Priory gives up medieval secrets

Fr Chris O'Brien, Servite Priory Benburb  INTT0812-145JS
Fr Chris O'Brien, Servite Priory Benburb INTT0812-145JS

Fans of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code should take note: a local priory is about to reveal its 500 year-old secrets.

A Lottery windfall of almost £750,000 will help preserve the extraordinary collection of historic documents and forgotten rare books which had been gathering dust in the cellars of Benburb priory.

The library of 20,000 books, archives and artefacts, collected over centuries, will now be conserved and opened to the public in an interactive library, museum and coffee shop in the Victorian Stables at the priory, which will be restored to house the new facilities.

The collection had been unearthed by former head of the priory, Father Chris O’Brien, who wanted to preserve the collection for future generations.

A number of the rare books were once housed in Italian abbeys but were moved when a wave of anti-clericalism swept through the country after reunification in the latter half of the 19th Century.

They include a secret archive of the medieval history of the order, as well as some of the earliest and most lavishly illustrated books of medieval Christianity, and an extensive collection of books on Irish history and centuries-old artefacts.

The volumes also detail local history from pre-Plantation times up to the present day.

The books and artefacts are currently spread over five disjointed sites within the grounds of the priory.

Benburb Prior Fr Gabriel Bannon, said: “This is a timely and very welcome boost to the priory. It will restore and make accessible the wonderful book collections and artefacts to people of all ages as well as restoring the Stables area and providing up to date meeting facilities for various community groups that are dependent on the priory.”