Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 12th: Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey1Hore Abbey2Hore Abbey3Hore Abbey in County Tipperary Ireland is often overshadowed by the awe inspiringly spectacular Rock of Cashel which looms right over it. It is, however, a very interesting abbey in its own right.

The Abbey was founded by the Benedictines in 1266. However in 1269 it is said that the Archbishop of Cashel David McCarvill had a dream that the monks attempted to decapitate him so he violently threw the Benedictines out. It is definitely true that he evicted the Benedictines, though it was probably for a more prosaic reason.

He remade the abbey as a Cistercian foundation and imported monks from Mellifont Abbey to populate it. It was the last Cistercian abbey to be founded in Ireland. The majority of the ruins you see today date from the 13th century though some changes were made in the 15th century. The most obvious change was the addition of the tower in the middle of the transept. The remains of the cloister arcade are positioned to the north of the abbey itself, which is unusual. It is possible that the location of the Rock of Cashel might be the reason for this odd positioning.

The buildings are actually quite substantial. The remaining choir is twenty-nine feet long and twenty feet wide. The nave is fifty feet long and twenty three feet wide.

The Abbey was dissolved as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and only the Abbot and one monk were granted a pension. In 1561 Elizabeth I gave the abbey and its grounds to Sir Henry Radcliffe along with a portion of ale, called the Mary-gallon, out of every brewing in Cashel.


Site visit 2012

Grosse, The Antiquities of Ireland, Volume I, Kilkenny: Wellbrook Press, 1982.

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 11th: Tintern Parva

Tintern Parva1Tintern Parva2Tintern parva3

Tintern Parva on the Hook Head Peninsula was founded by William Marshal in c.1200.

Tintern Parva means little Tintern and it is also known as Tintern of the Vow. It is a daughter house of Tintern in Wales and was colonised with monks from the Welsh Tintern.

Hook Head Peninsula is at the tip of South East Ireland and is possibly the origin of the saying ‘by hook or by crook’. Tradition has it that when Cromwell was invading Ireland he said he’d take it by hook or by crook, meaning by Hook Head Peninsula or Crooke in County Waterford. Whether this is true or not is very much debatable, but it is a nice story regardless.

Marshal came to visit the lands in Ireland that came to him by right of his wife Isabel de Clare in 1200-1201. They were caught in a terrible storm crossing the Irish Sea and Marshal vowed to God that if they survived he would found an abbey. The ship didn’t sink and Marshal kept his word.  The Irish Annals found in The Chartularies of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin recorded that Marshal came in a storm and, in thanks to God for his survival on the unforgiving Irish Sea, he founded the abbey of Tintern Parva.

King John confirmed Marshal’s grant of lands for the abbey in 1200 but Marshal’s charter of confirmation dates probably to 1207-1213 from the names of the witnesses. The lands that the abbey stands on were part of the Hervey de Montmorency’s fief, but when he died in 1205 they reverted back to Marshal and this might have been one of the reasons for the delay in the confirmation of lands for the abbey.

In 1447 the lands had wasted considerably and the current Abbot was forced to rebuild his house at his own cost. As recompense it was enacted in parliament that the Abbots of Tintern could not be forced to attend parliaments or great councils.

The Abbey fell to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. In 1541 it was partly converted into living quarters. The Colclough family occupied the abbey from the mid 16th century until the 1960s.


Site Visit 2012 and 2015

Wexford Heritage Trail booklet.

John T. Gilbert, (ed.) Chartularies of St Mary’s Abbey Dublin with The Register of its House at Dunbrody and Annals of Ireland, Volume II, London: Longman and Co, 1884.

Grosse, The Antiquities of Ireland, Volume I, Kilkenny: Wellbrook Press, 1982.

Bradley, John and ODrisceoil, Colin (eds.) William Marshal and Ireland, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2016.

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of medieval Religious institutions: December 10th: St Mary’s Abbey Ferns.

StMFerns1StMFerns2JPGStMGerns3The town of Ferns in County Wexford, Ireland stands at an important strategic site as the area was historically the capital of the Kings of Leinster. The first christian community roughly on this site was founded by St Aidan in about 600.

The legend is that whilst he was building his monastery his followers were complaining that water couldn’t be found. So St Aidan ordered them to dig in a certain spot. Beautiful clear water then emerged from the hole and became known as St Mogue’s well (Mogue being another name for Aidan). The well is now under the road next to the abbey, but it is still accessible from a more modern structure just to the side. It is said to have curative powers, including the ability to reduce baldness.

The abbey you see today was founded by Diarmuid MacMurrough King of Leinster in 1158 as an Augustinian Abbey. The foundation charter of the abbey included a portion of all the beer brewed in Ferns. Not much of the abbey remains today; only parts of the church and the vaulted chancel survive sadly. The bell tower is the most unusual feature, the base is square shaped and then it tapers into a round top as it reaches higher. Stairs to the top of the tower still survive.

The abbey’s founder MacMurrough holds the dubious distinction of being the Irish king who invited the Anglo-Normans to Ireland (they never left again). MacMurrough lost his kingdom in the late 1160s and he sailed to England to invite the Anglo-Norman lords to come and help him reclaim it. Richard Strongbow Lord of Striguil (now called Chepstow) was the key lord to answer his call and MacMurrough promised Strongbow his kingdom on his death and marriage to his daughter Aoife if he would help. Strongbow agreed and MacMurrough took sanctuary at St Mary’s in 1167/68 while his waiting for his Anglo-Norman allies to arrive.

MacMurrough died in 1171 and is buried in the abbey’s grounds.

Strongbow had married Aoife by this point and he became the ruler of Leinster. The Anglo-Norman lords never left Ireland again. Strongbow’s daughter was Isabel de Clare who married William Marshal and inherited Leinster in her own right.

The abbey continued to function under Anglo-Norman rule and it was dissolved in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


Site visits 2012 and 2015

Ferns: Ancient capital of Leinster book.

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 8th: Shrewsbury


Shrewsbury Abbey is in Shropshire, England and there actually isn’t that much left of the Abbey itself, which was once an entire complex, but the church remains reasonably intact. The Abbey of St Peter and St Paul was founded by Earl Roger de Montgomery in 1083. It was a Benedictine monastery. It survived as a complete abbey until, like many other religious institutions, the dissolution of the monasteries.

By the time the dissolution of the monasteries act was passed in 1536 the abbey was 34th out of 602 monasteries in terms of wealth. Abbot Thomas Boteler was given a pension and so were some of his monks when the abbey was dissolved in 1540. The majority of the buildings were demolished and sold off, some of the church survived though. The nave was left standing while the rest was demolished and a new east wall was built. This is the church you see remaining today. In the photos below you can see the interior and exterior of the remaining abbey and you can see where the new wall was built after the remainder of the abbey was demolished.



Site visit 2012

Shrewsbury Abbey:

The photos are mine.

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 7th: Tintern Abbey


Tintern was the first Cistercian monastery in Wales. It was founded  in 1131 by Walter Fitz Richard of Clare, lord of the nearby Chepstow castle.

The abbey thrived because of the grants of land that Walter provided with its foundation. They were successful enough to be able to attract new recruits and found daughter houses. The first daughter house was founded in 1139 in Kingswood in Gloucestershire by William Berkeley. Prior Thomas of Tintern was chosen as the first Abbot.

Tintern was the second Cistercian monastery established in Britain. A key figure in the early years was Abbot Hugh who was in charge of the community from about 1148 until 1157. He was a former brigand who in repentance took the habit of a Cistercian and rose to lead Tintern.

When Tintern was founded the original buildings would have been wooden and building most likely began even before the first colony of monks arrived. By the mid 1150s the first stone church and a number of other monastic buildings were probably complete. Little remains of the original stone buildings at Tintern, because much was rebuilt in the gothic style in the late 12th and mid 13th centuries. The original church and some building were probably romanesque in style, in line with austere ideals of the Cistercian architecture.

My main interest in Tintern comes from William Marshal . He became lord of Chepstow by right of his wife Isabel de Clare in 1189. He and his son William Marshal the younger became liberal benefactors of Tintern. William Marshal held extensive lands in Ireland, by right of his wife, and he endowed a daughter house of Tintern there in 1203. It was known as Tintern Parva or Tintern of the Vow and will be featured later in this advent calendar.

Isabel de Clare was buried at Tintern in 1220 and her son William Marshal the younger endowed Tintern with the extensive arable property Rogerstone in return for keeping a lamp burning at his mother’s tomb. Three other of Isabel’s children were also buried at Tintern: Walter and Anselm (who were both lords of Chepstow in their own right) in 1245 and Maud (who was Countess of Norfolk) in 1248. Sadly the location of the burials is no longer known.

The abbey was dissolved in 1536 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and in 1537 the buildings and local possessions were granted to Henry Somerset Earl of Worcester.

In the 18th century the romantic ivy clad ruins of Tintern became a key tourist attraction and a favourite subject for writers and artists like William Wordsworth and Turner.


Site visit 2012

Cadw: Tintern Abbey ISBN 9781857602876


Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 6th: Lanercost Priory

Lanercost1Lanercost2Lanercost3Lanercost Priory was founded in 1169. It was home to a group of Augustinian canons. Augustinians were not monks exactly. Each was a canon, an ordained priest, and they were ruled by a prior. The priory was founded partly as a political act; both to establish a point of Anglo-Norman control and to help demarcate the newly re-established English Scottish frontier. In fact a reasonable portion of the stone used to build the priory was probably reclaimed from the nearby Hadrian’s Wall.

The priory was founded by Robert de Vaux. As well as political considerations de Vaux also probably wanted a site to endow perpetual prayers both for himself and for the souls of his parents. The priory was endowed with both churches and lands and it was both dedicated and founded in 1169. The original buildings would have been largely wood, but due to the proximity of Hadrian’s Wall, and thus a steady supply of already cut and dressed stone, the buildings were built in stone comparatively early in the building process. There was also significant rebuilding works in the mid 13th century.

Lanercost is a small priory, but it found itself at the centre of English Affairs in 1306-1307 when Edward I stayed there. He was in the area to deal with a resurgence in Scottish resistance. He did not intend to stay at Lanercost for a long period of time, however illness confined him there for nearly six months. This meant that the priory was not only host to the king but to a number of leading courtiers and the Queen and Prince Edward. New buildings had to be constructed to house the growing number of attendants, ultimately there was at least 200 people in permanent residence with the king. This is not counting the courtiers that turned up with their retinues. The priory was quite impoverished by having to supply resources to the king for six months, but he did reward them by bestowing the churches on Carlaaton and Mitford on the priory. It took time to secure their claims though, and it was years before they were better off from the king’s visit.

The priory was dissolved in 1537 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the nave of the church was retained to serve as the parish church which is continues to do today. The remainder was sold as a grand residence. Thomas Dacre was granted the priory in 1542 and converted the west range of the cloister as his residence and the first floor as his great hall. You can see Dacre Hall in the final photo above. It is reputed to be the oldest village hall in England. It was given to the people of Lanercost as their village hall in 1952.


Site visit 2012

Lanercost Priory Cumbria by Henry Summerson and Stuart Harrison. ISBN: 9781873124309

The photos are all mine



Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 5th: Lindisfarne Priory


The elegant and almost ethereal Lindisfarne Priory sits on Holy Island, which is only accessible by a causeway that is completely flooded with every high tide. The priory is one of the oldest religious sites in England. The land was gifted to Saint Aiden by Oswald, an Anglo Saxon King, in 635. Saint Aiden and later Saint Cuthbert used it as a base to convert Northumberland to Christianity. Lindisfarne is known as the cradle of Christianity in England.

Saint Cuthbert became bishop in 685 and when he died in 687 he was buried in a stone coffin on Lindisfarne. When his tomb was opened 11 years later the body was “incorrupt,” which was taken as a sign of his saintliness and a cult sprang up around him. The cult attracted pilgrims and ensured Lindisfarne’s place as a centre of Christian learning. This resulted in what, for me, is the most interesting part of the priory’s history; the famous Lindisfarne Gospels. They were begun at the priory in 698.

Very unusually for a medieval manuscript we know not only that the gospels were the work of one man, but who that man was. A note was added later identifying the artist as Eadfrith, who was bishop of Lindisfarne between 698 and 721. The work is one of extraordinary detail and skill, using a wide variety of pigments, although it remains partly unfinished due to Eadfrith’s death in 721. The Lindisfarne Gospels embodied a sense of Englishness that was growing at the time; the gospels are a mixture of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Coptic and Eastern traditions. They symbolise a realm that was beginning to develop an individual identity. It is also truly beautiful.

This image is from the British Library and can be found here

To return to the priory itself. The origins of what you see today largely dates to the early 12th century when the priory was re-founded in 1122. The priory was abandoned in 875 after a series of devastating Viking raids from the 790s onwards led to the decision being taken that remaining on the island wasn’t safe. The church, the remains of which you can see in the first photo, was built around 1150.

The priory continued despite ongoing border warfare until it was dissolved under the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537. It was one of the 200 small religious houses that were the first to be suppressed.


Site visit 2012.

Holy Island of Lindisfarne information booklet.

The photos (apart from the gospel) are all mine

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions December 4th: Fountains Abbey


A truly stunning abbey with the most spectacular surviving undercroft that I’ve ever seen. Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132. It’s a Cistercian Abbey. Its foundation was rooted in the dissatisfaction of a group of monks from the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary’s in York. A small group of monks led by Prior Robert were unhappy with the comfortable existence in the abbey. They wanted to return to a more stringent observance of their monastic vows.

They were supported by Abbot Thurstan of York. He described the monks at St Mary’s as “the whole chapter house rang with such noise that it seemed more like a group of drunken revellers than humble monks”. When Prior Robert’s group had to flee the abbey, Thurstan looked after them in his palace and then gifted them land in the valley of the River Skell so they could found their own monastery. To begin with they barely survived, building a simple chapel and living off what they could grow in a small garden and the bread that Thurstan sent them. After they only just made it through the first winter they realised they’d need more support. They applied to Bernard of Clairvaux to join the Cistercians. Bernard welcomed them and sent Geoffroi d’Ainai to teach them the Cistercian ways. They were accepted officially into the Cistercian Order in 1135. They almost didn’t survive the first years, with poverty and a bad harvest almost forcing a move to France, but in time Fountains became one of the richest abbeys in Europe with a significant number of daughter houses.

Fountains survived until 1539 when it was another casualty of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The abbey was closed, the abbot and monks pensioned off and the estate was sold to merchant Sir Richard Gresham.



Site visit 2012

The photos are all mine