Church of White Island

Irvinestown, United Kingdom

The ruined church on the White Island has a reconstructed plain Romanesque doorway. Secured to the north side of the south wall are eight carvings (seven figures and one head) built into the masonry of the church. Most of the figures were carved wearing the long tunics of churchmen. They are all carved in quartzite and were probably 'constructed' between 800 and 1000, and were later used as building stones in the church, before being uncovered in recent centuries. Helen Hickey has identified them as three pairs of caryatids. Each pair a different height and suggests that because of the sockets on the top of their heads that they may have supported a pulpit or preaching chair of an earlier possible wooden church. One popular theory is that the figures illustrate an episode in the life of St. Patrick, when Patrick heals a local King. This event is linked strongly with the Cathedral in Armagh, Northern Ireland.

There are eight figures in all, including an uncarved figure, suggesting the figures were carved on-site, and a frowning face, or 'mask'. An inscribed cross-carved stone was discovered built into the wall around the church.

It is recorded in the Annals that the Vikings attacked and destroyed the monasteries in Lough Erne in AD 837. For at least 400 years therefore these carvings may have laid in the ruins before a stone Romanesque style church was built.

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Founded: 800-1000 AD
Category: Religious sites in United Kingdom

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