St. Patrick is one of the most beloved saints in Church history. He is renowned for having converted the pagan island of Ireland to the truths of Christ and His Church.
According to legend, each time St. Patrick established a new parish, he would present the new priest with a bell to use to call parishioners to prayer and during Mass. These bells were small, square-shaped, and made of iron.
Legend also says that St. Patrick had his own personal bell which he carried with him throughout his missions. St. Columba (521 – 597) discovered the bell in St. Patrick’s tomb and made sure to preserve it. He sent the bell to the O’Maelchallan family (now known as the Mulholland family) in Armagh, Ireland, to keep it safe. St. Patrick’s bell remained in this family’s safekeeping until the 1700s.
Around the year 1100, the King of Ireland called on the Mulholland family to make a reliquary for St. Patrick’s bell. So the Mulholland family had a beautiful “shrine” case made to enclose the bell. This shrine is a trapezoidal shape made of bronze with copper fluting and decorated with gold and silver embellishments. It is topped with a curved crest to cover the bell’s handle and has two small handles on either side so that it can be carried or hung.
The shrine is inscribed with several names associated with St. Patrick’s bell. The inscription includes the name of the craftsman who made the shrine and his sons; Domhnall Ua Lochlainn, the King of Ireland who requested the shrine; and Cathalan Mulholland, one of the members of the family who helped oversee the safekeeping of St. Patrick’s bell.
In the 18th century, Henry Mulholland was the last surviving member of the Mulholland family. He entrusted St. Patrick’s bell to one of his students, Adam McClean. After McClean’s death, his family sold the bell to a professor at Trinity College Dublin, who then sold it to the Royal Irish Academy for 625 pounds.
Today, St. Patrick’s bell is on display at the Treasury Gallery in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Visitors can come see one of St. Patrick’s most beloved objects as well as the beautiful shrine that encases this treasure.
Mike and Grace Aquilina wrote A History of the Church in 100 Objects to tell the story of our Church and its inspiring history through different artifacts and other Church treasures, including St. Patrick’s bell. The Aquilinas tell the story of the Early Church, the Middle Ages, and Catholicism’s role in the postmodern world through various fascinating objects. You can purchase your own copy of this fascinating book here.