Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bronze Age Bracelet from New Ross, Co. Wexford

One of four bracelets from a hoard found at New Ross, Co. Wexford. The pieces are dated to the period from 800-700 BC. Currently on display at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

I've nothing else to say about this other than it's really lovely, shiny, and gold ... nope ... nothing ... not even a hint of a suggestion that it was used to adorn genitalia ... nothing of the kind ...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Freemasonry & the Celtic Revival … no, really …

In a previous post, I spoke about the rather wonderful silver replica of the Ark of the Covenant housed in the museum at the Grand lodge of Ireland, Molesworth Street, Dublin. In between engagements gracing the altar at meetings of Grand Lodge, the model is on display on the bottom shelf of the cabinet in the far wall of the museum. I mention this because I have frequently visited the museum and gazed upon the beauty of this piece, but have failed to notice some of the other pieces in the same cabinet. In particular, on the topmost shelf there is a delightful collection of silver gilt pieces that should be of interest to both archaeologists and Freemasons. The three pieces – two chalices and a drinking horn – were made by William Stokes in Dublin in 1909. They were intended to be used in the consecration of new Lodges. The museum’s information card indicates that the chalices were influenced by the Ardagh Chalice (now housed just around the corner in the National Museum of Ireland). The parallels are particularly clear in the form of the handles, the foot, the studded band of interlace passing through the handles and the largely plain bowl. However, the proportions are completely altered, mostly by the knopped neck that bears no resemblance to the original, seemingly taking more inspiration from medieval and later examples. If you’re being picky, you could note that the bowl is missing the escutcheons under the handles and the roundel on the body of the bowl is replaced with a copperplate inscription. Still, they are a beautiful pair of chalices.

Although taking the central place on the top shelf between the two chalices, the museum’s information card doesn’t appear to mention the beautiful drinking horn at all. Although quite different to the Kavanagh Charter Horn (also housed at the National Museum of Ireland), it would appear to be the most likely Irish inspiration for the horn shape, if not the actual decorative motifs themselves. In any case, it too is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and worth a trip to the Masonic museum to see … and then to the National Museum of Ireland to make your own comparisons!

Entry to the museum is free and is open to the public Monday to Friday throughout the year.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Who knows. Perhaps the Ark is still waiting in some antechamber for us to discover.

Of all of the wonderful treasures held in the museum at the Grand lodge of Ireland, Molesworth Street, Dublin, the Ark of the Covenant is my absolute favourite. It’s fabricated in solid silver and silver gilt by Henry Flavelle. His silversmiths workshop was located on Grafton St., Dublin and he also served as Worshipful Master of Lodge 93 in Dublin. The model was first exhibited in December 1877 at the dedication ceremony for Freemasons’ Hall. It was eventually gifted to Grand Lodge by Henry E Flavelle the silversmith’s son, who served as Deputy Grand Secretary from 1898 to 1920. The Ark is now placed on the altar at every meeting of the Grand Lodge in Dublin. It’s a fantastic piece of sculpture and artistry, and I urge you to go see it yourself if you get the chance!

The title of this post is, of course, from 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and the words are spoken by Belloq. Did you really think I was going to write about the Ark of the Covenant and not reference this?

Entry to the museum is free and is open to the public Monday to Friday throughout the year.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Glendalough: St Saviour's Priory

The Romanesque chancel arch

After my visit to St Mary’s Church/Lady Chapel, I retraced my steps back to the excavation. While my stay at the church had been restful and contemplative, the excavation brought a whole raft of conflicting emotions. At that time it was the first excavation I’d visited since leaving the profession, four years previously. I simultaneously felt drawn to the immediacy of discovery and the so many other positive things that I remembered fondly from my old life. Sure, there were reminders of other aspects of the profession I was keen to leave behind – the sore back & knees, the pay, the constantly being covered in dirt – but there in the sunshine on a well-run research dig it was the good bits that predominated. It was emotional.

Romanesque capital

I put my cameras and other gear back in the bag, slung my tripod over my shoulder and set off towards the car park. As I turned to go back over the bridge, my eye was caught by the sign that pointed away down the valley in the other direction to St Saviour’s. My eye passed over it … I wasn’t going to go that way today! That was it … I opened the car, put my stuff in the boot and sat in. I got as far as putting the key in the ignition when it struck me that my appointment in south Dublin wasn’t for several hours … it was a gorgeous, bright sunny day … why not walk to St Saviour’s? I locked up the car and again headed towards the bridge. I got as far as the sign and paused … if I was going to see the church, I may as well bring my camera, right? So, back to the car! Well if I’m going to bring the cameras, I may as well bring the tripod to take some 3D shots, right? How far can it be, right? The tripod’s not that heavy, right? … As they say in Northern Ireland: ‘Aye, Right!’, meaning: ‘No, Wrong!’.

View through the chancel arch to the east window

Now lugging my equipment, I was back at the turn-off by the bridge. Once I was set foot on this literal ‘one less travelled by’ the change was instantaneous … the crowds heading to the Round Tower and Kevin’s ‘Kitchen’ and I went our separate ways. And with them went their noise and hubbub … it was practically silent here under the canopy of the trees. The main path was full of visitors and it was occasionally difficult to ensure that we didn’t hit one another with a swinging arm or bag, or even step on someone else’s heel. Out here it was different … there were so few travellers that we greeted each other cordially as we passed. I had been walking for a while and the narrow strap on the Manfrotto tripod was really starting to dig into my shoulder. The camera bag wasn’t feeling too light, either. It was around this point that I realised that I hadn’t had anything to drink all day and was feeling particularly dehydrated. Things didn’t get much better when I stopped a passing walker to ask if they knew how much further the church was. Their response was: “Ha! You’ve a way to go yet!” Not exactly encouraging. I spoke to a second walker who, gesturing vaguely, told me that they’d come onto this path five or six miles back and hadn’t seen any church. Even less encouraging. I’ve got nothing against a good long walk, but I had in my possession Peter Harbison’s Guide to the National and Historic Monuments of Ireland, and it clearly said that St Saviour’s was ‘about half a mile further down the valley floor from the main cluster of monuments’. There are few things you can rely on in Irish archaeology but, by god, you can depend on Harbison! … can’t you? Actually, measuring it now on Google Maps, it’s over twice that distance. On the day, the weight of the book in the camera bag and my dehydrated state may also have contributed to the dark thoughts directed at Harbison and this church.

Detail on the chancel arch

Sometimes, when you’re lost or just ‘lacking in locational certainty’, seeing a signpost can bring much needed relief. Sometimes. Not today. Tucked away on the verge and moderately easy to miss was a small, low sign pointing to St Saviour’s. It was directing me onto a rough, unsurfaced path that appeared to dive into the belly of the valley and through a thick scrubby forest. It probably comes from growing up in the metropolitan fastness of rural Galway, but if the Dublin Jackeens aren’t to be trusted on general principles, you have to really watch yourself in Wicklow – it’s like one long uninterrupted scene from Boormann’s Deliverance. Yep … Wicklow is Ireland’s Georgia … and you don’t just plunge into the forest without taking precautions. After looking both ways to make sure I wasn’t being followed, I adjusted the head of the tripod so I could, if necessary, turn it into a large club to defend myself. I can attest, from an encounter many years ago,* that a Manfrotto tripod wielded with brute force and ignorance can do a surprising amount of damage. One way or another, if I was ambushed by Wicklow Hillbillies, I wasn’t going down without a fight! Think: more Burt Reynolds than Ned Beatty. In retrospect, the dehydration may have been biting deeper into my subconscious that I realised at the time. Warily, I plodded into the gloom of the forest, ever on the lookout for banjo players. Down, down, down the trail went and just as I was really feeling the paranoia, the vista opened up and I was back into the sunlight. And there in the middle of it all, shining like a national guitar, was St Saviour’s Priory.

The chancel arch from inside the later addition to the north

St Saviour’s is a nave-and-chancel church that contains the very finest Romanesque decoration to be found in any of the Glendalough sites. It is often said that the church was founded by St Lawrence O’Toole in 1162 but, on stylistic grounds, it may be slightly earlier. The chancel arch and the east window are both decorated with a variety of well-executed Romanesque motifs, including geometric shapes, along with human and animal heads. In particular, the chancel arch is rather spectacular and is composed of three orders, on finely decorated capitals. Unfortunately, many of the arch stones were clearly replaced in the wrong positions when the church was conserved in the 19th century. In the later medieval period much of the chancel was reconstructed when a second, rather plain building was added on the north side of the church. This second building also included a stairway to a room above the chancel.

Exterior of the east window

While the central area of Glendalough was heavily visited by tourists this, like Lady Chapel, was almost deserted. Almost. When I got there a couple were happily installed and having lunch on the boundary wall. They were rather surprised at my sudden appearance, attempting to look like I wasn’t brandishing a tripod as a weapon. In fact, they were so certain that they were not going to be disturbed, they had set their picnic up directly over the access style into the site. They were very accommodating and moved their stuff to allow me onto the site. Their offer of a bottle of water was also greedily accepted and did much for my state of mind as well as state of body. After some convivial conversation, I went about to explore the site. To be honest, there’s little of interest in the later medieval building. Even in the main church building, the primary foci are the chancel arch and the east window … but what jewels they are! I divided my time between gasping in #RomanesqueFanboyAwe, trying to take photographs that did the carvings justice, and simply sitting in the sunshine, enjoying the place and the serenity.

Overview from the east

Eventually, it was time to head back towards the car. I bade goodbye to both this wonderful site and the kind, picnicking couple and headed back into the forest, refreshed, relaxed, and reinvigorated … but I still kept a grip on the tripod and a wary eye out for passing Hillbillies …

Another Romanesque capital
Another detail of the chancel arch
more chancel arch

Window in the south wall

Overview of the south wall and entrance.

* Long story, don’t ask.

Much of the detail about the individual sites has been rather shamelessly taken from some excellent sites & I urge you to go and explore them too:

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

Glendalough: St Saviour's Priory 3D

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Glendalough: St. Mary's Church - or Lady Chapel

West gable and graveyard
There’s no denying that the central precinct of Glendalough is pretty packed with tourists during the summer season. While the round tower, St Kevin’s church, the graveyard, and all that are lovely and interesting, it’s just not possible to take a photograph without other people getting in the shot (and you becoming part of someone else’s holiday snaps too!). With buses disgorging a seemingly endless stream of sightseers, the site does take on something of the feel of a theme park. While I’m fully aware that these sites would have bustled with activity in their heydays, I do prefer my medieval ruins to be still and peaceful … and that quietude is just not to be found there. Or so I thought. In my wanderings, I bumped into a couple of student archaeologists working on a small trench near the gateway. They directed me up the road and into a field where the main UCD Archaeology Department excavation was taking place. I was lucky enough to bump into the crew just at the end of lunchtime and was given a guided tour of the excavation. You can download and read detailed accounts of some of their excavations [here]. At the end of a very enjoyable spell learning about the newly discovered archaeology of Glendalough & renewing some old acquaintances, I happened to ask if it was possible to get to the church I could see poking out thorough bushes and trees in the next field. I fully expected to be told that it was off limits and couldn’t be reached. I was instead pleasantly surprised to find that it was merely a case of negotiating a couple of gates under the shade of the trees and suddenly I was standing in the sunlight and soaking up the beauty of the ruin known as St Mary’s Church or Lady Chapel.

Lady Chapel as seen from near 'Kevin's Kitchen'
The nave appears to be of 10th or 11th century date and the chancel is a later addition. The outside of the east window has a Romanesque moulding. For my money, though, the gem of this site is the cross with circular-terminals, carved on the underside of the door lintel. Well ... that may be the archaeological gem of this place, but the really amazing thing about the site is that it was so quiet and peaceful. It’s just 500ft (about 140m) from St Kevin’s Church/’Kitchen’. Over there it was all hustle and bustle, but here – just a field away – I could hear the birdsong and the wind gently rustle the leaves.

Approaching across the field
I’m in two minds about whether I should be promoting this site for its peace and solitude, thereby potentially destroying the very thing that makes it special. However it is – in every sense – off the beaten track and I think I’m safe enough. The busloads of tourists hitting the site for their scheduled 30 minute slot, to take a few photos and buy a souvenir or two will never have the time, inclination, or footwear, to make it this far. It will, I believe, remain the preserve of the lucky few to come here and enjoy the tranquility before heading out again, refreshed, into the tumult.

East window with Romanesque moulding

West Gable

Through the cross-decorated doorway & on to the lakes beyond

Cross inscribed on the underside of the door lintel

View into the later chancel with the Round Tower in the background

The west doorway

The peace and quiet of the graveyard

Much of the detail about the individual sites has been rather shamelessly taken from some excellent sites & I urge you to go and explore them too:

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

Glendalough: St. Mary's Church - or Lady Chapel 3D

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Glendalough: Round tower

Round Towers generally date to the period from the 9th to 12th centuries and probably served a variety of functions, from acting as a belfry to call monks to prayer to a refuge in times of strife. In all but one surviving case they have doors at first-floor level to accommodate either pole valuters or beard-rapelling monks, or (less likely) access by rope ladder [here | here].

Glendalough’s round tower is about 30m tall with an entrance about 3.5m above the present ground level and is constructed from mica-slate and granite. Having suffered damage in a lightning strike, its conical roof was rebuilt in the 19th century using the original stones. Internally, the tower held six wooden floors, each connected by ladder and lit by a single narrow window. The topmost floor had four windows, facing the cardinal points.

Much of the detail about the individual sites has been rather shamelessly taken from some excellent sites & I urge you to go and explore them too:

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].