St. Brigid’s Church of Ireland

The second case study, also located in Drogheda, County Louth, is another particularly grotesque cadaver form carved in high relief. It is also like its Leinster counter-parts in that it is reminiscent of the German[1] Transi tradition as it is richly decorated with all the artistic and physical trappings of death and decay. The cadaver stone is situated within St. Brigid’s Church and is a listed monument.  406m NE of present church is a fort depicted both in 6” and 25” maps.  295 M north of church is suggested location of original church site in the field north of the present church known as “Church Field”.

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St. Brigid’s Church, Drogheda, Co. Louth

The church resides within Beaulieu’s scenic gardens and is situated to the SW of the prominent house.  The church itself was built approx. 1807 with the assistance of a gift of £600 from the Board of First Fruits (Irish Heraldry & Lewis 1837) and has strong links to the Beaulieu Demense. Early occupational evidence of the site is also denoted by the range of commemorative stones both recumbent and upright that are found within the exterior rectangular church wall. The church can be accessed via an arched pedestrian gate to the West of the site (adjacent to the entranceway to the estate) or from the northern extent where it shares a red-bricked wall with the associated gardens (Buildings of Ireland). The church itself is a rectangular-plan nave with an engaged two-stage square tower to the west, against which the cadaver stone leans upright.

The cadaver tomb is carved in high relief on a rectangular slab giving the figure a 3-dimensional realism typical of this tradition. The skeletonised figure is surrounded by a shroud that is tied into a knot above the head, and below the feet of figure. In the Beaulieu example a snake/worm can be seen to enter the figure through one pronounced ear lobe and pass through the skull and out through the other on the opposite side of the head. Further corruption of the human form can be seen in the way a serpent like object hangs from the abdomen out over the pelvic bone like a faux-phallus, still careful to cover the modesty of the figure being represented.  Other figures represented on this cadaver stone include possible horned worms, swollen speckled toads and maggots which all nestle in the folds of the shroud and every possible crevice of the sculpture (Irish Antiquities).

The original location of the monument is unknown and still remains a point of debate. Earlier records of antiquarian Austin cooper in 1783 (Price 1942[2] as cited in Roe 1969, 13) make no mention of the stone however by the late 1800’s the stone is recorded as being in place against the west wall of the current church (built in 1807) Local traditions (Roe 1969, 7) suggested that the cadaver stone was discovered sunken into the local Boyne river nearby, and was later moved and relocated to the grounds of the current St. Brigid’s Church. Roe argues however that the stone remained part of the original medieval manor (established in the 14th century) until the Louth branch of the Plunkett family line forfeited their patronage to the site in the 17th century (ibid.).

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St. Brigid’s cadaver stone, Drogheda, Co. Louth

[1] Refer to Kathleen Cohen (1969) for detailed analysis of Cadaver and Trasi monument types in Europe and regional variations in verminous portrayal. For more detailed discussion on Irish typologies, please refer to Helen M. Roe (1969).

[2] For further information please refer to: Price, L. (1942) An Eighteenth Century antiquary: The Sketches, notes and Diaries of Austin Cooper 1759 – 1830.

 

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