ogee stone

Kilfane Church

The day out with Pat the Fox Man continues.

After leaving Jerpoint Abbey, Pat asked me if I ever been to Kilfane Church. I haven’t, so off we went.

Medieval parish church of Kilfane, now in ruins, is located on the other side of Thomastown, some 15 minutes drive from Jerpoint Abbey. The adjoining structure is a presbytery – a stone house where the parish priests resided in the upper floors.

The graveyard alone deserves a separate blog post.

Good timing! Inside the church we met a very knowledgeable man who makes a living doing what he loves – an archaeologist, author and photographer Chris Corlett. Chris kindly answered my questions, and as we walked around the church he pointed out many things I would have overlooked. I left the men to chat and went to take some pictures for this blog post.

The biggest (literally) attraction of the ruins is an eight feet tall effigy of a knight in full armor made from a slab of limestone. The knight wears a mail hood and body armor, a surcoat, and a sword on a sword belt. He also wears spurs which means he had fought on the horseback.

The coat of arms on the knight’s shield reveals his identity. It is the Cantwell family coat of arms: annulets and a canton ermine.

The Cantwells were a Norman family, originally from Suffolk. They came to Ireland in the end of the 12th century and were made Lords of Kilfane for their loyal service to Theobald Walter, the first Chief Butler of Ireland. It is believed that the effigy depicts Thomas Cantwell who died in the 1320-s.

Cantwell Fada – The Long Man – is the largest effigy of its kind in Britain and Ireland.

In contrast to the smiling knights and bishops of Jerpoint Abbey, Thomas Cantwell’s carved face looks gloomy and unhappy. The story goes that the reason of his unhappiness and death was his marriage to Beatrice Donati whom he met while on crusade. Beatrice soon bored of her life with Cantwell and befriended the ‘Kilkenny witch’ Alice Kyteler. Both were arrested. Beatrice was held in Kilkenny dungeon but escaped and hid for five month in a monastery. Her husband eventually captured her and killed her accomplice, but Beatrice managed to fatally stab him in the heart with a gold bodkin.

When the church was taken over by the Protestants, the effigy was buried, but later was dug up again. There are four copies of it made in 1852.

The hole in the wall is actually a door to the ground floor room of the presbytery – a sacristy, where the vestments and articles of sacred rituals were kept.

The sacristy.

The stairs go up to the priests’ residency. At the top of the stairs there is a trap door. A hall is on the right.

The trap door.

A toilet.

The floors are gone but you can see where they used to be.

I couldn’t resist climbing the narrow stairs.

One floor up.

Another floor.

I keep climbing.

Finally on the top!

I had to stick my camera out of the narrow window to take this picture.

Back on the ground again. There is so much to see – it is simply amazing.

The bell tower has its own staircase, but it is damaged and too narrow anyway.

Both walls feature original ogee headed doorways.

Ogee arches were introduced to European cities from the Middle East. They were a popular feature of English Gothic architecture in the 13th century when Kilfane church was built.

Stone seats for the priest and his assistants in the south wall – sedilia.

Sedilia still have some ancient red paint residue on the carvings.

Another amazing find is the fragments of the consecration crosses on the church walls.

A new constructed church had to be consecrated, or made into a sacred place of worship. The Bishop would bless the building and anoint it making the sign of the cross with his thumb dipped in consecrated oil. Typically, twelve such crosses were created on the inside walls, and twelve more outside on door frames and corners. Each of these crosses would have been incised and painted afterwards.

You can see two incised circles and a cross incised and painted within the inner circle.

In the end of the 17th century, the church was taken over by the Protestants and the consecration crosses were concealed by plastering over them. When a new church was built just across the road (c. 1825), the roof was taken off the old church.

The plaster is falling off, thus revealing the old consecration crosses. Chris Corlett is sure about another few places where the crosses would have been placed, but you can read about everything in his own publications.

One last look at the church and the Long Man.

I ate in The Long Man pub once … It is ‘closed for renovations’ these days. I just drove over there to take this picture.

Thank you for joining us on this day out, dear readers! County Kilkenny is full of history, and I hope to write more about it in the future.

Have a wonderful weekend!