The Church was the single, largest unifying structure in medieval Ireland, touching everyone’s life, no matter what their nationality, rank or class. Watt describes the century before the reformation as ‘the church in decline,’ a state which he suggested existed throughout Europe.[i] An examination of the church activities in the diocese of Meath in the fifteenth century will show both positive and negative aspects to the work of the church. Church building, the popularity of chantries and pilgrimages were a common feature in fifteenth century religious life in Meath. However practices such as concubinage, absenteeism, pluralism and simony were accepted in Meath by clergy and bishops.
In the fifteenth century the diocese included not only part of the anglicised Pale area but also Gaelic areas in the midlands. The bishops of Meath displayed no perceptible difference between their administration of the Gaelic controlled areas of the diocese to how they administered the English portions of the diocese. Unlike other dioceses in Ireland Meath had no chapter or cathedral in the diocese, the seat of the diocese was St. Peter’s Priory, Newtown, Trim.[ii] In 1397 on the recommendation of Richard II, Pope Boniface IX agreed to the provision of a cathedral and chapter at Newtown but this was not acted upon as a result of the objection of the Newtown monks.[iii]
Bishops of the Diocese
- Alexander Petit
- Robert Montain
- Edward Dantsey
- William Hadsor
- William Sylk
- Edmund Ouldhall
- William Sherwood
- John Payne
The majority of fifteenth century bishops of Meath were either English born or of English background as required by law.[iv] At least four of the eight bishops who served Meath during the fifteenth century, had previously held ecclesiastical office in England. Edward Dantsey, Bishop of Meath 1413-30, had been Archdeacon of Cornwall before his appointment to Meath. Edmund Ouldhall, a Carmelite of Norwich, was bishop from 1450 to 1459. William Sherwood was a priest of the archdiocese of York who was provided to the bishopric of Meath in 1460.[v] John Payne, former prior provincial of the English Dominican friars, was appointed to the see of Meath by Sixtus IV on 17 March 1483. As English speakers they were therefore not able to preach to the Gaelic members of the congregation.
The king generally chose the bishop, who then normally received papal approval, followed by election by the clergy of the diocese, a process which led to disputed appointments. Henry IV sought to have his own confessor, Robert Mascal, appointed bishop in 1402 but did not succeed.[vi] Thomas Scurlog, elected bishop of Meath by the clergy in 1432, was at the time Lord High Treasurer of Ireland so presumably he had royal approval, but was never in fact appointed bishop by the pope.[vii] In 1433 the Chief Justice of the king’s bench, Christopher Barnewall, tried to influence the election of a successor by force of arms.[viii] Edmund Ouldhall was a brother of the chamberlain of the lord lieutenant Richard, Duke of York and also in his service and so was ‘considered specially suitable’ for the position of bishop of Meath.[ix] The Archbishop of Armagh may also become involved in appointments as in the case of Archbishop Swayne who received permission from the Council of Basle to delegate to him the question of election.[x]
Bishops of Meath played a leading role in the government and administration of Ireland on behalf of the king. Bishop Petit was acting justicar in January 1400 and had previously served as Treasurer, Chancellor and Lord Justice.[xi] Bishop Dantsey was Lord High Treasurer of Ireland and Lord Deputy of Ireland, 1427-9.[xii] Bishop Ouldhall held the position of Chancellor of Ireland. Bishop Sherwood served as a Deputy to George, Duke of Clarence, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and also as Lord Chancellor. Bishop John Payne was made Master of the Rolls in 1496.[xiii] The civil roles played by the bishops of Meath would have distracted them from their ecclesiastical roles.
The involvement of the bishops in politics led to conflict with major noblemen and even the king. Bishop Dantsey in his role as deputy to the Earl of March was resented by the nobility on the Privy Council.[xiv] Bishop Sherwood had a long and bitter feud with the Earl of Desmond, who had been appointed deputy lieutenant in 1463.[xv] Bishop Payne who had been on friendly terms with the Earl of Kildare, later clashed with him.[xvi]
Payne actively supported the Lambert Simnel rebellion against Henry VII and actually preached the sermon in Christchurch, Dublin at the coronation on 24 May 1487. When the Simnel rebellion failed the bishop obtained a pardon. Payne proclaimed the bull by which Sixtus IV excommunicated all those who took part in the rebellion with the later absolution for those who returned to the King’s allegiance and the King’s pardon, an example of the pope supporting the king.[xvii] Payne was not the only Meath churchman to support Simnel, Nicholas Herbert, abbot of St. Peter’s Newtown, Richard Nangle, abbot of Navan and James Castlemartin, abbot of Bective also received pardons for their activities.[xviii]
The diocesan court, under the jurisdiction of the bishops, adjudicated on matters such as marriages between those related to prohibited degree, divorce, matrimonial disputes, wills, inheritance, theft of church property, perjury and clerical appointments. Excommunication was used as a punishment and control mechanism.
With the absence of a chapter and the bishop frequently absent due to political duties the administration of the diocese was regularly in the hands of the archdeacon.[xix] The rectory of Kells, which carried with it the archdeaconry of Meath, was one of the most lucrative offices in the Irish church.[xx] There was a long running conflict between Archdeacon White and Bishop Sherwood. In 1465 the bishop removed the Archdeacon from office due to perjury and dilapidation.[xxi]
Relationship with Armagh
Meath is part of the ecclesiastical province of Armagh and as such was subject to the archbishop of Armagh, although it had close political links to Dublin. The Archbishop of Armagh made regular visitations to the diocese of Meath either personally or though his agents. During the visitations priests, religious orders, the people, monasteries, churches, crimes, excesses and letters of titles were examined.[xxii] In the entire century there is only one case recorded of the care of the clergy for their parishioners being criticised.[xxiii] Disputes with regard to the fee to be paid for the visitation were a regular occurrence during the century.[xxiv] A number of archbishops threatened excommunication on Meath clergy because of the non-payment of visitation fees.
Relationships between Meath and the Archbishop of Armagh were strained on many occasions during the fifteenth century. When Bishop Hadsor was appointed to Meath the archbishop opposed the appointment.[xxv] Bishop Sherwood was excommunicated for not attending in person a provincial council held in Ardee in 1470 and again some time later for disagreeing with the archbishop.[xxvi] Bishop Sherwood although excommunicated, continued to govern his diocese ignoring the sentences of suspension and excommunication. During the prolonged conflict the Archbishop sought the support of the king’s lieutenant against Sherwood.[xxvii]
The conflict between Bishop Payne and Archbishop Octavian resulted in the archbishop seeking the position of chancellor in order to prevent Payne from obtaining it.[xxviii] In 1492 Bishop Payne refused to answer the archbishop’s charges, calling him ‘a tyrant’ which resulted in an outbreak of violence.[xxix]
The archbishop of Armagh was a landowner in the diocese possessing the site of Trim Castle, lands at Painstown, Kilmoon, Nobber and the rectory of Athboy.[xxx]
A number of Meath churchmen advanced to be Archbishop of Armagh. Nicholas Fleming, Archbishop of Armagh 1404-16, was a kinsman of the baron of Slane. John Mey, perpetual vicar of Delvin and Kilmessan in the diocese of Meath, became Archbishop of Armagh in 1444.[xxxi] He was succeeded by John Bole, abbot of Navan, who became archbishop of Armagh in 1457 and held the position until his death 1471.[xxxii] It has been suggested that Bole was interred in Navan and that his tomb was moved to St. Erc’s Hermitage, Slane, when the site of the abbey was being cleared for the erection of an army barracks.[xxxiii]
Relationship with Rome
As the fifteenth century dawned the church was split by the Great Schism with two popes, one in Rome and the other in Avignon. Bishop Montain of Meath was nominated to represent the Irish church at the Council of Pisa in 1409 which met with the intention of ending the schism but in fact further complicated matters by electing a third pope.[xxxiv] The schism finally ended in 1417 when the Council of Constance elected Pope Martin V.
The papacy was the centre of the church. The pope regularly intervened in the diocese of Meath particularly with regard to benefices. The pope had the right of appointment to certain benefices.[xxxv] Rome drew clerics seeking promotion.[xxxvi] Taking a case against a clergyman could result in the accuser obtaining the position held by the accused. Some of these cases could have been based on false or exaggerated allegations. The pope acted when anything went wrong at the request of others rather than on their own initiative.[xxxvii] From the pontificate of Martin V (1417-31) there was a large increase in Irish petitioners.[xxxviii]
The king’s nomination to the parish of Galtrim in 1421 was opposed by Thomas Prys who had secured a papal provision for the post in Rome.[xxxix] This and other similar conflicts led to a number of laws being enacted to abolish Rome’s role in appointments.[xl]
Philip Norris, an Oxford theologian, criticised the mendicant friars. Dundalk born Norris was presented to the parish church of St. Patricks in Trim by Henry VI in 1452 despite the fact that the position was held by the bishop of Meath at the time. Norris was called to appear before Archbishop John Mey in 1454. In 1455 Pope Calixtus granted Norris a dispensation to hold the rectory of Trim and another large benefice.[xli]
The parish was the basic ecclesiastical unit. The rector of a parish received both the greater and lesser tithes of a parish while the vicar received only the lesser tithes. A vicar was in charge of the souls of the parish while a rector could be non-resident. The patron of the parish could be the bishop, the archbishop, the pope, the king, a monastery or a local nobleman. Conflicts arose on occasions as a result of conflicting claims by different patrons as to the right of presentment to a vacant benefice, which usually resulted in a legal case to the bishop, Armagh or Rome.
A list from the early part of the sixteenth century, 1517, shows 198 churches and 45 chapels in the diocese of Meath. Of these 127 were impropriate or attached to religious houses or monasteries, amounting to approximately three quarters of the parishes.[xlii] Some of these monasteries were located outside the diocese. Parishes which were held by monasteries paid most of their income to those monasteries and so were found to be neglected.[xliii] Only twenty-one were in the gift of the bishop, two were the gift of the primate and the rest, the gift of lay patrons.[xliv]
Large landowners erected churches for themselves and their tenants and as patrons they had the right to nominate the clergy. Patrons nominated the priest and the candidate was then presented to the bishop, who if he thought the candidate was suitably qualified, certified the fact to the archdeacon, who inducted the individual into the charge of the parish. The records of the time show the defects of a number of the clergy while at the same time there seems to have been little or no difficulties with the services of the majority of the priests of the diocese. The regular visitations by the archbishop of Armagh show that by and large the clergy were serving their flocks well.[xlv]
Clerical celibacy was ignored and in Gaelic areas hereditary clergy were accepted.[xlvi] Illegitimacy and being sons of priests was also a common defect in clergy in the English area of the diocese. Clerical marriages were not unusual in England or on the continent.[xlvii] A number of priests were sons of priests and these had to apply for a dispensation in order to secure a parish. In 1400 the rector of Kilbeggan resigned as he and his successor were illegitimate.[xlviii] In 1401 the Bishop of Meath received a faculty to ordain ten priests who were illegitimate.[xlix] In 1423 John Okenan, rector of Loughseudy, obtained a dispensation, granted at Rome by Pope Martin V, for defect of birth, being born of a priest and a single woman.[l] In 1427 William Hadsor, a future bishop of Meath, received papal dispensation for being the son of a married man and an unmarried woman.[li] In 1451 Richard White, rector of Kilmoon, refused to repair the chancel of his church or put away his concubine, Mabin Leynagh.[lii] In 1483 William Sage, rector of Clongill, was accused of keeping a concubine amongst other charges.[liii]
The continued insistence by the English authorities of maintaining the Englishness of the Church in areas subject to English law was used as a controlling mechanism.[liv] Gaelic clergy were not supposed to serve in the Pale according to the Statutes of Kilkenny but it was impossible to fully implement the statute. In 1437 the Primate presented John Ardagh ‘an Irish chaplain and of the Irish nation, to wit of the Ardaghs, an Irishman and enemy of the lord, the king’ to the parish of Athboy.[lv] Bishop Sherwood was pardoned for instituting Irish clergy in his diocese.[lvi] There was no difficulty in appointing Irish clergy in Irish controlled areas. The king presented Andrew O’Casey to the parochial church of the Blessed Virgin of Loghsewdy.[lvii] In certain cases an Irishman could be recognised as an Englishman. In 1426 a royal licence patent to John Okynan, rector of Loughseudy, born of the Irish nation and conversing amongst the English, granted him free status, English condition, freedom from all Irish servitude, the use of English laws and customs as used by English inhabitants of Ireland etc. in like manner to English clerics, on condition of his fidelity to the king and his people.[lviii]
English speaking clergy could not preach or serve their Irish speaking parishioners in a proper manner. Donald Magluay attempted to displace William Wylde and John Tathe of Rathwire and Castlerickard for their inability to understand the language of the majority of their flock.[lix]
There is evidence of pluralism, which involves the holding of more than one ecclesiastical position, which would have created difficulty for a cleric in properly serving their congregations. They would usually appoint vicars to the parishes they held. In 1428 Thomas Russell, canon of Lincoln, informed the pope that John Prene, rector of Trim, had also been holding the position of dean of Dublin. As a reward Russell was appointed to Trim by the bishop of Meath and later by the Pope.[lx] Russell was found to have held other offices and Prene was restored. In 1404 John Swayne, a future archbishop of Armagh, was rector of Galtrim, diocese of Meath, treasurer of Dublin, canon and prebendary of Tagmon in Ferns diocese and abbreviator of Papal Letters.[lxi] In 1413 John Swayne was provided with the archdeaconry of Meath while he still held all the other benefices.[lxii] In 1411 William Sylke, a future bishop of the diocese, held parishes in Meath, Ferns, Ossory and Cashel.[lxiii]
As a considerable income was provided to rectors of certain parishes, a cleric might pay a bribe to patron, a retiring clergyman or the laity of the parish to obtain the position. This constituted simony and there are records of allegations of this crime on a number of occasions in the diocese of Meath. Cormac Magrouoke was accused of simony in obtaining the perpetual vicarage of Mullingar in 1465-6 as he had paid monies to the patron and the ordinary.[lxiv]
In the early part of the century very young and untrained men are recorded as being ordained. Around 1401 John de Burgo was advanced to the deaconate after attaining his fourteenth year and then ordained priest, to become vicar of Dunboyne.[lxv] In 1402 a dispensation was granted to John Flemmyng, son of Thomas, Baron of Slane ‘to hold any benefice with cure, even a major dignity, he being in his nineteenth year’.[lxvi] This practise was not unique to Ireland, Edmund Ouldhall, future bishop of Meath, was induced to be professed as a Carmelite monk at the age of thirteen in Norwich, England.[lxvii]
As Ireland had no university young men trained to be priest by being apprenticed to local clerics. Any priest who wished to obtain a degree had to travel to universities abroad. The favourite university for the Irish was Oxford.[lxviii] Throughout the century there are records of priests receiving permission to take a leave of absence for study. These absences varied from one year up to seven years. During the time the priests were absent they generally continued to receive the income of the parish. In 1408 leave of absence for two years was granted to William Lullyngton, vicar of Dunboyne.[lxix] In 1421 Rev. John Bolt, vicar of the church of the Blessed Virgin of Ardcath, was granted leave of absence to study for a year at Oxford College.[lxx] In 1498 Rev. William Botiller, rector of Kilberry, was given leave of absence for seven years.[lxxi]
The Earl of Desmond, while deputy lieutenant, proposed the establishment of a university at Drogheda.[lxxii]
There were also private schools in Ireland where priests could be educated.[lxxiii] The Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinian friars and Carmelite friars would have had schools for philosophy and theology in their most important houses such as Drogheda.[lxxiv] A seminary school operated in Armagh.[lxxv]
The church building provided a focus for the provision of pastoral care and for the important events in people’s lives – baptism, marriage and burial. Many churches in the diocese were erected or rebuilt in the fifteenth century.[lxxvi] O’Neill described the ‘great rebuilding campaigns of the early fifteenth century onwards’ and suggested that ‘this reinforces the argument that the late medieval church in Meath was healthy and indeed vibrant.’[lxxvii] Churches erected, rebuilt or extended in the fifteenth century include Cannistown (Ardsallagh), Castletown, Duleek, Drakestown, Dunsany, Kells, Killeen and Rathmore.[lxxviii] The scale of investment in the parish churches is an ‘impressive evidence’ of the laity’s commitment.[lxxix] Manor churches such as that of de Verdons at Rathmore or those of Cusacks at Dunsany and Killeen, all three were to pass through marriage to the Plunkett family, were enlarged and beautified.[lxxx] Massive towers were added to manor and parish churches particularly those on the western marches such as Fore and Mayne.[lxxxi] Towers attached to the churches providing protection and living accommodation for the priests. The church furnishings also displayed the expense lavished on ornamenting items such as fonts as those at Johnstown or Curraha.[lxxxii]
The churches of the monasteries often provided the parish church and clergy for the local parish as at Navan, Kells, Trim and Ballyboggan.[lxxxiii]
Although there were no new monasteries founded in the diocese during the fifteenth century a number of monasteries such as Bective and Navan were rebuilt during the period.[lxxxiv] There were thirty seven monasteries, nunneries, priories and hospitals listed in the extents of closures in 1540 for the diocese of Meath. The most numerous order in the diocese was the Augustinians. The Franciscan and Dominicans had more than one house and then the Benedectines and Cistercians and other orders had one house each in the diocese.
Monasteries were large landowners possessing orchards, water-mills, fishing weirs, granaries and dovecotes. Tenants, in addition to rent, also worked on the monasteries’ own lands providing labour during harvest time, turf cutting and other busy periods of the farming year. Monasteries also held the rights to the incomes of the parishes they appropriated.[lxxxv] Monasteries maintained guesthouses for travellers.[lxxxvi] Abbots were granted lands or rights in return for repairing bridges or weirs. In 1450 the abbot of Navan was to repair Babesbridge, in 1470 Abbot of Duleek was to repair the weir on the Boyne and in 1476 the Priory of Llanthony received lands at Duleek for repair of Duleek bridge.[lxxxvii]
Monasteries could provide a fortified sanctuary from raiders at Navan, Fore, Tristernagh and Mullingar.[lxxxviii] Monasteries at Mullingar and Trim provided the Lord Deputy and other officials with accommodation when they visited the local area.[lxxxix] Parliaments were held in the church or refectory of Domincian and Franciscan friaries, Trim in 1416, 1446, 1484, 1487 and 1491.[xc]
A number of monasteries had severely reduced incomes as a result of dilapidation where the abbots granted away the property of the monastery. In 1461 Peter White of the Augustinian abbey of Navan refused the Archbishop of Armagh admittance to examine the property of the monastery. Abbot White had given away the property of the monastery to James Boys and his daughters, Joneta and Margaret. White was also accused of wasting the goods of the monastery in taverns and elsewhere, of fornication with Margaret Boys, a cause of public scandal and of incitement of the clergy of Meath to disobedience.[xci]
The fifteenth century was a period when the mendicant orders such as the Franciscans, Carmelites and Dominicans underwent significant expansion and reform.[xcii] The friars lived with the people and preached to them. The reformation of the Strict Observants was adopted at Multyfarnham in 1460.[xciii]
Finances of the Parishes
Parishes were financed by tithes, altarages and fees for the administration of sacraments. The clergy received fees for christening, marriages and burials, tithes and most probably did some farming of glebe lands or leased them out.
A taxation list from the early fourteenth century showed that clergy in the eastern half of the diocese were in the most part receiving an adequate living but in the western part of the diocese were on average much poorer. The rector of Kells was well paid as were the rectors of Trim and Galtrim but in some of the smaller parishes the income would have been inadequate.[xciv] In the early part of the sixteenth century the annual income which would give a priest a comfortable living was £19 and only ten parishes in the diocese of Meath provided this yearly income at the time.[xcv]
The church in Ireland was poor in comparison to the church in England. The poverty of the clergy made them dependent on their parishioners for support and so responsive to the needs of the laity. One consequence of the poverty of benefices was the lack of graduates among the clergy of the Pale.[xcvi]
The numerous raids into Meath by the Irish and neighbouring lords depressed the local economy and therefore the incomes of the priests through tithes and offerings.
Bishops received their incomes from their landed estates and some parishes were under their control. Financial problems were more or less chronic in many Irish dioceses during the fifteenth century.[xcvii]
Development of chantries and lay devotional group such as confraternities became popular in the middle of the fifteenth century. Devotion to Mary and the making of pilgrimages to miraculous statues was a feature of religious worship throughout the century. The purchase of indulgences was a favoured way of raising funds by the church.
Lay involvement in the church in the fifteenth century was centred around the foundations of chantries and confraternities.[xcviii] The purpose of a chantry was the saying of private mass to avoid purgatory and these were founded by wealthy nobles such as at Killeen, groups of lay people as confraternities, corporate bodies such as the portreeve and commons of Athboy or various lord deputies such as at Dunshaughlin or Dunsany.[xcix]
Chantries were often appended to local churches. The perpetual chantry at Trim consisted of three priests in the parish of St. Patrick’s, who were to celebrate Mass daily, one in the rood chapel, another in the chapel of St. Laurence the Martyr and the third in the chapel of St. Patrick.[c]
Chantries had a separate existence, to a certain extent outside the regular church and were free of the control of the church. Henry VI granted a license to the confraternity at Killeen to be regarded as a religious corporation and be given the power to acquire property. Henry VII gave a similar licence and the confraternity acquired more than a thousand acres very quickly through its patron, Sir Christopher Plunkett.[ci]
Chantries were established in the Pale area of the diocese and such establishments were to be found at Ardmulchan, Athboy, Dunboyne, Dunsany, Greenoge, Kells, Kilberry, Killeen, Ratoath, Stamullen, Trim and at other sites. [cii]
Devotion to Mary received a major impetus with the Anglo-Norman invasion in the twelfth century.[ciii] Many churches had images of Mary on display and Mary featured on baptismal fonts.[civ] The synod of Cashel in 1453 decreed that each church should have a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.[cv] Pilgrimages were made to famous or miraculous images of Mary in the diocese such as the statues at Trim and Navan.
In 1397 Hugh MacMahon recovered his sight after fasting in front of the statue of Our Lady of Trim at the Augustinian abbey.[cvi] The statue is credited with great miracles in 1412 and in 1444 – ‘restored sight to a blind man, speech to a dumb man and the use of his feet to a cripple…’[cvii] In 1402 and again in 1415 the king of England granted the right of free passage to pilgrims coming to Trim.[cviii] A parliament at Naas in 1472 granted two watermills and other incomes to St. Mary’s abbey for the purpose of erecting and supporting a perpetual wax light before the image of the Virgin.[cix]
In 1460 Thomas Bathe attacked Dr. John de Stackbolle, one of the canons regular of the abbey of St. Mary’s Navan, abducted him and cut off his tongue and gouged out his eyes. Stackbolle was carried back to the Abbey and laid before the statue of Our Lady and by her power his sight and speech was restored.[cx] Ten years earlier Pope Nicholas V granting certain indulgences to all persons undertaking pilgrimages to St. Mary’s Abbey, Navan or contributing to repair or adorn it.[cxi] In 1455 it was ordered by letters patent taking into the king’s protection all pilgrims visiting the shrine of Mary at Navan ‘whether liegeman or rebels.’[cxii]
Another pilgrimage site within the diocese was the Ballyboggan Crucifix, which attracted devotees.[cxiii]
Religious sites further afield were also visited by pilgrims from Meath. John Hall intended to visit the Holy Land in 1410.[cxiv] Pilgrimages were made to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Campostela. A pilgrim hospice existed at Drogheda giving its name to St. James’ Street and St. James’ Gate.[cxv] In 1472-3, John Fowling, mayor of Drogheda was given permission to undertake the pilgrimage to Santiago.[cxvi] Human remains, bearing the scallop shell emblem of the pilgrimage, uncovered in 1996 at the Augustinian Friary site at Mullingar, provide a link between the diocese and the shrine.[cxvii] St. James is depicted in stone on the fonts at Kilcarne and Dunsany and on wayside crosses at Dunsany, Keenogue and Duleek.[cxviii]
The second half of the fifteenth century saw a flowering in the erection of effigal tombs commemorating the landed knights and ladies of the Pale. Tombs at Kilpatrick, Duleek, Dunsany, Killeen and Rathmore commemorate the Plunkett and Preston families.[cxix] The families who erected tombs also erected wayside crosses.[cxx] The earliest cross is the Killeen cross erected by or for Thomas Plunkett and Maria Cruys about 1470. Cadaver tombs provide a graphic expression of man’s mortality by portraying the corpse as partly decomposed. Roe (1969) suggested that the cadaver effigal tomb at Stamullen was one of the first examples of this type of funerary monument in Ireland.[cxxi]
Indulgences could be purchased to reduce a person’s term in purgatory after their death. It was a custom for popes or archbishops to grant indulgences for works such as re-building the bridge at Navan in 1409, repairing the leperhouse at Kilbixby also in 1409, repairing churches such as at Athboy in 1427 or the monastery of St. Peter’s, Trim in 1463.[cxxii]
John Bole, as abbot of Navan, was appointed as sub-collector for an indulgence proclaimed by Pope Nicholas V in 1454 to those who would contribute to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in a bid to defend themselves against the Turks following the fall of Constantinople in 1453.[cxxiii] In 1460 Bole, as archbishop of Armagh, granted forty days indulgences to those who contribute to the expenses of William Grey of the diocese of Meath to go to the Holy Land to fight in a crusade against the Turks.[cxxiv]
The number of indulgences provided indicate that they were popular among the laity. During the reformation in the following century indulgences were denounced as worldly. In 1567 the pope, St. Pius V, cancelled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions.
In Ireland and Meath there were a number of perceived shortcomings such as the involvement in politics and administration by the bishops, concubinage, appeals to the Pope, English speaking clergy, pluralism, lack of a university, the sale of indulgences and squandering of monastic property. However many of these were accepted as normal practices of the time and provision was made for legitimising incidents of these activities. Visitations of the diocese show a vibrant church with some but not a large amount of irregularities. The church seems to have been effective in meeting the needs of its flock. A complicating factor in assessing the state of the church is that the sources are limited and it is difficult to access how representative of the church are these records. Evidence of the shortcomings and difficulties of the church are recorded in the documentation of the time but not the good works and service the church provided.
Scott points out that a mark of the church’s strength at the time is the fact that the reformation failed to take hold in the diocese in the sixteenth century and so the church’s activities including traditional religious practices, both good and bad, continued to be practised.[cxxv]
The church was by no means stagnant during the century with the church displaying its vigour through church building and the involvement of its laity in chantries, confraternities, pilgrimage and devotion to Our Lady. Far from being in decline it would seem that the church was continuing its mission despite its own shortcomings.[cxxvi]
[i] John Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland, (Dublin, 1972), pp 181-83.
[ii] Brendan Scott, Religion and Reformation in the Tudor diocese of Meath (Dublin, 2006), p. 30; Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland, p. 122.
[iii] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol. v A.D. 1396-1404. Prep. W.H. Bliss and J.A. Tremlow (London, 1904), pp.75-75; John Healy History of the Diocese of Meath (Dublin, 1908), vol i, p. 100.
[iv] Scott, Religion and Reformation, p. 30.
[v] Stephen G. Ellis, ‘William Sherwood’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), sub. Sherwood, William.
[vi] Anthony Cogan, The Diocese of Meath ancient and modern (Dublin 1862), vol. i, p. 79.
[vii] Healy History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, p. 149; Cogan The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p. 80;
[viii] R. Dudley Edwards, ‘The Kings of England and Papal Provisions in fifteenth century Ireland’ in J.A. Watts, J.B. Morrall, F.X. Martin (eds) Medieval studies Presented to Aubrey Gwynn (Dublin 1961), pp 271-72.
[ix] W.G.H. Quigley & E. F. D. Roberts (eds) Registrum Iohannis Mey The register of John Mey Archbishop of Armagh 1443-1456 (Belfast, 1972), pp xciv, 287-88.
[x] Dudley Edwards, ‘The Kings of England and Papal Provisions in fifteenth century Ireland,’ pp 272-73.
[xi] Annette Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven, A history of medieval Ireland (London, 1968), p. 339; Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p.. 78.
[xii] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, pp. 79-80; Otway-Ruthven A history of Medieval Ireland , pp. 363-4; Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, p. 116; Richard Butler, Some notices of the castle and of the ecclesiastical buildings of Trim (Trim, 1854), p. 68.
[xiii] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol. i, pp. 150-53.
[xiv] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol. i, pp. 148-49; Butler, Some notices of the castle, p. 68.
[xv] Anthony Lynch, ‘The administration of John Bole, Archbishop of Armagh, 1457-71’ in Seanchas Ard Mhaca vol. 14 no 2 (1991), pp 56-57; Otway-Ruthven A history of Medieval Ireland , p.391; Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, pp. 150-51; Ellis, ‘William Sherwood’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
[xvi] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol. i, pp. 150-5;Gwynn The Medieval Province of Armagh, p 118-19; Scott, Religion and Reformation, pp 36-37.
[xvii] Mary T. Hayden, ‘Lambert Simnel in Ireland’ in Studies: an Irish quarterly review, vol. iv, (1915) pp. 622-38; Aubrey Gwynn The Medieval Province of Armagh (1470-1545) (Dundalk, 1946), p 118; F.X. Martin Lambert Simnel The Crowning of a King (Dublin, 1987), pp. 18-19; Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol. xiv, A.D. 1484-1492. Prep. J.A. Tremlow (London, 1960), pp 307-8.
[xviii] Butler, Some notices of the castle, pp.100-1; Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p.118; vol. i, pp. 224-5; vol. i, p. 301; vol. i, p. 314.
[xix] John Brady ‘The Archdeacons of Meath’ in Irish Ecclesiastical Record 65 (1945), p. 89.
[xx] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p. 137.
[xxi] Anthony Lynch (ed.) ‘A calendar of the reassembled Register of John Bole, Archbishop of Armagh, 1457’ in Seanchas Ard Mhaca vol. 15 no 1 (1992) p. 130; Brady ‘The Archdeacons of Meath,’ pp 98-99.
[xxii] H.J. Lawlor (ed.) ‘A Calendar of the register of Archbishop Fleming’ in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy vol. xxx, (1912-13), Section C, p.124; 128;130; D.A. Chart (ed.) The register of John Swayne (Belfast, 1935), p. 51-2; W.G.H. Quigley & E. F. D. Roberts (eds) Registrum Iohannis Mey The register of John Mey Archbishop of Armagh 1443-1456 (Belfast, 1972) pp. lxv, 43-44.
[xxiii] ‘A Calendar of the register of Archbishop Fleming’ p.159.
[xxiv] ‘A Calendar of the register of Archbishop Fleming’ pp121; 155; The register of John Swayne p. 39; Registrum Iohannis Mey The register of John Mey Archbishop of Armagh 1443-1456, pp. lxvii, 62-63; lxi, 6; xc, 258-59;
[xxv] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, p. 149.
[xxvi] ‘A calendar of the reassembled Register of John Bole, Archbishop of Armagh, 1457’ pp 139; p. 158; Mario Alberto Sughi (ed) Registrum Octavi alias Liber Niger (Dublin, 1999), vol. i, pp 53-55.
[xxvii] ‘A calendar of the reassembled Register of John Bole, Archbishop of Armagh, pp 157-58; 164.
[xxviii] Gwynn, The Medieval Province of Armagh, p 118-19; Registrum Octavi alias Liber Niger,, vol. i, p. 88.
[xxix] Gwynn, The Medieval Province of Armagh, p 119; Registrum Octavi alias Liber Niger, vol. i, pp 68, 81-82.
[xxx] Butler, Some notices of the castle, pp. 71-2; The register of John Swayne. p. 71.
[xxxi] Anthony Lynch, ‘John Mey, d. 1456, archbishop of Armagh’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004-7); Registrum Iohannis Mey The register of John Mey Archbishop of Armagh 1443-1456, p. xciv.
[xxxii] Gwynn The Medieval Province of Armagh, p 2.
[xxxiii] Elizabeth Hickey, ‘The bishop and the stone’ in Ríocht na Mídhe 6:1 (1975), 59-64.
[xxxiv] ‘A Calendar of the register of Archbishop Fleming,’ p.126.
[xxxv] Watt The Church in Medieval Ireland, p. 188.
[xxxvi] Kenneth Nicholls, Gaelic and Gaelicised Ireland in the Middle ages (Dublin, 1972), p. 99.
[xxxvii] Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland, pp 137-38.
[xxxviii] Nicholls, Gaelic and Gaelicised Ireland, p. 103
[xxxix] Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 1421 (9 Henry V) c. 18; Dudley Edwards ‘The Kings of England and Papal Provisions in fifteenth century Ireland’ pp. 269-270.
[xl] Dudley Edwards, ‘The Kings of England and Papal Provisions in fifteenth century Ireland,’ pp 265-80; Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 1475-76 (15 &16 Edward IV) c. 53.
[xli] Katherine Walsh, ‘Norris, Philip (c.1400–1465)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
[xlii] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, p. 118.
[xliii] Anthony Lynch, ‘Some Metropolitical Visitations of Meath in the Fifteenth century’ in Ríocht na Midhe vol. vii, no. 2 (1982-83), p. 4.
[xliv] John Brady ‘The Medieval Diocese of Meath’ in Ríocht na Midhe vol. i, no. 3 (1957), p. 38.
[xlv] Lynch, ‘Some Metropolitical Visitations of Meath in the Fifteenth century’, pp 3-12.
[xlvi] Nicholls, Gaelic and Gaelicised Ireland in the Middle ages, p. 91-98.
[xlvii] J. Delameau, Catholicism between Luther and Voltaire: a new view of the Counter-reformation (London, 1977) pp 154-55 quoted in Henry A. Jefferies ‘Papal letters and Irish clergy: Clogher before the Reformation’ in Henry A. Jefferies (ed) History of the diocese of Clogher (Dublin, 2005), p. 100.
[xlviii] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, p. 125.
[xlix] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, pp. 125-6.
[l] The register of John Swayne, p. 37; L.P. Murray ‘Primate Swayne’s Visitation of Meath A.D. 1428’ in Irish Ecclesiastical Record vol. xxii (July to Dec. 1923) p.243.
[li] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol VII A.D. 1417-1431. Prep. J.A. Tremlow (London, 1906) p. 498.
[lii] Registrum Iohannis Mey The register of John Mey Archbishop of Armagh 1443-1456 pp xc, 259; cxii, 418-20.
[liii] Registrum Octavi alias Liber Niger, vol. i, pp.103-4.
[liv] Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland, p. 183.
[lv] Brady, ‘The Medieval Diocese of Meath,’ pp. 38-9.
[lvi] Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 1471-72 (11&12 Edward IV) c. 30; Dudley Edwards, ‘The Kings of England and Papal Provisions in fifteenth century Ireland,’ p. 278-79.
[lvii] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. ii, p. 493.
[lviii] The register of John Swayne, p. 45.
[lix] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. vol V, pp 449; R. Dudley Edwards ‘The Kings of England and Papal Provisions in fifteenth century Ireland,’ p. 267.
[lx] Michael Potterton, Medieval Trim History and Archaeology (Dublin, 2005), p. 276.
[lxi] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. vol V, pp 614-15; The register of John Swayne, pp ix-x.
[lxii] The register of John Swayne, p. x.
[lxiii] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol VI A.D. 1404-1415. Prep. J.A. Tremlow (London, 1904) p. 293.
[lxiv] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol XII A.D. 1458-1471. Prep. J.A. Tremlow (London, 1933), p. 470.
[lxv] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, p. 126.
[lxvi] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, p. 126.
[lxvii] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol x, A.D. 1447-1455. Prep. J.A. Tremlow (London, 1915), pp 229-30.
[lxviii] Nicholls, Gaelic and Gaelicised Ireland, p. 98-99..
[lxix] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p. 192.
[lxx] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p. 334.
[lxxi] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p. 349.
[lxxii] Otway-Ruthven A history of Medieval Ireland, p. 389.
[lxxiii] Lynch, ‘The administration of John Bole, Archbishop of Armagh, 1457-71,’ p. 49
[lxxiv] Aubrey Gwynn Anglo-Irish Church Life 14th & 15th centuries in A History of Irish Catholicism (Dublin 1968) p 37.
[lxxv] Scott, Religion and Reformation, p. 77.
[lxxvi] Scott, Religion and Reformation, p. 32.
[lxxvii] Michael O’Neill, ‘The medieval parish churches in county Meath’ in JRSAI vol. 132 (2002), pp 1-56; 46.
[lxxviii] Michael J. Moore, Archaeological Inventory of County Meath (Dublin, 1987), pp 128; 132; 132; 134.
[lxxix] Henry A. Jefferies, ‘The Early Tudor Reformations in the Irish Pale’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History vol. 52, no 1 January 2001, p. 39.
[lxxx] Harold G. Leask, Irish churches and monastic buildings III (Dundalk, 1966), pp 12-17.
[lxxxi] Helen M. Roe, Medieval Fonts of Meath (Navan, 1968), p. 3
[lxxxii] Roe, Medieval Fonts of Meath, p. 5.
[lxxxiii] Newport B. White (ed.), Extents of Irish monastic Possessions 1540-41 (Dublin 1943), pp 250; 264; 302-3; 311.
[lxxxiv] Moore, Archaeological Inventory of County Meath, p.130.
[lxxxv] Extents of Irish monastic Possessions 1540-41,pp. 250 – 319.
[lxxxvi] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol xiv, A.D. 1484-1492. Prep. J.A. Tremlow (London, 1960), p. 298; Joseph P. Kelly, Touring Trim 2 The Porchfields (Trim, 1968), p. 5.
[lxxxvii] Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 1450 (28 Henry VI Drogheda) c. 30; 1470 (10 Edward IV) c. 19; 1478 (18 Edward IV) c. 8 (between sess. 2 and 3)
[lxxxviii] Extents of Irish monastic Possessions 1540-41, pp 250; 286; 271; 276.
[lxxxix] Extents of Irish monastic Possessions 1540-41, pp 286; 303.
[xc] Butler, Some notices of the castle, p. 62; Ambrose Coleman, The Ancient Dominican Foundations in Ireland (Dundalk, 1902), p. 32.
[xci] ‘A calendar of the reassembled Register of John Bole, Archbishop of Armagh, 1457,’ pp. 138-9; Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol xii, A.D. 1458-1471. Prep. J.A. Tremlow (London, 1933), pp 285-87.
[xcii] Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland, p. 193.
[xciii] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. iii, p. 592.
[xciv] Healy, History of the Diocese of Meath, vol i, pp 118-24.
[xcv] Scott, Religion and Reformation, p. 68.
[xcvi] Jefferies, ‘The Early Tudor Reformations in the Irish Pale,’ p. 40.
[xcvii] Gwynn, Anglo-Irish Church Life, p 3.
[xcviii] Colm Lennon, ‘The parish fraternities of County Meath in the late middle ages’ in Ríocht na Midhe (2008), pp 85-101; Adrian Empey, ‘The layperson in the parish: the medieval inheritance, 1169-1536’ in Raymond Gillespie, W.G. Neely The laiety and the Church of Ireland, 1000-2000: all sorts and conditions (Dublin, 2002), p. 38
[xcix] Roe, Medieval Fonts of Meath, p. 90; Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland, 1467-68 (7&8 Edward IV) c. 13; Otway-Ruthven, A history of Medieval Ireland, p. 392.
[c] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p. 334.
[ci] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p. 355.
[cii] Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 1491 (6 Henry VII) [c.2]; Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 1463 (3 Edward IV) c. 99; 1476 –77 (16&17 Edward IV) c. 54; Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. I p. 354; vol. I, p. 259.
[ciii] Mary Lee Nolan ‘Irish Pilgrimage: The Different Tradition’ in Annals of Association of Aamerican Geographers, vol. 73, no 3 (Sept. 1983) p.424
[civ] Roe, Medieval Fonts of Meath, pp 49; 64.
[cv] O’Neill, ‘The medieval parish churches in county Meath,’ p. 42.
[cvi] Annals of the Four Masters sub. 1397.
[cvii] Annals of Loch Cé sub 1412; Annals of the Four Masters sub 1412; Annals of Ulster sub 1412; Annals of the Four Masters sub. 1444.
[cviii] Butler, Some notices of the castle, p. 202, Donnchadh Ó Meachair, A short history of County Meath (Navan, c. 1930) pp. 27-8
[cix] Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 1472-73(12 &13 Edward IV) c. 20; c. 51; c. 52.
[cx] Mrs. Thomas Concannon, The Queen of Ireland (Dublin, 1938), p. 71;Registrum Iohannis Mey, pp. cix, 400-1.
[cxi] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters. vol X A.D. 1447-55, Prep. J.A. Tremlow (Londo, 1915), p. 124; Annals of Ulster sub 1455
[cxii] Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 1455 (33 Henry VI) c.23; Concannon, The Queen of Ireland, p. 70.
[cxiii] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, pp 169-70; Annals of Ulster sub 1538.
[cxiv] H.J. Lawlor (ed.) ‘A Calendar of the register of Archbishop Fleming’ in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy vol. xxx (1912-13) Section C p.137
[cxv] Cogan, The Diocese of Meath, vol. i, p. 180; John Bradley, ‘The topography and layout of Medieval Drogheda’ in County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society Journal, xix, no.2 (1978), pp 108-9.
[cxvi] Statute Rolls of the Parliament of Ireland 12-22 Edward IV pp 53,55 quoted in Roger Stalley ‘Sailing to Santiago: the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and its artistic influence in Ireland’ in John Bradley (ed) Settlement and Society in Medieval Ireland (Kilkenny, 1988), p. 404
[cxvii] Michael Gibbons, Archaeological Excavation (95E273); Irish Times 11 August 2004.
[cxviii] Roe, Medieval Fonts of Meath, pp 62-63; Heather King, ‘Late Medieval Crosses in County Meath c. 1470-1635’ in Proceeding of the Royal Irish Academy, lxxxiv, C, (1984), pp 98-99, 107.
[cxix] John Hunt, Irish Medieval Figure Sculpture 1200-1600 (Dublin, 1974) pp 11, 202 –16.
[cxx] King, ‘Late Medieval Crosses,’ pp 79-115.
[cxxi] Helen M. Roe ‘Cadaver Effigal Monuments in Ireland’ in Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, ic, (1969) pp. 1-20.
[cxxii] ‘A Calendar of the register of Archbishop Fleming,’ pp 124; 131; The register of John Swayne, p. 81; ‘A calendar of the reassembled Register of John Bole’, p. 129.
[cxxiii] Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland. Papal Letters,. vol xi, A.D. 1455-64, Prep. J.A. Tremlow (London, 1921), p. 59.
[cxxiv] ‘A calendar of the reassembled Register of John Bole’, p. 132.
[cxxv] Scott, Religion and Reformation, p. 15.
[cxxvi] Thanks are due to Rev. Fr. Gerry Rice, PP and to Greg Fewer who read this article and commented on it.