By Harry Warren
The Liberties is probably one of the more varied historic areas of Dublin city and St Audoen’s Church and park is one of its highlights. Positioned on High Street, one of Dublin’s oldest streets, the church is the city’s oldest medieval church and continues as a place of worship today.
The church was named after St Ouen (or Audoen), a seventh-century saint from Rouen (Normandy), and was dedicated to him by the Anglo-Normans who arrived in Dublin in 1172. The site of the church was previously home to a seventh-century church dedicated to St Colmcille.
During the 14th century and the next hundred years, the church was expanded multiple times as people with wealth and power made charitable donations, bought indulgences, and had their own personal altars built in the hope of a safe journey through the afterlife.
Additional altars were added in the church by various merchant guilds of Dublin, butchers, smiths, bakers, bricklayers and clothmakers. The altars were in constant use with daily masses offered, financed by the guilds and wealthier parishioners.
Sir Roland FitzEustace, Baron Portlester, served as Lord Chancellor and Treasurer of Ireland, he was a generous benefactor of St Audoen’s. In 1455, he added the Portlester Chapel, the ‘Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ at the east end of St. Audoen’s Church, it was then the wealthiest parish in Dublin.
FitzEustace built the new chapel next to the nave, in thanksgiving for surviving a shipwreck. Inside the tower there is a fine fifteenth century memorial displaying life sized effigies of FitzEustace depicted as a knight, alongside his wife, Margaret.
If you visit take note of the stylised sculpture at her feet, it is actually a small dog. I would like to think she had a cherished pet, though there is the possibility that the dog may represent a symbol of fidelity.
Over the centuries the church fell into disuse and disrepair. The tower itself was badly damaged in 1597 when an accidental but massive gunpowder explosion happened on the nearby Liffey quays, killing 126 people and destroying between twenty and forty houses all around it.
By the 17th century the number of Protestant parishioners had seriously declined and the remaining few were unable or unwilling to fund the churches restoration. In 1671, Church of Ireland Primate, Michael Boyle, ordered the church to be closed but it was still occasionally used over the next 100 years.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own