St Blathmac, Rathblathmaic

Feature Sets (4)

Description

Ruinous, with N and S walls of nave, S wall of chancel and chancel arch remaining. Exterior angle shaft on SE corner of nave. Plain pointed chancel arch. W gable and N and E walls of chancel missing. Some stones from a round tower (demolished in 1838) remain on site, and these and various carved and moulded stones from 12thc. church are reused in walls of church and graveyard enclosure. Nave and chancel, 13.05 m x 7.52 m and 5.58 m x 6.09 m (Westropp).

History

A monastery was founded here by St Blathmac (date uncertain). A Romanesque crozier of c.1100 and two bronze bells from the church are preserved (Dublin, NMI). Round tower demolished 1838.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

S doorway, nave

W jamb: reused slab with angle roll. Roll moulding along angle of short face, with necking mouldings and a head (?) at the corner, flanked by shallow mouldings which curve to frame the angle. (This slab, formerly standing inside the doorway, was inserted in the W jamb during repairs to the doorway in the late 1990s, and is now badly weathered).

Dimensions
d. 0.42 m
h. 1.06 m
w. 0.20 m

Windows

Nave, S wall

Reused sill with angle roll, placed upside down on interior at base of of window. The original exterior face now forms the top of the sill and appears to have been recut to form the present sill. The roll mouldings and splay match those on 5.c.(ii).

Dimensions
d. 0.38 m (originally height)
h. 0.28 m (originally depth)
w. 0.94 m

Exterior Decoration

Miscellaneous

Reused jamb-stone(?), S wall of chancel, E end, facing E

Laid horizontally. Two faces visible, E face carved with a bearded figure in profile, seated on a stool, knee drawn up and hand clasping thigh. The figure is set within a semi-circular frame, with the head on the angle. The stone appears to be carved on the upper face (now hidden) and must originally have been set vertically, showing the entire figure on two adjacent faces in an almond shaped frame. Possibly an impost block from a doorway or chancel arch, or from an exterior corner of the church (Harbison, 1987, 7-9).

Dimensions
d. 0.37 m
h. 0.26 m (originally width)
w. 0.76 m (originally height)

Reused scallop capital

S wall of nave, slightly W of S doorway, near the top.

Other

Stone reused in N boundary wall, exterior, facing N

Similar to 4.(i).2., with pellets between borders.

Dimensions
h. 0.28 m
w. 0.41 m

Stone reused in W boundary wall, exterior, facing W, on S side of stile into field

Decorated with two pellets between borders on one short side and one six-pointed star within a frame (and part of another star visible).

Dimensions
h. 0.19 m
w. 0.28

Stones reused in W boundary wall, interior, facing E

1. Reused fragment with parallel roll mouldings similar to IV.5.c.(i) and (ii).

2. Reused fragment in second course of wall on S of stile into field. One long side decorated with a line of nine pellets between borders.

3. Reused fragment in bottom course of wall to S of 2. One long side decorated with a line of seven pellets (without borders).

Dimensions
Fragment 2
h. 0.26 m
w. 0.60 m
Fragment 3
h. 0.27 m
w. 0.50 m

Interior Features

Interior Decoration

Miscellaneous

Chancel arch gable, facing W, top

Stone with interlaced animals (?)

Chancel arch, N jamb, S face, near the top

Reused stone with parallel roll mouldings. Four parallel roll mouldings on L face (only visible in cross-section since W face is hidden in wall). Traces of interlaced snakes or foliage on front face. Square hole cut in top E area of stone. E face plain.

Dimensions
d. 0.15 m
h. 0.32 m
w. 0.47 m

Chancel arch, N jamb, S face, two courses below (i)

Reused stone similar to (i). Five parallel roll mouldings on W face, visible in cross-section, as on (i). Front face damaged, but with possible traces of decoration similar to (i).

Dimensions
d. 0.15 m
h. 0.39 m
w. 0.47 m

Nave S wall, interior, facing N

Window-sill decorated with a border of snakes and interlaced foliage. Reused, upside down. Originally an exterior sill, with splayed faces visible on interior of stone. [Description gives position of decoration as seen in current setting, upside-down.] The roll moulding framing the window terminates in an animal mask in the centre of the sill, with strands of foliage issuing from its mouth and forming a decorative border between two roll mouldings. The foliage contains multi-petalled blossoms entwined in a meandering stem, which is beaded on the E side, and double-stranded on the W side. In the centre at the base of the window frame the outer roll mouldings end in snake heads curled around to bite themselves. On W of the decorative border is a naked female figure with exposed breasts, splayed legs, and left hand touching genitals, entwined in strands of interlace and flanked by two beasts biting her ears. (The figure is now upside down due to the inverted setting of the sill.)

Dimensions
d. approx. 0.38 m
h. 0.43 m
w. 1.21 m
width of decorated surround 0.84 m (including border)
w. of recessed area 0.30 m

Nave S wall, interior, facing N

Below and E of (iii): Carved stone with low-relief foliage, four spirals of fleshy foliage springing from a central stem, set within a frame. Two corners of block broken.

Dimensions
d. approx. 0.33 m
h. 0.17 m
w. 0.21 m

Nave S wall, interior, facing N, beside S door

Carved stone with pellets and interlace, Border of three and a half pellets on W side of face, with two interlaced beasts(?) on E side of face. Border moulding below interlace turns corner beside pellets.

Dimensions
d. 0.14 m
h. 0.23 m
w. 0.27 m

Furnishings

Fonts

Inside S door of nave, on E of doorway, set into wall. Plain square font with round bowl, one corner broken and repaired.

Dimensions
d. 0.43 m
h. 0.24 m
w. 0.43 m

Comments/Opinions

Part of the S wall of the nave and the exterior angle shaft on the SE corner are late Romanesque. Exterior angle shafts are also used at the E end of the chancel at Tuamgraney (Clare) and Monaincha (Tipperary), but the filleted shaft at Rathblathmaic suggests an early 13thc. date. The rest of the church is later medieval, probably rebuilt in the 15th or 16thc. incorporating reused Romanesque stones. Other loose stones were reused in the boundary wall of the churchyard, including some from the round tower demolished in 1838. The original Romanesque church must have had rich sculptural decoration, closely related to that at nearby Dysert O'Dea. It has been suggested that some of the sculpture reused at Dysert was brought from Rathblathmaic (Harbison, 1987, 11). At any rate, it seems likely that the same workshop or sculptor was active at both sites. Some of the decorated stones [IV 1 a (i) and (ii)] appear to have been carved in two separate phases; the parallel roll mouldings are not a typical feature of Irish Romanesque and are probably from a later phase than the interlace on the adjacent face of the stone (Harbison, 2000, 25). The decoration of zoomorphic (?) interlace and pellets on some the reused fragments [III 4 (ii), (iii), (iv), (v); IV 1. a. (i) and (ii) and IV 5. c. (i), (iv)] is similar to some of the decoration on the High Cross at Dysert O'Dea. The zoomorphic mouldings and Urnes style interlaced snakes and foliage on the Rathblathmaic windowsill are similar to decoration on the plinth of the high cross and on the doorjambs and W window of the church at Dysert O'Dea. The richly decorated external window frame is an unusual feature, also found in the reused fragments incorporated into the w. window at Dysert O'Dea, and at Toureen Peakaun (Tipperary). The inverted sill with an angle roll reused in the S window [III 2 (i)] may have formed the interior of this window. Windows framed with a continuous roll moulding are characterisitic of the 'School of the West', and mouldings terminating in snakes are found in the late 12th and early 13th century at Killaloe and Tuamgraney (Clare), at Annaghdown (Galway), and at Ballintober (Mayo). Earlier examples of zoomorphic mouldings, probably dating from the 1160s and 1170s, are found at Clonmacnoise, Monaincha, and St Saviours's, Glendalough. The female exhibitionist on the windowsill [IV 5 c (ii)] combines Luxuria and Sheela-na-gig imagery, and may be the earliest known Irish example of a Sheela-na-gig. Sheela-na-gigs are a common theme in later medieval Ireland, but Romanesque examples are rare; there is a small female exhibitionist in the chancel arch of the Nuns' Church at Clonmacnois (Offaly) and a Sheela-na-gig on the 12th century round tower at Rattoo (Kerry). The seated male figure [III 3 d (i)] is particularly unusual in the context of Irish Romanesque; figural sculpture is rare, and the reconstructed chancel arch at Kilteel (Kildare) does not provide a close comparison for the figure at Rathblathmaic. Harbison (1987, 9) suggested that it might have been placed on an external corner of the church as a symbolic image to ward off evil. A jamb stone with an angle roll and a band of interlaced snakes and foliage, found in the churchyard at Rathblathmaic, is now displayed in the Archaeology Centre at Dysert Castle [VI (ii)].

Bibliography

  • E. Rynne, 'A Pagan Celtic Background for Sheela-na-gigs?', in (ed.) E. Rynne, Figures from the Past: Studies on Figurative Art in Christian Ireland, in Honour of Helen M. Roe. Dublin 1987, 189-202.
  • H.G. Leask, Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings. Dundalk 1955, I, 162-3, fig.97.
  • M. McMahon, A History of the Parish of Rath. Clare Archaeological and Historical Society, Ennis, 1979.
  • P. Harbison, 'An Ancient Pilgrimage 'Relic-Road' in North Clare?', The Other Clare, 24 (2000), 55-59.
  • P. Harbison, 'The church of Rath Blathmach - a photo-essay', The Other Clare, 24 (2000), 23-31.
  • P. Harbison, 'Two Romanesque Carvings from Rath Blathmaic and Dysert O'Dea, Co. Clare', NMAJ, 26 (1987), 7-11.
  • R. O Floinn, 'Ecclesiastical objects of the early medieval period from Co. Clare', The Other Clare, 15 (1991), 12-14.
  • T.J. Westropp, 'Churches with Round Towers in Northern Clare', JRSAI, 24, 1894, 30-34, and plan 334;
  • T.J. Westropp, 'The Antiquities of the Northern Portion of the County of Clare' JRSAI, 30, (1900a), 418-19.

Location

Site Location
Rathblathmaic
National Grid Reference
R 27 86 
Boundaries
now: Clare
Dedication
now: St Blathmac
medieval:
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Tessa Garton