The dark, battlemented tower of Jerpoint Abbey rises above a bend on the road south from Thomastown. This is one of the most atmospheric religious ruins in the country, revealing an intimate picture of monastic life.
The basic structure of Jerpoint is an excellent example of the austere architectural style promoted by the Christians, a rising force in Europe throughout the 12th Century. In these times, manual labour was expected of monks and was to be carried out in silence. A mystic, Augustinian approach to contemplation also meant a reviling of intellectual theological debate, and a distaste foe gold and other art works. Monks dressed in white, and early Cistercian abbeyshad neither facade nor sculpted entrances, relying inside on the play of light to lift the spirit heavenwards.
By the end of the 12th century, however, the love of material pleasure and beauty was starting to re-assert itself, and Jerpoint is famed today for its abundance of delicate sculpture. Bishop O’Dulany of Ossory, who died in 1202, may have been one of the founders and the figures on his and other tombs are known as ‘mourners’. Much of the interior decorative work is attributed to sculptor Rory O’Tunney, and dates from the first half of the 16th century. Figures in late-Gothic style are carved into the double columned arcades.
In 1540 the abbey was dissolved, and its lands presented to the earlsof Ormonde. Local people are still buried in the cemetary here, in touch of continuity with the past.