Visiting Holy Cross Abbey, Tipperary

Holy Cross Abbey

Tipperary, Co Shannon

Located at Tipperary in County Shannon, Holy Cross Abbey is close to the Rock of Cashel. It’s a Cistercian monastery and important pilgrimage point, accounting for the more than 200,000 visitors it welcomes each year.

The abbey is named for a relic (called the holy rood) of the cross of Christ. Tradition holds that it was brought to Ireland in the 13th century and gifted to the Abbey by a Plantagenet queen of England. She was grateful to the abbot for interring the remains of her son, who had died in the vicinity. During the medieval ages, belief that this was an actual fragment of the cross of Christ brought pilgrims to Ireland in great numbers.

It also played a role during the Reformation, during which time those suffering persecution would come here for sanctuary, or to rally and regroup. The abbey became an icon of religious freedom as well as of Irish sovereignty.

However, after the Cromwellian War, the relic was lost and the abbey fell into disrepair. It was used for a time as a cemetery before being listed as a protected monument in the 19th century. The abbey was then restored in the late 20th century and reopened as a place of worship.

The church itself is cruciform in shape, complete with a nave, chancel and transepts. It’s a Gothic specimen, with elements of French influence. Each window of the abbey has a different design, and they’re known as ‘flame windows’ for their flamboyant treatment. 

Today, there’s a great deal to see and enjoy here. To begin with, it’s marvellous to explore the grounds and imagine what a profoundly important outpost this was during medieval times – drawing pilgrims from far afield. Beyond this, the abbey’s medieval friezes and stone carvings are exceptional.

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