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Leaves for St Patrick’s Day from the ‘Garden of the Soul’

Pilgrims crossing to Station Island on Lough Derg, by W. F. Wakeman. From ‘St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg’ by Rev. D. Canon O’Connor. Dublin, 1895. Shelfmark: 29.f.30

At our incunabula workshop last November we examined a striking two-leaf account in German of St Patrick’s Purgatory (shelfmark: Press B.6.3). As a follow-up to the workshop, and with St Patrick’s Day in mind, we have taken a closer look at this intriguing fragment which relates to what has remained one of the most well-known pilgrimages in Ireland, the pilgrimage to Lough Derg in Donegal.1

The earliest known account to describe the ancient place of pilgrimage known as St Patrick’s Purgatory was written in Latin in 1184 by the English Cistercian monk H. of Saltrey.2 His Tractatus de Purgatorio sancti Patricii includes a chronicle of the pilgrimage of a young Irish knight, undertaken several decades earlier, as related to Saltrey by the Cistercian monk Gilbert of Louth. Saltrey’s treatise narrates the journey of the knight Owein in the ‘otherworld’, entered via a cave or pit which had been shown by the Lord to St Patrick. Owein, like St Patrick before him, experienced the torments of the damned and the joys of the blessed over the course of a day and night.3

Map of Station Island by Wenceslaus Hollar. From ‘De Hibernia & antiquitatibus ejus, disquisitions’ by James Ware. London, 1654. Shelfmark: II.m.33

The Tractatus does not reveal the cave’s location but the majority of subsequent writers assigned it to Station Island on Lough Derg. Medieval pilgrims followed a route from the adjacent Saint’s Island, with its Augustinian monastery, across to the smaller Station Island which contained some form of underground structure regarded as the ‘Caverna purgatory’. The site’s fame and popularity spread throughout Europe, particularly in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, through accounts in Latin and in other European languages. The map on the left shows Station Island as it was depicted in the mid-seventeenth century in James Ware’s De Hibernia & antiquitatibus ejus, disquisitions (London, 1654). Towards the end of the following century the cave was closed and a vigil in the church replaced it as the focal point.

The German text in our two leaves has been identified as partly a paraphrase and partly an indirect translation of the first chapter of Saltrey’s account.4 The leaves are a fragment from the incunabulum Seelenwurzgarten (‘Garden of the soul’), a work of moral instruction. They are from an illustrated edition printed by Konrad Dinckmut in Ulm, Germany, in 1483. We hold leaves Q4 and Q5 only, both without watermark, bound in what appears to be a nineteenth-century structure covered with a fragment of vellum manuscript, the latter containing part of a psalm set to music.

Our fragment can be traced back to the Franciscan ‘cella’ of the Order of Friars Minor in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, which was dissolved in 1832. The first leaf is inscribed with the dated mark of provenance ‘Franciscanorum Friburgi Brisgaui, 1648,’ while the front pastedown bears ‘Sale of imported books by Evans: Feb. 1832. [£]2.15[s.]’.

The National Library of Ireland holds a closely-related fragment, leaves Q6 and Q3 (presented in that order), bound up in exactly the same manner with a similar vellum manuscript covering. Their fragment came from part of the library of the Shirley family of Lough Fea, Co. Monaghan which was sold in 1924.

Intriguingly both fragments have had printed headings and quire signatures removed. If we compare the two leaves held in the Library here in Trinity to some online digital images from a copy of Seelenwurzgarten held in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, it becomes apparent that our leaves have undergone some carefully executed repairs.

Detail from first leaf recto

In the detail above from the recto of the first leaf, the symbol visible in the online copy before the first word ‘Von’ has been scraped away leaving a strike-through of printed ink from the verso of the leaf; part of the original provenance inscription has been obliterated (by the repair to remove the headings) and transcribed in a different hand; the accent above the letter ‘i’ in the word ‘sancti’ (cut away with the headings), has been applied in ink by hand.

‘St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg’ by Rev. D. Canon O’Connor. Dublin, 1895. Shelfmark: 29.f.30

The two fragments call for further research and for now we can only speculate why the leaves were originally extracted and later manipulated and bound up in such a manner. The Augustinians took charge of the pilgrimage to Lough Derg from 1130 until 1632 but were replaced by the Franciscans from 1632 until 1780 and, as mentioned, our fragment is connected to a ‘cella’ of the latter. Perhaps the leaves were used as some sort of guide for those undertaking the pilgrimage. Lough Derg remained popular throughout the nineteenth century with some 15,000 pilgrims visiting in 1826, doubling to 30,000 visitors in 1846 on the eve of the Great Famine.5 The attractive pictorial binding shown is from a late nineteenth-century account by Rev. D. Canon O’Connor.


We wish to thank Dr Falk Eisermann and his colleague Dr Oliver Duntze of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin for assisting with the identification of our fragment.

All images provided by DRIS and are ©The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin.


  1. For a concise history of the pilgrimage to Lough Derg, see Peter Harbison. Pilgrimage in Ireland: the monuments and the people. [Syracuse, New York]: Syracuse University Press, 1992, pp.55-70.
  2. For a study of the literature written about St Patrick’s Purgatory from the earliest accounts, see Michael J. Haren and Yolande de Pontfarcy, eds. The medieval pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Purgatory Lough Derg and the European tradition. Enniskillen: Clogher Historical Society, 1988.
  3. An English translation of Saltrey’s Tractatus de Purgatorio sancti Patricii  is provided in Saint Patrick’s Purgatory: a twelfth century tale of a journey to the other world translated by Jean-Michel Picard; with an introduction by Yolande de Pontfarcy. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1985.
  4. The Library’s fragment is described in detail in Gilbert Waterhouse. ‘An early German account of St Patrick’s Purgatory’, in The modern language review, v.18, no.3, July 1923, pp. 317-322.
  5. Historical chronology from; accessed 13 March 2018.
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