Tuesday 20 March 2018

The Burning of the Staff of Jesus

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday we looked at some of the references to the Staff of Jesus (Baculus Jesu) in the Irish Annals, as compiled by James Henthorn Todd in his introduction to the1844 publication of The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Dublin. This cathedral, we have already noted, was the home of the Staff following its removal from Armagh in the late twelfth century. As Todd remarked himself of the historical references he provided:
"These examples are sufficient to prove the high veneration in which this relic was held, up to the period of the Reformation, when it was publicly burned, A. D. 1538, as an instrument of superstition." 
So we will allow Todd to continue his account of this next and supposedly final chapter in the history of Saint Patrick's Staff of Jesus:
This event is thus recorded by Sir James Ware in his Annals of the Reign of King Henry VIII. p. 99: "Also, about the same time, among the famous images whereunto pilgrimages were designed, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was burned, then kept at Trim in the Abbey of the Canons Regular, and the gifts of the pilgrims were taken away from thence. The image of Christ crucified, in the Abbey of Ballibogan and St. Patrick's Staff, in the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity at Dublin which William, the son of Adeline, brought from Ardmagh and gave it as a gift to that church in the year 1180, underwent the like fate."  
A valuable manuscript volume of Annals preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, gives the following curious account of this destruction of images and of the staff of Patrick at the year 1538: 
"The most miraculous image of Mary which was at Baile Atha Trium, and which the Irish people all honoured for a long time before that, which used to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and every disease in like manner, was burned by the Saxons. And the Staff of Jesus, which was in Dublin, and which wrought many wonders and miracles in Ireland since the time of Patrick down to that time, and which was in the hand of Christ himself, was burned by the Saxons in like manner. And not only that, but there was not a holy cross, nor an image of Mary, nor other celebrated image in Ireland over which their power had reached, that they did not burn. Nor was there one of the seven orders which came under their power that they did not ruin. And the Pope, and the Church in the East, and at home, was excommunicating the Saxons on that account, and they not paying any heed or attention unto that, &c And I am not certain whether it was not in the above year that these relics were burned."  
The Four Masters have also recorded the burning of the Baculus Jesu, in the following passage, which is here quoted at length, as a curious specimen of the light in which the Reformation was regarded by a native Irish writer of the reign of Charles the First: 
"A.D. 1537. A heresy and a new error broke out in England, the effects of pride, vain-glory, avarice, sensual desire, and the prevalence of a variety of scientific and philosophical speculations, so that the people of England went into opposition to the Pope and to Rome. At the same time they followed a variety of opinions, and the old Law of Moses, after the manner of the Jewish people, and they gave the title of head of the Church of God, during his reign, to the king. There were enacted by the king and council new laws and statutes after their own will. They ruined the orders who were permitted to hold worldly possessions, viz., monks, canons, nuns, and brethren of the Cross; and the four mendicant orders, viz., the Minor order, the Preachers, Carmelites, and Augustinians. The possessions and livings of all these were taken up for the king. They broke the monasteries. They sold their roofs and bells, so that there was not a monastery from Arann of the Saints to the Iccian Sea, that was not broken and shattered, except only a few in Ireland, which escaped the notice and attention of the English. They further burned and broke the famous images, shrines, and relics of Ireland and England. After that they burned in like manner the celebrated image of Mary, which was at Ath-Truim, which used to perform wonders and miracles, which used to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the sufferers from all diseases ; and the Staff of Jesus which was in Dublin, performing miracles from the time of Patrick down to that time, and which was in the hand of Christ while he was among men. They also made archbishops and sub-bishops for themselves; and although great was the persecution of the Roman Emperors against the Church, it is not probable that so great a persecution as this ever came, even from Rome hither. So that it is impossible to tell or narrate its description, unless it should be told by him who saw it." 
This sounds like the end of the road for the Staff of Jesus, but as we shall see in the next post, there just may be a chance that the relic survived.

 J. C. Crosthwaite, ed. The Book of Obits and Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Commonly called Christ Church, Dublin (Dublin, 1844), xvi-xviii.

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