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Online Lecture Series: Colmcille 1500 - The Hand-Bells, Books and Crosiers Associated with St Columba

This online series of talks explores medieval objects associated with St Columba. Starting in October with a talk by Cormac Burke, the first talk will explore the functions and use of Irish hand-bells, including those associated with Colmcille. This talk will be followed in November by talk by Dr Paul Mullarkey, NMI, which will explore book shrines, with a focus on the Shrine of the Cathach. The last talk in December by Dr Griffin Murray, UCC, will discuss crosiers associated with Colmcille (Columba), and concentrate on discussing St Columba’s crosier from Durrow, Co. Offaly.

The series is part of a programme being run by the NMI for the Colmcille1500. This programme includes a new exhibition about St Colmcille, Colmcille: Sacred objects of a Saint – 1500 years of devotion​, which is now open at NMI-Archaeology.

Colmcille 1500 Lecture Series (1): The Bells of the Irish Saints 

Cormac Bourke looks at the archaeology of Irish hand-bells, their original function, and their place in recent tradition. The talk examines particular bells associated with Colmcille (Columba) and with his famous biographer Adomnán (Eunan). The story ranges from Ireland to Iona and the Highlands of Scotland.

Cormac Bourke was a curator in the Ulster Museum for 26 years. He specialises in the study of early insular Christianity and has published widely on medieval metalwork and on the archaeology of saints and their relics. His book, The Early Medieval Hand-bells of Ireland and Britain, was published by the National Museum of Ireland, in association with Wordwell, in 2020.

This online lecture was pre-recorded and broadcasted as a live event on Wednesday 13th October, 1pm 


Colmcille 1500 Lecture Series (2): The many phases of the shrine of the Cathach    

This illustrated talk by Dr Paul Mullarkey provides a brief survey of eight known book shrines from Ireland that range in date from the early ninth to the mid-sixteenth centuries. These elaborate shrines contained venerated manuscripts and acted as symbols of power, prestige and sanctity. They were often used as insignia of office, battle talismans, for collecting tributes, swearing oaths, endorsing contracts and treaties, curing, cursing, and for funeral, ecclesiastical and inauguration ceremonies. The Shrine of the Cathach is inextricably linked with the manuscript formerly contained within, the Cathach, which was believed to have been written by St Columcille. It was also one of the principal treasures of the O’Donnell’s during the Medieval period. This talk focuses on the decoration, techniques and iconography of this shrine, along with recent investigations that have revealed some details unseen for centuries.

Dr Paul Mullarkey, is a senior archaeological conservator at the National Museum of Ireland and has published widely on Irish book shrines.

This online lecture was pre-recorded and broadcasted as a live event on Wednesday 10th November, 1pm 


Colmcille 1500 Lecture Series (3): St Columba’s crosier: power and devotion in medieval Ireland

Along with books and bells, crosiers played an important role in representing the power of early Irish saints in medieval Ireland. In the final lecture of the series Dr Griffin Murray will introduce these fascinating objects with a focus on St Columba’s crosier from Durrow, Co. Offaly. 

While more famous for its illuminated manuscript and high cross, an early medieval crosier also survives from this important Columban monastery. It was preserved for generations by the Mac Geoghegan family, remaining in their keepership until the nineteenth century.  The crosier may originally date from the ninth century but was significantly refurbished in the early twelfth. Early Irish crosiers were originally held by the abbots of monasteries as symbols of authority and were passed on to successive holders of the office. As the abbot of Durrow was a successor of St Columba, the crosier was associated with the saint and over time was regarded as a relic. This lecture will explore how St Columba’s crosier was viewed and used during the medieval and post-medieval periods. It will also examine the context of its refurbishment in the early twelfth century, as well as looking at other evidence for crosiers associated with the saint from Kells, Co. Meath, and Dunkeld in Scotland.  

Dr Griffin Murray is a Lecturer in Archaeology at University College Cork. He is author of The Cross of Cong: A Masterpiece of Medieval Irish Art (2014) and is a specialist in Irish medieval church metalwork.  

This online lecture was pre-recorded and broadcasted as a live event on Wedneday 8th December at 1pm. 

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