The Cult of Saint James was a popular institution in Ireland during the Middle Ages. Many examples of this popularity can be seen through out the country and include a large number of churches being dedicated to the saint. Another example of the popularity of Saint James is the number of Irish people who undertook the pilgrimage to his shrine in Compostella in Spain. Saint James’s Gate in Dublin, a name now synonymous with Guinness rather than medieval travel, was the site from which many Irish pilgrims left for Santiago de Compostella, travelling by sea to the continental mainland and then by foot or horse to complete the pilgrimage to the Spanish city.
Evidence of Irish pilgrims leaving these shores for Spain is not only seen in written records such as those of hospitals housing pilgrims but also in archaeological investigations of tombs and graves. According to Martin Fitzpatrick, scallop shells (the pilgrim badge and symbol associated with Saint James) have been found on bodies excavated in at medieval sites in towns such as Tuam, Drogheda and Mullingar.
Depictions of Saint James himself can also be found on an assortment of tombs across the country including a selection in Co. Tipperary. The tomb of Edmund Archer and his wife in Thurles, the effigy of Pierce Fitz Oge Butler in Kilcooley Abbey and tombs present in the Rock of Cashel all exhibit representations of the saint dressed in pilgrim garb and displaying the scallop shells.
Image of Saint James on the tomb of Edmund Archer and wife, taken from the Gothic Past: Visual archive of Gothic Architecture and Sculpture in Ireland. http://gothicpast.com/
These depictions not only demonstrate the popularity of Saint James in Ireland but also may prove that those interred within these tombs undertook the pilgrimage to his shrine at some stage in their lives, adding to the list of well-travelled Tipperary natives.
For more images of Saint James and references to pilgrims and pilgrimage on tombs like the one above visit http://gothicpast.com/
Labyrinths can be found on the floors (and sometimes walls) of many medieval churches and cathedrals, the most famous being the one found in the cathedral at Chartres, France. It is widely believed that these labyrinths provided an alternative to the physical pilgrimage to Jerusalem for those who could not travel the long and often dangerous journey. The twists and turns of these often large labyrinths represented the pathway through life in search of the Heavenly Kingdom, offering the pilgrim time to meditate on their life and perform acts of penance through prayer. The labyrinths also offered the pilgrim a focal point; a centre and final destination, often named Jerusalem or ciel (sky/heaven).
Much to my joy, I discovered that a medieval labyrinth can be seen in a town not too far from Clonmel. Saint Patrick’s Cross on the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, a high cross dating from the twelfth century, is unusual in that it possesses not only a depiction of a labyrinth on its base but also a minotaur. According to Peter Harbison in his article “A Labyrinth on the Twelfth – High Cross Base on the Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary” this was not unusual and many medieval manuscripts retained representations of the Minotaur, from the Cretan legend and the figure we most associate with the structure of the labyrinth. Harbison goes on to explain that this particular labyrinth is the only church example to contain a minotaur, thus linking it to the manuscript The Liber Floridus of Lambert of Saint-Omer. The presence of this minotaur in the labyrinth within the context of a religious building reflects attitudes of the reformers of the church in the twelfth century. It is a figure which they can incorporate into Christian teaching to warn of the darker side of the human existence. Harbison describes the minotaur as “being the offspring of an illicit and unnatural union” and so it is a perfect representation of a malevolent force.
Saint Patricks Cross is now housed indoors in the Hall of Vicars Choral while a replica stands in its place outside.