St. Mary’s Abbey, founded in 1139, was once the wealthiest Cistercian Abbey in Ireland and, for a long time, was the seat of royal government and the repository for state records and treasures.
- It was in the Chapter House that “Silken” Thomas Fitzgerald started his unsuccessful rebellion in 1534
- The Abbey is mentioned in the “Wandering Rocks” chapter of Ulysses by James Joyce.
Mary's Abbey played a large role in the affairs of the state until its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1539.
The abbey was a rarity in medieval Europe; it had a large number of lay as well as religious brothers. Lay brothers worked the abbey’s farms and mills in return for food and shelter and, most importantly of all, guaranteed care in old age.
Today only the Chapter House and its adjoining Slype (a corridor that linked the cloisters to the outside) remain and contain a fascinating exhibition. The Chapter House (now about 2m below street level) is a vaulted chamber where the monks gathered each day.
- Mary's Abbey was built to the standard plan that all Cistercian houses followed.
- Capel Street gets its name from the Latin for chapel; Capella
- The Abbey also lends its name to Mary Street Little and Meeting House Lane
- Its proximity to the River Liffey provided a ready market for the produce of the abbey’s many farms, which encouraged markets to grow in this district.
- The original statue is in the Carmelite church in Whitefriar Street, where it was placed by Fr Spratt (1776-1861) in 1835 after he rescued it from use as a pig trough.