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THE CLOISTER (3)
|The Crossing Tower (43)
The late medieval tower over the crossing is an unusual feature on an Augustinian church. To support it the piers of the original openings on three sides of the crossing were replaced by thick walls with narrower Gothic-arched openings. The south side of the tower was supported by the built-up opening into the south transept. Though this work may have been contemporary with re-building of the other openings, the treatment is so different that this seems unlikely. Whenever it was done, it has preserved for us today the fine moulded sandstone arch of the original thirteenth century opening. The thin wall separating nave and crossing may be original since a stone bench is built against the west and south sides of the crossing.
The tower is similar to the other fifteenth century towers but with only two storeys over the crossing. Today the east and parts of the north and south walls have collapsed and the south wall is supported by two relatively modern buttresses. Little of the roof-top parapet survives.
The room over the crossing has broad shallow recesses at either end of the east wall, both extending above the next floor, each with a square-headed window. A square-headed window at the centre of the east wall opens into the roof space of the presbytery. The north wall has an arrow slit at its eastern end, beside a central fireplace with a projecting hood. A single door jamb is preserved where the modern buttress meets the ruined end of the south wall. The room was quite comfortable and was probably used by the Sacristan who, with responsibility for the church, may have slept there as watchman. A window alongside the crossing arch to the presbytery indicates the presence of a passage within the south wall below this room.
The upper room was lit by an ogee-headed window facing south, by a broad opening beneath the presbytery roof to the east and by a window facing north (of which only one side of the embrasure has survived the tower's partial collapse). Otherwise the room is featureless. It probably replaced the function of Belfry Tower and was perhaps reached by ladder when necessary.
Means of access to and between the upper floors of the tower is not apparent. The doorway into the lower room may have been the entrance from a mural staircase which climbed around the southwest angle of the tower from the nave opening. A high platform built into the northeast corner of the nave preserves two steps which may have been part of a staircase up into the tower.
The Nave (45) and North Aisle (46)
The nave measures 24m, enlarged from an original 16m (Figure 8). The foundation for the original west end was excavated in 1972. The south wall had two entrances from the northwest and northeast cloister (the latter blocked now by a thin wall . The western doorway originally had a wide and ornately moulded frame, similar to that opposite in the claustral south range. A narrower and much plainer doorway was built into it at a later date.
The sills of single lancets survive midway along the south wall and at the south end of the west wall. The lancet in the south wall must have been partially obstructed by the cloister roof after the early fourteenth century. Originally there would have been three separate tall lancets in the west wall, the middle one probably taller than the two on either side (as in Figure 4). Since one lancet survives it is reasonable to assume that the west end was not much altered during the later middle ages. A blocked doorway with a segmental arch extending above the line of the windows must be a late insertion. Yet, this doorway, must occupy the position of an earlier and presumably smaller door for the parishioners of Kells to use.
The north wall of the nave is blank at the west end where it also forms part of Belfry Tower. A doorway immediately east of the tower communicates with the north aisle. The lower part of three square piers is all that remains of a four bay arcade along the rest of this side. The nave arcade was probably comparable with the fully preserved arcade of the north transept. The substantial low walls between the piers of the arcade would have been obscured by pews or choir stalls during the middle ages. Nothing of the north aisle beyond the arcade survives except the foundations of either end.
Original wall plaster was discovered during excavation of the nave in 1972, along with stone-lined tombs beneath the inner end. A few fragments of painted medieval window glass together with many fragments of floor tiles were also found in the rubble covering the floor. The latter included tiles with patterns of animals, birds, rosettes, fleur-de-lys, lions rampant and geometric designs.
The North Transept (47) and aisles (48)
The original north transept was a little larger but otherwise similar
to the south transept. It extended east of the crossing as a somewhat deeper side chapel (Figure 8). In the fourteenth
century it was lengthened, a shallow half-height buttress supporting the extended transept externally at the northeast
The Lady Chapel (50)
The Lady Chapel is situated between the north transept and the presbytery
(Figure 8). It was extended from the early side chapel of the north transept and retains its
original width. It is 10m long, preserving the end foundation of the earlier chapel several metres into it,9 and
it is open to the north transept through a broad barely-pointed arch. Only a couple of metres of the Lady Chapel's
east and north walls are preserved. The east wall had a slightly off-centre 2.8m wide window of which the sill
remains. The plinth beneath the window was presumably the mortared base for an altar. Small square floor tiles
in plain yellow, black and green were still set in their original mortar in 1973.
Belfry Tower (52)
Only the lower walls of Belfry Tower stand today, but a nineteenth century drawing shows the northeast angle of the tower still standing.1 It was at least as lofty as the later towers and was plain-walled (quite unlike its depiction in Figure 4, which owes more to the contemporary St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin!). The tower was entered from the north aisle or from the northeast Precinct before the aisle was added in the fifteenth century. There are centrally situated arrow slits in what remains of the outward-facing north and west walls. A vault was discovered collapsed and buried in the tower during the excavations of 1974.
(c) Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler