The Jumping Church of Kildemock: Speculations on Catholics & Freemasons in 18th Century Co. Louth
The Jumping Church of Kildemock. Speculations on Catholics & Freemasons in 18th century Co. Louth Originally posted online on 4 September 2011 at rmchapple.blogspot.com (http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/jumping-church-of-kildemock.html)The other day I was reading a blog post on the Historic Graves site by Shane Lehaneabout the mysterious and miraculous movement of the graveyard at Loughane, Co.Cork. The local legend holds that the resident corpses so objected to the body of amurderous priest-hunter being laid to rest among them that they uprooted themselves(and took their gravestones with them) to an adjacent location at Matehy(pronounced maw-te-ha, but that’s another story). While it is an interesting story, Iremain to be convinced about all the facts of the case.Top: Interior of the west wall of Kildemock Church. Bottom: Exterior of the west wall ofKildemock Church.Around the same time I restarted a personal project, in hibernation over the summer, toshare selections of my slide collection on Facebook. For anyone not familiar with theproject, the short story is that I’ve been taking archaeological photographs since my firstexcavation (1989) and had amassed a collection of over 3,000 transparencies when Igave up on the format about 10 years ago. Most of them have never been seen by anyone
but me. While I’ve been given dire warnings that anything posted on Facebook becomesthe instant property of Mr. Zuckerberg (not true), my feeling was that it’s better thatSOMEONE sees them, rather than letting the moulder on my shelf. Right now thereare four albums available for public view, containing just under 800 photos.General view of Kildemock church and graveyard.As I was uploading the latest tranche, I was struck by a number of shots taken inKildemock, Co. Louth, and the parallel they provided to the Loughane/Matehy story.The images were taken one evening in 2001 when I was working on one of the NorthernMotorway excavations. The site is like many in rural Ireland in that it contains a (welltended) collection of gravestones old and new surrounding a ruinous church. The site isdedicated to St. Diomoc/Modiomoc, who is alleged to have been an early follower of St.Patrick and have hailed from the Dál gCais. Built into the walls of the church area bullaun stone and a piscina. The bullaun could be of any date, but the piscina isbroadly medieval – I’d say 15th to 16th century at a guess.
Top: Bullaun stone built into the wall of the church. Bottom: Piscina built into the wallof the church.What sets this little church apart from the ordinary is the legend associated with the site.The story goes that someone buried an apostate of the Catholic Church just inside thewall of the building (some of the stories claim that the man had been excommunicated)… and the church didn’t like it. The building so rejected the presence of this individualthat it shore off its own west wall and ‘jumped’ it back three feet so that the sinner layoutside the building. The other story is that there was a terrible storm in 1715 and thewall fell over. Although the latter seems to me to be the more likely story, there appearsto be great local adherence to the mythology. I am sure that there is a fertile field ofresearch in the exploration of the psychology that drives an individual to embrace asupernatural over the more rational, if mundane, explanation – though it is not myobjective to delve into that here. Indeed, the author of the piece used in the IrishIdentity web page goes to some length to elevate the supernatural explanation over theprosaic explanation that the wall just fell over, albeit in an (apparently) unlikely andunusual position.While I may take issue with the means by which the church ‘jumped’, the Irish Identitypage does include a detail that I was previously unaware of – the man had been a masonand had converted from Catholicism to Protestantism and had fallen to his death fromthe scaffolding at Stabannon church, then under construction. While the context givenhere is of the stone mason kind (or ‘operative mason’), I cannot help thinking that this isa muddled reference to the burial of a Freemason (or ‘speculative mason’) in the
graveyard. My reasoning is simple – there is the grave of a freemason just outside thewest wall of the church!The photograph below shows an 18th century gravestone with the quite typicalarrangement of an IHS monogram with a cross over the ‘H’. Below this are a pair ofwinged cherub heads, and while they look slightly surly, they are still typical of theperiod and Catholic gravestones in particular. What is less typical in this context is theclearly identifiable square-and-compass to the left of the IHS and what is probably aplumb, to the right. Both are Masonic symbols indicating that the individual buried herewas a Freemason and had attained the rank of, at least, Junior Warden (indicated by theplumb), if not Worshipful Master of the lodge (indicated by the square-and-compass).Gravestone for Morgan, died 1791 with Catholic and Masonic symbolism.While my research is hardly exhaustive, I am aware of no other gravestone where theemblems of Catholicism and Freemasonry are so clearly joined in harmony. The stone isdedicated to a Mr. Morgan who died in 1791. This may be 76 years after the fateful stormof 1715, but I wonder if there is not a kernel of truth wrapped up in all this mythology. Ido not claim to be definitive, but I think I may have spotted something that others havemissed.The first ban by the Papacy on Catholic membership of the Masonic Order waspromulgated in 1737. This ban was reiterated in later years in 1884 and 1917 andcontained provision of the automatic excommunication of any Catholic who became aFreemason (it should be pointed out that there has never been a ban on Catholicsbecoming Freemasons enacted by the Order itself). My suggestion is that when Mr.Morgan died in 1791 he may have been sufficiently proud of his Masonic and Catholicheritage to have the symbols of both carved on his gravestone … but perhaps otherpeople in the locality were less enthusiastic about his affiliations. To them, he wouldhave been automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church when he joined theMasonic fraternity, and would have had no place within the consecrated ground of thegraveyard. Perhaps, just perhaps, this story of someone allegedly undeserving of theburial rites of his church got intertwined with a story of the church wall being blowndown in a storm. The result could just be the tale we have today of the ‘Jumping Church
of Kildemock’. As I say, I make no claims to veracity; I am just proposing an alternatetheory. It may have some merit, but then again, it may not.As an aside, I might add that the Catholic Church no longer automaticallyexcommunicates their followers who elect to join a Masonic lodge. Since 1985 suchpeople are considered to be in a position of Grave Sin, and may not partake ofcommunion. However, the open welcome of the Masonic Order to allmonotheists, regardless of creed or confession, remains in place to this day.