The Ecclesiastical Remains at Glendalough, Co. Wicklow (part 4)

Excerpts from the ‘Eightieth Annual Report of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland’ 1911-12

St. Kieran’s Church


This little structure was found beneath a mound of earth and stones, south-east of St. Kevin’s Church, when the first repairs were undertaken in 1875. Its existence had been completely forgotten. Unfortunately nothing but the foundation and a foot or two of the superstructure had been left standing to give evidence of its former extent.

The outline of a nave and chancel thus remain, as well as the foundation of a stone altar 4 feet 1 inch by 2 feet 3 inches. The nave is 18 feet 10 inches in length by 14 feet 6 inches in breadth, and the chancel measures 9 feet 4 inches by 8 feet 10 inches ; and although the fragments would seem to indicate nothing of special interest, a closer examination will be well repaid. (See ground plan, Fig. 30.)

Commencing at the doorway in the western gable, the large stones on edge forming the jambs are seen to be the full thickness of the wall on the south side, and 20 inches deep on the north. Their height is 2 feet 2 inches, and over them are thorough stones laid on the flat and 8 inches thick. A large rough granite sill extends under both jambs and projects into the church. On the inner faces of the jamb stones are small rectangular sinkings, 2 3/4 inches wide and 3/4 inch deep, placed at a distance of 7 inches from the angle of the doorway. These sinkings begin at the ground level and only extend a few inches in height, but are interesting as showing some conception of the formation of an architrave.

Similar sinkings are cut in the jambs of the chancel arch, but there they are deeper, and begin at a height of 6 inches above the ground. It is noticeable that all these attempts at ornament are on surfaces in interior of the nave (see also Reefert Church door. Fig. 7).

The chancel opening is 4 feet 7 inches wide, and is probably one of the most diminutive known. In the south wall of the chancel are a few courses of the jambs of what is apparently a doorway 2 feet wide. An outer door in this position would be unusual, and it is probable that it led to a sacristy or other inner apartment now destroyed.

Portions of the hanging irons still remain in the outer jambs of this doorway, and in the inner jamb of the west doorway. A clearance of rubbish along the east and south walls of the chancel lately revealed the semicircular head of a small window 6 inches in diameter, cut in mica slate. It is now preserved in St. Kevin’s Church.

This little structure is assumed to be the church erected for St. Kieran, described in the ancient annals as having been erected close to the Church of St. Kevin, from which this structure stands 12 yards distant m the south-east direction As St. Kieran of Clonmacnois, whose name is associated with it died, in 548, according to the “ Martyrology of Gorman ” and St. Kieran of Ossory died in 540, the present remains, though of undoubtedly early date may be somewhat later than the original foundation.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral is the largest and most imposing of the buildings at Glendalough and, together with the Round Tower, occupies the most central and commanding site in the valley, on the small plateau of rising ground near where the Glendassan river unites with the stream from the two lakes. The Cathedral was dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. It ceased to be used as a cathedral in 1214 when the diocese of Glendalough was united to that of Dublin. It consists of nave and chancel; the latter has a small sacristy attached to the south side.

The nave is 48 feet long on the south side and 48 feet and a half inches on the north by 29 feet 5 inches on the west side and 29 feet 10 and a half inches in width on the east—internal measurements (see plan, Fig. 31). The walls are 3 feet 5 inches in thickness. The chancel measures 37 feet 7 inches in length by 21 feet 9 inches in width, the side walls being 3 feet and the end walls 3 feet 6 inches thick.

The masonry indicates several re-buildings or periods of construction. About 6 feet in height of the west gable and 4 feet of the side waUs are constructed with a facing of large squared stones, each from 2 to 5 feet long, the masonry being of a character corresponding with the work of the west doorway, usually called Cyclopean. Some interruption seems to have occurred at this stage, as the upper portions of the walls are built of small roughly jointed stones, forming a contrast to the original work.

Several stones which formed part of, or were prepared for, an earlier building are set in the walls, for instance, in the outer face of the north wall there is a mica slate slab measuring 5 feet 1 inch in length and 9 and a half inches in depth, having a semicircular window head, 8 incljes in diameter, cut in the solid.

Several half-round drums of mica schist, 25 inches diameter, may also be noticed ; these were stones forming engaged columns which belonged to the chance] arch of an earlier church(see fig. 30a). One of these blocks has been removed from the wall, and has been
placed for examination in St. Kevin’s Church.

The principal features of the nave are the west doorway and antae, two south windows, the remains of the north doorway, and the piers and a portion of the chancel arch. The west doorway is trabeated, and presents many features of interest. It is 6 feet 8 inches in height, and in width diminishes from 3 feet 9 and a half inches at the sill to 3 feet 6 and a half inches at the lintel. Both internally and externally a simple form of architrave surrounds the opening.

On the outside it is 11 and a half inches in width, and projects 1 1/4 inches, and on the inside it is 6 and a half inches wide with a projection of 2 inches. These architraves do not extend to the top stones of the jambs, which indicate that the doorway has been raised. The jambs have chamfered plinths projecting inches, cut out of the solid stone; both lintel and jambs are rebated in the solid, and perforated for the pivots and bolts of the door. The stone used is mica schist, and there is a relieving arch above the lintel (see drawing of doorway and west gable, Fig. 35).

The external angles of the nave are furnished with those striking projections or pilasters, not unusual in early churches, termed antae. They stand out 2 feet from the face of the wall. This projection is too great to permit of its continuation along the slope of the gable as a finish to the roof in the manner seen at St. MacDara’s Church in County Galway, and elsewhere.

In the present instance they were probably used to support a roof truss in the same way as the projecting gable brackets of the earlier structures, such as may be seen at Reefert and Trinity Churches. These antae have the comers chamfered, and widen by a projection at the top to the full thickness of the side walls ; that at the south-west corner has on the face of one of the stones the remains of two projecting bosses, for which no use can yet be assigned.

The church is lighted by two windows in the south wall (see Fig. 34), the opes of each are 4 feet 2 inches high by 1 foot 6 inches in width externally, and are splayed, one to 21 inches and one to 27 inches wide, internally. Their quoins correspond in character with the massive character of the masonry below, but the head of the south-west window and the outer part of that of the south-east are formed of roughly built arches, which indicate a reconstruction.

Both the remains of the north doorway and the portions of the chancel arch now remaining are of later date, and with the chancel windows are moulded and carved in a different stone from the remainder of the building, and in a style which shows some possible indications of the transition from Romanesque to Early English. This stone has been assumed to be oolitic hmestone, and imported, but a careful examination shows that it is felspathic granite, soft and fine grained, and of a quality which occurs in the Wicklow mountains.

The north doorway has jambs moulded in three orders, the first of which has on its outer side a roll flanked by hollows and fiUets of curved section. This roll bears a narrow fillet which marks the arris. The inner side is plain, and is checked 4 and a half inches deep to receive the wooden door, the socket of which is still in position. The second order is formed by an engaged column, 5 inches in diameter, placed in the angle between the first and third; the latter is moulded in three rolls; of these the outer are small, and between them is a larger roll and fillet as in the first order.

The inner jambs are slightly splayed, and the arris bears a roll and fillet similar
to those on the outer face (see Pig. 38a). The chancel arch is 17 feet 3 inches in span and has square piers of granite, stop chamfered, which rise from chamfered plinths of mica slate in which rectangular sockets were sunk for a screen of woodwork. The arch ring is of three orders, and springs from chamfered imposts ; the inner order is supported on fluted corbel blocks, and has a roll and fillet on the arris, and a smaller roll at each side.

The second order has a slightly larger roll and fillet, with lines of chevrons on the face and soffit, and the third a projecting roll 4 inches in diameter. (See section, Fig. 38, and elevation of arch, Fig. 36.) The eastern face of the arch repeats the moulding of the western, except as regards the second order ; this is somewhat wider on the soffit, and instead of the chevrons has small rolls placed on the front and soffit, and showing a square arris between them.

The chancel, which is 8 feet narrower than the nave, and is but slightly bonded into it, is built of inferior masonry, and is somewhat later in date ; it does not show the large squared stones which the earlier work does.

The east window, 10 feet 9 inches high and 1 foot 6 inches wide, exhibited a fine example of carving, being decorated with a roll and fillets on the jambs and chevrons on the head, but now many of the stones are missing, including the ornamental frieze drawn by Petrie. His illustration of the window, however, seems to be incorrect as to the string course under it.

This string is of slate, plain and rounded, 3 and a half inches thick and projecting 3 inches, it forms the sill of the east window and is returned up the sides for a distance of 18 inches, and is carried horizontally to the north and south walls, where it runs under the windows and finishes on the south side in a scroll which turns upward and was decorated with foliage now greatly worn away. This string is shown in Pig. 37, over the aumbry and piscina, which are under the south window of the chancel.

A similar string course exists on the outer face of the gable wall of the chancel, and is carried under the east window in the same manner. It does not extend to the comers of the building, but stops short of the quoin stones, and ends at the north side in a carved head greatly weathered, and at the south in a scroll. Several insertions of granite have been made in this string course and are conspicuous owing to their light colour.

In the 12th century reconstruction of the chancel the course was repaired and retained as well as portions of the north windows, and the changes at this time chiefly affected the chancel arch, the east window, and the north and south doorways ; the north and south windows, however, have external jambs of the same stone as that used in the chancel arch.

The aumbry and piscina combined are in one recess under the south window, 6 feet 11 inches long, 17 inches high, and 16 and a half inches deep. A partition divided them, and the portion of the recess forming the aumbry is rebated for a door, and the remainder is merely chamfered. The top and bottom of the recess are each formed of one slab of slate; these slabs are 5 and a half feet long and 6 inches thick. The conical basin of the
piscina is inches diameter and 3 inches deep. (See Fig. 37.)

The sacristy, measuring 16 feet by 10 and a half feet internally, has the walls well bonded
into the masonry of the south side of the chancel. The doorway from the chancel is plain, with the exception of the jambs and base courses on the side next the church. These are moulded in the same style as those of the north door, but the mouldings have almost disappeared. The bolt hole and means of fastening indicate that the door was secured from the sacristy, which must have served as a porch.

There are no traces of door or window openings in the existing masonry except in the east
wall, where a modern tombstone has been inserted blocking up the space formerly occupied by an external door, which formed the entrance for the clergy. There may have been a chamber over this apartment forming a parvise, though the remains, as they now exist, do not give any indication of a two storey structure here.

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