St Laserian's Cathedral

Although somewhat plain in form and plastered over on the outside, the medieval Cathedral at Old Leighlin struck us with awe as we entered the stone walls of this beautiful structure. It was built on the site of a monastery founded by St Gobban at the end of the 6th century. The present building was started in the 12th century and features architecture from every century since that time. It consists of a simple nave, 25 metres in length, a massive central tower (18 m tall) with an intricately ribbed vault that was added in the late 15th century, and a choir rebuilt mid-16th century, 18 m in length. The only window in the nave is above the western door.

Gowran Font

11th Century Font

The Lady Chapel was attached to the north side of the choir in the 16th century. There are no transepts. There is also a small chamber, now in ruins on the north side of the nave, which may have been a chapel, or perhaps a sacristy. Two gothic-style three-light windows with moulded mullions cast light into the more decorative choir. Unfortunately, the light from these windows made it difficult to photograph the beautifully carved four-seat sedilia. This is only one of a few churches with four seats
rather than the usual three; it has been suggested that the 4th seat was for the bishop rather than providing a special separate chair for him. Well-carved heads ornament each side of the sedilia. .

Sedilia

Sedilia Head

There are several large inscribed cross slabs set in the floor of the choir. One reportedly depicts a matrix from which a brass cross has been torn away. It marks the grave of Bishop Matthew Sanders, the rebuilder of the choir, who died in 1549. There is another inscription on the same stone, which records that Bishop Thomas Filay, who died in 1567, was buried in the same grave. The two fonts inside the cathedral are older than the present building. The oldest of the two is carved from a single piece of Kilkenny marble with rough hand tools. The more decorative font is known as the Gowran font. Opposite the south door is an altar-tomb bearing a large floriated cross and an inscription denoting it as the tomb of William O'Brin, who died in 1569, and Margaret Kavanagh, his wife.
The cathedral's namesake, St Laserian (also known as Molaise), traveled from Rome to St Gobban's monastery in the early 7th century. St Gobban retired shortly afterward to Killamery in Ossory, leaving St. Laserian to be Abbot of Leighlin. When the Abbey was made the seat of the Episcopal See, Laserian became the first Bishop. Interestingly, St Laserian was successful in convincing the Irish Bishops at the Synod of 630 to adopt the Roman basis for establishing the date to celebrate Easter and thus ending a bitter controversy. Prior to that time Ireland stood alone in using the Celtic system. Under Laserian the monastery at Leighlin flourished and it is believed that at one time there were no less than 1,500 monks!

Cross Slab

Situated: Very easy. Located in the centre of Old Leighlin Village.

Discovery Map 61: S 6582 6543. Last visit August 2011.

Longitude:  7° 1' 31" W

Latitude:  52° 44' 10" N

Google Map

Photos: Jim Dempsey and Deb Snelson.

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