Votive Offering 3, Oughtmama, Co. Clare

One of three hand carved stones found at St Colmán’s Well (Tobar Cholmáin). The well is part of the monastic landscape of Oughtmama, a small monastic site located in a valley above Turlough Hill in the Burren, Co. Clare. The stones were presented to the museum by Rev. O’Doherty, Lord Bishop of Galway.

Original data capture was undertaken at the National Science Museum, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth in November 2016, under the direction of Dr. Konstantinos Papadopoulos. Access was granted by museum curator Dr. Niall McKeith.

This model was created using photogrammetry as part of AFF622 Virtual Heritage module at An Foras Feasa Maynooth.


Ecclesiology3D Data Capture : Votive Offerings

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

Objects captured during museum visit (Photo Credit: Costas Papadopoulos)

Historical Information

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.

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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.


Label reads:

‘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.

Technical Information

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.)

Artefact Assessment

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.


  • Lightbox
  • Table mounted lamps
  • Florists foam
  • Canon DSLR
  • Tripod
  • Coloured backdrops
  • Notebook
  • Ruler

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.

Really had enough of your shit tripod!!! #photogrammetry #AF622

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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.

Ecclesiology3D Project

The aim of this project is to digitize a number of artefacts form the The National Science Museum located in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. This museum contains over two centuries of artefacts of ecclesiastical and scientific interest. This will be a collaborative project between 6 students which will focus on recording a number of artefacts from the ecclesiology collection.


St. Patrick’s college campus Maynooth

The review of the collection began with a brief introduction to the history of the collections from the current curator Dr. Niall McKeith , a former lecturer of science at National University of Ireland Maynooth. His talk provided insights into the marriage of science and religion within the space and shared with us some interesting anectdoces about Reverand Callan. Most notable among these was the story of how he would electrocute his students in the name of science.

Following on from his discussion both groups set about reviewing the collection for artefacts of different material composites, different degrees of difficult and those with potentially historical annotations. Of particular interest to me was the collection of Penal Crosses that not only show Christ on the corss in an imaciated and anguished form, but also are surrounded by symbols of the passion and inscribed dates.


Artefacts selected for data capture

Our group will assess the objects in their historical context and will combine traditional heritage assessments and research with up-to-date visualisation techniques. A traditional report will be submitted on the processes utilised in the data capture and post-processing phases. This will be a collaborative effort written by each member of the group and collated and edited by Orla-Peach Power. This report will be compiled using archaeological and digital heritage reporting standards


Methods of online dissemination will be employed in the project and will involve use of Sketchfab, individual blog and website contributions and social media use (Twitter and Instagram). 3D models will be created and uploaded to Sketchfab and will be annotated with relevant historical information. The use of these platforms will allow for greater impact across wider audience and hopefully will be retained in perpetuity.

Democratising Datasets: Digital Replication and Aura


Despite the process of digitisation and replication providing non-invasive alternative to artefact assessment and by proxy democratizing the datasets, the digitisation process has not been uniformly adopted as an alternative to traditionalist models of curation and representation. This reluctance seems to be caught up with the issue of authenticity and the lack of ‘aura’ surrounding the digital.

The replication process, that is to say, creating a copy of an object/feature that is indistinguishable from the original, is by no means a new practice in the field of heritage. Before digital applications facilitated the proliferation of replicas of archaeological monuments and artefacts, we relied instead on plaster casts to create ‘reproductions, facsimiles, or occasionally models,’ for museums and art galleries.  This ‘substantial enterprise’ as Foster and Curtis describe it (2016, 123) was established for ‘observation, education, handling, documentation, presentation and art training’. By the 19th century however, changing attitudes to authenticity largely meant that the use and display of replicas fell out of favour leading to facsimiles occupying a type of ‘curatorial purgatory’ (ibid. 126). An assessment of international conservation charters by Bell (1997) further augmented this disdain for the replica process within curatorial spaces by asserting the process was carried out with the intention of deceiving the observer. This loaded assertion is intrinsically linked with the idea of aura and authenticity where artefacts are concerned, and the narrative they create in museums.


Plaster cast of ‘Lacoon and His sons’ taken from the Roman copy in the Vatican. Currently on display in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

The function of the exhibition is to communicate a sense of place and to illicit a response from the viewer, leading from the premise that the individual wants to be engaged by the ‘real’ object to fully connect with it. Many specialists in the field therefore feel that the intangible object lacks agency and an overall aura; that a digital object or a replica of any description cannot communicate a given narrative or establish a connection. However, this idea of aura to me is an entirely subjective process and open to considerable debate. Hazan (2001) emphasizes for example how “sometimes precious, sometimes mundane objects are modified in the exhibition context where they go through a process of museumification, extracted from different locations and placed on a spotlighted pedestal, or isolated in a glass cage”. Any ex situ object (whether art historical or archaeological) within a museum space is therefore re-conceptualised and re-contextualised to conform to a given (and not always honest) narrative.

The subjective nature of ‘auratic quality’ as Jeffrey describes it (2015, 144/145 etc.)  can be best explained using The Stone Corridor in University College Cork. This is a corridor that contains a number of ex situ Ogham Stones from counties Cork and Waterford collected from 1861-1945.  When I conceive of an ogham stone, I see it demarcating the boundaries of interlocking field systems. When I encounter this collection, I do not experience the auratic quality or authenticity linked to the object as their narrative has been deconstructed and reorganized in a clinical space. Ogham stones are monuments that were built into an ever expanding historical landscape. To remove them from that landscape is to undermine the agency of the object. This is a subjective experience and doesn’t preclude the public’s enjoyment or connection with the object independently of my own.


The Stone Corridor, Ken Williams 2010

Fundamentally, all museums represent a curatorial purgatory, filled with objects that have lost their narrative and their true ‘aura’. That is why I believe it is important to move beyond that concept when considering the potential that digital tools have in heritage institutions and curated spaces. In the 1930’s Benjamin saw this separation of object and aura as a liberating phenomenon that ‘emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual’. The democratization that digitisation affords to me far outweighs the conceptualization of aura, which keeps museum, archival and archaeological practices authoritarian and stagnant.





Foster, S.M. & Curtis, N.W.G. (2016) The Thing About Replicas – Why Historic Replicas Matter. European Journal of Archaeology 19 (1) 122-148.

Hazan, S. (2001) The Virtual Aura – Is there Space for Enchantment in a Technological World? Museums and the Web Conference 2001.    <Accessed 20.10.16>

Jeffrey, S. (2015) Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation. Open Archaeology (1) 144-152.

Kibuspuu, L. (NA) Peopling the Heritage: To what extent is democratization of built heritage management possible and desirable? <Accessed 21-10-16>

The Stone Corridor Photographic Credit : Ken Williams 2010