The Inscribed Slates of Smarmore Church

18 Sep

Inscribed Slate

Although there were many interesting artifacts at the National Museum of Ireland, one particular object caught my attention; this was an inscribed slate on the upper level of the museum. Judging by the jagged and uneven corners, this object was clearly a fragment of a bigger slab of rock. Unfortunately, I could not comprehend the text; however, what attracted me was the way the words were written. The text had a very “Lord of the Rings” appeal to it, characteristic of medieval calligraphy. After reading the caption under the artifact, I was surprised to learn that this inscribed slate was actually written in English. It seemed strange that it was in this language due to the fact that I could not decipher a single word.

Even though there were numerous inscribed slates on the upper level of the museum, there were many outstanding features of this particular artifact compared to the other inscribed slates. As I mentioned before, this particular slate was written in English while the majority of the others were written in Latin. However, the caption stated that although the text was in English, the handwriting was “characteristically Irish” which most likely meant that it was written in typical Irish script. This may be one of the reasons why I could not interpret the words. In addition to the language used, this artifact was interesting in that it contained an old Irish remedy. The recipe called for “weed plantain and egg yolks.” Although the caption did not go into any great detail of what the remedy was supposed to treat, after doing some research online, I came to the conclusion that it could have been a topical treatment. According to irishapothecary.com, plantains have been used to treat inflammation of the skin due to its astringent properties. Egg yolks on the other hand are rich in vitamins a, d, and e which may have been combined with the plantain as a nourishing factor.

This collection of inscribed slates came from the late 15th century and were discovered in the ruins of Smarmore Church in the county of Louth. Although present day churches are not known for their medicinal practices, Smarmore Church is one of the many examples of parishes that served a more medical role in its community. There were approximately forty-nine inscribed slates that were discovered in the site of Smarmore Church (www.jstor.org). I believe that the vast number of written documents found in Smarmore really exemplify the power and importance of monasteries during that time period. Clearly during Medieval Ireland, farmers, herders, etc…looked to the church for not only spiritual guidance but support in all areas of life as well.

By: Claire Jiang

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