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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

It will help to explain the further history of St. Patrick in Armagh if we here give a brief sketch of the principal ecclesiastical foundations on the Sacred Hill. The learned Bishop Reeves is here our safest guide.

I.—The oldest church of Armagh was certainly that called Na Ferta in the Tripartite, and Fertæ Martyrum in the book of Armagh. In our opinion the expression does not mean here either the ‘graves’ or the ‘miracles’; but it means the ‘relics’ of the martyrs which St. Patrick had obtained from Rome to be used as the law and custom of the time required in the consecration of his churches. These relics were kept in the first church which Patrick founded in the lower ground at the foot of the hill, and hence the church itself came to be called Fertæ Martyrum, or simply Na Ferta, that is, the Church of the Relics. As Patrick remained there ‘a long time’ at the church in ‘the lower ground,’ it must have been built some years before the Great Church on the Hill. Reeves thinks that it was situated in the place now known as Scotch Street.

II.—The great Stone Church on the hill called Damhliac, was, probably, a much later erection. We have no evidence to show that it was originally built of stone; but it is highly probable, for Patrick wished to make it his primatial church, and, therefore, would seek to build it of the most enduring materials. Then the name itself seems to imply that from the very beginning it was a great stone church. There is no doubt that it occupied the site of the present Protestant cathedral church of Armagh.

III.—Near it on the north was built the church called Saball, or the Barn, a much smaller church intended for the daily use of the monastic family. It got its name either from the original Saball, near Downpatrick, which ran north and south, or from its being intended to be a reproduction and memorial of that church, which was always especially dear to St. Patrick. It is called Ecclesia Sinistralis in the Book of Armagh, for, looking to the sacred east, the left hand is to the north, and the right to the south; hence came the name of the church which was near the northern transept of the cathedral, or, perhaps, occupied its site.

At a later period, during the Danish wars, a Round Tower or Cloictech was built on the Sacred Hill, and, if it occupied the usual position, it would be some thirty or forty feet from the north-west angle of the Great Stone Church. But there was no tower there in the time of St. Patrick, nor long after.

IV.—There was also a Damhliac Toga, or Stone Church of the Elections. This building served the purpose of a chapter house, and was, no doubt, of much later date than the Great Stone Church. Its site cannot now be accurately determined. There were many other buildings also on the Sacred Hill; as, for instance, a sacristy (airegal) adjoining the Great Church, and the Great House of the Abbot, or Archbishop’s Palace; there was a Scriptorium called in Irish the Tech Screaptra, for copying and preserving the manuscript books; there was, of course, a kitchen—in Irish, Cuicin—with its refectory adjoining; and there was a Prison (Carcar) for delinquent or refractory persons, whether clerical or lay. Then there was a Relec or Cemetery on the south of the Great Church, which was also called the Grave-yard of the Kings, so many persons of royal blood were interred within it, of whom the most celebrated—Brian Boru—was interred there after the battle of Clontarf. Reference is also made in the Annals to the Culdee’s House, to the Hospice, or Fort of the Guests, and to the Fidh-nemedh, or Sacred Grove, which is mentioned in the Tripartite

It is highly probable that all these buildings occupied the level area of the hill, and were surrounded by a strong rampart of earth after the fashion of the Irish raths, and this enclosed space itself is called a rath in the Tripartite. The entrance was by a strong gate, to which reference is made in the Annals. Reeves thinks it was on the eastern side, so that the sacred Hill was approached from the present Market-street by a rather steep ascent, at the top of which stood a cross just outside the gate of the rath, to mark the termon or limit of the consecrated enclosure.

In later times, as Armagh grew larger, when monks and scholars flocked to Patrick’s sacred City from all quarters, a second earthen rampart was raised round the hill at its base, just as the second rampart surrounded the Navan Fort enclosing a large space for soldiers and cattle and horses. This wide area was afterwards divided into trians or wards where the different ‘nations’ had their quarters—Saxons and Gaels—whose names are still preserved in Scotch street, English street, and Irish street.






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