A woman’s shoe made of cowhide and dating back to 899AD alongside a bronze-coated handbell used to curse people are two of the eye-catching artefacts that have gone on display in Dublin’s National Museum of Ireland.
The Kildare Street venue yesterday lifted the curtain on a new exhibition of 24 historical artefacts dating back 1,200 years all found around one of Ireland's most famous monastic sites.
Entitled ‘Glendalough: Power, Prayer and Pilgrimage’ this is the first time many of the items have been seen publicly, having been carefully curated by Matthew Seaver for the museum’s first exhibition post-Covid.
Given that the beauty spot found by St Kevin in the 6th century was a place where pilgrims sought isolation and spiritual solace, the exhibition has been hailed as particularly timely given the current crisis.
Many of the objects on display were discovered as part of UCD-led research archaeological excavations undertaken at Glendalough and starting in the 1950s. Others were found by members of the public or by donation from a religious body.
Some of the more exotic objects found reveal Glendalough’s significance to pilgrims from Ireland and beyond over the centuries including a cross made of an English gemstone called jet. There are also pieces of a porphyry tile thought to have originated from a building in Rome.
Other items of interest a piece of shale which was used as a board and used to play a game called Merels which dates back to the Roman Empire.
The item of footwear dates back over 1,100 years and is described in an under-stated fashion as being “heavily worn”. Historians believe it belonged to a pilgrim and had been preserved in a bog for over a millenia before being discovered.
The Dublin Diocese donated the handbell, which dates back to the 8th or 9th century. As well as being used to mark meal and prayer times, they were also believed to have the power to banish evil spirits and curse people.
Museum Chair Catherine Heaney said the new exhibition will really resonate with members of the public.
“So many themes in this exhibition resonate with the times we are living through – isolation, reflection, faith, and the healing qualities of the countryside,” she said.
“Collectively, we can take comfort from the endurance of these objects, and of our resilience as a nation through difficult times, past and present.”
Entry is free but visitors must book slots in advance on www.museum.ie