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Cistercian Abbeys: DUBLIN, ST. MARY’S

Name: DUBLIN, ST. MARY’S Location: Dublin County: Dublin
Foundation: 1139 Mother house: Savigny
Relocation: None Founder: Unknown
Dissolution: 1539 Prominent members:
Access: Heritage of Ireland - Open to the public

St. Mary’s was founded in 1139 for the Benedictine monks of Savigny. In 1147 the Savigniac order was united with the house of Citeaux and the community at St. Mary’s became Cistercian. St. Mary’s appears to have become subject to Combermere (Cheshire) at this time and in 1156-7 affiliation was transferred to Buildwas (Shropshire). In 1301 an unsuccessful attempt was made to break away from affiliation with Buildwas. St. Mary’s was founded three years before Mellifont and this led to conflict between the two houses over seniority in Ireland. The General Chapter recognized the claims of St. Mary’s in 1313. St. Mary’s sent out two colonies to establish daughter-houses, at Dunbrody (1182) and Abbeylara (1214). The monks were compelled to undertake extensive reconstruction of the abbey project following a fire in 1304, which was said to have destroyed abbey, church and steeple. St. Mary’s was one of the largest and most important monasteries in Ireland. The abbey, situated opposite the old city of Dublin, was frequently involved in the affairs of city and state. In 1399 the abbot of Dublin, Stephen Ross, was absolved by Pope Boniface IX from every penance he had earned for impurity, unfair treatment of clerics, leaving his monastery without permission, entering convents of nuns, carrying forbidden arms, showing a lack of respect for hid superiors, conspiring against them and other people, and frequenting taverns. In the later Middle Ages Abbot Walter Champfleur of St. Mary’s laboured in vain to reform the Order, and when he died in 1497, as ‘an aged, prudent and learned man’, he was much lamented.

At the time of the Dissolution the total income of the abbey was valued at £537, which made St. Mary’s by far the richest monastery of the Cistercian Order in Ireland. Only two English Cistercian houses, Furness and Fountains, exceeded this income. The abbey was dissolved in 1539 when the last abbot, William Laundie, surrendered his title. Following the dissolution of the house, the goods and chattels were sold off by the royal commissioners: the sale yielded the huge sum of £192. By 1541 the abbey had been taken over by John Travers, master of the king’s ordinance, and the church was transformed into an arsenal for the royal army. The abbot’s lodging and garden was occupied by Leonard Grey, the lord deputy, as a convenient dwelling close to the city of Dublin. However, he was not in possession for long, for Grey was executed for treason in 1541. In 1543 a substantial part of the abbey was leased to James, earl of Desmond; the grant included the abbot’s lodgings, the abbot’s chambers and the infirmary. Most of the monastic buildings had disappeared by the 1680s when this part of the city was redeveloped by Sir Humphrey Jervis and Sir Richard Reynell, only the chapter-house escaped demolition. A life-size oak Madonna is the only relic known to have survived from the abbey, and is now preserved in the Carmelite church in Whitefriar Street. The chapter-house has been restored and now houses an exhibition, which is open to the public throughout the year.