Height: 30.000 cm (including
Width: 24.000 cm
St Cuileáin's bell shrine
Irish, 7th or 8th (iron bell) and early 12th
From Glankeen, County Tipperary, Ireland
A powerful lie detector
This magnificent bell-shrine is said to have been recovered from a tree at Kilcuilawn, and has survived rough treatment. The ancient iron hand bell inside was first used to call members of a monastic community to prayer. It comes from the ancient monastery of Glankeen founded by St Cuileáin in the seventh century. St Cuileáin was a powerful figure, the brother of Cormac, king-bishop of the rocky stronghold of Cashel nearby. It was venerated and later enshrined as a relic associated with him.
The iron bell is now
incomplete. The elaborate outer brass case was added in the twelfth
century. The case was
The early medieval custom of enshrining the belongings of the founders of churches and monasteries came to a second peak in Ireland under royal patronage in the twelfth century. As well as bells, items including staffs (such as the 'Kells crozier'), holy books, clothing, bones and teeth were cherished by later generations. Up to the nineteenth century the hereditary keepers of this bell, the Béarnan Cuileáin, used its power to detect false oaths; liars risked their heads being reversed.
F. Henry, Irish art in the Romanesque pe (London, Methuen, 1970)
P. Harbison, The golden age of Irish art (London, Thames and Hudson, 1999)
R. Ó Floinn, Irish shrines and reliquaries (National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, 1994)
E. Roesdahl and D.M. Wilson (eds), From Viking to Crusader: Scand, Nordic Council of Ministers, 22nd Council of Europe Exhibition (Sweden, 1992)