Monday, March 15, 2021

Hail Glorious Saint Patrick!

St. Patrick in Stained Glass
Unknown origin, 19th-early 20th Century
Location Unknown
In spite of not knowing the origin or location of this window I am drawn to the image of St. Patrick that it presents 
-- an intense man in the prime of life.  This is probably how he might have looked at the start of his Irish mission.
"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.









I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation."

(Excerpt from the Lorica, or Breastplate, of St. Patrick)


On March 17th, in many places around the world, special celebrations take place. In the United States the city of Chicago dies its river green, while in New York Fifth Avenue is transformed into a parade ground over which thousands of people parade in front of thousands of other people. All the events purport to honor the memory of a man who lived in the 5th century. His name was Patrick (actually Patricius) and he is the patron saint of Ireland and of the Irish.
 
The story of Patrick is fairly well known. Born in what was still Roman Britain, he was kidnapped by Irish slave raiders while still a teenager and brought to then-pagan Ireland. There he was sold as a slave to a landowner who put him to work as a shepherd. After six years of slavery, during which Patrick spent much of his time in prayer, he had a dream in which he was told that a ship awaited that would take him home. Patrick followed the dream message and fled his slavery. He did find a ship and reached home.

After a short time at home Patrick again had a dream. In this dream he heard what he called the “voice of the Irish” calling to him to come back and bring them the Gospel. He again followed the dream message, became a priest and then a bishop and returned to Ireland. The rest, as they say, is history.

Patrick was not the only missionary to the Irish, there were others as well, including some who were native Irish, but it is he who is remembered best.  His mission field appears to have been located between the north of the country and the midlands, while the south appears to have been evangelized by others.  Patrick is credited with some of the most high profile conversions among the Irish.  He is also credited with an elegant demonstration of the Holy Trinity, using the native three-lobed clover, called 'seamróg’, to demonstrate the doctrine of the Three in One.

He also was the inspiration for one of the foremost pilgrimages of medieval Europe, one that continues to this very day.  This is the very seriously taxing pilgrimage to what is known as "Saint Patrick's Purgatory".  The location is on an island in the middle of Lough Derg in County Donegal.  Here the pilgrim endures a really soul-touching experience of fasting, prayer and endurance under adverse conditions.  

The object of the pilgrimage is penance.  The story of the shrine is that Christ himself showed Saint Patrick a cave on the island in which he could see the tortures of the damned.  People initially came to the island to see the cave and to see for themselves the tortures they hoped to escape through their penitence.  The cave has been sealed since an attempt was made during the Reformation era to close the shrine (in 1632).  However, the pilgrimage has continued unabated.  

Guillaume Vrelant, Christ Showing Purgatory to Saint Patrick
From the Speculum historiale by Vincent of Beauvais
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1455
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 310, fol. 161

During the three-day pilgrimage, the pilgrim eats very little, goes at least one night without sleep and follows a prescribed route around the island, praying barefoot in whatever kind of weather conditions prevail for that day.  It is not for the faint of heart.  

Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Saint Patrick Blessing a Pilgrim About the Enter the Purgatory
From Vies de saints
French (Paris), c. 1300-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 183, fol. 242v

Chroniques II Workshop, Saint Patrick Blesses a Man About to Enter the Purgatory
From a Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1445-1465
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 673, fol.178

Jacques de Besancon, A Pilgrim Named Nicolas at Saint Patrick's Purgatory
From the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), c. 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 244, fol. 104v

Two friends of mine made the pilgrimage in 2018.  They joined a long line of pilgrims going back to the late fifth or early sixth century.  

Jeanne de Montbaston, Pilgrims at Saint Patrick's Purgatory
From Vie de saints
French (Paris), c. 1325-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 185, fol. 190
I particularly enjoyed finding this illumination because of the fairly accurate representation of that uniquely Irish structure, the round tower.  Round towers were especially associated with monasteries and one wonders how Jeanne de Montbaston learned about them.  Perhaps she or one of her family members made the pilgrimage themselves.

Aside from the illustrations of the pilgrimage, Patrick’s contribution to art is not direct. He did not create any art that we know of and there are few images of him that are not very late and derivative. BUT, the impetus given by Patrick and the other Christian missionaries to the arts in Ireland is immeasurable. In the centuries following their conversion Irish artists created a unique merger of the old Celtic La Tène art forms with the narrative forms inherent in the late antique Christian images which came to them from the Continent. This fusion produced some of the most impressive works of the early middle ages.

Ruins of the monastery of Clonmacnoise
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly

This was a golden age for Ireland. The monasteries were filled with clerics studying both pagan and Christian literature and creating their own works from their own thought. In addition to this they collected and set down the old pre-Christian legends of Ireland, which would have been lost given the turmoil that would beset that country in centuries to come. It has long been acknowledged that during the years of invasion that brought down the remains of the Roman Empire and the aftermath (called collectively the “Dark Ages”) it was the activities of the Irish monasteries that kept classical learning alive in Western Europe. Irish monks were missionaries to Dark Age Britain and Europe, returning to the Continent what they had received and taking it forward into the new medieval age.

Among the great works of art produced during this golden age were:

The Insular Style of manuscript painting, most famously the amazing Book of Kells The book contains the four Gospels of the New Testament and includes some of the most detailed works of interlaced ornament in northern Europe, predominantly clustered in the Gospel of Matthew.  It blends elements of abstract La Tene and Viking ornament with figures inspired by classical antiquity into something quite distinctively unique to Irish culture.  Although probably produced in an Irish monastic settlement off the coast of Scotland, it was carried to Ireland by monks seeking refuge from the Viking invasions.  The various episodes in the life of this book may have caused the loss of pages.  Indeed, it is almost miraculous that this book has survived for so long, given the sometimes perilous nature of the years through which it has passed.

Madonna and Child
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 7v


Breves causae, Matthew 1 to 3
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 8r


Evangelist Matthew
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 28v


Christ in Majesty
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Tinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 32v


Chi Rho at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew
from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 34r



Matthew 26:30, Christ in Gethsemeni
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 114r

Matthew 27:38, Jesus is Crucified Between Two Theives
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 124r

Symbols of the Four Evangelists, placed between the Gospels of Matthew and Mark
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 129v

Opening Page of the Gospel of Mark
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 130r

Mark 15:25, "And it was the third hour: and they crucified him"
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 183r

Mark 16:19, The Ascension
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 187v


Opening Page of the Gospel of Luke
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 188r

Luke Chapter 4, The Temptation of Christ
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 202v

Luke 4:1,"The Spirit led Jesus into the desert"
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 203r

Luke 24:1, The Resurrection
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 285r


Symbols of the Four Evangelists, placed between the Gospels of Luke and John
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 290v

Evangelist John
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 291v

Opening Page of the Gospel of John
From the Book of Kells
Irish, 6th Century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS IE TCD MS 58, fol. 292r


The High Crosses of Irish monasteries, such as those at Clonmacnoise and Monasterboice


Cross of the Scriptures (replica)
Irish, 10th century
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
Here you can get an idea of the scale of the high crosses.

Center image of Cross of the Scriptures (original)
Irish, 10th century
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
The original cross is now preserved indoors at the Clonmacnoise Interpretive Center.



Cross of Muiredach
Irish, 10th century
Monasterboice, Co. Louth

Central Image of Cross of Muiredach
Irish, 10th century
Monasterboice, Co. Louth


Amazingly intricate metalwork, including

The Ardagh Chalice

Ardagh Chalice
Irish, 8th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
The chalice is much larger than the typical chalice used for liturgy in later periods.

Ardagh Chalice (detail)
Irish, 8th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland


The Derrynaflan Chalice
Derrynaflan Chalice
Irish, Early 9th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland



The Clonmacnoise Crozier

Crozier of Clonmacnoise
Irish, Late 11th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland



This is probably the most complex and beautiful metal object produced in Ireland in the early middle ages.  It is also the climax of the style.  During the second half of the 12th century Ireland came more and more under English control and lost much of its unique and separate artistic identity.2

Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland

The cross was made around the year 1123 to house a relic of the True Cross which is recorded to have been presented to Turlough O'Conor, the High King of Ireland at the time, in 1122.  Recent conservation work on the cross has revealed the oak wood core into which a small receptacle was carved to contain the fragment of the True Cross.  The core was clad in a composite brass shell and the receptacle was covered with a dome of rock crystal, which has miraculously survived.  The exterior decoration is "golden filigree, gilding, silver sheeting, niello and silver inlay, and glass and enamel settings".3

Central section, Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
The central crystal ornament once covered a small fragment of the True Cross.


Portion of the upright section, Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland


Cross of Cong, Base of the Cross
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
Detail of Cross of Cong showing details of filigree work, casting, enameling and jewel setting

Further details of the rock crystal, filigree in gold and silver and enamel work from the center of the cross.

On a small personal note -- It is interesting to me that two of the four names inscribed on the cross belong to two people with my own last name:  Muiredach Ua Dubthaig (Muiredach O'Duffy) and Domnall mac Flannacain Ui Dubthaig (Donal mac Flanagan O'Duffy), both of whom were important churchmen.  The other inscribed names are those of the High King of Ireland, Turlough O'Conor, and of the craftsman who made it.  The inscription is in Latin and Irish and runs around the edges of the cross.  

Edge of the Cross of Cong, showing part of the inscription.



The translated inscription reads:
+ By this cross is covered the cross on which the creator of the world suffered (in Latin)
A prayer for Muiredach Ua Dubthaig, senior ecclesiastic of Ireland (in Irish)
A prayer for Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair, king of Ireland, by whom was made this ornament (in Irish)
A prayer for Domnall mac Flannacáin Uí Dubthaig from the borders of Connacht, successor of Commán and Ciarán, by whom was made this ornament (in Irish)
A prayer for Máel Ísu mac Bratáin Uí Echach, who made this ornament (in Irish)
+ By this cross is covered the cross on which the creator of the world suffered (in Latin).4
________________________
1.  Obtaining free images of the illustrations in the Book of Kells that are decent quality has previously been very difficult.  Understandably Trinity College Library has been very protective of their prize possession and of their copyright privileges.  However, highly detailed images of the entire book are now available on  the Trinity College Digital Collections website at  http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v  I have taken advantage of this wonderful new opportunity to capture images and to understand the book as a whole and have, hence replaced all the former images on this blog.

2.  https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Collections-Research/Irish-Antiquities-Division-Collections/Collections-List-(1)/Late-Medieval


  3.  https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Collections-Research/Irish-Antiquities-Division-Collections/Collections-List-(1)/Early-Medieval/The-Cross-of-Cong/Materials,-Workmanship-Recent-Discoveries











© M. Duffy, 2012 and 2016, with major revisions 2021.