Update on Shrine of St Caillin & Bell of Fenagh

The Shrine of St Caillin & the Bell of Fenagh were damaged in the fire at St Mel’s  Cathedral in 2010.   Below is the information we received from  Kasia Bernaciak who is a conservator in the National Museum of Ireland appointed by the Cathedral to work on the Longford museum objects recovered after the fire


“St. Caillin’s book shrine is not being restored but is undergoing conservation treatment –there actually is a vital difference between the conservation and restoration.  In fact the Fenagh book shrine is virtually an object that is beyond restoration (understood as a process of bringing an object back to its previous state)  due to its fragility– the gilding has incinerated and the preserved metal in some parts is entirely mineralised through the corrosion processes – this means that there is no actual metal left, any attempt on repolishing and regilding the object would only end in causing more damage and irreversible loss of the original . Conservation on the other hand means stabilizing the object (so it won’t corrode any further), preserving the integrity of it. In the case of the book shrine my main goal was to remove the accreted fire deposits and corrosion crusts in the way that does not disturb the original surface of the book shrine preserved within the black layer of the tenorite. Tenorite is a copper corrosion product forming when the copper alloy is exposed to heat, it has preserved the surface detail of the shrine, if this would be removed we’d end up in having a reddish orange surface of bronze, devoid of much of the detail, pox marked by the pitting corrosion.

I hope this explains why the object is black, because people visiting me during the public conservation tours are often asking me why I have not removed “the layer of soot” from the reliquary. By the way the public tours to the Conservation Department are held on every last Wednesday of each month and can be booked through the museum’s website – you would be really welcome to come and see the St Mel’s objects.

I am sad to write that the Bell of Fenagh has not been recovered, the NMI’s team could only find the iron attachment on which it was suspended…(photos to follow)

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