The Modest Man Cadaver Stone

The first case study is located in the Triskel Christchurch Arts centre, a deconsecrated church site in the heart of Cork City. Christchurch has a diverse history that extends over 1000 years from the original Hiberno-Norse construction through to its Anglo-Norman antecedents.

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Trickel Christchurch Site Location

The limestone slab formed part of the church floor prior to demolition and was later found beneath the floor of the crypt in 1815. Preservation was still considerably good at this time. From the crypt it was removed to the graveyard (c.1877). When it was first discovered, it was recorded that the inscription surrounding the cadaver form was inlaid with a red wax detail which is no longer visible to date. There is however currently evidence of chalk along the details of the stone. Adding chalk to a monument to outline characteristic elements is a common practice in the conservation and recording of commemorative stone monuments.

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Possible location of the Modest Man Cadaver Stone

The stone depicts a skeletonised figure that is surrounded by a gaping shroud tied above the head and below the feet with a simple single woven rope. Surrounding this central image are two borders of incised Latin inscriptions in Gothic script which read:

‘In this tomb is covered the body of the gracious gentleman Thomas Ronan, formerly Mayor of Cork, who died on the day after St Jambert’s Day 1554. With who there also wishes to be buried his wife Joan Tyrry, who died on the 1st December in the year of our Lord 1569: on whose souls may God have mercy. Amen. Pater, Ave and Credo. De Profundis.’ (The Modest Man)

Further incised inscriptions are identified on the central panel and border the shrouded figure before terminating and cutting through the head of the figure and are as follows:

‘Man, be mindful, since Death does not tarry; for when he dies, you will inherit serpents and beasts and worms.’(ibid.)

Within the central panel of the stone there are four images of symbolic significance. To the left of the skeletonised head there is a sun (soul rising), while on the opposite corner is carved a moon (resurrection). Directly below this located by the right kneecap of the figure is a detailed rose (sorrow). A further carving of a star is located beside the left kneecap (rewards of resurrection) (The Modest Man: McKenna and Moore 1970, 8). The sign of the four evangelists occupy each external corner of the stone. A winged lion is identified in the upper left corner (Mark) with the figure of the winged bull below it in the bottom left corner (Luke). In the bottom right corner is the figure of an angel (Matthew) (ibid.). The upper right corner of the monument has however been destroyed (likely during removal from the original floor of the church or during subsequent relocations) however it is assumed the remaining corner would have been decorated with the remaining evangelist symbol for John (an eagle).

Some liberties have been taken with the anatomical representation of the human form in this cadaver monument with the skeleton of Thomas Ronan having 26 ribs in total (14 on one side and 12 on the other). This was a common occurrence in the Irish cadaver tradition and was observed in all the case studies.

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The Modest Man cadaver stone

A 3D model of the Modest Man was produced using Agisoft Photoscan and is available via Sketchfab. I would like to thank the Department of Archaeology, University College Cork and Nick hogan (of the same) for providing the facilities to process this model.