Sacred Light

Set in an idyllic landscape of verdant rolling hills along the banks of the River Suir, the ruins of Athassel Abbey stand as a romantic symbol of Ireland’s legendary past. Dedicated to St. Edmund, the abbey was founded in 1192 by William Fitz Aldem de Burgo, a Norman aristocrat, for the Augustinian Order. Athassel grew to become the largest medieval priory in Ireland and a force in local politics. Unfortunately, this led to friction with a local ruling family, the O’Briens, who put Athassel to the torch in the mid-fifteenth century. Among its surviving features are the chancel with its lancet windows, multiple carved elements, the remains of the cloister, and a bridge with its associated gatehouse.

For all of its splendor, and despite the fact that the abbey is recognized by the Irish government as a national monument and protected structure, Athassel continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate as a result of exposure to the elements, seasonal flooding, and cattle grazing around the monument. Being in desperate need of conservation and consolidation, Athassel was inscribed on WMF’s 2004 list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. Collectively, Britain’s ancient abbeys present one of the great conservation challenges of the coming century if these great works of piety are to be preserved for future generations.

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