Holy Cross Abbey, Tipperary
Holy Cross Abbey, County Tipperary is an interesting and in my opinion, much better alternative to the Rock of Cashel, 15 kms away. Less obvious and crowded it has a very curious history and the distinction of having been one of the principle places of pilgrimage in Ireland for over 800 years. Pilgrims visited from all over Europe to view the relic of the ‘true cross’ or ‘holy rood’ from whence the Abbey it got its name. The relic was set in gold and adorned with precious stones and is believed to have been given to the Abbey by the plantagenet Queen Eleanor of Aquitane, widow of King John, in return for the monks kindness in burying her son who was murdered nearby in 1233. This young man 'Pierce the fair', by her second husband Le Brun, Count of La Marche would have been the half-brother of Henry III of England, whose successor Henry VIII would eventually suppress the abbey in 1536, causing it to be to be finally abandoned in 1633....
“Ut non evacuetur crux Christi” that the cross of Christ may never lose its power? Well, having such a revered and precious relic brought untold wealth to the Abbey at the time. Pilgrims could stay in the Monks guesthouse for two nights free of charge while the Abbot's own house reflected his power and status as a legal judge in the area. The Plantagenet Queen's benevolence is remembered in the tomb of ‘good woman’s son’ which is thought to be one of the finest examples of medieval church furniture in Ireland. Carved out of blue Tipperary limestone in three divisions with pillared arches topped by an elaborate it is thought to have been either a sedilia (seating for the bishops), a sepulchre for the remains of dead Prince or a shrine for the veneration of the holy relic of the cross. Evidence of the Abbey's long history and association with royalty can be seen in the coats of arms, some original others added at later dates include the cross of St George quartered with those of France, the Butlers, Fitzgeralds and finally the Earl of Ormonde.
Having been abandoned for 200 years the Abbey was restored following a landmark decision in 1966 to withdraw it status as a monument and return it to a place of worship. And just lately a local initiative by the Holy Cross community is providing guided tours to Holy Cross Abbey every wednesday and sunday at 2pm, unless there is a special service, they are also willing to accommodate groups at other times, given a bit of notice of course. It is a magnificent place to visit, there is so much more to see the whispering arch, the night stairs, the oldest bell in Ireland, the medieval painted friezes, the flame windows not to mention the exquisite stone carvings. Above all it can be a profound spiritual experience, if you are that way inclined? After all there are not many places left in Ireland where you can sit and pray or just ponder, in the very same cloisters used by the monks 800 years ago. Holy Cross Abbey is a very special sacred place.