Wednesday 21 March 2018

Did the Staff of Jesus Survive?

Yesterday we looked at the sources suggesting that the Bachall Isú, the Staff of Jesus had been publicly burnt in Dublin during the Reformation. However, there are other sources which leave open the possibility that it may have survived and it to these that we now turn. Scholar Sarah Erskine has made a special study of the Bachall Ísu and at the conclusion of one of her papers quotes some interesting observations from  Reformation scholar Raymond Gillespie:
Bachall Isú itself was reputedly burnt in Dublin in a public display presided by the Protestant archbishop George Browne in 1538, in a period of "state-sponsored iconoclasm". However, Raymond Gillespie reckons that Bachall Isú may have passed into lay hands, since the Dublin apothecary reported in 1561 that "men were going about the countryside 'with the bachal of Jesus as they call it' and using it to assist women in labour." During a time when clerical control on the use of relics in general was tightening up, the 1686 'statutes of Meath' stated that no one should be observed carrying Patrick's staff. 
R. Gillespie, Devoted People, Belief and Religion in Early Modern Ireland (Manchester, 1997), p.161 quoted in S. C. Erskine, St Patrick's Bachall Ísu: Its Origins, Tradition, and Rise to Prominence as Armagh's Premier Relic in Eolas: The Journal of the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies, Vol. 6 (2013), pp. 41-67 at p.67.

I think that these sources certainly open up the possibility of the relic's survival, but on the other hand, it struck me that the post-1538 staff is being employed in the countryside where perhaps the knowledge of its destruction in the urban centre of Dublin was less well-known. Or was another medieval crozier later co-opted as the Bachall Isú since the original could no longer be produced by Christ Church Cathedral to contradict the claims?  I suppose we will never know for sure.

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