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Ruins of Mellifont Abbey features beautiful lavabo

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 14th, 2011
Catholic Online (

At one time, Mellifont Abbey was a great hub for the Catholic faith in Ireland. At the top of its reign, Mellifont was the mother house of 21 monasteries and as many as 400 monks made the abbey their home. Only ruins remain there now, but there are many beautiful examples of Cistercian architecture, a beautiful lavabo among them.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The remains of the 12th-century Cistercian monastery is ear Monasterboice in County Louth. The abbey was the Cistercians' first and most important abbey in Ireland, a site of conflict between the Irish and the Anglo-Normans.

The great Mellifont Abbey today is comprised of only foundations, but there is the aforementioned fine lavabo that is mostly intact, along with the chapter house and a section of the cloister. There are also picturesque ruins of a great gateway and a small church nearby.

The abbey was formed in the mid-12th century. During that time, Irish monastic life had become significantly less austere and more corrupt than in earlier days. In 1140, Malachy, Bishop of Down, invited a group of only the most severe Cistercian monks from Clairvaux to begin a monastery in Ireland and act as a reforming influence.

Malachy had stopped by Clairvaux in France during a pilgrimage to Rome and had been so impressed by St. Bernard, the founder of the Cistercian order and his monks that he converted to the monasticism later in his life. Malachy was canonized a saint after his death.

A group of Irish and French monks settled in this remote site in 1142 and began construction in the traditional Cistercian style, marking the first time that a monastery was built in Ireland with the formal layout used in the Continent.

Before Mellifont's church was even consecrated, nine more Cistercian monasteries were set up in Ireland. In 1152, the abbey hosted the Synod of Drogheda. All the monks of Mellifont were Irish, for an early dispute between the native Irish monks and the imported French monks led to the departure of the latter.

The abbey's time was terminated with the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII. Mellifont Abbey was demolished and sold. However, a fortified Tudor manor house was built on the site in 1556 by Edward Moore, using materials scavenged from the monastic buildings.

After Hugh O'Neill, last of the great Irish chieftains, was defeated in the Battle of Kinsale (1603), he was given shelter at the Tudor manor by Sir Garret Moore. O'Neill soon surrendered to the English Lord Deputy Mountjoy and was pardoned, but he fled to the Continent in 1607 with other Irish leaders in the Flight of the Earls.

The site of Mellifont Abbey and its manor house was finally abandoned in 1727.

Visitors to the remains of the abbey today are greeted by the abbey church, which has a typical cruciform plan and some gravestones in its floor. Beyond this, to the south, are the cloister and the chapter house.

The most beautiful structure at Mellifont is the lavabo, an octagonal washing house. Built in the early 13th century, it used lead pipes to bring water from the river.

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