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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Priceless 'Prosperous Crozier' goes on display to public

Preserved: Catherine Heaney, of the board of the National Museum of Ireland, with the Prosperous Crozier. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Preserved: Catherine Heaney, of the board of the National Museum of Ireland, with the Prosperous Crozier. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Allison Bray

A 1,000-year-old medieval crozier that lay buried in a bog for centuries has gone on public display for the first time since 1932.

The ‘Prosperous Crozier’ is believed to be the oldest intact pastoral staff in existence in both Ireland and the UK and one of the oldest in Europe.

It has been handed over to the National Museum of Ireland on loan for an indefinite period and is officially on display there.

The staff resembles a shepherd’s crook and was used by abbots in medieval monasteries as a potent symbol of Christianity.

It ranks among other artefacts and relics from the Golden Age of Irish Art, including The Book of Kells, the Ardagh Hoard of metalworks, including the Ardagh Chalice and the Cross of Cong, according to University College Cork archaeologist Dr Griffin Murray.

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Prosperous Crozier, on loan from Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare. IA/69/2016

The crozier is believed to have been used at St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin due to a faint inscription in Latin he found bearing the abbey’s name.

However, after the Christ Church Cathedral crozier was publicly burnt during the Reformation, it’s likely that monks or even local people buried the artefact in a bog near Prosperous, Co Kildare, where it was unearthed by a turfcutter in 1839, he said.

“A lot of these objects literally went underground. They were seen as objects of superstition,” he said.

The crozier was then handed over to the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in Clane, Co Kildare where it has remained ever since.

While students and staff at the college would have been able to view the crozier in its archival collection, the only other time it was publicly displayed in the Republic was in 1932 when the college loaned it to the National Museum as part of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, he said.

It was also displayed briefly at the Ulster Museum following restoration work to it in the 1980s.

But it was decided that the artefact now belongs in the public domain, said Jesuit priest Fr Michael Sheil.

After several years of deliberation, the Jesuit community and trustees of Clongowes Wood College decided it was time to put the crozier on public display.

"How many schoolboys would have noticed it was there?" he said, adding the crozier had been displayed in a glass case at the college ever since he attended as a student.

"I would like to think I was very aware of it when I was there myself," he said.

"Once we realised the value of it - not the monetary value but the significance of it - and the more we became aware of its significance, we said 'this is not something we should keep to ourselves'," he said.

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Prosperous Crozier, on loan from Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare. IA/69/2016

The Properous crozier now joins other croziers on display in the archaeology wing of the musuem.

While it would have been much more colourful in its original state, it now has a tawny hue from the bronze and tin covering the wooden core.

However it has no monetary value even though it is considered to be priceless as an artefact, he added.

"It's incredibly well-preserved," Dr Murray said.

The only flaw is that it was broken in two on purpose - possibly to conceal it, he said.

"Otherwise it's perfect. It's complete," he said.

Keeper of Irish Antiquities with the National Museum of Ireland, Maeve Sikora, said; “We are thrilled to welcome the Prosperous Crozier to the National Museum of Ireland.

"It is a unique and highly significant artefact that was made around 1,000 years ago.

"We are fortunate to have been in a position to research this beautiful crozier before placing it on display.

"The Jesuits at Clongowes cared for this crozier for many years, and through its study, their students undoubtedly gained a deep appreciation of this nation’s wonderful heritage. We are proud to continue this dual tradition of caring for and learning about this object for the years ahead."

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