17 July 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
49, Saint Cronan’s, Roscrea

The Romanesque doorway at Saint Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, once the cathedral of a short-lived diocese (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, my photographs are from seven cathedrals or former cathedrals in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. Earlier in this series, I have looked at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert. My photographs this week are from Aghadoe, Ardfert, Emly, Gort, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh and Roscrea.

The High Cross at the site in Roscrea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Since my appointment as Precentor of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert in 2017, I have tried to visit all the cathedrals and former cathedrals in the diocese. This morning (17 July 2021), my photographs are from Saint Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, once the cathedral in the short-lived Diocese of Roscrea.

Roscrea originally stood on the ancient road that ran in part from Tara to Cashel. This location may explain why Saint Cronan founded a monastery there in the early seventh century, and why the monastic site briefly served as the episcopal seat in the short-lived Diocese of Roscrea in the 12th century.

Today, the site monastic site includes a round tower, a much-worn High Cross, an isolated Romanesque door, and a 200-year-old Church of Ireland parish church.

Both the Church of Ireland parish church and the Roman Catholic parish church in Roscrea are named Saint Cronan’s Church, in honour of the founding saint of these ecclesiastical sites, which I visited last week on my back to Co Limerick from Kilkenny.

Saint Cronan, who died in 640, is seen as the abbot-bishop and patron of the short-lived Diocese of Roscrea, which was later incorporated into the Diocese of Killaloe.

Saint Cronan was born in the territory of Ely O'Carroll, Ireland. His father’s name was Odhran, and his mother came from west Clare. After spending his youth in Connacht, he founded a number of monastic houses before returning to his native area ca 610, when he founded a monastery and school in Roscrea or ‘the wood of Cré.’

The Annals of Tigernach and the Annals of Ulster describe Saint Cronan as ‘Bishop of Nendrum.’ The Acts of Saint Cronan abound in miracles, including the legend Dimma, one of his monks, transcribing the Four Gospels without rest in a period of 40 days and 40 nights.

Saint Cronan of Roscrea is said to have died in the year 640, and his east is celebrated on 28 April.

In the confusion that followed the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111, an attempt was made to establish an independent Diocese of Roscrea. However, there was no Bishop of Roscrea at the Synod of Kells and Mellifont in 1151, although it is later listed as one of the dioceses in the Province of the Archbishop of Cashel, probably incorporating areas that had previously been in the Diocese of Killaloe.

Isaac Ua Cuanáin, Bishop of Roscrea, died in 1161, and nNo more is heard of the Diocese of Roscrea after that. It was subsumed once again, along with the Diocese of Scattery into the Diocese of Killaloe, and the cathedral church became an Augustinian friary and later a parish church.

All that survives of the ancient monastic site are the Romanesque gable of the 12th century cathedral church, a high cross and a round tower.

The once beautiful sandstone gable is now very badly weathered from pollution and age. It includes a tangent gable, blind arcades, a doorway of three orders, with the figure of an abbot or bishop above, and rosettes. It has been compared with similar doorways in Cormac’s Chapel in Cashel and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert.

The distinctive 12th century High Cross displays a figure of a ‘clothed’ Christ om one side and Saint Cronan on the other.

The round tower in Roscrea is first mentioned in 1131, when it was struck by lightning.

The remainder of the church or cathedral in Roscrea was demolished in 1812, and many of the stones were used to build a new Saint Cronan’s Church of Ireland parish church.

Saint Cronan’s is a single-cell, gable-fronted parish church, with five-bay side elevations to the nave, a four-stage tower and porch at the south-west elevation, and a vestry at the south-east elevation. The original building was funded by the Board of First Fruits with a gift of £100 and a loan of £775.

This church is a fine example of early 19th-century church architecture. The features include crenellated parapets, stone pinnacles at the gable ends and on the porch, a tower with crenellations and pinnacles, diagonal buttresses, pointed-arch windows with stained glass, and a timber battened double-leaf door.

The church was designed by a Roscrea-born architect James Sheane, whose name is inscribed on a datestone in the tower. He was buried in the churchyard when he died in 1816. His other known churches and glebe houses are in Modreeny and Kilrushall, in the Diocese of Killaloe.

The porch was added around 1813 by John Bowden (d. 1822), and the church was restored in 1879 by Sir Thomas Newenham Deane (1828-1899) of Woodward and Deane.

The grounds include a graveyard and a replica high cross, enclosed by a rubble stone wall, cast iron gate and railings.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring round tower is said to have been inhabited as late as 1815.

Until the M7 motorway was built, the main road from Limerick to Dublin cut through this monastic site, between the Round Tower on one side and the Romanesque doorway and the High Cross on the other side.

Despite the motorway taking traffic out of the centre of Roscrea, this is still a busy road with a blind and sharp bend, and I have felt I was taking my life into my hands when I have tried to cross the road from the road tower to the site of the church.

Saint Cronan’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Roscrea, was built in 1812 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 12: 14-21 (NRSVA):

14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

15 When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, 16and he ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 He will not break a bruised reed
or quench a smouldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.’

The Round Tower in Roscrea is first mentioned in 1131 and was inhabited until 1815 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 July 2021) invites us to pray:

Lord, we pray for the work of international institutions in promoting and enacting justice.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The arch of the Romanesque doorway at Saint Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, is of three orders (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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