Tomb of Bishop Bole

One of the best known characters of medieval Navan was an abbot from England, John Bole (locally called John Bull) who rebuilt the abbey in the 1450's.  He later became Archbishop of Armagh.  In 1453 pope Nicholas V granted an indulgence (probably requested to do so by John Bole ) "to all the faithful...who...visit the church and give alms for the repair and conservation of the buildings...of St. Mary's Navan, which have been impoverished by wars etc."

We are fortunate to have a description of some of the more notable monuments in the Abbey from the report of Bishop  Anthony Dopping on the state of the churches in Meath at the end of the 17th century. He describes the monument to Archbishop Bole.

However the tombstone of John Bole (a carved effigy of a bishop with a mitre and crosier) was saved from destruction by the soldiers in the cavalry barracks by the Rev Mervyn Archdall (the Rector of Slane) and Col. William Burton Conyngham. Today it can be seen in the wall of of the courtyard of Slane Castle, (Fig. 13) while its base, with carved figures of Christ on the Cross, and on its sides the twelve apostles, can be found near St. Erc's Hermitage Slane.

The tomb slab of Navan's Bishop Bole which is attached to the wall of the courtyard in Slane Castle.

Source: Medieval Navan, Ethna Cantwell, Navan, Its People and Its Past, Vol. 1


In 1450 John Bole, the Abbot, afterwards Archbishop of Armagh, had procured a Papal Bull granting indulgences to all persons visiting it as pilgrims or contributing to its repair and adornment.  His name is sometimes given as Buile or Boll.  In 1451, as Rector of Smermore (Smarmore, County Louth), one of the possessions of the Abbey, he was elected proctor (person in charge of discipline) for the clergy of Armagh (Reg. Primate John Swayne, ed. Chart, p. 197).  It seems that he was succeeded by another Abbot of the same name.  The Statute Rolls record his protest at being mistaken for one John Bulle, Clerk, formerly Abbot of the House of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Navan, who was sued for debt by Henry Rowe, Clerk in 1463.  He claims that he was promoted Archbishop of Armagh before Rowe's suit was commenced.  His protest, however, is open to question, since he died in 1471 leaving the Primatial see so encumbered with debt that a long vacancy ensued and his successors were seriously embarassed.

Rev. A. Gwynne, The Medieval Province of Armagh.


From Bradley and King (1985, 142-3): The ‘Apostle Stone’. Late 14th / early 15th century.  A large coffin-shaped block of sandstone is a short distance west of St. Erc’s Hermitage (ME019-026----) in Slane.  It is carved in relief with six apostles on each of the long sides and a Crucifixion with Mary and John on the broader end.  Many of the apostles are damaged so not all can be identified.  They are dressed similarly in a tunic and cloak caught over the left arm.  Only SS Paul and James are clearly identifiable.

Hickey (1975) has shown that this is part of a composite tomb tht includes the effigy of a bishop at Slane Castle (ME019-021----) that were removed from St. Mary’s abbey in Navan (ME025-024----), in the late 18th century. Dims L 1.75m; Wth 0.42-0.52; H 0.44m Date of upload: 15 July, 2014

Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.