E is for the Erne Shrines

In 1892 a pair of House-shaped Shrines were hooked by a fisherman in Lough Erne.

The larger House-shaped shrine from Lough Erne. Image from the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

In the spring of 1892 a fisherman fishing in a small bay on the western side of Lough Erne near Tully and about midway between Enniskillen and Belleek hooked a fish. The fish went to the bottom of the Lough and the fishing line became tangled in what at first appeared to be an old tree stump. But when he brought it to the surface it turned out to be a house-shaped reliquary shrine with a second smaller shrine inside it. When the Chairman of Enniskillen Town Commissioners, Thomas Plunkett, heard of the find he obtained it from the fisherman and it came to the National Museum of Ireland in 1901.

The find consisted of two house-shaped shrines of yew wood; the smaller example was contained inside the larger. The bigger example, at 177mm by 78mm and 160mm high is the largest shrine found in Ireland. The smaller is just 106mm by 32mm and 68mm high. Each shrine is a box with a hinged lid in the form of a hipped roof, covered by tinned bronze plates with riveted hinges. The larger example is decorated with circular disc medallions, hinge plate, binding plate and ridge pole. The shrines are dated to the eight to ninth centuries. The shrines were made to contain the remains of saints and were capable of being worn around the neck with straps so that they could be carried in procession.

Further Reading
Murphy, D. 1891-3. On a shrine lately found in Lough Erne, no belonging to Thomas Plunkett, Esq. T.C., Ennis-Killen. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 2, 290-94.

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