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Jerpoint Abbey Church
 

County

Kilkenny

Coordinates

N 52° 30' 38.8"   W 007° 09' 28.0"

Nearest town

Thomastown

Grid Ref.

S 57233 40222

Map No.

67

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

38

Date of visit

Sunday 16 June 2013

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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The entrance to the Jerpoint Abbey.


Jerpoint Abbey was founded in 1160 probably by Donal MacGillapatrick, King of Ossory, but 20 years later it was colonised by the Cistercian monks from Baltinglass Abbey, which was, in turn, a daughter house of Old Mellifont Abbey.
Jerpoint, in turn, became the mother house of Kilkenny and Kilcooly Abbey.
This area had a great importance in those times, and along with the abbey there was a town with the same name.
In the early years of the 13th century there was a fight for power within the Cistercian Order, between the Anglo-Normans abbots and the Irish abbots which led to the "Conspiracy of Mellifont", when the abbot in Mellifont refused the admission of a group of visitors sent over to try to reform the Order from the head. This rebellion went on for ten years, during which many attempts to call the Order back to its rules were made. Even Pope Gregory IX made his attempt, until in 1228 when Stephen of Lexington, an abbot from Wiltshire, was able to recontruct the Order to its main rules of austerity.
Jerpoint Abbey was left with only 36 monks and 50 lay brothers.
This solution lasted about 50 years, after which the Cistercian Order had to face its decline.
In the 15th century the abbey was under the patronage of the Butlers family, and after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII it was leased to James, Earl of Ormonde, along with many other possessions. The abbey was in the property of the Butlers family until the middle of 17th century.

Originally the abbey had a chancel and a nave, with a cloister on the south side of the building, other buildings on the east side of the cloister, and domestic buildings on the south side. The original cloister was smaller than what we see today.
The chancel is the oldest section of the church, it has a valuted ceiling and has two transepts, north and south. It also has an east window dating from 13th or 14th century which replaced an exisiting window. The north transept has two wonderful tombs. One of the two is another masterpiece of the sculptor Rory O'Tunney and the sides of it have panels with figures of saints called "The Weepers".
The south transept houses two nice slabs, one with the incision of two knights commonly known as "The Brethren", the other one of an abbot holding a crozier.
The nave still retains its pillars and arcades. To the west there's a simple three-light window, and a plain entrance is in the north wall with a machicolation above it.
At the crossing of the chancel with the nave and the two transepts there's a tower. It was built in the 15th century when the Cistercian Order was weakened. The walls of the tower are battered and the top has battlements in the Irish style. Under the tower there's an excellent tomb of Robert Walsh and his wife Katherine Power, dated 1501, a work by Rory O'Tunney.
One of the most stunning features of the abbey is the majestic cloister, which was partially recontructed in 1953. Almost each pillars has interesting figures on both sides, representing humans, animals or other grotesque creatures.
On the northeast corner of the cloister there's a magnificent sculpture of St. Cristopher.
On the east side of the cloister there are almost intact sections of buildings, like the sacristy and the chapter house that now is a small but really interesting exhibit of details or decorations of the abbey found during the restoration works.

We came here for the first time on June 3rd, 2001, and we were enchanted by the beauty of this place. It's a real shame that it took us 12 years to come back. The weather this time wasn't very good, it was cold and wet, in contrast with the previous visit when we found a clear and sunny day.


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