Sunday 19 March 2023

Saint Patrick's Grave

Following yesterday's 1882 newspaper article lamenting the sorry state of the reputed grave of Saint Patrick at Downpatrick, County Down, today we have a description of the restored site as unveiled in 1900. The project was spearheaded by Belfast Presbyterian solicitor and leading Celtic Revivalist, Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926). We can see the influence of the Celtic Revival in Bigger's choice of inscription and of the cross. Why he chose a cross from Lough Ree, on the Shannon, is unclear to me, as is his decision to carve the name of Patric alone and omit his fellow Irish patrons Saint Brigid and Saint Colum Cille. For the tradition was that all three of the Irish patrons shared a common grave. Doubtless those visitors who came to the spot read in their guidebooks the rhyme 'Three saints in Down one grave do fill, Patrick, Brigid and Colum Cille' but now it was Patrick alone who would be remembered at the site. The renovations of 1900 were certainly an improvement on what had gone before but below is a picture of the grave as it looks today, with a tarmac walkway and a cobblestone border.


To all Irishmen, both at Home and abroad, it will be of interest (says the Irish Weekly) to hear that the reputed grave of St. Patrick in the Cathedral yard at Downpatrick has been put in order, and marked with a lasting memorial placed there after much thought and at considerable expense. It is unique of its class, and will be another distinctively attractive feature to the many remarkable historical remains in the immediate vicinity of Downpatrick. Visitors to the spot will not be shocked to find the site of the grave marked only by a few broken stones and a rugged hole scraped in the earth with nothing distinctive to record the name of him who did so much to spread Christianity throughout the land, and whose remains are believed to be here interred The memorial stone is a rough weather-broken boulder of granite weighing about seven tons, taken from the mountain side of Slieve-na-Largie, near Castlewellan, where it rested at a height of 600 feet above the sea. Upon the upper surface of this boulder has been incised an Irish cross, faithfully reproduced from one cut on an equally rough, unhewn stone found on Inisclearaun, one of the islands of Lough Ree, on the Shannon, and not far from Clonmaonoise. Here St. Dairmid founded big famous ecclesiastical settlement about the middle of the sixth century. The name 'Patric' has also been cut in Irish characters copied from the earliest known Celtic manuscripts. This simple, but massive, treatment is considered to be a near approach to the form of a grave slab, which would have been used about the fifth century— the date of the Saint's death. The movement for the erection of the monument was initiated by the editor of The Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Belfast. The supervision of the work was entrusted to Mr. W. F. Fennel, M.R.I.A., architect, and excellently carried out by the Messrs. Hastings, of Downpatrick, who also so carefully restored the ancient town cross of Downpatrick, under the same auspices, a few years ago.

ST. PATRICK'S GRAVE.,New Zealand Tablet, Volume 07, Issue 23, 7 June 1900

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