Discoveries at a Templar abbey in Ireland

Ireland, Mourne Abbey
Mourne Abbey in County Cork, Ireland, has been the focus of an archaeological excavation to discover more about the history of this medieval religious center.

The abbey was built around 1199 by the Knights Templar. After the rulers of Europe turned on the Templars and destroyed the order in 1307, resulting in 700 years of conspiracy theories, the abbey was handed over to the Knights Hospitaller. This knightly order got its name because its original purpose was to care for sick pilgrims in Jerusalem after the First Crusade, but soon they acquired more land and more power to become one of the leading forces in the Holy Land and Europe. They owned some of the toughest castles in the world.

Their power waned after the Muslims reconquered the Holy Land but the order still exists today. The abbey was abandoned when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries as part of his break from Rome in 1541. It has since fallen into picturesque ruin.

Now a team of archaeologists has excavated the site and discovered remains from the Hospitaller’s stay in the abbey. The team uncovered the foundations of a 13th century preceptory, the local headquarters for the knights. Very few remains of the Knights Hospitaller have ever been found in Ireland. The archaeologists discovered decorated floor tiles, the tomb of a 16th century knight, and several artifacts.

The abbey is open to the public and there’s a medieval castle and town an easy walk away. For more images of this historic abbey, click here.

[Photo courtesy John Armagh]

Roman village discovered in London suburb

Roman London Archaeology
Archaeologists working in the west London suburb of Brentford have discovered a Roman village.

The 2,000 year-old village was along a road leading out of London (called Londinium back then) to Silchester, another Roman settlement. Archaeologists found several houses, a stretch of the original road, plus numerous burials and artifacts. The site is located on the grounds of Syon House, the stately home of the Duke of Northumberland.

This isn’t the first find on the Duke’s property. For the past six years an archaeology team has been excavating a medieval abbey there.

The excavation that found the Roman site was done to clear the way for a new Waldorf Astoria hotel. Some of the artifacts will be on display at the hotel once it opens later this year.

Despite being a massive city that’s been built, burned, rebuilt, bombed, and rebuilt again, London has managed to retain some remnants of its Roman past. A mithraeum, a temple dedicated to the god Mithras, is right downtown at the corner of Queen St. and Queen Victoria St., as you can see in the above picture. There are stretches of Roman wall nearby and an excellent display of artifacts in the Museum of London.

Strangely, the announcement of this discovery came at the same time as an announcement by Egyptologists of a discovery of a sphinx-lined road under an apartment complex in Luxor, Egypt. Makes you wonder what’s underneath your basement.

Bench 2.0: the strangest seat in Bury St. Edmunds

In 2001, sleepy Bury St. Edmunds, England received an interesting gift, ultimately from Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. In the Abbey Garden, the town’s centerpiece, is what the locals claim to be the world’s first internet-enabled bench. Sponsored by MSN.co.uk, the seat contains jacks for internet cables and is said to provide direct access to the web. Unfortunately, the development has been rendered irrelevant already, thanks to the ubiquity of wireless internet access in Europe and around the world. Since I no longer travel with an arm’s length of Category 5 cable, I don’t know if the access from the bench works … though tour guide Anthony Mitchell referred to its functionality in the present tense.

Today, two cultures coexist comfortably in the Abbey Garden. The latest generation bench sits amid ruins from more than half a millennium ago. I guess there are worst settings for checking your Twitter feed!

Disclosure: Visit Britain shelled out some cash for this experience, and British Airways supplied the flights. I do wonder, though, if they would have liked me to write about anything else from the four hours I spent in St. Edmundsbury. We spent about five minutes at the bench, after all.