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Abbey of Mellifont

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Located three miles from Drogheda, Co. Louth, Diocese of Armagh, it was the first Cistercian monastery established in Ireland. In the year 1140, St. Malachy, en route for Rome, visited St. Bernard at Clairvaux, and was so edified that he resolved to establish a similar monastery in his own diocese of Armagh. He therefore left several of his companions at Clairvaux, to make their novitiate under the direction of St. Bernard. In 1142 they returned to found Mellifont under Christian O'Conarchy, who had been Archdeacon of Down and who became the first abbot. A French monk, Father Robert, an able architect, directed the construction of the monastic buildings according to the plans of the Abbey of Clairvaux. The consecration of the church in 1157 was the occasion of great religious celebrations. So numerous were the postulants that six important monasteries were founded during the first ten years: Bective (1146); Boyle (1148); Monasternenagh (1148); Baltinglas (1148); Schrule (1150); Newry (1153). In 1150 the venerable Abbot Christian was appointed Bishop of Lismore, and Pope Eugene III, who had been his fellow-novice at Clairvaux, named him legate for Ireland. Soon after his death (1186) his name was inscribed in the calendar of the saints, and he has long been venerated as one of the most powerful protectors of his country. His brother Malchus, equally illustrious for his science and sanctity, succeeded him. For sixty years Mellifont rejoiced in great prosperity, and when the English invaded Ireland there were already twenty-five great Cistercian abbeys. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the rivalries between the English and Irish exerted a baneful influence, peace gave way to discord, and in more than one case the general chapter, and even the sovereign pontiff, were forced to intervene. Not until the fifteenth century did Mellifont regain its ancient prestige, which was maintained until its suppression by Henry VIII on 23 July, 1539, when one hundred and fifty monks were compelled to leave with Richard Contour, the last Abbot of Mellifont. The king seized the treasures of the abbey, and the annals were either lost or destroyed, and with them the names of many remarkable men. Several religious continued to live in the environs, which explains why, in 1623, the title of Abbot of Mellifont was granted, by Apostolic Brief , to Patrick Barnewall, and again in 1648 to John Devreux when the title disappears. In 1566 the abbey, with its dependencies, was given to Edward Moore, chief of the family Drogheda, and passed, in 1727, to Balfour of Townley Hall, during whose term of ownership all fell to the speedy decay and desolate ruin of the present day.


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