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).

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

Medieval pilgrimage in honour of St Féichín and the ‘ Seven Wonders’ of Fore, Co Westmeath

Today is the feast day of  the  7th century St Féichín. What follows is a short account of the saints life and the history  for pilgirmage  to his shrine at Fore, Co Westmeath.

St Féichín was born in Billa in the townland of Collooney in Co Sligo and his cult is represented in the area by a number of places dedicated to him, such as  St Féichín’s well in the townland of Kilnamonagh and St Féichín’s Bed in Collonney .

Féichín  became a  student of St Nathí of Ardconry  and  went on to found  a number of churches   around Ireland such as  Fore Co. Westmeath,  Cong in Mayo, Omey & High Island in  Co Galway  and Termonfeckin Co Louth . His cult  also speard to  Scotland  and a monastery dedicated to him was founded at Arbroath (where he is known as St Vigean).   The annals tell us St Féichín died in AD 665  at Fore, having caught the  Yellow Plague, which was raging through Ireland at the time.  His Life notes that at the time of his death 300o monks resided at Fore.  It is very interesting that tradition held he was buried ar Ciarán’s church or Castlekeeran near Kells Co. Meath instead of Fore.

A Brief  Description of the Ecclesiastical Remains at Fore

This post will focus on the evidence for pilgrimage at Féichín’s  monastic site of Fore.

First edition Ordnance Survey map  of Fore

1st ed. Ordnance Survey map of Fore

Fore is located in a valley,   the archaeological  remains  consist of an early medieval church and cross located on the rocky slopes of the valley. On the valley  floor are the ruinous remains of  a  Benedictine monastery,   a Norman Motte,  fragments of a medieval town wall and  up to 14 wayside or boundary crosses scattered around the valley.

The original  early monastic site  was located  on a north facing terrace on the west side of the village.  Today all that remains are  a 10th century church  known locally as St Féíchin’s church. The church sits within a historic graveyard with a medieval cross.

Medieval cross within the graveyard at St Féichín's church

Medieval cross within the graveyard at St Féichín’s church

Close by are  the remains of  a mill  and  two holy wells  called  Tobernacogany and  Doaghfeighin.

On a terrace above the church  a 15th century tower with an  anchorite cell  that is attached to a 19th mausoleum for the Grenville-Nugent family.

View of the early monastic site at Fore

View of the early medieval  St Féichín’s church. The  19th century mausoleum is located on the terrace above St Féichín’s church.

During the 12th century the area fell into Anglo-Norman control and  a Benedictine abbey was founded on the valley floor by Hugh de Lacy. The abbey was dedicated to St Taurin and St Féichín and was a dependant of  St Taurine’s monastery at Evreux in Normandy.

Benedictine Priory at Fore

Benedictine Priory at Fore

Pilgrimage at Fore

Details of the medieval pilgrimage at Fore are very  sketchy and uncovering the pilgrimage rituals are  difficult. The earliest written evidence of pilgrimage dates to AD 1607 when Fore is listed among the 12 Irish sites  granted a plenary indulgence to the faithful, by Pope Paul V.  The indulgence related to specific days Corpus Christi and the feast of the Annunciation.  Given the popularity of the cult of St Féichín  in early medieval times,  pilgrimage at Fore  is likely to be much much earlier. The Life of St Féichín records many miracles by the saint during his life time and pilgrims likely came here  in the years following the saints death.

There is a tradition associated with the Fore  known as   the  Seven Wonders of Fore;

1. The anchorite in a stone

2. The water that will not boil

3. The monastery built on a bog

4. The mill without a stream

5. The water which flows uphill

6. The tree which will not burn

7. The stone lintel raised by the saint’s prayers.

 ‘Wonder’ number 2 & 6  relate to the holy well called  Tobernacogany . In the 19th century pilgrims performed stations here on the 20th of January the feast of St Féichín, St John’s day, the 24th of June and on St Peter’s day the 29th of June. It was recorded that following devotions the pilgrims would drive a coin edgeways into the ash tree beside the well.

Rag tree at St Féichín's well / Tobernacogany

Rag tree at Tobernacogany

It was said that the wood from this tree wouldn’t burn and the water from the well would not boil. The well itself was known to cure headaches and toothaches.

Another focus of 19th century devotion was Doaghfeighin or St Féichín’s Vat or Keen. This is a spring  which is defined by large stones arranged like a box. When I visited here the well was dry.

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Doaghfeighin (Feichin’s Vat)

Tradition holds that St Féichín would kneel and pray here. In the past  delicate and sick  children were immersed here in the water to obtain a cure through the  invocation of St Féichín.  A similar practice occurred at Glendalough during the 19th century when pilgrims would immerse sick children in a pool called St Kevin’s Keeve. Both wells are likely to have been a focus of   early  and later medieval devotion.

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Rag tree beside Doaghfeighin

The first ‘wonder’  the anchorite in a stone  likely refers to the anchorite cell attached to the 15th century tower. Within the mausoleum is  a stone which records the death of the last anchorite of Fore,  Patrick Beglan who died in 1616. This cell doesn’t appear to have been part of the  medieval or the 19th century pilgrimage stations.

Tower connected to ancohorite cell

Tower, Anchorite cell  &  Mausoleum

The third ‘wonder’ the monastery in a bog  refers not to the early monastic site which is located on the slops of the valley but the later Benedictine foundation location on the valley floor. Monasteries built on within bogs are not unusual in early medieval Ireland and Lemanaghan Co Offaly and Monaincha in North Co Tipperary are just two examples.  During the later medieval period the monastery would have been in possession of any relics associated with St Féichín.

View of benedictine Priory in the valley floor

View of Benedictine Priory in the valley floor

The ‘Wonders’ number 4 and 5,  the mill without a stream and  the water which flows uphill all refer to the   monastic mill, the ruins of which are still visible. This building stands on the original mill built by the saint.  According to local tradition the mill   was in use until 1875 when it was replaced by another mill.

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The mill  was  powered by an underground stream  which flows into a  now silted up triangular-shaped mill-pond.  The name Fore in Irish Fobhar means spring. The origin legend of the mill tells  that the saint decided to build a water-mill,  his carpenter scoffed at the idea of building the mill where there was no water. The saint

resorted to the lake, took his staff, flung it into the lake, which forthwith drove it against the side of the hill, which the staff at once pierced, cutting its way through the stone cliffs, drawing the waters of the lake after it, and coming out a mile distant at the exact point where the mill had been erected. And now came the punishment of the mill wright. He had gone to sleep in the mill when the saint departed to the lake. The wondrous staff, however, brought such a volume of water along with it that the mill was filled, and the sleeping millwright drowned, in punishment of his scoffing incredulity. St Fechin relaxed however, and when he had given him this severe lesson, miraculously restored him to life…

Geraldus  in his history of Ireland   written in the 12th century mentions the mill of St Féichín at Fore  and  notes  the prohibition against women entering either the churches or the mill.

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St Féichín’s church showing the large lintel over the doorway

‘Wonder’ number 7  refers to the enormous lintel over the door of St Féichín’s church .  Tradition records that this lintel was placed in position by the miraculous action of St Féichín himself.

According to legend when the church was being built the workmen had been labouring for hours striving to raise it, but to no avail. St. Féichín told them to go home to breakfast, and then began to  pray.  After some time spent in prayer, the saint took the stone in his arms, and without any difficulty placed it over the doorway.

With regards to  modern pilgrimage here. The rag trees beside the Tobernacogany and Doaghfeighin are covered in rags which suggests there is still a strong   local devotion to both  wells.

In 2010 a large-scale pilgrimage took place here. The Westmeath Examiner  for  2010 recorded  this  pilgrimage was to  commemorate  ‘the Jubilee Pilgrimage, and also to celebrate the year of the priesthood and as a preparation for the Eucharistic Congress in 2012′   Approximately 400 people from 9 parishes came here for this pilgrimage on May 23rd 2010.

The pilgrimage consisted of   the   Blessed Sacrament being brought in procession from Fore Church to the ruins of the Abbey,’ a trip which took over an hour’ . The   Blessed Sacrament was then carried along the walkway to the Abbey and around the Abbey. The nine parishes took turns carrying the Monstrance in procession with prayers read throughout and choirs from the nine parishes lead by Fore Choir.’ The paper also notes Local schools also prepared large banners which the children carried in the procession.

© Louise Nugent 2013

References

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

Sharkey, O. 2004. Fore and Its  Ancient Buildings. Mullingar: Magpie Publications

Stokes, G. T.1892. ‘St Feichin of Fore and his monastery. JRSAI 12, 1-12.

http://www.westmeathexaminer.ie/news/roundup/articles/2010/05/27/3997364-big-turnout-for-fore-pilgrimage-of-hope-and-healing Accessed 15/01/2013.

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.

 Lycia

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

Click to access Newton_Jerpoint.pdf

Holy wells of County Meath

I had a lovely surprise this week,   I received a  gift  from my friend Muireann of a  newly published  book on holy wells called  Meath Holy Wells by Noel French. Holy wells have always interested me. They are really are  special and peaceful places. Given that there are approximately  3000 holy wells  in Ireland  they are many wells scattered around the country that  I am unaware of  and I must confess until now  I knew little of the wells in Meath.

Meath Holy Wells by Noel French

So what is a holy well? A holy well is a natural spring or natural  or man-made hollows ( bullaun stones)  in rock  which collect with water,  deemed to have a religious significance through association with the saint. The history of devotion at holy wells is  complicated,   the earliest references to the Christian use of holy wells  date to the seventh century but   many  are likely to have prehistoric origins and were apropreiated by the new christian church in the 5th and 6th centuries.  I think a small number were originally used for domestic use and developed into pilgrim features in the post medieval period. Without medieval documentation for a wells or excavation the dating of many of these monuments are very difficult, although a dedication to an early medieval saint suggests at least an early medieval date.

St. Lucy’s Well, Killua on the Meath – West Meath Border

Holy wells can occur in isolation but many are located close to ecclesiastical enclosures. There are found in both rural and urban  landscapes.  The majority of literary accounts of pilgrimage to holy wells date to the post medieval period, although a handful of holy wells are named in the medieval literature and its likely the tradition of pilgrimage to the well goes back to prehistoric times.  In many case  usually on the saints feast day there were special religious devotions at the well, people would gather and perform special prayers and rituals  ( rounding of the well ) on what was known as the pattern  day. The word pattern derived from ‘patron’  in reference to the patron saint, so pattern day refers to the patron saints day . There are many account of post medieval and modern pilgrims leaving votive offerings at  wells  such as pins, coins, buttons, holy medal and treads from shawls. Cruthes were left at Fr Moores well in Kildare. Even today at popular well pilgrims leave behind rosary bead,  candles, inhalers etc.

The book, Meath Holy Wells  records approximately 123 holy wells.  The Meath wells are dedicated to a wide range of Irish  saints  such as Patrick , Colmcille, Brigid, Kieran. Universal saints include the Blessed Virgin , Anne, Lucy and Nicholas.  Each well is described  and many accompanied by a  colour photo.  All the  traditions and folklore of the wells are recorded. Like elsewhere in the country many of the Meath wells are associated with healing, the waters of  St Seachnaill’s well,  Dunshauglan were said the cure swelling of any part of the body,  while the waters of St Ultan’s well Ardbraccan were a cure for sore eyes.

I discovered an astonishing  fact in the introduction,   that  the Meath archaeological Survey  ingnored these wells  and the County Development plan lists only 3 wells.  This is shocking when one considers the significance of these monuments.   Holy wells are of great cultural value and as  wells cease to attract pilgrims  they become ever vunerable to  being destroyed.  I was delighted to read that a significant number, such as St Johns well at Warrenstown are still the site of active pilgrimages.  This book  really showcases the value of the holy wells of county Meath and  it will hopefully make the people of Meath aware of their significance and go along way to help in their preservation for future generations.

Pilgrims at St Johns well , Warrenstown

This is really a lovely book and perfect for dipping in and out of . If anyone is  keen to  find out more about the holy wells of Meath, the book Meath Holy Wells – PRICE €15,   is available at Maguires, Hill of Tara, Newgrange, Antonia’s, Trim, Siopa an Caislean, Trim and Post Office, Trim. Also by post from Noel French, Castle Street, Trim  for €15 including postage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg & the Carlow connection

I am delighted to present this exciting  guest post about St Willibrord  the patron saint of Luxembourg who has an  interesting connection to Co. Carlow. The post is  written by Dermot Mulligan  curator of the Carlow County Museum.

St. Willibrord as featured in a stain glass window in the Basilica of Echternach, Luxembourg. Photo Carlow County Museum.

Today November 7th is St. Willibrord’s Feast Day. He is from England, is the Patron Saint of Luxembourg, he was trained and ordained in County Carlow. In 690AD  he led a successful European mission from Carlow, and the annual hopping procession held in his honour in Echternach, Luxembourg has received UNESCO World Heritage Status.

Located in the townland of Garryhundon, Co Carlow is an archaeological site commonly referred to as Killogan, Rath Melsigi (Rathmelsh) or Clonmelsh Graveyard (¹). The site of Clonmelsh Graveyard at  Garryhundon  is situated on private land and is not accessible to the public. A worthy alternative is the magnificent St. Laserian’s Cathedral,  in the village of Old Leighlin.

Image of St Laseran’s Cathedral Old Leighlin taken from Wiki Commons.

During the seventh and eight centuries Rath Melsigi was the site of the  most important Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical settlement in Ireland (2).

During the sixth century St. Colmcille established a monastery on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. In the late sixth century and early seventh century Carlow born (Myshall) St. Columbanus became the leading figure of Irish missionary work on mainland Europe. As a result of such work there were a number of monasteries established in Europe which had close relationships with abbeys in Ireland. It is believed that much of the early Anglo-Saxon manuscripts were written in Irish script either directly by Irish monks based in Britain or by Anglo-Saxon monks who were trained by Irish monks (3).

Stain Glass window in the Basilica of Echternach depicting St. Willibrord at Rathmelsh. Photo Carlow County Museum.

Building on this close relationship between Irish and European monasteries a number of ecclesiastical settlements were established in Ireland that accommodated European monks, in particular Anglo-Saxon monks. The most note worthy of these was the settlement in Garryhundon. It is quite likely that the site had a direct relationship with the monastery that was located at the site now occupied by St. Laserian’s Cathedral in Old Leighlin. This monastery, which is believed to have had over one thousand monks, was for several centuries a major ecclesiastical settlement.

From 678AD to 690AD a student named Willibrord from Northumbria was trained and based at Rathmelsh (4). From here he led eleven other Carlow based monks on a major mission to the Frisian Land and in 695AD he was consecrated a Bishop by Pope Sergius 1 (5).

St. Willibrord’s tomb in the crypt of the Basilica of Echternach, Luxembourg. Photo Carlow County Museum.

He initially built a cathedral in Utrecht, Holland but later he moved to present day Luxembourg and to the town of Echternach where he founded an abbey. From here he continued to co-ordinate missions of the surrounding countries and in 739AD he died aged 81 (6). He is buried in Echternach, and he is the only saint to be buried in Luxembourg. As part of the abbey in Echternach he established a very important scriptorium and for a considerable period of time many great European bibles, psalms and prayer books were produced by the Abbey. It is likely that the initial scribes were from Carlow.

Great devotion and religious festivals are still held to this day in his honour and in particular a hopping procession, a dance that dates back to, if not predates                           St. Willibrord’s life time. The hopping procession takes place annually on the Tuesday after Pentecost Sunday and over thirty thousand people descend on Echternach to partake along with dozens of Cardinals, Arch-Bishops and Bishops from over one hundred and sixty parishes across Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland and Germany who still have devotions to St. Willibrord.

Hopping Procession in honour of St. Willibrord, over nine thousand people hop a two kilometer route from the monastery to the Basilica and past St. Willibrord’s tomb. Photo Carlow County Museum.

The abbey is now home to a large secondary school and in the adjoining Basilica                St. Willibrord is buried in the crypt under the altar. The hopping procession starts in the abbey square and proceeds for approximately two kilometers through the streets of the town, then into the Basilica, down into the crypt and past St. Willibrord’s remains. This unique procession coupled with the European importance of the abbey saw the procession granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010 ( 7).

Hopping Procession in honour of St. Willibrord, over nine thousand people hop a two kilometer route from the monastery to the Basilica and past St. Willibrord’s tomb. Photo Carlow County Museum.

Towards the end of World War 11 the Basilica was badly damaged during the Battle of the Bulge but during the 1950s it was reconstructed including the instillation of a stain glass window depicting St Willibrord’s training, ordination and first mass at Rathmelsh(8).

In October 2009 President Mary McAleese as part of her official state visit to Luxembourg visited Echternach. In May 2010 following an invitation from the St. Willibrord Foundation staff from Carlow County Museum visited the town during the famous hopping procession. In April 2012 Ireland’s newest County Museum, Carlow opened to the public in Carlow town and there is a section depicting St. Willibrord and his connection to the county.

President Mary McAleese & her husband Martin in Echternach during the Presidents State to Luxembourg in October 2009. Photograph Alain Muller, Willibrordus-Bauverein

Post written by Dermot Mulligan Curator of Carlow County Museum. Information & pictures supplied by Carlow County Museum.

Telephone:       059-9131554

Email:              museum@carlowcoco.ie

Website:          www.carlowcountymuseum.ie

Twitter:           @CarlowCountyMus

Facebook:    http://www.facebook.com/CarlowCountyMuseum

Download for free a copy of ‘Carlow Trails of the Saints’, which consists of three distinct driving trails around the county, http://www.carlowtourism.com/wp-content/uploads/Carlow-Trails-of-the-Saints.pdf

Footnotes:

1          Recorded Monuments County Carlow 1995. SMR Number: CW012-025 Garryhundon.

2          Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinin, NUI Galway

3          Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinin, NUI Galway. ‘The first century of Anglo-Irish relations AD 600 – 700’; The O’Donnell Lecture 2003, National University of Ireland.

4          Emile Seiler ‘St. Willibrord’; Carloviana, 2000.

5          Willibrordus-Bauverein ‘Die Basilika St. Willibrord in Echternach’.

6          Emile Seiler ‘St. Willibrord’; Carloviana, 2000

7                     http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/RL/00392

8                     ‘Das Leben und Wirken des heiligen Willibrord’ Willibrordus-Bauverein, 2008


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.

https://i0.wp.com/www.tara.tcd.ie/bitstream/2262/40640/1/ertk2522.jpg

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 Tubrid and St Ciaráns well

I was so impressed by last weeks visit to  Shanrahan graveyard   that I decided to head along to Tubrid/Tubbrid graveyard today and have a go at some graveyard recording for myself.

19th century Church of Ireland at Tubrid

Tubrid is another interesting place, thats well worth a visit. Today it consists of  the ruins of a 19th century church of Ireland surrounded by a graveyard.

Mortuary chapel

The graveyard contains a small 17th century mortuary chapel which is   the burial-place of Geoffrey Keating the author of  The Foras Feasa ( the history of  Ireland). Keating was born nearby at Burgess townland.  Over the door of the mortuary chapel is a latin plaque.

Latin plaque that commemorates Keating

Power (1937)  recorded the Latin inscription as ,

ORAte Pro Aiabs P. Eugenu: Duhy Vic de Tybrud: et D: Doct Galf: Keating huis Sacelli Fundatoru: necno et pro oibs alusta sacerd. quam laicis quoru corpa in eod: jacet sa A Dom 1644

Pray for the souls of Father Eugenius Duhy, Vicar of Tybrud, and of Geoffrey Keating, D.D., Founders of this Chapel ; and also for all others, both Priests and Laics whose bodies lie in the same chapel. In the year of our Lord 1644.

The graveyard is filled with really beautiful 18th and 19th century gravestones which I recorded with the help of other volunteers like Patsy McGrath, Michael Fennessy and Deirdre Walsh and training by Historic Graves (http://historicgraves.ie/).

The oldest stone  I came across dated to 1680. Some of the stones were difficult to read but John Tierney of Historic graves had a few trick using artificial lights that made the recording process easier.

Mark Ryland recording a grave inscription.

One of the earliest inscriptions I came across

Here Lies the body, of Anno Neil alias McGrath, who departed Life this 22 Day of Feb 1795 Aged 48.

Gravestone dating to 1795

Many of the gravestones are decorated with beautiful imagery, below is one of my favourite decorated gravestones.

St Ciarain’s well at Tubrid

I also visited   the nearby holy well of  St Ciarán, which is  a few 100 yards down the road  on the banks of   the Thonoge River.  This is not Ciarán of Clonmacnoise but Ciarán of Tubrid/ Ciarán son of Eachaid of the Decies.   Power (1914) noted the nearby graveyard and  church  was called Cillín Ciarán or Ciarán’s little church.  Ciarán is mentioned in the Irish and Latin Lives of St Declan. The Irish Life tells how Declan baptised Ciarán at the near by holy well when he was an infant (Power 1914).

And it was this child, Ciaran Mac Eochaid, who founded in after years a famous monastery (from which he migrated to heaven) and another place (monastery) beside. He worked many miracles and holy signs and this is the name of his monastery Tiprut (Power 1914, 59).

O’Riain (’2011, 174) notes  he is also mentioned in the Life of Tighearnach of Clones, whom he accompanied to Tours( the shrine of St Martin) in France. Shortly before the trip he resuscitated a daughter of the king of Munster named Eithne ‘ possibly the eponym of Temple-etney, near Tubrid’ (ibid).

The saints feast day was the 10th of November and the well was visited on this day within memory. Power in 1914 gives  the following description of the well

‘The Holy Well of Tubrid, a large circular basin at which stations were formerly made, has recently been enclosed by a wall.  A public pump too has been erected in connection with it’ (1914, 175).

St Ciarán’s well

Today the well is a rectangular  shaped  trough built into a retaining wall at the edge of a  hillside.  The top  of the wall is   covered with concrete. At the back of the well recess is , a stone spout which carries water draining off the hillside which fills the trough.

A local lady from Ballylooby told me that within memory  school kids at Ballylooby were given the day off on the saints feast day and people would visit the well .  Mass was said here until about 10-15 years ago but the tradition of stations had died as Power noted in the 1900’s .

References

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

Power, Rev. P. 1914. The Life of St Declan. London: Irish Text Societies.

Power, Rev. P. 1937. Waterford & Lismore. A Compendious History of the United Dioceses. Cork. Cork University Press.