Ferns Augustinian Abbey

Site Plan

A view of St Mary’s priory church from the graveyard of Ferns Church of Ireland cathedral, just seen here to the left. The present building was built over the ruins of the medieval cathedral, incorporating some elements of the original building.

A view of St Mary’s priory, coming from the cathedral.

A view of St Mary’s priory, looking north from where the cloister would have stood. Only the north wall of the church and the turret abutting the nave at its west end survive, as well as a building to the north of the chancel, not seen here.

sprite-up Back to top

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 of the priory church, where the canons would have gathered during services. Although all trace of a structural partition between nave and chancel is gone, a chancel arch would have marked the division between the two spaces. The nave, longer and wider than the chancel, is flanked by a turret at its north-west end.

sprite-up Back to top

The chancel is located in the east end of a church and is reserved for the use of the clergy and choir, and is where the altar is located.

Unlike the nave, which was probably timber-roofed – at least originally – the chancel was barrel-vaulted. It is probably original to the church, dating to the mid-twelfth century.

Another view into the chancel, looking east. As with all early nave and chancel churches, the chancel is shorter and narrower than the nave, from which it was separated by an arch. Just before the chancel to the left is a doorway leading into a small, two-storey building, the function of which has not been clearly identified.

A closer look at the remains of the chancel barrel vault, with the two flat-sectioned transverse arches that supported the vault, pierced by small holes at their base (‘springers’), that would have received metal tie-rods helping support the whole structure. It has been suggested that the priory’s patron, Diarmait Mac Murcadha (d.1171), king of Leinster, might have wanted to emulate the architecture of Cormac’s Chapel in Cashel, a royal chapel where transverse ribs were used in the nave barrel vault, the only other church where this feature survives in Ireland. The two niches on each side of the window were probably used for statues.

sprite-up Back to top

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

The sacristy (or vestry) is a room off the church, where vestments, church furnishings and altar plate are stored and where the clergy robe for church services

A view of the two-storey building abutting the chancel to the north, which was also vaulted. The lower floor was perhaps used as a chapel or a sacristy, and the upper floor could have served as an accommodation.

A look inside the ‘chapel’ abutting the chancel, peeking through its locked metal gate.

sprite-up Back to top

The cloister was an open quadrangle (garth) surrounded by a covered (or open) walkway, ambulatory or arcade. Running along the walls of a monastery’s church and domestic buildings, connected the domestic buildings with the church via a covered walkway.

Although nowadays nothing of it is visible above ground, the foundations of a walled area of roughly 20 by 22 meters were identified during a survey in the early twentieth century, which was also confirmed by a geophysical survey carried out by the Discovery Programme in 2015: it very likely marked the site of a cloister.

sprite-up Back to top

The modern cathedral is almost perfectly aligned with the remains of what looks like a thirteenth-century church, although the ground level of this building is too low to have been part of the medieval cathedral.

sprite-up Back to top