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Bridgetown Priory Church
 

County

Cork

Coordinates

N 52° 08' 58.62"   W 008° 27' 01.68"

Nearest town

Castletownroche

Grid Ref.

W 69172 99848

Map No.

80

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

38

Date of visit

Monday 19 June 2017

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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Bridgetwon priory seen in the beautiful light of the sunset. From the north-northeast. The tower to the west end of the building was added in the 17th century.


The Augustinian priory at Bridgetown was founded by Alexander FitzHugh de Roche, possibly a member of the Barry family, between 1202 and 1216 for the Augustinian Canons Regular. These canons came to Bridgetown from the Priory of SS. Peter and Paul in Trim and the Abbey of St. Thomas the Martyr in Dublin.
Alexander FitzHugh gave them the lands and granted them the right of fishing and milling on the Rivers Awbeg and Blackwater. The two rivers meet at the priory.
Following its foundation, the priory went through a period of wealth and in the Papal Taxation of 1306 its value was over £40. The 14th century, though, was an unrest period because of wars in the Norman lands. This caused a decline in the fortune of the priory from which it never recovered.
The priory was dissolved in 1541. By that time the monastery was in ruins and the property value was less than £13, less than one third of the original value. The property was given to Robert Browne, an English soldier, but in the following decades it changed hands not fewer than eight times.

The church has a nave with a north doorway and a tower at the west end. This tower was added to the building in the 17th century.
A wall with an arched doorway divides the nave from the chancel. Under this arch a small altar was placed.
The chancel is longer than the nave and is the oldest section of the church. The site of the altar was the first part to be built in order that the monks were able to celebrate the Mass while the rest of the monastery was being built. The east (80°) wall had three two-light windows, but today only the middle one survives. There are floral carvings on their corbels. Two table tombs from the late 16th or early 17th century are against the side walls. Next to the table tomb against the south wall is a canopy tomb for Alexander FitzHugh de Roche. This tomb dates to the early 15th century. The seal of the family, a fish into a shield, is carved at the end of the west arch of the canopy. The inverted shield might indicate the death of the bearer. It is possible that the remains of the founder of the priory were moved to this tomb in the 14th century.
Above the canopy tomb there is a magnificent tracery window dating to the end of the 13th century.
To the south of the chancel and parallel to it, there's a 16th century chapel.
West of this chapel is a small walled enclosure with some burials. One of the outstanding slab dates to the 13th century and bears an ornate cross carving. The slab would originally lie on the ground, but it was erected in a standing position to preserve it. It's 1.18 metres high and 67 centimetres wide. There's also another tomb for a member of the Roche family, Theobald. In the north wall of this enclosure there a niche tomb from the 13th century. In mid-1830's it is said that a woman would live in there along with her two cats. Local merciful people would supply her some food.

A building south of the nave, on the opposite side of the cloister, was the refectory. It was a two-storey building, with the upper room for dining and the lower storey for storage. There was a long row of lancet windows in the south wall to let the light in during meals. The prior would sit on a raised platform to the east of the chamber and from a pulpit into a recess in the south wall a monk would read from the Bible. The refectory was accessed through a north doorway and next to it there was the laver, a basin were monks would wash their hands before eating.

Between the nave and the refectory building there was the cloister with covered walkways. Each of the four sections of the cloister had its own function. The north walkway, against the south wall of the nave, was used for reading or copying manuscripts because it was lit by the sunlight. The east walkway was kept clear to give easy access to the church. The south walkway, against the north wall of the refectory, was used for washing before meals. The west walkway was used for training novices.

A building connects the church to the refectory and another domestic building. This section of the monastery is known with the name of East Range. It was a two-storey building. On the upper floor there was the dormitory. The lower storey was divided in three rooms. The middle one was the Chapter Room or Chapter House. This room had an elaborated west doorway.
West of this building is a vaulted passage that would lead to the church through the processional doorway.


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