Data capture was undertaken on in November 2016 with a team of four. In order to accommodate the shortage in members three additional artefacts from The National Science Museum collection were recorded. These three artefacts were hand carved stone votive offerings:
- Votive Offering 1: Mortality Stone
- Votive Offering 2: St. Anthony’s Key
- Votive Offering 3: Crucifixion
These three votive offerings were recovered from St Colmán’s Well (Tobar Cholmáin) in the civil parish of Oughtmama (Irish: Ucht Máma meaning ‘breast of the high pass’), Co. Clare, in the Barony of Burren. St. Colmán’s well is part of the monastic landscape of Oughtmama, that comprises three early-medieval Christian churches, ruined castles, prehistoric cairns and ring forts, and two Martello Towers built in the early 19th century. St Colmán’s Well is located 700m northeast of the churches and reportedly served as a cure for eye sores and cataracts.
Votive offerings are left at Holy Well sites by people and pilgrims seeking cures for illnesses. It is believed that three visits/offerings must be made in order to effect a cure which may explain the composition of the current collection.
‘Found at St . Colman’s Well. Ochtmama. 1897.’ Ochtmama refers to the parish of Oughtmama (Irish: Ucht Máma) in the extreme north of the Barony of Burren, Co. Clare.’
There is some debate over the provenance of these votive offerings as two different written records exist.The museum catalogue indicates that the offerings were identified at a holy well in Co. Galway, while the labels fixed to Votive Offering 2 and 3 indicate that they were found at St. Colmans holy well in Oughtmama, Co. Clare.
Votive Offering 1: Mortality Stone
A roughly carved stone with skull and cross-bone motif executed in high relief. This motif is a common one that emerged in the 15th century. Traditionally the skull and cross-bone motif is a form of memento mori and mortality symbol. When accompanying the crucifixion, it is representative of the Skull of Adam. Unlike Votive Offering 2 and 3, there is no label fixed to this artefact however it is presumed that it belongs to the same collection due to the material composition and execution of the artefact.
Votive Offering 2: St. Peter’s Key
A roughly carved stone with a hand clasping a key executed in low relief. St. Peter is often depicted in Roman Catholic art as holding a key or set of keys that are seen as a symbol of Papal Authority, or the symbolic keys to the gates of Heaven. Label affixed to the stone indicates that it was originally located at St . Colman’s Well. Ochtmama, Co. Clare in 1897.
Votive Offering 3: Crucifixion
This roughly carved stone depicts Christ on the cross. Additional details are inscribed on the crucifix and include faint traces f a nimbus around the head of the figure of christ, and a loin cloth. Label affixed to the stone indicates that it was originally located at St . Colman’s Well. Ochtmama, Co. Clare in 1897.
Desk Based Assessment
Desk based research was conducted for each object including review of the available catalogue information, analysis of OS maps and details pertaining to the provenance of the object. Two conflicting records exist for the objects in question. The Museum catalogue indicates that the votive offerings were retrieved from () Holy Well in Galway, however the labels affixed to two of the votive offerings indicate that they were retrieved from St. Colman’s Holy Well, in Oughtmama in Co. Clare. Information pertaining to the latter record was collated from various sources (i.e. OS maps, publication, etc.)
Artefacts were removed from Museum display cases using cotton gloves provided by the museum curator. Two of the three objects were labelled with adhesive paper labels with details pertaining to the provenance of the objects. Unlike those labels affixed to the penal cross collection, these were not removed as they now form part of of the context/narrative of the object.
The condition of each artefact was assessed prior to data capture to make a note of any relevant surface details, and to keep a note of the object dimensions. Some damage was observed on Votive Offering 3, where the base of the transom has fractured below the cloth on Christ’s form. The right arm of the cross has also broken away.
Some degree of ware was also observed on Votive Offering 2 at the corners however this has not distorted any of the carved motifs.
Data Capture Preparations
The process used in the data capture and processing phases was photogrammetry.
- Table mounted lamps
- Florists foam
- Canon DSLR
- Coloured backdrops
A collapsible light box was set up with three table mounted lamps. Two lamps were placed at either side of the box, while the third lamp was positioned above the box facing downwards. A Canon DSLR camera was mounted on a tripod and set at a distance from the lightbox. The tripod in question was unfortunately broken and kept dropping its position during data capture. This meant the camera had to be repositioned after each image capture. To facilitate this, the cameras internal balance reader was utilised. This however did not mitigate issues of inconsistency in the data capture process.
Backgrounds were applied to the lighbox based on the colour of the object being captured. As the artefacts in question were a dark gray, a white backdrop was used. Artefacts were positioned at the centre of the lightbox and were placed in a section of florists foam. A test photograph was taken on automatic to establish best setting parameters for the camera and adjustments were made in manual mode before commencing data capture.
Data Capture Process
The artefact was rotated manually at set intervals ensuring a 60% overlap in each image sequence. 20-30 photographs were taken at three elevations (top, bottom, centre) to ensure full coverage. Other angles were however selected to capture more difficult areas where relevant. Once the artefact had been recorded fully, it was then turned upside down in the foam base and the process was repeated to ensure full coverage.
I would like to thank Dr. Niall McKeith (Museum Curator) for all of his assistance and his infinite patience on the day. He was more than accommodating of our research project and was on hand to assist and give advice wherever necessary. I would further like to thank St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth for facilitating this project.