I am currently working on a podcast about the impact of climate change on medieval Ireland and I came across this miracle recorded in Dublin in July 1461, but unsurprisingly all may not be as it seemed at the time.
On the 19th July 1461, the east window of the Priory of the Holy Trinity (Christchurch) was blown in during heavy winds. When the window gave way some masonry collapsed into the Cathedral.
Unfortunately heavy chests containing early charters, jewels, ornaments and most importantly relics were stored below the window. As the masonry collapsed the chests were heavily damaged along with their contents. However when the clear-up began amazingly the most important relic “The Staff of Jesus” had survived. Naturally it was deemed to be a miracle. Contemporary accounts claimed “by a miracle the Staff of Jesus, though the chest in which it was kept and other relics therein were destroyed, was found uninjured lying above the stones.”
In the medieval world where people fervently believed in the supernatural this was not challenged – it was surely just the Lord had protected his own, wasnt it?
Well not quite…
A letter to king Edward IV the following year might indicate a slightly less pious explanation for the survival of the relic. In 1462 the prior of the Holy Trinity Dublin, wrote to Edward bemoaning the fact that his lands were heavily impacted by war with Gaelic Irish rebels and he was strapped for cash. He also mentioned that two windows that had been damaged and he could not afford to repair them. The industrious prior had a solution. If he could get more pilgrims, he could get more donations so he asked the King to grant an 8 day amnesty to anyone including rebels if they went on pilgrimage to Christchurch. During this pilgrimmage they could go unmolested for previous crimes. Pilgrims were a highly lucrative business for medieval churches but it was a highly competitive and crowded market. Pilgrims had many places to go, so having relics and ones that were associated with miracles were crucial. (Incidentally when they claimed they had “the Staff of Jesus” – they meant the actual staff held by Jesus Christ and not some replica.)
This lucrative trade might just explain the miraculous survival of “The Staff of Jesus” the year before. Given everything else was destoryed its highly implausable the staff survived to conveniently lie on top of the rubble. Realistically the prior, who knew if he had no relic he had no pilgrims and therefore he had no money, replaced the destroyed staff with a new one. Once replaced he now not only had his relic back but he now had a miraculous one which was pretty good for business!
Was it a miracle or just materialistic Prior? Do you have any opinions? Let me know @irishhistory on twitter or irishhistorypodcast on facebook.Have you checked out my podcasts on Irish history? Subscribe in iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/ie/podcast/irish-history-podcast/id363368392
Lawlor, H.J. A Calendar of the Liber Niger and Liber Albus of Christchurch, P.R.A.I. Vol. 27, 1908/1909
A Gwynn Some unpublished texts from the Black Book of christchurch, Analecta Hibernia, no. 16 (Mar 1946)