Monday 29 January 2024

Stones used in walls at ancient Co Wexford church come from lid of tomb

St. Marys Church, three dark stones in the windows of the north transept.

Reuse and recycle is definitely not a new concept, local historian Myles Courtney has pointed out, having discovered that dark stones used in the windows of historic St Mary’s Church are in fact from Crutched Friars tombstones in Priory Lane.

Three dark stones in the windows of the north transept of St. Mary’s Church alongside the much lighter adornment of Dundry stone were a puzzle to Myles, who runs New Ross Street Focus – which does walking historic tours of the town.

Close inspection revealed engraving and inscriptions on these stones and they presented the appearance of a tomb lid that had been broken up and repurposed to repair gaps in the stonework.

Further investigation revealed many similarities with 18th century tracings taken from tombstones in The Abbey Orchard on Priory Lane.

This orchard was the 13th century site of the friary of the Crutched Friars and later on the Franciscan Order. 

The friars infamously placed a curse on New Ross when some members of the Crutched Friars were killed in the town before the year 1300. 

These murders were a form of mob justice in retribution for the killing of a local man by one of the friars. 

The news of the killing reached the ears of the Vatican and the entire town of New Ross was ecclesiastically reprimanded by the Pope. It was at St Mary’s Church that the once-famous ‘Curse of New Ross’ was lifted in 1436.

In the early 19th century a cemetery was discovered during the laying of foundations for a grain store at the church. The owners removed the tombstones to sacred ground within the walls of the ruins of St. Mary’s Church. Unfortunately no inventory was kept. 

“However given the similarities between the tombstone recorded in Priory Lane and the repurposed stone in the windows, it can surely be assumed that these stones could well refer to a member of the “downtown” religious orders,” said Myles.

St. Mary’s was originally built in the 13th century by the greatest Norman knight William Marshal and his wife Isabel. Not only is this church considered to be the largest parish church built in medieval Ireland, it also houses one of the largest collections of medieval funerary monuments found in the country.

Legend has it that Isabel was so enamoured with the church and town of New Ross that she had her heart buried in the church.

Today, although the medieval church of St. Mary’s is largely intact and well preserved, it is almost completely unroofed. The roofed church which stands in the place of the medieval nave was constructed in the 19th century and is still in active use by the local Church of Ireland congregation.