Thursday, 27 June 2013

Monasterboice & Mellifont Abbey

As we had a couple of spare days here in Navan we thought we would head off to Northern Ireland to see the Giants Causeway and the coastal road, however as we headed off our tyre blew due to a pothole we hit about a week ago. Luckily we were not far from Navan and changed the tyre and then went in search of a tyre shop who luckily was able to order a tyre in for us and it was replaced all in the one day. Due to only having the spare on we just ventured to a couple of nearby tourist sites.

The first was Monasterboice (Mainistir Bhuithe) an interesting monastic site near Drogheda in County Louth. The impressive ruins included a large cemetery, two churches, one of the tallest round towers in Ireland and two of the tallest and best high crosses.

Monasterboice is said to have been founded by St. Buithe (d. 520), a follower of St. Patrick, in the late 5th century AD. (There is evidence that the site had pre-Christian sacred significance as well.) It is from St. Buithe that the Boyne River gets its name. The settlement was captured by invading Vikings in 968 AD, who were then comprehensively expelled by Donal, the Irish high king of Tara. St. Buithe's Monastery was an important center of spirituality and scholarship until the Cistercians arrived at nearby Mellifont Abbey in 1142, after which Monasterboice declined.

North Church, Round Tower & West Cross
The slimmer West Cross, located near the round tower in the western corner of the site, is 6.5m high, making it the tallest high cross in Ireland. Also dating from the early 10th century, it is more weathered than Muirdach's Cross, especially at the base, leaving only about a dozen of its original 50 panels distinguishable.

West Cross

Round Tower
 Monasterboice's round tower is over 30m (110 feet) tall and was divided into four or more stories inside, connected with ladders. As with other round towers in Ireland, this was used as a belfry, watch-tower, and a refuge for monks and valuables during times of Viking attack. Records indicate that the interior went up in flames in 1097, destroying many valuable manuscripts and other treasures.

South Church

Muiredach's Cross
Muirdach's Cross (a.k.aMuiredach's Cross). It dates from 900-923 AD and stands 5.5m (16 feet) tall. It is named for an abbot mentioned in the inscription on the base: "A prayer for Muirdach for whom the cross was made."

The other site we visited was the Mellifont Abbey the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland founded in 1142 by St Malachy of Armagh, with a most unusual feature in the octagonal Lavabo c. 1200. By 1170, Mellifont had one hundred monks and three hundred lay brothers. The Abbey became the model for other Cistercian abbeys built in Ireland, with its formal style of architecture imported from the abbeys of the same order in France; it was the main abbey in Ireland until it was closed in 1539, when it became a fortified house.

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