An ecclesiastical history of Ireland, from the first introduction of Christianity among the Irish, to the beginning of the thirteenth century , Compiled from the works of the most esteemed authors ... who have written and published on matters connected with the Irish church; and from Irish annals an online

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11. *' Synodus Hibernensis ; In tribus quadragesimis anni, et in
Dominica die, et in feriis quartis et in sextis feriis, conjuges con-
tinere sc debent.— Item, in omnibus soltmnita'tibus, ct in illis


diebus, quibus uxor praegnans, hoc est, a die quo filius in utero
ejus motum feccrit, usque ad partus sui diem —Item, a partu per
36 dies si masculus, si vero filia 46 dies.— Item, habitantibus illis
in habitu religioso copulari non permittitur." Some have sup-
posed, tliat this canon or canons, down to the last Item, belonged
to the council of Eliberis or Elvira in Spain, because it appeared
in some collections as from Concilium HeliLernense, But Baluze
in his Notes to Regino obsei*ves, (^Not. at No, 328. Lib. l.p.571.)
that in two very old MSS, the synod, in which said rules were
established, is called Eber?iensia. He refers also to D'Acheiy's
Synodus HibernensiSf and concludes that it is a mistake to attri-
bute them to the council of Eliberis. He remarks also, that some
other canons, attributed to that council by Burchard and Ivo, are
in the Irish collection of Corbie. As to the three lents, D'Achery
thought, that, besides the gi'eat lent before Easter, the other two
were the one after Pentecost and that prior to Christmas, such as
are mentioned in a Capitulary of Charlemagne. But, as there
were different usages with regard to fasting seasons in various
churches, it is not easy to determine, which, independently of the
great lent, were the two other ones of the Irish. Some churches
had four lents, one for each of the four seasons of the year ; others
likewise had four, but not corresponding with the different sea-
sons. Some had stated fasts for almost every month in the year,
distinct from the usual weekly fasts. (See more in Bingham's
Origines, S^c. B. xxi. ch. 2.) Yet I believe, thatoneof our Irish
lents was that kept before Christmas, which, according to the first
council of Macon, held in 581, began after St. Martin's day, and
continued until Christmas day, but so as that fasting was required
only on three days in each week, Monday, Wednesday, and Fri-
day, to be obsei-ved according to the rules of the real or great
lent. This was in fact a mere addition of Monday to the usual
fasts of the week. Other councils shortened still more this sort of
lent by reducing it to the last week before Christmas. (See Bing-
ham, ib, sect. 4.) It is likewise to be recollected, that the word
quadrogesimis in the above Irish canon is not to be understood of
periods of precisely 40 days, but as indicating certain fixed times
for fasting, whether of greater or lesser duration, according to an
acceptation quite usual in consequence of the Christian fasts having
been established in imitation of the 40 days fast of our Saviour.


Even the gi'eat lent before Easter, did not in those days consist, at
least in Ireland, (see above §. 4.) of that number of days. The
last of those regulations seems to suppose, that the man and wife
had, although living together, devoted themselves to tlie observ-
ance of some monastic rnles, in which case they were to conduct
iliemselves as if they lived separately in monasteries. Usher re-
fers {Discourse, 8fc. ch. 6.) to the first part of said canon, and
might have learned from it, with what attention the Irish church
looked to the purity of the nuptial bed, without quibbling, as he
does elsewhere, concerning its not having considered marriage a
sacrament. The mighty argument, which he adduces {ib. ch. 5.)
for his position, is a scrap from Sedulius the commentator, which
he does not give entire, Sedulius makes the following observation
on some words of St. Paul, Romans i. 11. 12; '' Quod autem
dicit, nt aliquod tradam vobis donum spirit uale, videtur indicare,
esse aliquid, quod doaum quidem sit, non tamen spirituale, ut
nuptiae, divitiae, fortitudo corporis, &c." Hence Usher con-
cluded, that Sedulius did not look upon marriage as a sacrament.
Now it is quite plain, that in this passage marriage is alluded to
incidentally, and merely in a temporal or worldly sense. But why
did not Usher, who had read all Sedulius's commentaries, quote
some part of them, in which marriage is expressly treated of? He
took care to conceal from the reader the following words on what
St. Paul says of marriage, Ephcs. v, 32. according to tlie Latin
text, Sacrameiitum hoc magnum esi^ on which Sedulius has this
observation ; " Sunt enim alia minora sacrarmenta." Plence it is
clear, that, as he explained great sacrament by stating, that
there are lesser sacraments, Sedulius reckoned marriage among
the sacraments.

(119) Ap. D'Acheryfromiy. 57.(«/;. 2. " Synodus Hibernensis
ait; Qui praebet ducatum barbaris, M- annis poeniteat. Barba-
rus, id est, alienus. Quis est alienus, nisi qui more crudeh et ira-
mani cunctos prosternit?" This canon may be understood of
princes or chieftains, who without provocation attacked, robbed,
and murdered their neighbours ; or persons tliat served as guides
to marauding parties of strangers.

§. XIV. Prior to those of the twelfth century we
find very few monuments of ecclesiastical architec-


ture in Ireland. This is not to be wondered at, be-
cause the general fashion of the country was to erect
their buildings of wood, a fashion, which in great
part continues to this day in several parts of Europe.
As consequently their churches also were usually built
of wood, it cannot be expected that there should be
any remains of such churches at present. Several
of them, although constructed of such slight mate-
rials, might have been elegant and splendid, and in
a good stile of architecture. The description of the
church of Kildare, which seems to have been en-
tirely of wood, by Cogitosus, who lived at the latest
in the early part of the ninth century, (120) shows,
that it was an ample and neat structure. He says,
that it was large and very lofty, and adorned with
paintings. It contained three large oratories, di-
vided from each other by wooden partitions, (121)
all under one roof. One of these partitions was or-
namented, painted with images, and covered wdth
linen cloths, and being in the eastern part of the
church reached across from one of its outside walls
to the other. By this partition he meant the inclo-
sure of the sanctuary, at each extremity of which he
tells us that there was a door. By the one at the
right the bishop, with his chapter, and the persons
appointed to assist at the holy administration, used
to enter the sanctuary and proceed to the altar, to
immolate the holy sacrifice of the Lord ; and that at
the left was only for the abbess and her nuns to come
in, that they might enjoy the banquet of the body
and blood of Jesus Christ. (122) The remainder
or great body of the church was divided into two
equal parts by a partition running from the sanc-
tuary down to the front w'all. The right one was for
the male part of the congregation, including also
priests (such, it seems, as were not actually officiat-
ing; ; and the left one for the females. Each divi-
sion had a large door, not in the front wall of the
church, but in the right and left sides. Thus there


were three oratories, as above mentioned, viz. the^;^ two
parts besides the sanctuary. In this church were many
windows; but its chief ornament consisted of the
shrinesof St. Brigid and St. Conlaeth, containing their
bodies at each side of the altar, and adorned with
wrought gold and silver, likewise with gems and pre-
cious stones, and with gold and silver crowns hang-
ing over them. It is exceedingly probable, that the
custom of drawing partitions in the churches, be-
tween the places assigned for the respective sexes,
was nearly general in Ireland, conformably to the
almost universal practice in ancient times of marking
distinct and separate places for them. (122*)

(120) See Not. 18 to CJutp. viii. This description is in Vit,
S. Brigid, cap. 35.

(121) Divisa parietibus tahidatis.

( 1 22) Hence it appears, that the nunneiy adjoined the church
on the left, while the habitation of the bishop and his clergy was
close to it on the right. (Compare with Not. 141. to Chap. \iu.)

(122*) See Bingham, Origines, S^c. B. viii. ch. 5. sect, 6.

§. XV. In building their churches of wood the
Irish had no peculiar motive imaginable, except that
they were very little in the habit of erecting any sort
of edifices of stone or other materials. Accordingly
nothing can be more ludicrous than the assertion of a
silly presuming author, that " the doctrine and dis-
cipline of the Irish church were averse from stone
fabricks." (123) Even before the twelfth century
some stone churches had been erected in Ireland,
although it was not until that period that this fashion
was introduced into some of the northern parts. ( J 24)
It has been said, that the round towers, which are
almost peculiar to Ireland, were intended as steeples
or belfries to churches. (125) It may be, and indeed
seems certain, that some of them have been, although
very unfit for the purpose, applied to that use, after
their original destination had been forgotten. But


it is self evident, that they were not erected with
that intention. Their construction was not adapted
to it ; (126) and, as far as can be discovered, the
buikiings intended for belfries in Ireland were square.
Of this kind is that annexed to Cormac's Chapel
on the Rock of Cashel ; and it is remarkable, that
not far from it there is a Round tower, which, we
may be sure, existed at the time when that Chapel
was built, and which must not have been considered
as a belfrey, whereas in such case there would have
been no necessity for erecting the square one near
the Chapel. Yet, as 1 have said above, bells seem
to have been placed in some of them, which accord-
ingly got the name of Cloctheach, that is the house
of the bell, (1^7) But, although originally not
belfiies, they were, at least in the times of Giraldus
Cambrensis, looked upon as ecclesiastical edifices,
that is, as applied to some religious purpose. ( 1 28)
An ingenious conjecture on this subject is, that they
were built for and inhabited by anchorets of the
description of those, who were called Inclusi, and
who used to shut themselves up all alone in certain
places. (29) But, although some anchorets might
have availed themselves of them as habitations, for
which they were fit enough, yet it is hard to believe,
that such lofty buildings, as many of them are, were
originally intended for that purpose and for the use
of single persons. Where was the necessity of the
various stages or floors, into which they were divided,
if they were to be inhabited by only one man ? Or
why should they be all furnished with four windows
at the top, opposite to one another, and facing the
four quarters of the heavens ? Of what use could
these be to an anchoret? (1'30) I find another ac-
count of the use, to which they were applied, and
which seems as probable as that now spoken of. It
is, that they served as prisons for penitents, who
used to be placed first on the uppermost floor, and
after spending there a certain space of time in pro-



portion to their crimes, were allowed to descend to
the next floor, and so on gradually, until they came
down to the door and received absolution. (13i) In
this supposition the various stories or floors would
have answered very well for accomodating the divers
ranks of penitents with habitations.

(123) Ledwich, Antiq. S^'C p, 141. The arguments, which he
adduces to uphold this U'ash, are as nonsensical as his position.
« Celsus," he says, " objects to the first believers, that they had
no dedications or consecrations of altars, statues, or churches.
Four centuries had almost elapsed before the usage here noticed
began." Here in the first place he bungles every thing. Neither
Celsus nor any other pagan had charged the Christians with not
having churches, but with not having temples. Did not this
wretched reason er know, how learned men, and among others
Bingham (/oc. cit. ch. 6. sect. 13.) have explained in what sense
Origen and other apologists acknowledged that they had no altai's,
while in another they held that they had, and even used the name
altar? As to the usage he speaks of, viz. of dedications or conse-
crations, surely many churches were dedicated, and with great
solemnity, during the reign of Constantino the great, long before
the close of the fourth century. But what have these things to do
with the reason why churches ^ere built of vvood rather than of
stone ? Might not wooden churches have been dedicated as well
as stone ones ? Ledwich meant to insinuate, that churches used
not to be dedicated in Ireland. Now there are innumerable in-
stances to the contrary, and we have already met with many of
them. The 23d canon of the synod of St, Patrick, Auxilius and Is-
serninus requires, that divine service be not performed in a church,
built even by a priest, until after it has been consecrated by a
bishop; " Si quis preshyterorim ecdesiam aedifcaverit, non qffe-
rat antequam adducat sicum Pontificem, ut earn consecret, quia sic
decetr Amidst some other stuff he says, that reliques were placed
in churches in 787. He refers to the 7th canon of the second
council of Nice. But by this canon no new practice was intro-
duced. The object of it was, as appears from the very words of
it, and as has been observed by Balsamon and others, to re-
establish the ancient one of not consecrating churches without


reliques of martyrs, which had been infringed by the Iconoclasts.
The canon runs thus ; " In such churches as have been conse-
crated without holy reliques of niartys, we order reliques to be
placed, accompanied wich the usual prayers ; and whoever conse-
crates a church without holy reliques is to be deposed as a traus-
(rressor of ecclesiastical traditious." Even Bingham is forced to
acknowledge, (i?. viii. ch. 1. sect. 8.) that as early as the times of
Constantine the great, churches used to be erected over the
graves or reliques of martyrs. Ledwich then comes forward with
this triuiiiVibant conclusion ; '•' While corruptions were creeping
" into religion on the continent, ours was pure and primitive.
'* Retentive of the faith delivered to us, and precluded from ac-
" cess to Rome by the convulsions of the empire, we were strangers
" to the innovations of foreign clmrches ; when time discovered
" them to us, we beheld them with hon-or and detestation." Hor-
ror and detestation at what? Was it at the respect paid to reliques?
I wish he had told us who were the persons, that expressed such
feelings. The Irish, instead of abhorring reliques, took great
care of them. We have often seen how carefully they presei-ved
those of St. Patrick at Armagh, the shrine of Columbkill in Hy
and elsewhere ; and the attention and honour paid to those of St.
Brigid, &:c. have just been mentioned. The church of Armagh
was furnished from very old times with a considerable number of
reliques of various saints ( Vit. Tripart. S. Patr. L. 3. c. 82,) ; the
delegates, who went to Rome about the year 630, brought thence
reliques of martyrs on their return to Ireland ; (see Chup. xv. §.6.)
and it was usual to expose or carry in procession reliques on solemn
occasions. (See ea:. c. Chap, xxiii. §. 12.) Usher was so well
aware of the respect, which the Irish had for them, that he passes
them by in his Discourse, S^c, But the Doctor must have al-
luded not to reliques, but to our having retained the custom of
building churches of wood, and thus preserving our religion pure
by detesting the innovation of stone churches. For wood and
stone are the burden of his talk. How any one could find this
great virtue in wood, and connect it so closely with the doctrine
and discipline of the Irish church, it is hard to conceive. Such
notions suit only wooden-headed disputants.
, Next he passes to chrism, wishing to make us believe that, be-
cause the Irish did not use it in baptism, (a matter already ex-


plained Chap. xxiv. §. 12.) It was not applied in the consecration
of churches or altars. He might as well have said, that it was not
used at all, not even in Confirmation. Now his introducing chrism
brings us again to wood, for, as he argues, the Irish had altars of
wood, (see Chap. xxx. §. 7.) which were therefore incapable of
chrismation. And why? Because, he says, " the councils of
Agde in 506, and of Epone in 517, forbid the holy oil to be ap-
plied but to structures of stone." He had no right to appeal to
the council of Agde ; for it does not mention either stone or wood,
but merely directs in its 14th canon, that altars should be con-
secrated not only with the unction of chrism, but likewise with the
sacerdotal benediction; " Altaria placuit non solum unctione
chrismatis, sed etiam sacerdotali benedictione sacrari." It is true,
that the council of Epone requires that no altars be consecrated
except of stone, (see Not. 48. to Chap, xxx.) but it does not use
the word structures, which Ledwich, who never scrupled to cor-
rupt texts, or to quote falsely, introduced for the purpose of in-
cluding also churches under that decree. And upon this vile trick
he founds another position of his, viz. that churches were not
" anointed with chrism" until the 6th century ; while at the same
time in neither of the councils, to which he refers, are churches at
all mentioned. Now as to the canon of Epone relative to stone
altars, what had it to do with the Irish church ? That was far
from being a general council ; and, whatever weight its decrees
might have had in France, they were not binding In Ireland.

Still he goes on with wood, and tells us that " the Britons, who
«' symbolized with the Irish in religious tenets, had only wattled
«' and wooden churches. — On the contrary the Anglo-Saxon
« church, founded by an eleve of Rome, early adopted the masses,
«* stations, litanies, singing, rellques, pilgrimages, and other su-
" perstitlous practices, flowing in a full tide from that imperial
«' city, and with these that mode of building peculiarltj suited to
*< them. Hence the Anglo-Saxon fabrics had under them crypts
" for rellques, &c." Is it possible to listen with patience to such
a medley of stupidity and ignorance ! As If masses, stations, &c.
might not have been celebrated and held, or psalms sung, or re-
llques preserved, in wooden churches as well as in stone ones.
According to Ledwich the characteristic mark of what he calls a
pure Church is, that its buildings be of wood. Why then has he


not exerted himself to get St. Paul's and the many other stone
churches of these countries demolished, and wooden ones substi-
tuted in their stead ? I am really ashamed to appear as if arguing
against these absurdities. So little idea had the Irish, or their
disciples, of wood being the only fit material for ecclesiastical
buildings, that St, Cuthbert, who was either an Irishman, or, at
least, brought up and trained in the Irish schools of Northumber-
land, erected in the island of Fame a chapel of large rough stones
and turf. (Bede, Vit. S. Cidhberti cap. 17.) Ledwich himself,
who calls Cuthbert an Irishman, maks mention of it (p. 138). On
the other hand the Roman missionaries attached no consequence
to building churches of stone. One of the first of themj Paulinus
archbishop of York, is stated to have got renewed the old church
of Glastonbury, by making its walls of wood, which were sheeted
outside with lead. (See Usher, Prim, p. 114'.) The Anglo-
Saxons continued to use the wooden church, which Finan had
built at Lindisfarne ; and many years after his death Theodore,
archbishop of Canterbury, did not scruple to dedicate it under the
name of St. Peter the apostle. Stone was not introduced into it ;
but for its preservation Eadbert, bishop (the seventh) of Lhidis-
farne, roofed it and sheeted the walls with lead. (Bede, Eccl,
Hist. L. 3. cap, 25.) So much for our antiquary's reveries as to
wood marking the pure Irish church, and stone the corrupt Anglo-
Saxon one. He has some similar balderdash concerning the Ost-
men erecting stone-roofed chapels for reliques^ one of which he
places at Glendaloch, as if those Ostmen of old could have had easy
access to a district so emphatically Irish, and so strong. Why did he
not add, that Connac's stone-roofed chapel at Cashel was also built
by Ostmen ? When treating of the antiquities of Glendaloch, he
pours out more nonsense concerning a connexion between reliques
and stone buildings, together with some malignant jargon (p. 43.)
concerning the adoration of reliques, instead of saying, that re-
spect was paid to them. And here he pretends, that the practice
of depositing reliques in churches was first introduced into Ireland
by the Ostmen in the 9th century, notwithstanding that, as we
have seen(CA<2p. xxri. ^. 12.) those Ostmen were still pagans until
about the middle of the tenth. Were they Ostmen, that brought
reliques from Rome about, as remarked above, the year 630 ?
A»noug his fanciful explanations of some ruias ot Glendaloch


I cannot but touch upon one of them, although unconnected
with the points now treated of. Having found three figures on a
loose stone, of which he has given an engraving, he describes
them thus {p. 39) ; " The one in the middle is a bishop or priest
sitting in a chair and holding a penitential in his hand. On the
right a pilgrim leans on his staff; and on the left a young man
holds a purse of money to commute it for penance" For this
explanation he adduces no proof whatsoever. There is nothing
to show that what the young man or rather boy, holds in his
hand is a purse. It is rather a bell, with which he seems to sum-
mon the people to hear a sermon or discourse by the person in
the middle, who appears not in a chair but raised on a pulpit, and
holding a book. And even if it were a purse, who told Ledwich,
that it contained commutation money ? Might it not have been
an offering to the church ? And where did he find, that the book
was a penitential ? There is no kneeling, nor imposition of hands,
nor any thing indicating a penitential transaction. But his per-
verse conjectures served him as a vehicle to enlarge on an abuse,
which had nothing to do with the antiquities of Glendaloch, and
which, as appears from a quotation of his own, was condemned
by the Church.

(124) See Chap, xxvii §, 9. and ib. Not. 59.

(125) This was the opinion of the learned Molyneux (Boate's
and Molyneux's Nat. Hist, of Ireland, p. 211) and has been
followed by Ledwich, Antiq. &;€. art. on the Round Toxvers, p. 285.

(126) Smith, speaking of the round tower of Ardmore, {His-
tory/ of Waterfordy p. 48.) says that it has, no doubt, been used
for a belfry or steeple ; but he does not state, as Ledwich quoting
him (/;. 295) pretends, that such was the general use of all the
round towers. Upon this quotation Dr. Milner remarks {Letter
14. Inquiry or Ton in Ireland); " Dr. Ledwich tells us, from
" Mr. (Dr.) Smith, that the round tower at Ardmore has been,
« at some period, used to hang a bell in, as appears by « three
" pieces of oak still remaining near the top of it" and by * two
« channels, which are cut in the sill of the door, where the rope
«' went out, the ringer standing below the door on the outside.*
" But if these pieces of oak were coeval with the tower, it is un-
«* accountable that they should have remained entire, wliile the


" beams in every other tower have mouldered away. Again,
'* what reason can Dr, Ledwich assign, why there are not holes
" in the sills of every other tower ? In a word, the ancient arcli-
" itects were too wise to place the bell under cover and the ringer
*• in the open air.' In fact, the tower of Ardmore is covered
with a stone roof ending in a point, (see a drawing of it in Vallan-
cey s Collectanea^ Vol. 6. 'part, 1 .) as are many other of our round
towers to this day, and as they all undoubtedly were in the begin-
ning. Dr. Milner's general observation ( ih. ) on this point is very
just. He says, " that none of these towers is lai'ge enough for a
" single bell of a moderate size to swing round in it ; that from the
'' whole of their form and dimensions, and from the smallness of

Online LibraryUnknownAn ecclesiastical history of Ireland, from the first introduction of Christianity among the Irish, to the beginning of the thirteenth century , Compiled from the works of the most esteemed authors ... who have written and published on matters connected with the Irish church; and from Irish annals an → online text (page 35 of 45)