The Bookshrine of Saint Molaise - The Soiscél Molaisse
The Soiscél Molaisse (the Bookshrine of St. Molaise, a 6th century saint who lived in the area) is an important National treasure, now in the keeping of the National Museum in Dublin.
The shrine itself consists of an oblong box made up of a series of plain sheets of bronze to which decorated openwork plates of gilded silver have been attached. One of the long sides is missing. The shrine measures 14.75 cm in length, 11.70 cm in width and 8.45 cm in thickness.
The first comprehensive account of the Soiscél Molaisse was published by Margaret Stokes (1871, ‘Observations on two Ancient Irish Works of Art’, Archaeologia, 43, 131-50). The shrine’s inscription was published in detail by Dr. G. Petrie in 1878 (Petrie, G., 1878, Christian Inscriptions in the Irish Language, Vol. II, Dublin). Petrie’s study of the names of those mentioned in the inscription enabled him to date the shrine to between the years 1001 and 1025 A.D. and this dating has been accepted by all subsequent writers.
It is a bronze box overlaid with delicate plates of silver, which are decorated with varieties of curious and beautiful devices and it exhibits on one side an inscription which fixes the date of its execution to the early part of the eleventh century. The manuscript which it formerly contained, believed to have been a copy of the Gospels written by the founder of Devenish, has disappeared, but has left to the shrine the popular name of the Sheskil, or Gospels, of Molash.
For many centuries its custody was hereditary in the family of O’Meehan, who were the herenaghs or church-tenants of St. Molash’s termon lands of the Ballagh, at the eastern extremity of Lough Melvin in the north of the County of Leitrim.
George Petrie stated in a lecture to the Royal Irish Academy in 1855 (text published in Saunders Newsletter, June 28th 1855) that the shrine first came to his attention c. 1835 when he read an account in a Sligo newspaper of a Petty Sessions case “in which one party objected to the swearing of the other upon the Gospels, [probably because it was a Protestant version
About the year 1843 (Stokes 1868. 276-7) Petrie had the opportunity to examine the shrine in Dublin through the good offices of Lord Dunraven who had procured it on loan from Mr. John Wynne of Hazelwood, Co. Sligo. The keeper of the shrine at that time was a tenant farmer of Wynne’s.
This tenant was probably the Mr. Charles Meehan of Latoon from whom it was secured by Rev. Smullen (incumbent of Ballagh Church) for the Royal Irish Academy at the cost of £45.