I was very pleased to be amongst those present for the Civic reception for the new High Cross erected at Down Cathedral on 24th September. Based on fragments of an ancient cross kept in the Cathedral it is carved from Mourne granite, weighs five tonnes and towers over its immediate surroundings. It is an impressive structure, a work that eloquently reflects the legacy of St Patrick so close to his grave. The fragments that are inside the Cathedral were originally found on the site that is now marked as St Patrick’s grave and are thought to date from the eighth century. The pieces were digitally scanned and the decoration carved onto the new Cross to create a pristine replica of what may once have stood at the entrance to the Benedictine monastery which originally stood on the hill.
Hand print at the foot of the Cross for pilgrims
Inch Abbey is located in what is a still remarkably peaceful and secluded setting. Founded by John de Courcy in the 1180s as his atonement for his destruction of Erenagh Abbey on the other side of Downpatrick, Cistercian monks were brought here to populate it from Furness Abbey in Lancashire. According to the tourist board it is (along with Grey Abbey on the Ards peninsula) “the earliest example of Gothic architecture in Ireland and finest example of Anglo-Norman Cistercian architecture in Ulster.” There was a monastery on this site before the present monastery, a timber church and ancillary buildings surrounded by an earth bank, founded as early as 800 AD. But this was plundered by the Vikings on at least two occasions and destroyed before its re-establishment under John de Courcy.
The view across the Quoile to Downpatrick and its cathedral gives an idea of its location near to the main settlement but quite separate from it.
Looking across the Quoile to Down Cathedral
The cathedral was also originally established as a monastery by John de Courcy in the 1180s with Benedictine monks from St Werburgh’s monastery in Chester (see https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/chester-cathedral-refectory/).
Entrance to the chancel
Base of column
The Cistercians followed a strict rule, with much silence, little music and a self-sufficiency that eschewed the use of meat. There would have been a plentiful supply of fish for them here, the site originally was an island.
Around the ruins of the Abbey there are the remains of what have been identified as the kitchen, a bakehouse, a guest house, the infirmary and a well. The Abbey was dissolved in 1541.