The Ecclesiastical Remains at Glendalough, Co. Wicklow (part 5)

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

The Gateway


This was the principal entrance to the ancient ‘City of Glendalough’ and is the only surviving example of an entrance to a primitive ecclesiastical settlement in Ireland. Although the arches now remaining are of very early date, they are probably not as old as the original enclosure; they are semicircular, measuring 9 feet 3 inches in width and 2 feet 6 inches in thickness, and are quite devoid of ornament.

The outer archway is formed of 25 blocks of granite and the inner of 27, eight of these in each case are below the springing, the joints of which are approximately radiated, as well as those of the arch proper. The plinths are formed of mica schist, and those of the outer face project from 9 to 10 inches. Under each pier is one large stone, 4 feet 3 inches by 3 feet 4 inches by 10 inches. There are antae at each end, 2 feet 10 inches in width and projecting 14 and a half inched; those in front of the gate have their outer angles rebated 2 inches square, so as to reduce the face to 2 feet 8 inches. Many of the stones in the antae are cut in the solid and are returned so as to extend into the wall behind the arch ring; for example, the stone next to the plinth on the east side is 3 feet 10 inches long and 10 inches thick, and has a portion 14 and a half inches by 12 inches cut out of the corner to suit the projection. A similar return of stones, but of less extent, occurs in the antae looking towards the interior. The walls enclose a space 16 feet in width and 16 feet 5 inches in length, through which is the approach over a flagged causeway.

There was a second storey, the room in which was suitable for a guard chamber or custodian’s quarters. It is stated that there was a tower standing over this gateway in 1795. The gables may have been lofty, but the side walls do not look sufficiently strong to bear a tower of any height. The flanks of the side walls are left rough to about the level of the springing, and were evidently covered by the bank and enclosing walls at each side of the gateway ; the eastern wall is covered to the present day.

This elevation of the ground affords a means of access to the upper floor, as it would only be necessary to have a doorway at the side. The sides of the passage.beyond the gateway are lined with rough stonework for a considerable distance in the direction of the churches and graveyard, and in this part the paving of the old causeway is well preserved.

A rectangular slab of schist, 7 feet 8 inches by 5 feet high, incised with a rude cross having expanded ends is built into the west wall of this passage. This was no doubt the “ Sanctuary ” cross, where the refugee, having arrived, could claim the protection of sanctuary from summary punishment. The cross on the lintel of St. Mary’s Church, outside of the city, seems to indicate a similar privilege of sanctuary.


Trinity Church

This primitive church, situated beside the wood a quarter of a mile north-east of the cathedral, is of much interest from having had a round tower erected over a small vaulted chamber, built as an addition against the western end of the original church. The church consisted of a nave and chancel, the nave measuring internally 29 feet 6 inches in length along the northern wall and 29 feet 4 inches on the south wall.

The width varies from 17 feet 4 and a half inches at the west to 17 feet 6 inches at the east end. The chancel is separated from the nave by a plain semicircular arch the full width of the chancel, which measures 9 feet 1 inch across. The length of the chancel, including the thickness of the wall on which the arch rests, is 13 feet 6 inches. The walls of the nave are from 2 feet 7 inches to 2 feet 10 inches in thickness, those of the chancel averaging 2 feet 9 inches. The east gable of the nave shows where the masonry was cut into to receive the roof of the chancel which abutted against it.

The annexe to the western end of the nave, as shown on the ground plan (Fig. 44), now measures 10 feet 4 inches in length internally east to west; 9 feet 7 inches in width on the east side and 9 feet 4 inches on the west side. The springing of the barrel vault which covered the space and carried the tower may be seen. In a drawing made by Gabriel Beranger in the last quarter of the 18th century there is shown the round tower, ivy clad, rising from a stepped base, square on plan, supported by a vault over the chamber.

The tower is indicated as standing quite apart from the original western gable, which was then at its full height to the apex of the roof of the nave. The south doorway is shown as having a round headed arch springing from imposts. There are other drawings extant showing this tower, which fell during a storm in 1818. The building was repaired in 1875, when the walls bad been greatly injured by the roots of a growth of trees nearly hiding the ruin. The south wall of the annexe, which had fallen, was rebuilt; the south doorway was also rebuilt with stones found on the site, following in its re-erection the lines of the drawing by Beranger.

The Round Tower here is said by Petrie to have been 60 feet high, including the base, which was 16 feet in height from the ground. It is interesting as showing a transitional period in the evolution of the Irish Round Tower, where it changes from having been a detached structure to one incorporated with the body of the church.

In the present case, a chamber was constructed against the west gable of the existing church to form a base for the tower. In a church of similar dimensions at Kilmacnessan,
on Ireland’s Eye, in use until A.D. 1275, the tower was placed over the vaulted  chancel.

The projecting stones at each side of the gables at the end of the roof, forming brackets or “handles,” shown in drawings 46, 46 and 48, are worthy of notice especially one which is shaped out of a larger block than was requisite for the size of the bracket. There is one formed in a similar manner in the church at Reefert.
The original external doorway was in the west gable of the nave, and it now forms the entrance to the western chamber. It had the characteristic sloping jambs, measuring 2
feet 7 and a half inches in width at the base narrowing to 2 feet 5 inches at the head and is 6 feet 2 and a half inches high.

The lintel is a massive stone, 5 feet 3 inches in length and 10 inches to 15 inches in depth. This lintel and four of the stones forming the jambs are the full thickness of the wall, which here measures 2 feet 8 inches. The stones forming this doorway are of granite, squared on the outer angles and dressed on the face, but they are devoid of any attempt at ornamentation.

The doorway in the south wall, with the arched head, was constructed after the tower had been erected blocking up the western entrance. As at Reefert church, there were no openings in the north wall. There is a small round headed window in the south wall of the nave, measuring 2 feet 4 inches in height, with jambs sloping, and measuring externally
8 inches in width at the sill, narrowing to 7 inches at the head, and splayed to 2 feet 1 inch wide internally.

The chancel has two small windows—that in the east, 2 feet 5 inches high, has a semicircular head cut out of a single stone, and is peculiar in having an external projecting hood cut out of the same stone as the head. The jambs of the window slope from 11 inches at the base to 10 inches at the commencement of the curve of the semicircular head. There are sockets for an upright bar in the head and sill.

The south window of the church is singular as having an angular head formed of two flat stones, sloping and meeting at the apex of the opening. There are not many examples of this construction in the primitive churches, and it is the only specimen of this kind at Glendalough. (See Fig. 50.) All of the window openings are widely splayed internally, and do not present any indication of having been fitted with window frames or shutters.

The chancel arch is composed of dressed stones properly radiated, the voussoirs or ring stones, fifteen in number, being approximately the same size ; the centre or key stone has dropped an inch, but in all other respects the work is secure. The stones of each face are separate, and not bonded together. The jambs are formed of large stones dressed on the face and the external angles squared, the jambs are vertical, and have not an inclination like the doorways. There is a strong resemblance between this arch and those of the gateway and the chancel arch of Reefert church.

The masonry is of an archaic character, and contains many large stones, some of which are 6 feet in length and 18 inches in height. The quoins and dressings are of granite, the remainder of the material is mica schist, except a few granite stones scattered through the walls. A plain grave slab lies outside the south doorway, and another, bearing a small incised cross, is laid in the fence at the entrance steps.

It is recorded that Trinity church was founded by a disciple of St. Kevin in the 7th century but there is a difference of opinion as to whether any portion of a building of that date is now to be seen in the existing ruin. The similarity between the dimensions of this church and Reefert has been noted already, and there are other evidences indicating that there was not any great difference in the periods of their erection.

The Monastery or Priory of St. Saviour

This is the latest of the ecclesiastical buildings in the yalley, and presents features in its details similar to the Romanesque style of the twelfth century. It is said to have been founded and presided over by St. Laurence O’Toole, afterwards Archbishop of Dublin.

The priory is situated on the south bank of the river, three quarters of a mile to
the east of the cathedral and Round Tower.

Before it came under the care of the Board of Works, in 1875, the buildings were greatly ruined and buried under heaps of rubbish and tangled vegetation. Brash visited in 1858, and described the walls as not more than 6 feet in greatest height. There was therefore, considerable uncertainty in its reconstruction, and the stones of the beautiful east window may not have been placed in correct positions.

The structure consists of a nave and chancel, attached to which is a small block of domestic buildings situated at the north side. The nave is 40 feet 11 inches long and 20 feet 7 inches wlde west by 20 feet 3 inches east inside; the side walls being 3 feet 2 inches, the west wall 3 feet 5 inches, and the wall over the chancel arch 3 feet 4 inches thick. (See plan, Fig. 61.)

There is but little decoration outside the chancel and Its arch, and the only features in the nave are two windows and two doors in the south wall and a door in the north. The existence of two doors in the south wall is unusual. Brash states that he saw the remains of a porch outside the southeast door, and probably this may have been a sacristy approached through this opening ; all the doors are without mouldings; the south-east doorway alone retains its arch, which is well cut, and has inclined jambs.

The two south windows are similar to each other in design, but differ in detail that to the east is the more ornamental (see Pig. 67); it has a large external rebate and internal splay. The clear opening is 3 feet 5 inches high by 11 and a half inches wide, and the size inside is 6 feet 7 inches by 3 feet 9 inches; the sill being 5 feet 3 inches above the floor.

Several stones of the original arch ring remain, and are decorated outside by roll mouldings with rows of pellets between; above the arch is a chamfered plain hood chamfered the under side. The south-western window is somewhat smaller and plainer (see Pig 68) ; both have the inner reveals formed of stones separate from those framing the external ope.

The chancel arch is well constructed and effectively decorated. It is 10 feet 4 inches in span and 6 feet 3 inches to the springing, and is of three orders, the outer having a shaft 8 inches in diameter occupying the angle. (See Pigs. 52 and 63 ) The second order stands back 14 inches and is 10 and a half inches on the face, and shows a circular shaft 5 inches in diameter.

The inner order has a shaft 14 inches diameter projecting 9 inches. All the columns are engaged, and had carved capitals (see Pigs. 62 and 63) and bases (see Pigs 64, 65 and 66); all the bases remain undisturbed, as well as two of the capitals on the south side. The third is now missing, but its design is known from Petries drawing. Those of the north side are missing. The bases are interesting examples of the rounded forms and floral scroll work of the Romanesque period ; on two of them chevrons appear as well as the step-pattern spirals and a triquetra. The capitals are even more interesting; on the inner is a figure resembling a boat with mast, sail and heads of crew, streamers from it interlace with the hair of human heads placed at the angles; the hair of these heads also interlaces on one side with a triskelion and on the other with a dog-like animal. On the outer capital are two
semicircular frets (fig. 63), evidently copied from tomb slabs of the Clonmacnois type. These fret patterns spring from chaplets of leaves and form an effective design. The central capital, which is now missing, but of which a drawing may be seen in Petrie’s Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland, 1845, consisted of that well known but enigmatical design in which two beasts are seen attacking the ears of a human head placed between them.

The outer arch ring of the chancel arch is plain, with chamfered arris and hood moulding. the second has two rows of broad chevrons, having between them a small bead: the soffit has a similar bead. The inner ring has a set of chevrons both on face and soffit; these meet at the angle and form lozenges, in which are a variety of patterns, three being human heads and the others floral and geometrical designs.

The chancel is 17 feet 4 inches by 11 feet 6 inches, and was formerly covered by a barrel-vault with a chamber over. The side walls are 4 feet and 4 feet 2 inches and the east wall 3 feet 9 inches thick. The string courses at the springing of the vault which was 12 feet in span, may still be seen. This part has been re-erected.

A double aumbry has been constructed in the south wall of the chancel, each recess being 2.1 inches wide by 17 inches deep by 20 inches high: there is also a small recess under the chancel arch on the same side ; between them is a large recess into which a millstone has been incorrectly built. In the north wall near the east corner there is another recess 15 inches by 15 inches by 17 inches high.

The chief feature of the chancel is the ornamented east window (Fig 55). It is in two lights, each 3 feet 10 and a half  inches by 9 and a half inches, separated by a mullion and having semicircular heads in a single stone. Internally the window splays to 5 feet and on either side is a recess which leaves 14 3/4 inches as the breadth of the jambs. The jambs probably consisted of seven stones each, of which nine remain. Six of these stones as at present inserted are moulded for the full breadth of 14 3/4 inches and two for half this width (see drawings 54-57). The stones forming the heads of the jambs and the springing of the arch are unfortunately lost.

Such of the other arch stones as survive have a roll along the arris and chevrons rounded in section on the face and soffit. The designs carved in the panels of the jambs deserve careful examination, especially those at the bases, one of which shows a lion (see Fig. 163u,) and the other two birds pecking a human head (Fig. 163u’). Externally this window has a small rebate flanked by half-round shafts, 3 and a half inches in diameter, with moulded capitals and bases, the former having carving on the bells (see Fig. 56).

The arched head which springs from the capitals has a hood moulding, decorated on the under side with pellets 2 inches in diameter worked in different patterns. The arch stones, a few of which have been found on the site and replaced, have chevron ornament arranged so as to form a rich pattern having lozenges containing small ornaments placed alternately on the face and on the arris.

The apartment to the north has two windows, and a staircase, in the. east wall near the chancel, 2 feet wide and roofed with flagstones, communicated with the room which was over the chancel. This apartment is 18 feet 7 inches from north to south internally, and was a small block placed at right angles to the church at its eastern end, about 16 feet wide inside.

An arrangement of this kind may be seen at the early monastery of Mona Incha, near Roscrea. The windows have a general resemblance to those in the nave, but differ in detail. The eastern window is 3 feet 3 inches high bv lO 1/4 inches wide, and splays to 3 feet 9 inches in width inside. It has an external rebate with 3 inch columns at each side, and a small hood moulding above. The north window is 3 feet by 8 and a half inches, and splays to 4 feet 6 inches in width, the external rebate is partly chamfered off to meet the face of the wall, and unlike those of all the other windows is cut out of the solid stone forming the opening. These windows are not now at their proper level. They are shown on drawings (69 and 70).

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