Saint Laserian`s Cathedral is considered one of the jewels of late medieval architecture in Ireland. The cathedral is housed in a medieval monastery in the picturesque village of Old Leighlin, County Carlow, approximately 12 km south of Carlow town.
The cathedral is one of Ireland’s most important, yet understated, ecclesiastical sites. It is one of the most important religious places in Ireland, it was here a synod was held which set the date of Easter for the entire Irish Christian world.
The Cathedral Church of St Laserian is one of Ireland’s smallest cathedrals. It is also the oldest working building in County Carlow today.
Old Leighlin Monastery was founded by Saint Gobban in the early 7th century. His successor, Saint Laserian, played a decisive role in establishing Rome’s observance of the date of Easter for the Irish Church. In AD 630 a synod was held at Saint Laserian’s Cathedral to fix the timing of the celebration of Easter. The Church wanted to introduce uniformity between the Celtic and Roman dates. The synod decided for the Roman system and the voice of St. Laseriana had a significant influence on this decision. This decision was ratified at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The date of Easter was then adopted for all Irish Christians on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring, setting the date of the vernal equinox on March 21. At that time, the monastery had a population of 1,500 monks, was one of the leading religious houses in the Province of Leinster, and Saint Laserian became the first Bishop of Old Leighlin. Saint Laserian spent fourteen years in Rome, where he was ordained a priest by Pope Gregory the Great. In Rome, he was consecrated bishop for the second time by Pope Honorius I, and on his return to Old Leighlin he reigned in the monastery until 639, and when he died on April 18, he was buried in his church. The anniversary of his death is still celebrated, solemn masses and pilgrimages to the holy well are held every year. I would like to tell you about this place of pilgrimage, called Tobar Molaise, in the next, separate post.
Saint Laserian’s Cathedral has a fascinating and often violent history, it has survived the Viking raids, witnessed turbulent religious events, including religious murders, and remains a place with many secrets to this day.
Old Leighlin, now a peaceful and quiet village, was plundered multiple times and even completely destroyed by a fire in 1060. The original monastery buildings were probably made of wood and were destroyed by fire. The current structure was built in the 12th century and contains architecture from every century since then. It consists of a straight nave 25 meters long, a massive central tower 18 meters high with an intricately carved vault that was added in the 15th century, and a choir rebuilt in the mid-16th century. The only window in the nave is above the west door. The elegant entrance gate to St.Laserian’s Cathedral was built in the early 18th century.
After the Reformation, the Cathedral was restored and expanded by the Bishop of Saunders at the end of the 16th century. Archaeological research in 2001-2002 showed that there were a total of 44 buildings from the 5th to 15th centuries, so the site was always of great importance. Its 13th century nave and chancel as well as the 15th century tower and chapel remain largely unchanged. Today, the development and renovation of the Department continues. The chapel is undergoing a thorough renovation, there is to be an information point for tourists, a shop, a cafe and a toilet block. This will allow the building to be opened more widely for cultural, educational and diocesan use.
One of the Cathedral’s most distinctive visual aspects is the remarkable East Window installed as a monument by the Vigors family. The window contains a stained glass window consisting of seventeen different pieces of glass depicting Irish saints, and is one of the best examples of work by Catherine O’Brien [1881-1963], who was an icon in “An Tur Gloine” (The Tower of Glass).
St Laserians Cathedralis a religious place, underestimated and not fully discovered for all its secrets, which is definitely worth visiting. In my opinion it is another of Must visit place in County Carlow.
Location of Saint Laserian`s Cathedral:
Below my photos taken in July 2021, at evening.