Pilgrimage to St Mullins Co. Carlow during the Black Death

Throughout the medieval period many people made pilgrimage in times of crisis such as personal illness, outbreaks of disease and natural disasters like drought. The Black Death was one of the biggest crisis to be faced by people during the fourteenth century in  Ireland.

The Annals of Ireland written between 1333-1349 by John Clyn, a Franciscan friar of Kilkenny, contains a chilling first hand account of the Black Death as it raged through Ireland.

The text also records a very rare account of pilgrimage to the ecclesiastical site of St Mullins whose ruins are now at the centre of a picturesque village of the same name in Co. Carlow.

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Remains of St Moling’s ecclesiastical site along side the Anglo Norman motte at St Mullins Co. Carlow ( image from SMART (St. Mullins Amenity & Recreational Tourism Group) Facebook Page.

The ecclesiastical site of St Mullins traces its history back to the seventh century, when St Moling founded a monastery on the banks of the river Barrow.  Following the saints death his monastery went on to become one of the most importance pilgrim sites in Leinster.

In the year in 1348  John Clyn recorded great numbers of pilgrims arriving at St Mullins. The pilgrims were drawn here because of St Moling reputation for healing and miracles. They hoped that by praying to the saint in the presence of his relics they might be protected from the plague.

This year, and chiefly in the months of September and October, great numbers of bishops and prelates, ecclesiastical and religious, peers and others, and in general people of both sexes, flocked together by troops to the pilgrimage and wading of the water at Tigh Moling [St Mullins] so that many thousands might be seen there together for many days; some came out of devotion, but the greater part for fear of the pestilence which raged at that time with great violence….” ( Williams 2007, 246).

The pilgrims made their prayers at St Moling’s holy well  and millrace located just outside the main monastic enclosure.  The twelfth Latin Life of  St Moling, recalls how the saint single handed dug the mill race over seven years and then consecrated ‘…by walking through it against the flood…’. The pilgrims hoped that by washing or ‘wading’ in the of the waters of the millrace and the holy well they would be protected from the plague. We do not know how the pilgrims fared in the coming months how many died or survived.

 

The plague spread rapidly after its arrival to Ireland.  In June of 1349 Clyn wrote that the pestilence was so contagious that those who ‘touched the dead or the sick were immediately affected themselves and died’.   Shortly after writing the description below Clyn contracted the disease and died.

Many died of boils, abscesses and pustules which erupted on the legs and in the armpits. Others died in frenzy, brought on by an affliction of the head, or vomiting blood. This amazing year was outside the usual order of things, exceptional in quite contradictory ways – abundantly fertile and yet at the same time sickly and deadly… It was very rare for just one person to die in a house, usually, husband, wife, children and servants all went the same way, the way of death… (Williams 2007, 250).

St Moling’s holy well along with the medieval millrace can still be seen in the modern landscape at St Mullins. St Moling’s holy well is still a focus of modern pilgrimage on the second Sunday of July.  If anyone who wants to find out more about the medieval pilgrimage at St Mullins check out  my new book Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland.

Bibliography

Nugent, Louise.  Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage From Medieval Ireland. Dublin: Columba Books, 2020.

Williams, Bernadette. The Annals of Friar John Clyn. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007.

An outline of my new book ‘Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland’.

I am delighted to announce that my new book, Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland, published by Columba Books, is now available to per-order through the Columba Books website  with free shipping.

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Front cover of my new book on Irish Pilgrimage Journeys of Faith. Stories of Pilgrimage from Medieval Ireland

Just to give you a taste of what the book is like. The layout follows the stages of  pilgrimage from departure, arrival at the pilgrim shrine and the return home.

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Table of Contents for Journeys of Faith

Chapter 1 explores what type of pilgrim sites existed in early and late medieval Ireland.

Chapter 2 highlights the known pilgrim destinations outside of Ireland visited by Irish pilgrims such as Canterbury and Rome.

Chapter 3 explores the many and varied reasons and  motivations that prompted Irish people to make pilgrimage such as penance – indulgences- the quest for healing.

Chapter 4  looks at the spiritual and practical  preparations made by pilgrims in advance of undertaking their pilgrimage.

Chapter 5  discusses the evidence for travel in medieval Ireland, focusing on the well known pilgrim road – Tóchar Phádraig,  along with the journeys of individual Irish pilgrims.

Chapter 6- explore the evidence for travel outside of Ireland to exotic places like Rome and Jerusalem and tells the story of the pilgrimage of  Irish Franciscan friar Simon FitzSimon who traveled to Jerusalem in the 14th-century.

Chapter 7 & 8 focus on the pilgrims arrival at their destination and teases out they interacted with relics, the graves of saints and holy statues as well as other pilgrims.

Chapter 9 the final chapter looks at the pilgrims return journey along with, the archaeological evidence for pilgrimage such as pilgrim souvenirs and pilgrim burials.

Throughout the book I  highlight many  interesting stories of Irish pilgrims who made journeys big and small across this island and overseas. Some of my favorite stories include the pilgrims who traveled to St Mullins, Co Carlow in 1348, in search of a miraculous cure for the Black Death. Or the pilgrimage of  Heneas Mac Nichaill who made pilgrimage to atone  for the murder of his son by visiting nineteen pilgrim sites around scattered across the island of  Ireland in 1543.

I think one of the best things about researching this book was visiting so many amazing Irish pilgrim sites. Those of you who follow this blog already  know I love to use photos  in my posts and I am delighted to say the book is full of  photos of  many of these special places.

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For any one interested in purchasing Journeys of Faith follow the link to Columba Book order page

https://columbabooks.com/product/journeys-of-faith/?fbclid=IwAR1Fe6qvSmEE81l-MuANngWRASTh4Nzna2p5ElimKE0xrQqJDOcAj0WFzpA