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The Miosach
A national treasure from Clonmany


History of the Miosach
Front View of the Miosach
End View of the Miosach
Back View of the Miosach

There has been some doubt as to the meaning of the name Miosach. O'Curry, connected it with mios, a month, and supposed that the object enshrined was a calendar. The word is now understood to be derived from mias, a dish, which has also a now obsolete meaning, 'Altar', mensa domini, the Lord's table. This derivation gives a more plausible sense of 'altar ornament', and it was as an ornament that the Miosach was regarded.

Sir William Betham describes the case of the Miosach as being 10 inches long, by 9 inches broad, and 3 inches thick. From each side is a kind of staple on which is a ring with a swivel attached to a brass chain about 3 feet long which he supposed may have been used to suspend the box at the altar, or around the neck of the person who should carry the reliquary in time of battle, as was intended when bequeathed by St Cairnech.

The sides of the case consist of brass plates, and have been inlaid with silver and enamelled after the manner of the Cathach. The bottom is of brass, cut into crosses exactly similar to the Cathach in pattern. A vacancy was left on one side for the insertion of the MS. The wooden case, of which the outer plates are but covers, was cut from a solid piece of yew, hollowed out to make a case. The open side has been filled up with a piece of oak, the whole being closed with brass plate similar to that covering the other side.

Betham describes the ornaments adorning the top of the Miosach. The twelve figures, which have been mistaken for the twelve apostles, are on four plates of silver, each containing three figures, and are repetitions of each other. In the centre of each of the four groups is a standing figure of a Bishop, or priest, bearded and tonsured, with head uncovered, holding in his right hand a crozier, with his left hand raised in benediction. On the breast of this central figure is a cross, extending over the whole front of the vestment , of which it forms a part, with the collar that stands up about the neck on each side, the robe beneath hangs down in folds over the gown in front. The head or the crook of the crozier appears as if ornamented and set with precious stones. on the right is that of a female in a flowing robe treading on a dragon. On the breast of the female figure is a cross surrounded by a circle, below which is a figure of an ornamented book supported by her left hand. In her right hand she holds a staff on the top of which is a cross.

The figure on the left is that of a mitred abbot, Betham says: 'a priest in a sitting posture with a cap on his head shaped like a mitre' .The figure has a cross on the breast of the same form as thaton the vestment of the central figure, he holds a staff in his right hand, surmounted by a cross, with his left hand raised in benediction in a similar manner to the central figure. His legs from his knees appear bare and support the folds of his garments. Behind him on each side of his head appear two faces.

Information compiled by Martina O'Donnell
Thanks to the Mc Glinchey Summer School for allowing us to reproduce the Miosach material which was on display in their exhibition centre during this year's Summer School (2000)

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