Excavations St Mary’s church, Kilkenny 2015-17

A team of archaeologists led by Cóilín Ó Drisceoil of Kilkenny Archaeology excavated at St. Mary’s in advance of a new museum being constructed. The work was carried out on behalf of Kilkenny County Council and Duggan Brothers construction.

The church, built by William and Isabella Marshal in the early 1200s, was the chief burial place for Kilkenny’s citizens for a period of around 700 years and it is famous for its collection of medieval and early modern funerary monuments. Inside the church the excavations are revealing startling and internationally significant new discoveries on a daily basis – a suite of previously unknown finely carved stone burial monuments, private family chapels, burial vaults with their coffins largely intact and a large collection of artefacts – all preserved intact underneath a clay floor that was raised above them in the eighteenth century.


Rothe Chapel of Michael the Archangel
The Rothe family wills refer to the north transept (the former monuments room) of St. Mary’s as their private chapel and final resting place, which they dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Excavations have revealed a series of new perfectly-intact chest-tombs and graveslabs with exquisite carvings and a magnificent double-effigy from around the year 1300. Beneath the floor of the chapel are burial vaults within which are Rothe coffins in a good state of preservation. Curious discoveries within the chapel were Roman coins from the second century AD and two guns that had been hidden beside one of the tombs.

Burial Vaults
The interior of the church is a honeycomb of burial vaults, many of which appear to be connected with other great Kilkenny merchant families: the Archers in the south transept, the Shees and Knaresboroughs in the chancel. Some of the larger burial vaults contain the remains of many individuals, some vaults have only a small number of coffins. Their coffins were made from oak and pine and finely executed with studwork and velvet.

Medieval Wall Painting
In the nave arcade a rare example of a medieval, probably 13th-14th century, wall painting has been discovered and conserved.

The Bell Tower
A large bell tower stood between 1343 and 1819 at the north-west end of the medieval church. This was where Kilkenny Corporation met regularly during the medieval period. Its foundations and some of its floor was revealed and recorded by the archaeologists.