The Architectural Setting of the Mass in Early-medieval Ireland
Tomás Ó Carragáin
Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 53 (2009)
Surviving churches and documents are analysed for what they may reveal about the architectural context of the mass in early-medieval Ireland. This shows that there is no evidence to support the widely held view that the congregation stood outside. Instead, the variable but relatively small size of these churches expresses the fact that they served smaller and more diverse communities than their high-medieval successors. The altars in large episcopal and/or monastic churches seem positioned further west than those in relatively small, pastoral churches. In part, this was probably to facilitate relatively complex eucharistic liturgies. Externally defined chancels appear for the first time in the late 11th century AD inresponse to an increased emphasis on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Significantly, they occur at a handful of important sites whose clerics and patrons were in direct contact with Lanfranc of Canterbury, a key exponent of this doctrine.