Castledermot Franciscan Friary

Site Plan

A view of the east end of the church, with the north transept in the background. The doorway seen underneath the large east window is an addition, as originally the laity would have entered the church through its west end, into the nave. Excavations have revealed that parts of the friary cemetery extended to the area between the east gable and the medieval street, probably extending west along the southern side of the church, between the eastern domestic range and the street.

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The nave is the area in the western part of the main body of the church where the congregation gathered to hear sermons preached and to attend Mass.

A view into the nave, from the chancel. Unlike many other mendicant friaries, Castledermot apparently did not have a tower rising between the chancel and the nave. Instead, a tower was added to the south wall of the chancel, and a simple wooden screen, or perhaps a succession of two screens, would have acted as a structural division between the chancel and the nave.

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The aisle is an area that runs parallel to the nave or chancel, separated from either by a row of arches and columns known as an arcade. It often contained side altars and was used for liturgical processions.

An image of the east side of north transept taken from the aisle.
(Taken by Robert French, taken c.1880-1900. From the Lawrence Photograph Collection, National Library of Ireland)

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The transept is the space which intersects the nave and chancel, giving the church its characteristic cruciform appearance. These rectangular extensions to the north and south of the church provided space for additional altars dedicated to various saints and serving as mortuary, burial or chantry chapels for the community’s benefactors. In a mendicant context, only one transept arm is found, in most cases abutting the nave, or the nave and the tower between the chancel and the nave, known as a ‘one armed transept.’

One of the external buttresses framing the window in the north wall of the transept.

A closer look at one of the three-light window with switch-line tracery in the east wall of the north transept. Note the small structural buttresses on either sides of the window.

A view of the transept north window. Its tracery has disappeared but its impressive height and width attest of the power and wealth the benefactors of the friars wished to display through their patronage. Through the window can be glimpsed the arcade of pointed arches dividing off the nave from the transept.

The north transept, which housed private funerary chapels where the friars would pray and say mass for the souls of their benefactors. Above the east wall can be glimpsed the top of an arcade of three pointed arches which marked the structural division of three such chapels to the east of the transept.

A view of the great window of the south transept by Gabriel Beranger in the late 18th century.
(From A Collection of Drawings of the Principal, Antique Buildings of Ireland, National Library of Ireland)

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The chapel is a small separate space (usually off the aisle or transept) which contained a secondary altar, often dedicated to a particular saint. They were usually erected by members of a specific family as a private chapel.

A cross slab within the chapel features a rare double tomb effigy of a lady in a shroud beside the skeleton of a man.

(Image from the Edwin Rae Collection, part of Gothic Past, TCD)

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The choir was the area to the west end of the chancel where the community of religious gathered for the daily celebration of the Divine Office.

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A view of the tower abutting to the south wall of the chancel, which is locally known as ‘The Abbey Castle’. As the friary was located just outside the town walls, the tower could have been part of the defensive fortification of the town, together with the precinct wall.

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