photo of the ogee head window at the east end of the south wall in 1938 (Power 1938, 63)

The largest  and most elaborate window  is found in east  wall of the church. It is a  three lights window with switch line tracery. Today it is  covered in ivy so  below is a photo of the east wall and window taken in 1938.

Image of east wall of church taken in 1938

Image of east wall of church taken in 1938 (Power 1938, 63).

The church has a simple rectangular plan, the interior it is now filled  with 18th and 19th century burials and heavy vegetation growth. There is no evidence of any internal division between the chancel and nave.

View of east wall of church

View of east wall of church

The Archaeological Inventory of   Co. Waterford  noted there was  ‘ traces of rood-screen sockets towards the E end of the long walls’ .  In the south-east corner of the church,  the  ivy free sections of the wall shows the upper courses leaning inwards which may suggest evidence of  vaulting.

Power noted that notable individual details is the evidence of a former double roof; this is voussoirs of the inner vault plainly visible on the south side (interior) of the building. No doubt there was, as in Cormac’s Chapel, a chamber for lodging of the priest, above the barrel vault, and in this connection, note the putlog beside the entrance door, clearly the door way  was fastened from within, i.e., the ecclesiastic lived in the church.

If Power is correct then the priest live within the church  above a vaulted ceiling.  In medieval times the priest  often lived at or in the church,  in accommodation above the west and sometime the east end of the church,  in an upper story apartment  or in accommodation attached to one side of the gable end of the church, or in residential towers attached to the church (Birmingham 2006, 169).  Less commonly the priest could live in a free-standing house were also used (ibid.). The use of vaulting is not unheard of in creating an upper floor for the priest residence  and examples of vaulted medieval parish churches are found at Kilbride Co. Offaly,  Gallon and Raffony, Co Cavan & Leighmore Co Tipperary (ibid., 173-174).

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Piscina in the east wall of Kilronan church

The east wall of the church is the least affected by ivy which is fortuitous as some of the  churches most interesting features are located within this wall. At the south end is a piscina,  a recess with a shallow basin used to  wash the communion vessels. The upper section of the Kilronan piscina has an elaborate trefoil-head, a shelf  and the basin  has an   incised petal  design.

Modern memorial cross inserted into aumbry in east wall

Modern memorial cross inserted into aumbry in east wall

At the north side of the main east window  a modern memorial cross has been inserted into one of several   aumbry that are found within the church.  An aumbry is  a fancy word for a  cupboard. There is a small pointed finely cut sandstone door way which leads into a tiny room (dims. 2.03m x 0.85m) that is built into the east wall.

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The room is tiny, a stone seat is built against the north wall  and aumbry (cupboard) is found in the eastern corner of the south wall. The room is roofed with flat lintels and  small square window is found in the center of the east wall.  This is a very unusual feature which I have not found at any other church perhaps the  closest parallel  I can find is  Okyle church and anchorite cell.  I am very curious as to what the function of this room.  It is a tiny room  so would an anchorite be able to stay here ? Does it have a penitential purpose?  I plan to look into this further and I will keep you posted on my findings.

Holy Well

Close to the church c.  60-70 m away   is lovely looking holy well.  The well is  a  semi circular superstructure with a large brick cross on top.

Kilronan Holy Well

Kilronan Holy Well

The  Ordnance Survey Letters of 1840  do not record   any saint associated with the well  nor does Power writing in the early 20th century.  It is always simply referred to as the ‘Holy Well’. According to Power the holy well was venerated up to the 1930’s but he gives no further information. The stagnant water within the well suggests is no longer visited.

I would love to hear from anyone who  knows any history of the well or its traditions and I will come back to Kilronan again and share any new findings on its history and architecture.

© Louise Nugent 2013

References

Birmingham. H. 2006, ‘Priests’ residences in later medieval Ireland’, in Fitzpatrick, E. & Gillespie, R. (ed.) The Parish in Medieval and Early Modern Ireland.Dublin: Four Courts Press, 168-185.

O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (Complier) 1929. Letters containing information relative to the   

  antiquities of the county of Waterford collected during the progress of the

  Ordnance Survey in 1841. Bray: Typescript.

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

Office.

Power, Rev. P. 1937. Waterford and Lismore; a compendious history of the united

  dioceses. Cork: Cork University Press.

Power, P. 1938. ‘Some Old Churches of Decies’, JRSAI, Vol. 8, 55-68.

Medieval Pilgrimage at Lemanaghan, Co Offaly

The ecclesiastical settlement of Lemanaghan is one of Co. Offaly’s hidden treasures. There  is so much to say about the architectural remains and the history of the site  and of course its founding saint, Manchan.   I am going to  focus on the evidence for medieval pilgrimage at the site .

In early medieval times  Lemanaghan was  located  in the territory of the Delhna Ehtra tribe close to the border of the territory of the Delbna Ethra  and the Ferceall.   For the modern traveler it is located along the R436   to the east of the town of Ferbane.

Map of Lemanghan showing  the monastic remains from Bing maps

Map of the ecclesiastical remains a t Lemanghan from Bing maps (http://www.bing.com/maps/)

Lemanaghan was founded in the 7th century after King Diarmaid   son of Aedh Sláine, granted the land of the territory of Tuaim-nEirc (Doimerc) to Clonmacnoise following his victory at the battle against Guaire King of Connaught in 645/646.  It appears  that Manchan a monk of Clonmacnoise, founded a sister monastery  here  at Liath-Manchain  ” the grey place of Manchan” (Lemanaghan is the anglicized version ). There are a number of traditions  concerning the geneology St Manchan.  One tradition  suggests he was a member of the Ulaidh of Ulster while another suggest he a was a member of the Eoghanachta of Munster and another that he  was from Wales.  The saint was credited with writing many poems during his lifetime .  Manchan is also associated with the Mohill in Co Leitrim where local tradition holds he  founded a monastery here before heading to Lemanaghan. Manchan died in 664/665  having caught the yellow plague that raged through the country. This is the same plague which killed St Féichín of Fore.

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St Manchan’s church at Lemanaghan

The modern landscape of green fields that surround Lemanaghan  would not  have been the lanscape encountered by  early and later medieval travelers & pilgrim’s.  The modern landscape surrounding Lemanaghan  is  a product of  modern intensive peat cutting.   Originally the monastery  was  founded on a  natural island of dry ground surrounded by  raised bogs. Monahan writing in 1863 describes the site as follows;

Standing on a low swell, an armlet of well-reclaimed bog, it gently rises above the extensive moors with which it is almost surrounded.

This doesn’t mean the Lemanaghan was isolated  from the rest of the world. It was linked  to other settlements in the area in particular Clonmacnoise , and the wider world  through a series of bog roads and tracks . Excavations carried out in the surrounding landscape have identified several roads and tracks many  dating to the 6th and 7th centuries when the monastery was founded.  The excavations also show that roads and tracks were being built and repaired around Lemanaghan up to the 17th century, suggesting it was a focal point in the landscape throughout the medieval period.  Thus its location was not a barrier to pilgrims and visitors.

Little physical evidence remains of the early monastery with the exception of a number of early medieval cross slabs ( two of which are found with St Manchan’s church and ten others housed in national school), a large  bullaun stone (beside the holy well) and a holy well dedicated to St Manchan.  The   annals  list the names of several abbots of the monastery ( in the years  717, 767, 792, 853, 893, 1205). The fortunes of the monastery declined in the later medieval period.  By 1302-6  Lemanaghan became a parochial church.  The papal taxation records,  record that there were no returns from the vicarage of Lemanaghan as it had been ‘laid to waste by the ravages of war’.  St Manchan’s Church  continued in use probably until 17th century and  by 1682-5, the church was recorded as being in a ruinous condition, with church services being held in a nearby house.

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Early medieval cross slab within St Manchan’s church

The main monastic complex  was located at the site of   the modern graveyard. All that  remains  today of this once vibrant monastery  are  two structures called St Manchan’s church and St Manchan’s house.

St Manchan’s church  was built-in  two phases, the  west end dates to the 12th century.  Further building work was carried out in the 15th century at the eastern end .  The  western end of the building  is the oldest with  traces large limestone blocks in its  lower walls and a large Romanesque doorway of 12th century date marks the  entrance in west gable.  A  round-headed Romanesque window also survives.

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Romanesque doorway at St Manchan’s church

Little remains of the second structure called St Manchan’ house, with  only the foot prints of the foundations   visible, the Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly suggest that it is  likely contemporary with the 15th century section of St Manchan’s church.

St Manchan's house

A third church  known as St Mella’s cell,  is located  approximately 350m to the  east.  The site is connected to the main monastic centre  by a narrow paved causeway. Local folklore recounts  that  depressions visible   in the surface of the paving stones of the causeway were  caused by  the saints cow.  St Mella was Manchan’s mother and  tradition suggest she  live here as an anchorite. The present church may have been built on the original cell.

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Causeway leading to St Mella’s Cell

St Mella’s cell  is quiet small measuring  5.5m x 3.1m internally. The walls are  0.8m thick  and constructed  of large  what look like really large cut stones.  These stones are in fact thin slabs set on edge  in the manner of facing stones and the core of the wall is filled with stone rubble. This type of building technique is common in pre-Norman Irish church building.  The church is surrounded by  its original rectangular-shaped enclosure (43m E-W by 35.5m north-south).

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Evidence for Pilgrimage

So what can we say about pilgrimage at Lemanaghan in medieval times?  Pilgrims came here to venerate St Manchan and the anniversary of  the saints  death on the 24th of January would have had a special appeal for pilgrims.  Pilgrims  probably  first began coming here following Manchan’s death.  Given Lemanaghan   proximity and close connections to Clonmacnoise,  the site likely attracted pilgrims heading to Clonmacnoise and to other sites such as Durrow and Rahan, acting as a secondary shrine.  Manchan was probably buried here we have no way of knowing if the saints grave had an appeal for pilgrims.  From the 12th century  onwards  a reliquary known as St Manchan shrine   would also have attracted pilgrims.

The shrine was   commissioned by High King of Ireland, Turlough O’ Connor and  was reputed to house the bones of St Manchan  and manufactured at Clonmacnoise. The annals for 1166 state

The shrine of Manchan, of Maethail (Mohill), was covered by Ruaidhri Ua Conchobhair , and an embroidering of gold was carried over it by him, in as good a style as a relic was ever covered.

This reference likely refers to the Lemanaghan shrine  although it is possible it may refer to second shrine now lost, that existed at Mohill.  Fragments of bone possibly from the saint were found within the shrine.  From the sparse references that exist the shrine appears to have  been  housed near the high alter of St Manchan’s church untill  as late as  the 17th century. It was later moved to the parish church at Boher where it remained until it was stolen last year. Thankfully the shrine was recovered the next day. St Manchan’s shrine is one of the finest  medieval reliquaries to survive in Ireland and its loss would have been significant.

St Manchan’s shrine is what is known as a   house- shaped shrine and resembles the pitched roof of  church or oratory. The shrine  is made of yew wood ( 48cm tall by 40 cm wide by 61cm long) and decorated with highly decorated bronze figures and bosses and  sits on four feet. The shrine was portable  which meant it could be  carried in processions. Four metal loops are found at each corner which allowed wooden poles to be treaded through.  A reliquary procession may have formed part for the pilgrim rituals on  the more important days in the pilgrim calendar such as the saints feast day. It likely that the date of the translation of the saints relics to the shrine would also have been a special day in the pilgrim calendar.

In modern times a piscina   (a shallow basin placed near the altar  of the church  used for washing the communion vessels), at the east end of the south wall of St Manchan’s church   became  a point of modern devotion. Votive offerings such as  coins, pins  and a small plastic statue of Christ are left  behind by modern pilgrims.

Piscina fille with votive offerings

Piscina with votive offerings

Apart from the  aforementioned reliquary, pilgrims would also have visited St Manchan’s holy well.  According to  Monahan writing in 1886  there were  three wells at the site

to which the blind, lame and persons afflicted with other chronic diseases, come on the anniversary of the patrons saint’s death.

Today only one well holy well  remains, it is located close to  the main monastery beside the paved causeway  that connects the main monastic site with  St Mella’s church.  A large bullaun stone and rag tree are also associated with the well.

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Bullaun stone at St Manchan’s holy well

The wells at Lemanaghan may have been a focus of pre-Christian devotion and were christianised when the monastery was founded. The origin  legend for the well tells that  St Manchan struck a rock with his staff and water poured forth.  Another version of the tale states that an existing  well  was blessed by him.  Today people  visit the well throughout the year but the 24th of January the saint’s feast day still has a special appeal.  The  present  well, a natural spring,  is a product of   restoration work carried out  during the 1930s.  Four grave slabs in upright positions were revealed, set out in a cruciform pattern. The spring is enclosed by a stone wall ( key hole shaped) and accessed by series of steps. The surrounding area has been paved. The base of the well is full of coins left by modern visitors to the well.

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St Manchan’s well

The waters of the well are reputed to cure   nearly every ailment is cured , but particularly neuralgia, cancer and warts. The folklore suggests that for a  person to be cured they must apply water to the affected part and walk three times around the well. Beside the well is a misshapen ash tree, covered in rags, handkerchief, rosary beads etc. There is  local  tradition of taking pieces of wood to protect the home.  Similar  practices occur at other sites church as St Moling’s well at Mullinakill Co Kilkenny, where the wood of the tree beside the well is supposed to protect against fire.

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Rag tree beside St Manchan’s holy well

Like most sites we can only get a  glimpse of the medieval pilgrimage tradition  here, through the centuries  pilgrimage has continued and adapted  to the modern pilgrim landscape which focuses on the  piscina within the church and the holy well and rag tree.  I think Lemanaghan was a pilgrimage site in its own right with St Manchan attracting pilgrims  from the locality and beyond but it may have also acted as a secondary shrine for pilgrims enroute to Clonmacnoise & Durrow. If you want to find out more about the site and its history check out the sources listed below.

© Louise Nugent 2013

References

Crawford,  H. S. 1911. ‘The early slabs at Leamonaghan, King’s County’, JRSAI, xli,  151-56.

De Paor, L. 1998, ‘The Monastic ideal; a poem attributed to St. Manachan’ in Ireland and Europe,   163-169.

Fitzpatrick,  E. & O’Brien, C.  1998.  Medieval churches of County Offaly.  Dublin: Government of Ireland.

Graves, J.1874, ‘The Church and Shrine of St. Manchan’ JRSAI, xiii , 134-150.

Monahan, J. 1886. Records relating to the dioceses of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. Dublin : M. H. Gill and son.

O’Carroll, E. 2001. The Archaeology of Leamonaghan: the Story of an Irish Bog. Dublin.

O’Riain, P. 2011. The dictionary of Early Irish Saints. Dublin : Four Courts Press.

O’Brien, C. &  Sweetman, D. P. (eds) 1997.  Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly . Dublin : Stationery Office.

http://www.logainm.ie/Viewer.aspx?text=lemanaghan&streets=yes

Saint Nicholas an Irish Connection

Given that it is  Christmas, this post has a slightly festive theme. It will  explore  the development of the cult of St Nicholas and the saints’  connections with medieval Ireland.

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St Nicholas of Myra

St Nicholas was born in the 4th century and following his death,  his cult developed and spread across the Christian world.  He was a very important saint and was the patron saint of  merchants, sailors, prisoners and children. Today he is venerated in both the Orthrodox and Catholic church. Over time his cult  developed into the modern Santa Clause tradition.

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Map of modern day Turkey showing the territory of Lycia

St  Nicholas  was  born into a wealthy family in  Asia Minor in a place called  Patara (in the modern-day Turkey).  He became  bishop of the port town of  Myra in  the territory of Lycia.

St Nicholas being carried to his burial place  (http://www.omhksea.org/2011/12/saint-nicholas-archbishop-of-myra/)

An image of St Nicholas being carried to his burial-place (http://www.omhksea.org/2011/12/saint-nicholas-archbishop-of-myra/)

The site of his grave soon attracted pilgrims and Myra became a thriving pilgrimage destination. It is thought that the site of the saints grave is located within  the 9th century church  of St Nicholas on the outskirts of Myra. This church sits on an earlier 6th century  church which tradition holds was built over the grave of the saint. Within the present church , there is a  sarcophagus which is thought to have held the remains of the saint.

St Nicholas's tomb at Myra (from http://www.obgtravel.com/DemreE.htm)

St Nicholas’s tomb at Myra (from http://www.obgtravel.com/DemreE.htm)

Throughout his life , St Nicholas performed many miracles and  acts of kindness. Fresco’s within the church depict scenes from the saints life, such as  healing the sick and Nicholas saving the Basileios from the Arabs.

The church at Myra remained a place of pilgrimage  even after the remains of St. Nicholas were stolen in 1087 AD  by Italian sailor from Bari and  brought to  the port town of Bari  in Italy where they remain to this day.  Tradition holds that in their haste  the sailors left fragments of the body  in the grave and these were collected by Venetian sailors during the first crusade and  then brought to Venice. They  were then placed in a church  dedicated to the saint an  on the  Lido.  Over the centuries there was much disagreement between Bari and Venice as to who had the true relic of the saint. Interestingly  Professor of anatomy Luigi Martino at the University of Bari has examined both the remains at Bari and Venice and concluded that the fragments of bones in Venice were complementary to the bones in Bari. His investigations suggest that the bone  are from the skeleton of the same man ( http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/relics-in-the-lido-of-venice/ ).

Thanks to the relics of the saint,  Bari  soon became a great centre of pilgrimage.   Following the saint’s death in the 4th century his body was said to exude a clear liquid called manna or myrrh which was believed to have miraculous powers. When the skeleton was moved to Bari it continued  to exude this clear liquid which was called ‘manna of the saint’. Pilgrims believed the manna had special healing powers .  The manna was diluted and made available in bottles decorated with images of the saint. Every year  on the feast day  of the translation of St Nicholas relics to Bari   a great festival  takes place which culminates in the extraction of the manna by the rector  of the Basilica  (this you tube  link shows this  ceremony

St Nichola's tomb at Bari (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/relics/)

St Nicholas’ tomb at Bari (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/relics/)

So what of the saints connections with Ireland?

The earliest evidence for the  cult of St Nicholas  in Ireland  occurs in the Hiberno Norse town of Dublin.  In  1038, Sigtrygg Silkbeard Olafsson, king of Dublin, with the support of Dúnán the bishop of the city, founded Christ Church Cathedral, with a   chapel  dedicated to St. Nicholas (Bairéad 2010).  For a really interesting discussion on the introduction of the cult of St Nicholas to 11th century Dublin see Eoin Bairéad’s article Nicholas and Dublin  reference given below.

In the  medieval period  his cult  was found in  Gaelic and Norman communities alike.  Dedications to St Nicholas are found attached to holy wells and medieval parish churches across  the entire island of Ireland.  At present I am putting together a database of all medieval sites dedicated to the saint. Hopefully by this time next year I will be able to share more information on the distribution of the cult in Ireland.

One of the most beautiful  medieval churches dedicated to St Nicholas in Ireland is the medieval collegiate church  in Galway city.

St Nicholas's collegiate church Galway

St Nicholas’s collegiate church Galway

Churches and chapels  dedicated to the saint are also found in the port towns of Drogheda  and Waterford.  Additional dedications are found at Dunsany Co Meath, Clonmel, Co Tipperary and Newtown Jerpoint  Co Kilkenny. Holy wells dedicated to the saint are found   in the counties of  Kerry, Limerick ,  Meath and Waterford .

Given the popularity of St Nicholas I see no reason why Irish pilgrims to Rome or Jerusalem would not have  visited Bari or Venice. The Via Francigena was one of the main pilgrim routes to Rome and from Rome it continued  south to the port of Bari.  Bari was also  one of the departure points for the Holy Land and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Within Ireland local pilgrimages were made to holy wells dedicated to the saint  across the country.  I hope to discuss these pilgrimages further in another blog post.

Another likely place of pilgrimage  within Ireland is the deserted medieval town of Newtown Jerpoint Co Kilkenny. I visited   Newtown Jerpoint yesterday and had such a lovely time .  This unique site is in private ownership but it’s  owners Joe and Maeve O’Connell have opened this special place to the public. I highly recommend a visit here and if anyone is interested in visiting check out their website  www.jerpointpark.ie

Located close to the great  Cistercian  foundation of Jerpoint Abbey. The medieval town of  Newtown Jerpoint  was founded  c.1200,  shortly afterwards a church dedicated to St Nicholas was built to cater for the towns growing population.  The town fell out of use in the 17th century.  The remains of the town are   preserved today as a series of earthworks but the guided tour really makes the landscape come alive and you get a real sence of what the town was like .

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Artists reconstruction of the medieval town

So what of the sites connection with pilgrimage? Although extensive records for the town’s history exist there are no  references to medieval pilgrimage  here however tentative evidence may be suggested by the  tradition that St Nicholas of Myra was buried here.  The  Newtown Jerpoint conservation plan  notes that ‘according to local legend , there had been fourteen wine-taverns among the trading establishments of Jerpoint.’  There are some who think that the large amount of taverns may have existed to cater for pilgrims.

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View of St Nicholas’s church at Newtown Jerpoint

So tradition holds that St Nicholas’s grave is marked by  a large medieval  grave slab. The slab  has been dated to the early 14th century by John Hunt (1974, 197). The slab has an effigy of a cleric  dressed in a full chasuble (outermost liturgical vestment worn by clergy), his hands are raised palm-outwards on his chest. On his feet are pointed shoes. Above each shoulder are two heads  one wearing a mitre-like head-dress and the other a pill-box type head-dress.

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14th century grave slab which local tradition holds marks the burial-place of St Nicholas

Local tradition holds that this figure depicts  St Nicholas and the heads are two crusaders who  brought the saints remains back to Ireland.  The tale tells of a band of Irish-Norman knights from Jerpoint, traveling to the Holy Land to take part in the Crusades. On their return  home to Ireland, they seized St Nicholas’ remains, bringing them back to Kilkenny, where the bones were buried.

Another version of the story tells of a French family, the de Frainets, who removed Nicholas’ remains from  Myra to Bari , in 1169 when Bari was under the Normans. The de Frainets were crusaders to the Holy Land and also owned land in Thomastown, Ireland. After the Normans were forced out of Bari, the de Frainets moved to Nice, France, taking the relics with them. When Normans lost power in France, the Nicholas de Frainets packed up once again, moving to Ireland. This story has the relics being buried in Jerpoint in 1200.

Like all legends   there is   probably some  truth to this.  I think it is unlikely that  the  body of St Nicholas  was brought here,  if it had  such an important saint would  most certainly have been placed in an elaborate shrine (most likely within the church). However it is my opinion that the church was  in possession  of  one if not two corporeal  relics  of  St Nicholas.  Norman knights from Kilkenny  did participated in the Crusades to the Holy Land so it is possible one or two  of them brought some relics back with them.  I think that over time this   legend developed and attached itself to the near by burial slab which most likely depicts a cleric associated with the church or nearby Jerpoint abbey. Recently a second grave slab of a similar date has been uncovered at the site and  it also depicts a cleric.

Any church in the possession of  a relic (s) had the potential of attracting pilgrims  and I see no reason why pilgrims would not have come here  to pray to St Nicholas.  A  holy well located a short distance from the church,  also   dedicated to St Nicholas  was another possible point of devotion and there was a tradition that the  water was a cure for skin complaints.

St Nicholas's holy well

St Nicholas’s holy well

Even if St Nicholas is not buried here Newtown Jerpoint is a very special place.  The  sites owner Joe told me he feels a strong connection with St Nicholas and the site and he suspects the saint is buried here. He also told me that  since the site has been open to the public there have been many  happy coincident  which have connected people,  the saint and the site. So  if you get the time take a visit to Newtown Jerpoint.

© Louise Nugent 2012

Bibliography

Bairéad, E.  2010. ‘Nicholas and Dublin’, In eds. Davies, M., MacConville, U. & Cooney, G. A grand gallimaufry: collected in honour of Nick Maxwell. Dublin: Wordwell.
Hunt, J. 1974. Irish Medieval Figure Sculpture. 1200-1600. Irish University Press.

http://jerpointpark.com/newtown-jerpoint-co-kilkenny-ireland/

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/ireland/#i_354

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/kale-church-of-st-nicholas-myra.htm

http://www.heritagecouncil.ie/fileadmin/user_upload/conservationplans/Newton_Jerpoint.pdf

Holycross Abbey: Medieval Pilgrimage and Historic Tours

Holycross was  one of the more popular pilgrim destinations in medieval Ireland. For centuries pilgrims travelled here to venerate the abbey’s sacred relic of the true cross,  which gave  its name to the Abbey.

View of Holycross Abbey from across the river

My last few posts have been about community archaeology projects and this post continues the theme.   The Holycross Community Network have trained  19 of their members as tour guides and will be running guided tours of the abbey, to help visitors  gain a greater appreciation of the abbeys history and  architectural features .

Tour guides Liz Nevin, Marie Byrne, John Bourke, Mike Carley and Adam Tozer

From now until easter the community is offering free guided tours of the abbey (further information holycrossabbeytours@gmail.com / 086-1665869). Being a bargain lover  I headed along with my friend Ciara to one of  the Saturday tours. The  tour  I attended was given by three guides Adam, Liz and John who  entertained us  all with a combination of historical facts  and folklore associated with the site, as well as pointing out  many of the hidden carvings and masons marks scattered around the church and other buildings.

The  full history of the abbey and its association with pilgrimage is too complex to discuss in detail here so I will just give a quick overview  of the abbeys history and association with pilgrimage.

Adam pointing out the whispering arch to visitors  in the cloister area

On the tour we learned that the abbey started out as a Benedictine Abbey (1169) , it was re-founded  as a Cistercian monastery in 1180  by  Domhnall Ó’Briain the King of Thomond  (Limerick).  The abbey was granted a charter in 1185-6, which confirmed lands totalling almost 8000 acres (Stalley 1987, 245). The charter mentions an older name for the area Ceall Uachtair Lamann. The name suggests the presence of early medieval church  in the area.

A copy of  the charter granting lands to Holycross Abbey

It is said that  the original relic  at Holycross was probably the same relic presented in 1110 by Pope Pascal II to Muirchertach Ó”Briain, Domhnall’s grandfather. The relic was likely gifted to abbey either in 1169 or 1181/2 by Domhnall Mór Ó’ Briain. Over time the relic became an object of veneration and attracted large numbers of pilgrims. Scholars believe that there may have been at one time  up to three  relic here at the Abbey (Ó’Conbhuidhe 1999, 166; Halpin & Newmans 2006, 388).

View of  cloister arch

Peter Harbison (1992, 305)  is of the opinion that the later rebuilding was  financed by the stream of pilgrims who came here to venerate the cross. This was also a period when the abbey enjoyed the patronage of the Earl of Ormond, James Butler ,so I am sure this patronage also contributed to the revamp of the abbey. The re-modelling of pilgrim sites  was often the result of increased numbers of pilgrims or the desire to attract more pilgrims.  Alterations were often designed to make the relics more visible and accessible to the multitudes.

Romanesque doorway leading from cloister into the church

The church was  entered from the cloister through an Romanesque style doorway. The cloister and domestic buildings of the monks would have been off-limits to pilgrims who would have entered the church through the western doorway.

The abbey church is  cruciform in plan, with intricate vaulted ceilings.

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Vaulted ceiling in the transept of the church, photo taken prior to restoration. Edwin Rae Photo archive http://hdl.handle.net/2262/40640

There are many interesting features within the church, too many to mention here.  One worth noting is  a beautifully decorated sedilia, traditionally called the ‘Tomb of the Good Woman’s Son’. The sedilia is located within the chancel of the church. The base is highly decorated  and the top of the structure has a series of shields/coats of arms;   the  abbey, the Butler arms and the FitzGerald arms  and the royal arms of England (Stalley 1987, 115).  In the medieval church, the  sedilia functioned as a  stone seat, it was used by priest officiating at the  mass. Over time a colourful legend about the ‘Good Woman’s son’ developed around the sedilia. The earliest recorded version of the tale dates to the mid 17th century. The tale recounts an English prince (some accounts name him as the son Henry II)  travelling through the Holycross area collecting St Peter’s pence, he was killed by an O’Forgarty, the ruling Gaelic family in the area and buried where he fell in a wood called Kylechoundowney (Hayes 2011, 10-12). Some years later a blind monk at the abbey had three visions directing him to go to the wood. Having explained his visions to the abbot, he was given permission to set forth and investigate.  Having reached the wood the blind man’s companion saw a hand sticking out from the ground. The blind monk miraculously returned his sight and a spring of water burst forth from the ground  (ibid). The body was brought back to Holycross and buried and the young man’s mother upon hearing the news  gifted the abbey a relic of the true cross (ibid). This   legend may have developed following the acquisition of a second relic of the true cross.

sedilia known as the Good Woman’s Tomb

Another very interesting feature is an elaborately carved tomb-like structure called the  ‘Waking Bier of the Monks’, situated between the two south transept chapels. Stalley(1987, 116), suggests that it may have possibly functioned as an elaborate shrine where one of the  relics of the True Cross could be viewed through the open-work  canopy .  The base of the  stucture (shrine)  resembles a tomb chest and  the upper section with its canopy, arcades  resembles  English shrines  such as St Albans, St Edward the Confessor at Westminster and St Swithun at Winchester. Hayes (2011, 105)  notes also that Dr Dagmar O’Riain-Raedel suggest the it may also have functioned  as the sepulchrum Domini (the Lords tomb), where following the Good Friday liturgy the relics of the cross and the consecrated Host were placed here to symbolise the burial of Christ  after the crucifixion.  Architectural fragments suggest a  second  shrine  which may  also have displayed a second relic of the cross. These fragments are  not on display at present in the abbey but it  was recorded in 1913, prior to renovations, as being located in the north-west angle of the north transept.  Both structures are contemporary and date to the main period of rebuilding.

Liz telling us the history of the ‘Waking Bier’

The earliest reference to pilgrimage is found in the Papal letters of 1488.  The letters mention ‘the oblations which are made by the faithful to the wood of the Holy Cross in the church of the same monastery and which are collected by collectors appointed for the purpose’. This reference implies that the pilgrimage was well established by 1488. Pilgrims often brought gifts to the shrine, animals, foodstuffs and in the later medieval period coins and wax votives and candles.

The Ormond relic’ a 15th century reliquary containing a relic of the true cross

The presence of ‘collectors’ implies that  significant numbers of people arrived with offerings. We  can only guess how pilgrims would have interacted with the  holy relic but given that this was a working monastery, the monks would have controlled the access of pilgrims ensuring that they did not dispute their daily prayers.  The pilgrims who came here were from all social classes and  came seeking healing both  physical and spiritual for themselves or loved ones, to ask protection and help in times of crisis,   to experience a miracle, others came out of devotion to God, some came out of  curiosity, others to experience to social side of the pilgrimage .

The main burst of devotion would have focused on feasts connected with the holy cross such as  the 3rd of May, the feast marking the finding of the cross and the 14th of September, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (Exaltatio Sanctae Crucis)  a feast greatly observed in the medieval world and Easter.

The abbey also held one of its two annual fairs on the 14th of September,  most likely to take advantage of the large numbers of pilgrims.  A common practice at other pilgrim sites, the fair offered pilgrims a chance to combine prayer and devotion with  more secular pleasures. Medieval fairs were often associated with other activities, such as games and matchmaking and there are many parallels to the descriptions of pattern day festivities associated with mass pilgrimages of the 18th and 19th centuries. From medieval times, the area also has strong links with St Michael whose feast was the 29th of September . So September was a busy month for Holycross.  On special occasions like the feast of the cross,  the relic(s) at Holycross would have been displayed within the church either in the two shrines noted above or possibly displayed in a Rood Screen or the high altar.  It may also be possible that  relics were brought on procession  on busy feast days, as happens still with the relics of St Willibrod in Belgium.

Relics were not just a focus of devotion,  they were also used  in the swearing of oaths  and they were used to ward off evil, pestilence and plague. There are 16th-17th century references to the Holycross relic of the cross being brough out of the abbey as far away as Kilkenny to swear oaths on and even to improve fertility of crops  and there still survives a late medieval image depicting the relic of the True Cross at Holycross, being carried suspended from the abbot’s neck .

15th century window

Unlike many other Irish shrines pilgrimage at Holycross did not end with the reformation.   The relics at the abbey which also included a miraculous statue of the Blessed Virgin,  escaped  destruction by the reformers possibly because of the abbeys connections with the Bulters and there are many references and accounts of pilgrimage at Holycross post-dating the reformation.

Carving of an owl at centre of the church

To   briefly mention just a  few references to post reformation pilgrimage;  in   1567  the Lord deputy complaining to the Queen wrote  ‘there is no small conflunence of people still resorting to the holy cross’. In 1579 James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald is said to have venerated the relic  of the cross at the abbey a few weeks before his death at the hands of the Burkes, while 1583 Dermot O’Hurley archbishop of Cashel made a pilgrimage to the shrine shortly before his capture by the English. The relic of the cross would have attracted people from all classes  and in 1586 Camden writes of the ‘famous abbey’ to which the people still come to do reverence to the relic of the Holy Cross’. He goes on to say ‘It is incredible what a concourse of  people still throng hither out of devotion. For this nation obstinately adheres to the religion of superstition of their forefathers.’

Holycross Abbey, Thurles, County Tipperary - Pre Restoration

Holycross Abbey, Thurles, County Tipperary – Pre Restoration Image from the Edwin Rae Photo archive http://hdl.handle.net/2262/40632

The reformation began the decline of the  religious community at Holycross. In 1534 Willian Dywer, then Abbot, resigned his office  to Philip Purcell and the abbey became a provostry rather than a Cistercian abbey. By the 17th century the abbey had fallen into ruins and links with the Cistercians were finally broken with the death of Fr Edmond Coogan in  c1740.

The abbey and its church remained in ruins until the 1970’s when a  special act of parliament known as the HOLYCROSS ABBEY (COUNTY TIPPERARY) ACT, 1969 (http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1969/en/act/pub/0007/print.html), allowed  for its re-consecration and restoration. This process is described in fully in an excellent book Holycross. The Awakening of the Abbey, by William Hayes details this process. There is lots more to add about the pilgrimage tradition and I will hopefully discuss it further in the coming months.

View of the restored  abbey church from the cloister

© Louise Nugent 2012

References

Halpin,  A. & Newman, C. 2006. Ireland. An Oxford Archaeological Guide to Sites

  from the Earliest Times to AD 1600. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harbison, P. 1991. Pilgrimage in Ireland. The monuments and the people. London:

Syracuse University Press.

Harbison, P. 1992. Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland. Dublin:

Gill & Macmillian.

Nugent, L. 2009. Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland, AD 600-1600. Vol.1-3.Unpublished PhD Thesis, University College Dublin.

Stalley, R.1987. The Cistercian monasteries of Ireland: an account of the history, art

  and architecture of the white monks in Ireland from 1142-1540. London: Yale U.P.

Graveyard recording at Newcastle

This week I  headed along to  another historic graveyard at Middlequarter,  Newcastle, Co. Tipperary.  The old graveyard at Newcastle  along with the graveyards at Molough, Shanrahan and Tubrid, are  currently being recorded by local community groups trained by Historic Graves (http://historicgraves.ie/).

The Medieval Church and graveyard at Middlequarter, Newcastle, image taken from Bing maps

Newcastle graveyard  is located close  to  the Anglo-Norman castle which gives its name to the area.  The remains of the castle consist of a  hall house with a vaulted roof, a tower and a bawn. The castle  is strategically located  on the banks of the River Suir close to the fording point .  The castle  is  part of a group  of 12th -13th castles  built in a line along foothills  of the Knockmealdown mountains. This  area was the  frontier  between the Anglo-Norman territory and the Gaelic territory of the Déises . Newcastle was in the control of the Prendergast family from the 13th to the 17th century, it then  passed into the hands of  the Perry’s family.

View of Newcastle castle from the nearby graveyard

The historic graveyard  surrounds  a 12th /13th century church, which functioned as the medieval parish/manorial church .

The medieval church at Newcastle

Newcastle church is one of the largest medieval parish churches in the surrounding area, being 29m  in length and 10m in width. Any past dedication to a saint has long been forgotten and today the church is simply known as the old church.

Southern doorway of the church

The church is entered through two ornate doorways  at the west end of the church, located in the  north and south wall.  The south doorway is simpler in design with a moulded surround. The north doorway is slightly taller and has roll and fillet-mouldings with traces of hood- moulding over the apex of the door. Both doors are directly opposite each other.

The North doorway of the church at Newcastle

There is no evidence of an internal division   between the chancel and the nave within the church, nor is there any traces of a choir.

The east gable  of the church is now partially collapsed. Luckily the Ordnance Survey Letters of 1840 provide the following decription

Its east window is in the pointed style and constructed of brownish sandstone chiselled… 6 feet in height and 1 foot 8 inches in width. It is divided into two compartments the stone which separates them has been removed (O’Flanagan 1930 Vol.1,  22)

View from window at NE end of the church

The  Ordnance Survey letters also state that ‘ the church was burnt by a Prendergast who lived in Curraghcloney Castle’  (O’Flanagan 1930, vol. 1, 23).  However today  many   local people tell the tale, that it was Cromwell  who burned the church .

Volunteers recording gravestones at Newcastle

The graveyard  has a mixture of 18th , 19th and 20th century graves, including some very recent ones. In total there are  204  grave markers in  the graveyard.

Volunteers recording a gravestone

It is difficult to decide which gravestones to include here  as there are so many interesting ones. The stone below was carved in  1755  to commemorate the death of Denis Morison.

A simple gravestone dating to 1755

Some of the early gravestones have lovely decoration. The  stone below depicts the crucifixion scene and a stone by the same mason has been identified in Shanrahan & Tullaghmelan graveyards.

Crucifixion imagery on the gravestone of Daniel Long of Neddins died 1817

The interior of the  church is packed with approximately 60 burials. At the east end are three unusual  burials. A chest tomb sits in the NE corner of the church. The  inscription of the tomb is worn away and impossible to read.  O’ Hallian  in his book Tales from the Deise  gives the following   account of the inscription

Here lyeth the body of Jeffry Prendergast of Mullough in the county of Tipperary who served in Flanders as Captain under the Great Duke of Marlbourugh, from  whom he had the honour of reciting public thanks for his services at the siege of Ayr in 1710. Died 1713. he was an affectionate husband and tender father, in friendship steady and sincere; to all beneath him courteous, truly just and therefore universally esteemed and beloved. He lived under the influence of religion and died cheerfully supported by it the  27th day of March in the 64th year of his life.

Chest tomb of Jeffery Prendergast

John Burke’s A Genealogical and Heraldic History of Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies….. records that Jeffrey’s father Thomas Prendergast, esq was born in 1614 and married Elinor the sister of Walter the 11th Earl of Ormond. The text also says  Thomas died in 1725, aged 111 years ‘as appears on his tombstone at Newcastle, near Clonmel’.  Once the survey is complete if the tombstone commemorating Thomas survives I am sure the volunteers will uncover it.  I would wonder if he was not interred with his son Jeffery.

Beside the Prendergast tomb are two grave slabs which I recorded as part of a project for  college in 1998.  The  inscription on slabs have  deteriorated since  I last visited here. One  has a motif of  a horse standing on its hind legs in an oval frame. This is the grave of Samuel Hobson sq of Muckridge,  who died in 1782.  The second slab records the burial of ‘Lieu Henry Prendergast of Mulough’ and his wife who died in 1776 , along with  their a coat of arms.

Crest on the Prendergast grave slab

© Louise Nugent 2012

References

Hallinan, M, 1996. Tales from the Deise: an anthology on the history and heritage of Newcastle, the Nire Valley, and especially the Parish of Newcastle and Four-Mile-Water. Dublin: Kincora Press.

O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (compiler) 1930. Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the county of Tipperary collected during the progress of the Ordnance  Survey in 1840. 3 Vols. Bray: Typescript.

Power, Rev. P. 1937. Waterford and Lismore; a compendious history of the united

  dioceses. Cork: Cork University Press.