Jerpoint Abbey was once an important Cistercian monastery and a favorite burial site for the area’s powerful families. Its general biography is fairly familiar: founded in the mid-late 12th century, it flourished until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and soon after passed into the secular hands of James Butler, Earl of Ormonde.
[A more detailed history of the abbey can be found here, courtesy of the Cistercians in Yorkshire Project.]
Much of the church is still standing, with highlights including several ornately carved 16th-century tombs and a fortified crossing tower. However, the site’s primary draw is its unique but heavily damaged 15th-century cloister, which was partially reconstructed in the 1950s. Each of the remaining pillars consists of two simple columns framing, on the better preserved examples, large, high-relief images of saints and various medieval personages. Dragons, green men, and other grotesque or humorous figures also appear along the colonnade and under the connecting arches.
From Cashel we took a slight detour north in order to visit the late Gothic church of Holy Cross Abbey, located near Thurles in County Tipperary. Named for its relic of the True Cross, the abbey was restored in the late 20th century and is once again in use as place of worship and pilgrimage after spending centuries in ruin.
Holy Cross was initially founded in 1168 or 1169 by Donal Mor O’Brien for the Benedictines. However, O’Brien transferred ownership to the Cistercians in 1180, and the abbey remained in their care until its eventual suppression. The current structure was built in the 15th century and contains a number of fine Gothic details, including sculpted pillars and remnants of a frescoed hunting scene. Although much of the sculptural decoration displays an unusual degree of refinement, the abbey’s most charming and surprising features are the numerous symbols subtly carved into the interior’s stone walls like labor-intensive doodles.
All photos by Renée DeVoe Mertz, May 29, 2013, unless otherwise indicated.