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Movilla Abbey Church
 

County

Down

Coordinates

N 54° 35' 45.24"   W 005° 40' 28.98"

Nearest town

Newtownards

Grid Ref.

H 50256 74444

Map No.

15

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

65

Date of visit

Thursday 23 June 2016

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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The ruins of the abbey seen from the northwest, across the B172.


Movilla Abbey was founded in 540 by St. Finnian on the site of a previous sacred pagan centre and was one of the most important monasteries in Ulster and was also a famous school of learning attended by several saints, one of them was St. Columba.
In the following centuries the monastery grew in size and importance and developed a skill at crafting glass and bronze items.
It was attacked and burned down by the Vikings in 825. In 1135 St. Malachy refounded the monastery and brought in the Augustinian Canons who remained at the settlement until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1542.
The present ruined building dates to the 15th century and stands at the northernmost edge of the graveyard of Newtownards. It's approximately 35 metres long and is aligned to the east-southeast (105°). The south wall is totally missing.
The east wall leans inwards by 3°. It has a widely splayed window that once might have had a beautiful tracery, but only traces of it remain. From the arch corbels of the window two foliate decorations depart outwards.
The west wall has a narrow and tall window but the original one was large and traceried, as witnessed by the design still visible from the outside. Parts of the pillars of the tracery have been rebuilt with red bricks. The window must have been almost totally walled up at some time. Around the the tracery of this window are four carved heads.
Against the inner side of the north wall there's a wonderful collection of eight 13th century grave slab with excellent patterns. This is the most wonderful collection of 13th century grave slabs in the whole Ulster.
Our usual bad luck had us visit the place when this part of the ruins was recently enclosed into a timber shed with only a side window to peep inside. I hope that in the future a better protection will be built in order to allow people to admire these slabs frontally.
The northern part of the graveyard is occupied by old burials, some of them with fine slabs. The most intriguing is the replica of a Doric temple with 16 columns erected in 1860 for the Corry family.
The names of the members of the family buried in it are written on the inner side of the entablature and on the ceiling in golden letters.


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