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St Erc’s Hermitage

St Erc’s Hermitage, pre-1910.
Photo Courtesy of the Lawrence collection through courtesy of the National Library of Ireland. The pointed door to the nave, no longer standing, can be seen on the left.

St. Erc, ordained Bishop by St.Patrick, has a feast day on the date of his death, at ninety years of age, the 2nd of November.

After being abbot of Slane and Cornwall in England for many years he retired to a small hermitage on the banks of the Boyne to pass his declining years.

After his death in 514 this wooden structure was inhabited and rebuilt many times by successive hermits.

The present stone ruins in Slane castle demesne is dated at the end of the fifteenth century.

In 1512 it was inhabited by two monks by the name of O’Brien. T.J. Westropp in 1901 wrote the following account;

The ornamental features all date from that period except for some primitive semi circular windowheads carved out of a single stone block. It is late medieval as it stands. The masonry is rough and poor. All except the tower are greatly decayed by the damp, ivy and unkept conditions. The steep slope is level with the top of the north wall. It comprises a low stoned roofed tower to which a nave to the west, a chancel to the east, and a domicile to the south have been added. The nave is 35 feet long and 17½ feet wide at the west end and 15¼ feet at the east end. It has a pointed door of gritstone at the west end of the south wall, which has flower and leaf ornamentation. The west gable is crowned by a lofty belfry with one arch hidden in a giant yew tree. The north wall has an ornamental shield bearing a Fess Chequy with a fantastic animal in chief , and a floral design below. It is likely not heraldic but merely decorative.

The tower formed the east end of the Nave. There’s a fine door into the space beneath with the moulding ending in foliage at the north end. The hood consists of florinated crosses alternating with roses and small human heads rest on the south moulding. The base block to the right is of limestone whereas all the dressings at Slane are of yellow gritstone. A semi circular headed tapering niche occupies each side of the door and in the right recess is a carved slab likely to be St. Catherine with her wheel. She is crowned. The tower is two storied with a pointed vault supporting the roof. It is 15¼ feet long and as old as the domicile but older than the present Nave and Chancel. The lower story to the tower has to the north east a little cell ( 4½ x 5½ feet) with a pointed vault, showing the wickerwork, once lit by an ancient looking round headed window slit; a square headed door communicates with the chancel and has a weatherboard above it. To the west is a spiral staircase of 14 steps and two useless ones beside the landing as if it was the original idea to continue it to the roof. It was lit by a round headed slit. The upper room rests on four corbels on each side. To the east of the garden is a small garderobe above the cell but not possible to enter as the floor was removed. The drain of this garderobe runs down the wall. There is an aumbry near the staircase door. A ladder is necessary to examine and go through the other door which leads to the roof. These stairs must be straight and not spiral. In the southern basement of the tower a low door and passage lead down into the domicile, while a straight flight of six steps leads to its upper floor and is lit by a squint window with a round head looking into the chancel. There are no fittings for timberwork in any door of the tower save that from the staircase into the upper room. There was a small room on top of the tower with a fireplace and chimney. The tower had a plain battlemented parapet with a watertable.The Chancel is 27¼ feet by 15 feet and has a large east window, two aumbries and two neat double lights in the south wall. These windows had iron frames with tongues ( one into each sill and four into each side ).

In the chancel is a large box tomb with the inscription on top;

This monument was erected by Randall, Lord Baron of Slane,
married first to Ellenor Barnewall who here is interred.
Daughter to Sir Richard Barnewall of Chrickestowne
Knight and baronet & after to the Lady Penelope Moore
daughter to Henery Moore Earle of Drogheda Anno 1667.

And another stone which was on the side of the tomb but which at present cannot be seem as it is lying under the top stone with the following inscription;

This is the coate of Henry Moore Earle of Drogheda (Arms)
And Dame Alice Spenser his wife whose daughter Penelope Moore
is second wife to Randall Lord Barron of Slane
The said Dame Alice Spencer daughter to William Lord Barron of Worme Layton
whose sonn being killed at Nuberry in his Matis service
was before by Charles the first his said matis created Earle of Sunderland.
The mother to the said Dame Alice was Penelope Wrioethesly
Daughter of Henry Earle of Southampton
whose brother Thomas Earle of Southampton sonn to the said Henry
was created Lord High Treasurer of England and died anno 1667.

Close to this monument in the centre of the floor near the tower a large upturned slab lies in a small passage leading into a small pointed vault smoothly plastered. The residence is bonded into the tower and projecting for some feet beyond it. It is two storied and plastered inside and out. The east wall had a fireplace on each floor and a window in the upper story. There was a garderobe in the south east corner which was lighted and ventilated by a small slit. The south wall has a fireplace and broken window in the lower floor, and a broken window in the upper floor. The wall has a window slit and door in the lower floor.

The other end and the top are blank. The measurements of this stone are twenty inches broad at the head, eighteen inches broad at the foot and sixty eight inches long. It is also eighteen inches high. Elizabeth Hickey suggests that this “Apostle’ Stone” was rescued from the tomb of John Bole Archbishop of Armagh at the old Abbey in Navan during demolition , the top of which is embedded in the wall in Slane castle yard.

This top contains a life size effigy of a bishop complete with mitre and robes. His right hand is gloved and wears a large Episcopal ring and is raised as in blessing. John Hunt dates this stone to the late fourteenth / early fifteenth century. It’s measurements are twenty inches broad at its widest and about seventy inches long, Just the size to fit as a top over the “Apostles’ Stone”.

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