British Museum blog

London, a world city in 20 objects: bell And bell shrine of St Cuileáin

Bell and bell shrine of St CuileáinSue Brunning, British Museum

Storytelling has long been woven into the fabric of Irish culture. The ancient tradition of the seanchaí, or storyteller, is alive and well in modern Ireland, and amongst Irish diaspora communities across the world, and fittingly one of the British Museum’s most iconic Irish objects has myriad stories to tell.

Bell and bell shrine of St Cuileáin

St Cuileáin’s bell shrine

The history of the bell-shrine of St. Cuileáin, also known as the Glankeen bell-shrine or ‘Bearnan Cuileáin’, began in the AD 600s or 700s with the manufacture of a bell. Legend links it with St. Cuileáin himself, patron saint of Glankeen in County Tipperary and reputedly the founder of its monastery. The bell was made from iron and coated in bronze. Originally, a ‘clapper’ suspended inside would have struck the walls to ‘ring’ the bell when it was shaken. Such hand-bells were probably used to call monks to prayer in early Christian Ireland.

During the late 1000s the bell was enshrined within an elaborate cast bronze case, transforming it into a relic of St. Cuileáin. Not all parts of the case survive: a bronze sheet on one side of the bell is engraved with a cross marking the place where a fine crucifix was once attached. A ‘crest’ enriched with designs in enamel, niello, and silver and copper wire was fitted to the top. Human and animal faces peer out from each side. Interlacing ribbon-like creatures of Scandinavian style testify to a time when Irish art and culture was influenced by interactions with Vikings.

At some point in its history the bell-shrine ended up in a tree in Kilcuilawn, Glankeen. After its recovery, it took on an active and miraculous role in the community. Records from the seventeenth century onwards describe its use in oath-swearing and as a type of lie-detector test, capable of sending liars into convulsions or strangling them if hung about their necks. But to others it was more benign, said to bestow fortune and even healing powers. Such records show that the bell-shrine was still generating stories a millennium after it was made.

This was first published in the London Evening Standard on 10 January 2013.

St Cuileáin’s bell shrine is on display in Highlights from the world of Sutton Hoo, AD 300–1100

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Collection, London: a world city in 20 objects, ,

3 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. zankaj says:

    Reblogged this on Zankaj's Blog.

    Like

  2. Pallas Athene says:

    When are you going to return this treasure to the Irish people?

    Like

    • Thank you for your interest in the bell and bell-shrine. This object entered the collection in 1854, and has been on permanent display as a key part of the Museum’s early medieval collections for over 20 years, available to six million visitors a year, as well as about 12 million online. It has also been displayed as part of temporary exhibitions in the USA, Denmark, Germany, and France in recent times, and will occupy a prominent position in the re-displayed Early Medieval gallery at the Museum. The Museum exists to tell the story of human cultural achievement through a world collection housed physically at the British Museum and virtually online. In both locations, our visitors can see the bell and bell-shrine alongside works of art from other cultures and periods. In this way, it can help them not just to understand and appreciate the achievements of early medieval Ireland, but to see the links and influences between different peoples and times. The British Museum has not received a request to return the bell and bell-shrine to Ireland.

      Sue Brunning, British Museum

      Like

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 11,508 other followers

Categories

Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

Robert Burns was born #onthisday in 1759. Will you be addressing a haggis this #BurnsNight? Born #onthisday in AD 76: Roman emperor Hadrian. This marble bust was found near Tivoli, outside Rome
#history #sculpture Edouard Manet, sometimes called the first Modernist and last Old Master, was born #onthisday in 1832. 
This print, Les Courses ('The Races'), shows Manet's drawing at its most vigorous. The viewpoint is dramatic; the observer is placed in the centre of the racetrack awaiting the horses' imminent stampede. The railing slopes away at an unnerving angle. The lower right-hand corner dissolves into furious scribbling, with the lithographic crayon used on its side as well as its point.

Manet was a keen racegoer, often attending with his fellow artist Degas, whom he met while Degas was copying Velazquez' Infanta Maria Margarita in the @museelouvre 
#artist #Manet #history The exhibition #IndigenousAustralia will celebrate the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, exploring the remarkable story of how an ancient civilisation has endured and whose story is still unfolding today. This spectacular turtle-shell mask is from the Torres Strait Islands and is used in ceremonies. 
Tickets are now on sale for #IndigenousAustralia – our new major exhibition opening 23 April britishmuseum.org/indigenousaustralia We're delighted to announce a new special exhibition: #IndigenousAustralia. Opening 23 April, this will be the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia, drawing on remarkable objects to highlight 60,000 years of continuous culture
#exhibition This object will feature in our next major exhibition, to be announced tomorrow! Can you guess where it is from?
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,508 other followers

%d bloggers like this: