Ooops! Silly me! I really should add some colour to this blog – so, as a bonus, I want to show some images of St Colman’s Cathedral in Cloyne to illustrate what I said in my previous blog.
Cloyne Cathedral is a thirteenth century building (1201-1300) with later amendments (east window and western facade). We don’t know which bishop built it but its location is very precisely related to the Round Tower across the road – this was the original belfry of Cloyne. Forget that stuff about monks taking refuge there from the Vikings – round towers make excellent chimneys so the monks would have risked asphyxiation if the uninvited guests lit a fire at the foot of the tower! The first image shows the cathedral from the north with the high triple lancet windows of the north transept facing us. The chancel is on the left with the vestry protruding northwards, and the nave and aisles are on the right. There is a debate as to whether the cathedral had a central tower, the join in the roof between the nave and chancel suggest this, but there is no such evidence on the interior. In fact, given that the Round Tower was used as a belfry into the twentieth century, why would they have bothered with a central crossing tower?
The Round Tower at Cloyne was actually built over a thousand years ago to house a bell – the locals called it a cloigteach into the 18th century – cloigteach means a bell-house, or in Italian, campanile! It even leans a couple of centimeters out of vertical despite being over thirty meters tall – it lost a couple of meters when the conical cap was struck by lightening in the eighteenth century.
The third image is a general overview of Cloyne Cathedral taken from the top of the Round Tower – the image is a few years old because those fields in the background are now filled with houses. Note the cruciform shape and the proximity to the road as well as the odd positioning of the gate – this gate faces the door of the Round Tower.
The interior is remarkably simple, some would say bare, but I love it because it reminds me of the best Cistercian architecture. Mind you Cloyne wasn’t built by the Cistercians, it was strictly a secular, that is to say diocesan, establishment. The nave is empty of seating (as it was in the medieval period) and is now used mainly for concerts. The Chancel is now the functioning church, but originally the laity would never have been admitted beyond the tall arch at the east end of the nave. Indeed this arch would have been blocked by a painted and sculpted wooden screen with a crucifix above it.
The Chancel is laid out in ‘cathedral form’ as we say in Ireland – that is, while some pews at the western end face towards the altar, most of the seating follows the antiphonal arrangement of medieval choirs. Antiphonal means that the seats face each other – one side can sing one verse, and the other side can sing the next verse, and so on. The furnishings, roof and stained glass are all nineteenth century.
In the north transept is a magnificent Renaissance tomb built for Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, Dean of Cloyne. He was the illegitimate son of the previous dean, Edmund FitzGerald, and there is no evidence that Sir John was even ordained! Despite the fact that he remained a Catholic until his death in 1612, Sir John was a loyal subject of Queen Elizabeth I – how do you think he became SIR JOHN? He was knighted on Elizabeth’s orders and he used that fact to his advantage. He looted the church lands by giving estates to his own sons, and he even managed to keep the Protestants out of the cathedral until his death! Frankly, he was one of the biggest crooks in sixteenth century Ireland! I’ll come back to him in a later post. However, Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald’s tomb deserves a mention, for it is one of the great renaissance treasures of Ireland, yet is virtually unknown! This large tomb of polished limestone is topped by a huge slab of red (Midleton?) marble – the biggest I’ve ever seen. The front of the tomb is decorated with panels representing military trophies, clearly copied from a print.
The stones on top of the red marble slab are the remains of sculpted figures that stood on the tomb, and they are all shown dressed in armour. There isn’t a cleric among them. No evidence whatsoever of any religious feeling intrudes into the tomb of this Dean of Cloyne!