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Saint Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny, Ireland


On Saint Patrick's Day, 2003, I finally visited the inside of Saint Canice's Cathedral, though I have lived in Kikenny since September of 2001.

The cathedral is beautiful, built in the Norman style of oddly-sized-and-shaped stone; in this case of the local black limestone for which Kilkenny gets its nickname "the Marble City."

St. Canice's Cathedral was established in 1202 by Anglo-Normans on the site of an earlier monastic settlement. They finished construction in or around 1285.

The cathedral has been renovated a few times. The first major renovation in 1332 quickly followed a flawed attempt to repair the roof. William Outlawe was the son of the rich and powerful Alice Kyteler, Kilkenny's famed "witch." He was implicated, to a lesser degree than herself, in the dark arts. It was to be in his servitude of penance that he would re-roof the cathedral.

It was a far milder sentence than his mother got on her day in court — she was sentenced to die. (Though she later escaped and went away.)

William's project came to a bad end. He apparently used too much lead, and in any case he brought the whole central tower down. Of course, nobody knows whether this was an accident or an act of sabotage. (Or evil magic....)

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A history of St. Canice's Cathedral ...

Another renovation was imperative after Oliver Cromwell raided Kilkenny, which fell in 1650. He busted up the cathedral, and used it to stable his horses. That was after he'd disintered all the bodies and put them elsewhere.

Inside the cathedral, there are memorials of many sorts from different dates placed about the walls and floors, and tombs below-level. There are five above-floor tombs of particular beauty, topped with lifesize black limestone carvings of the deceased. On the side approached, each of these is polished along the arm and side of the face, from people touching them. I touched them.

I sat for a while.

As I was leaving, I asked the attendant, then locking the door, how many people are buried in the cathedral.

The bodies were too decomposed and defiled for reinterment after the defeat of Cromwell. The attendant didn't say what became of the bodies; but they are no longer here.

There are, however, bodies still interred in the "Cox vault." Under the dome, at the center of the cross-shape building, there are two black limestone squares, labeled as vaults. In the one labeled Cox, he said, some bodies remain. Nobody knows how many. He didn't say why nobody knows. (He didn't say why Cromwell didn't remove them, but they must have been buried there later.)

In any case, the information is forthcoming.

It is illegal to open a tomb without a special government decree, except to bury somebody else. And there's one left. He is alive, and residing in the United States. He will return to Ireland, and be interred at St. Canice's, in the Cox tomb, when he dies. Then, we will know how many others are in there.


17 March, 2003

Edited for brevity and clarity, 3 March 2008


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