If Mr A were to research medieval Irish history, I have a recommendation for him. Should he find himself for whatever coincidence in Dublin, he ought to make his way to the National Museum of Ireland where he could see some artefacts from the period of time that his upcoming project Pilgrimage is set in. I went in there the day before yesterday for a little re-con in his stead – and to get a tiny glimpse into what the film possibly will touch upon. And I’d like to use the opportunity to show you what I saw – and advertise this wonderful institution to you.
The archeology branch of the National Museum is housed in a beautiful, custom-built building dating back to 1890 – as such it is almost a “museum-museum” where you can see what an old museum looks like: a large two-storey hall with (now blacked-out) glass roof, mosaic flooring, ornately decorated wrought-iron balustrades and pillars, and a built-in floor heating.
The first floor exhibition space of the National Museum had recently been remodelled, and this is where the exhibits for medieval Ireland are displayed. The collection is not overly huge – just the long length of one side of the upper gallery. It deals with all aspects of medieval culture and society and illustrates them with appropriate objects.
I was particularly interested to see a display on “The Cult of Relics”. Says the notes “Held in reverence, these objects were passed from one generation to the next. Many show the influence of patrons and the skill of successive craftsmen who worked on them.” I.e. religious relics in Ireland were often kept in the safe-guarding of a particular family whose names were recorded on the shrines that housed the relics. They were entrusted with the care of the precious contents and so the relics were not on regular display in churches or monasteries because they were much safer that way – raids on monasteries, for instance by the Vikings, continued right into the 12th century. They did, of course, come out for worship on feast days.
The museum of course does not display any relics. Those would still be held by the religious bodies that attach any meaning, importance and cult to those objects. What you can see in the museum are the reliquaries – the containers that were made to house the precious relic. As such they could be any shape and size, depending on what they contained. On display was the shrine of St Patrick’s Tooth, a wooden shrine covered in Bronze and decorated with gold, silver, brass and amber (object on the left in the picture). The rectangular object on the right of the display case picture is an 11th century reliquary – the Shrine of the Miosach, which was held for several centuries by the Morrison family. Here is a more detailed look at St Patrick’s Tooth reliquary:
The exhibition unfortunately did not talk about the practice of the removal of relics – called “Translation” – from one locality to another – supposedly the theme of Armitage’s medieval road movie.
Does that make Pilgrimage a medieval “Lost in Translation”, btw??? From what we have read in the PRs so far, that seems to be the topic of the film: During removal (translation) of the relic, the precious remains of St Mathias are in danger of being lost. I am very curious to see how that is all explained – why are they moving the relic, where to, etc. Wonder why the writers chose this particular saint, btw – he has no connections with Ireland (and how would the remains of the 13th apostle have made it to this little island on the fringes of Europe, anyway???). Maybe he was chosen for the second film location, the Ardennes. Because the relics of St Mathias have been held in the Benedictine abbey of the same name in the German town of Trier since 1127, and Trier is actually bordering on the Ardennes region in the West of Germany.
But back to the museum. If inconclusive on the finer details of the medieval cult of relics, in my book it is still one of the best sights to visit in Dublin. Because it houses an incredible exhibition on Celtic gold that is well-worth seeing. The collection consists of prehistoric goldwork that dates back as far as 2000 BC. On display are beautifully simple, large gold neck rings, as well as hundreds of bracelets and some intricately decorated collars and dress fasteners. It is a stunning treasure.
Even if you are a not generally interested in jewellery or pre-history – it won’t cost you anything
but time to pop in. The National Museum is free to visit and centrally located on the Southside of Dublin City Centre, right next to the Dáil (parliament) in Kildare Street. Other exhibition highlights include the treasury (Celtic and early Christian artefacts), Viking Ireland, some bog bodies and a number of changing exhibitions. (Currently an exhibition on the Battle of Clontarf (1014) is on, the most important battle in Irish history as the first Christian king, Brian Boru, defeated the pagan Vikings.) Open daily from 10am except Mondays. I expect you do your research, Rich!