Jerpoint Abbey

12th Century Monastery

I remember well the feeling of awe as we rounded the bend in the road and Jerpoint Abbey loomed so near the road. This site contains so many wonderful stone carvings and architectural details we were happy to spend several hours exploring it in depth. Originally a Benedictine monastery built in 1160, the monks of a Cistercian Order from Baltinglass Abbey were moved here in 1180 by the succeeding King. Since many of its domestic arrangements are still recognisable, the abbey offers a unique insight into the lives of the monks. The oldest parts of the self-sufficient abbey are the Irish-Romanesque transepts and chancel. The east window dates from the 14th century and the wonderful crenulated central tower was added in the 15th century. The north side of the nave has an arcade of 6 arches with different designs on each pillar.

The most remarkable part is a reconstructed 15th Century sculptured cloister arcade with carvings on the faces of the pillars that depict knights in splendid armour, courtly damsels, clerics, grotesques, and even a man with a stomach-ache (pictured above). These carvings are believed to echo the drawings found on medieval manuscripts. Many of the capitals and bases are also carved. It is certainly worth taking the time walking around the cloister arcade. Another feature at the abbey are the 13th to 16th Century tomb sculptures in the transept chapels including that of Felix O'Dulany, Bishop of Ossory (1178 - 1202). Some tomb chests are decorated with beautifully carved weepers, shown below.

A number of Christian saints are traditionally represented by a symbol associated with their life, these are known as attributes and help to identify them. The weepers in the image above are believed to be six of the apostles each with their own attribute that may represent the way they were martyred. from the left , St John with a Chalice, St Thomas with a lance, St Simon with a saw, St Bartholomew with skin, it is believed he was flayed, St Paul the apostle holding a sword, and St Matthew with an axe.

We have identified all of these saintly weepers above. St Michael the Archangel is the weeper in the centre and St Catherine of Alexandria with a wheel is on the left. On the right St Margaret the Virgin, aka St Margaret of Antioch

There are six more apostles in the two images below. In the image below left are St James the lesser with a fuller's club, St Philip with a latin cross and St Matthias with a sword, the image below right shows St Peter with a key on the left, next to St Andrew in the centre with a saltire cross and St James with a Pilgrims hat on the right. I was not sure about the identity of some of the weepers, but thank you to Bernard Lagrelle for identifying them. The abbey flourished until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII and it was presented to the Earl of Ormonde. The small visitor centre houses an informative exhibition, there is also a cross head on display that originally came from Kilkieran, where the shaft of the cross is still situated. We will definitely return to Jerpoint in the near future, probably in the evening hours to photograph those features that were in the shadows during our visit.

Situated: Very Easy. From Kilkenny take the R700 south to Thomastown. Then take the R 448 south. Jerpoint abbey is 2 kilometres down here on your left.

Heritage card accepted.

Discovery Map 67: S 5714 4030. Last visit March 2011.

Longitude: 7° 9' 29 " W

Latitude: 52° 30' 40" N

Google Map

Photos: Jim Dempsey and Deb Snelson.

Previous----Home-----Next Page