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A Trip Down Memory Lane

st audoeons park

I was on my way home from work the other day and decided to pay a visit to St. Audoen’s Church. I have always been eager to check it out considering I pass by it on a regular basis. I read somewhere that there is a lucky stone hidden inside, so I took a walk around the church grounds in the hope to find some luck, God knows we all need a little bit of that in these awful times we live in.

On the Cornmarket side there is still some of the old City Wall left, with the only City Gate still in its original place. This would have been one of the only ways to enter medieval Dublin then. But adorning the walls  these days were a few heroin addicts, trying to locate their veins, heating  up the foil, and I suppose finding their “roots” back into medieval Dublin.

Tourists might find it a bit intimidating, the idea of people sticking needles into them, it could be scary for someone who does not knows the game involved in getting your first hit on a Wednesday (payday for most addicts and unemployed persons in Ireland), but otherwise you would know that you are treading on holy ground.

The church-grounds are clean, well looked after and the graveyard has been converted into a green area. A visitors centre is now in place in the St. Anne’s Chapel and spans over two levels. Inside I am greeted by a lovely guide who amazes me with his quick synopsis on the history of this medieval parish church. The parish is still in use and has been for the last 800 years, many of its original features are still in place.

He tells me all about what I am about to discover and for absolutely free. The centre is filled with artefacts and exhibitions, both downstairs and upstairs. There are grave slabs inside the ancient stone building and underneath the floors of the church, dating back to before the church was built in 1181-1212.

As you enter there is a little bit of the original “cobblestone lane” that use to lead to the St. Audoen’s Arch; the lane was discovered after archaeologists excavated there in the 90’s. When you walk into the Chapel you are greeted by rows of pews, covered in old tapestries and cushions, it is noticeable from first glance that many men and women have worshipped, kneeled and prayed here throughout the centuries. At the very back of the church there is a bell tower – the staircase is locked from the public and only the bell ringers are allowed to enter there.

The bell tower has six bells still in use, three of these are the oldest  ones in Ireland. The bells were rang to let people know when a sermon was about to begin and also served to warn people against oncoming danger and remind them of curfew times. Also at the back of the church you can find the memorials erected for Margaret and Rowland FitzEustace, the first Baron of Portlester. He died on the 19th of December 1496. The FitzEustace couple are not buried on the grounds of St. Audoens’ , they are buried in New Abbey, Kilcullen.

The “Lucky Stone” is in one of the small alcove corners as you enter the rear of the church. This stone was originally a gravestone, dating back to the 9th century. It is clasped to the wall, a good thing, legends has it that it has a will of its own and that it once started rolling and moaning by itself when masons tried to break it up. It was stolen many times from the church, but it always finds its way back there.

Merchants believed that the stone was able to bring them good fortune in business, some of them would visit the stone in the morning before starting a day at work. It was put in its present place in 1860 and has not left the building since.

On the upper level, there is a very old mural of the Virgin Mary and Jesus being crucified, only pieces of it survived as the tapestry fell apart, but there is a sketch of it in an exhibition and a very old picture taken of what remained of it, sadly it is not hanging on the walls of St. Audoens anymore.

The barber’s surgeon tools are on display, which was used to drill into the skull of the patient for during brain operations. Then there is a candle maker, the church officials use to make their own candles for the church, candles were very important items to the church and still are to this day. The church was built in honour of saint Ouen who was a 7th century Bishop of Rouen and patron saint of Normandy. When the Anglo-Normans arrived in Dublin around 1172 they named the church after him – St. Audoen’s Church.

It was a delightful visit down memory lane and this is the positive side to the story of course. In the past there were concerns that the “junkies” and their needles strewn over the “graveyard” might cause tourism to dry out and that the church grounds were becoming unsafe for visitors,  but even Darkey Kelly caused people to wonder how safe the environment was. She of course was a madam who ran a brothel called the Maiden Tower just off Fishamble Street. Also known as the “Green Lady”, she became notorious (so it is believed) for killing many of her lovers and was hanged as a witch after claiming that one of the Hellfire Members, the local sheriff Luttrell had fathered a baby with her, he had the baby killed with a satanic ritual and the body of the baby disappeared before Darkey was hanged in St. Stephen’s Green. It is believed that she is now a ghost who wanders the 40 steps of St. Audoen’s, might she be looking for her baby? But in my honest opinion it looks cleaner than ever, I saw no ghosts of “Green Ladies”, just the one who were mildly turning green after a dose of  brown sugar. The gates are locked at 5pm, so there is no access for that kind of thing after dark. Let’s hope the Office of Public Works keep up the good work!

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