The Curious Case of the Jumping Church

The Jumping Church of Kildemock, just outside of Ardee in Co Louth, is indeed a curious case. It is, in the very least, one of hundreds of churches built centuries ago, now in ruin, that dot the countryside all over this island.  

There has been a church on this site since the time of St. Patrick. The first church erected here was made of wattle and clay. The person put in charge of leading these new converts was Diomock, a disciple of St. Patrick. In later years, a permanent church of stone was built. It was called cill (kil) or cell of Diomock. As time passed, the area became known simply as Kildemock.

In the later part of the twelfth century, the Knights Templar built a monastery in Kilsaran, a village not far away. Kildemock was put under their control, where it remained until 1312 when the Knights Templars were persecuted and stripped of their property. Kildemock was turned over to the brother order of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John.

An excavation carried out in 1953, recovered stain-glass fragments and stone carvings dated from approximately the beginning of the fourteenth century. So it is most likely that the ruins that exist now are the ruins of a rebuilt church from the early fourteenth century, completed by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John. It stands on the site of an older church, possibly the original stone structure from the 5th or 6th century. From the time of the Knights Hospitallers, we find that the church is called after St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose feast day is November 25th.

The Knights Hospitallers remained the property owners for 227 years, until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry the VIII and the changes resulting from the Reformation. A visitor in 1622 noted that at that time, the disused church was in a ruinous state.

And so it had remained, an unremarkable pile of stones that had once welcomed the prayers of the Catholic population. Until, that is, some 299 years ago, in the early Spring of 1715. That is when something from nature, or something beyond nature, occurred that began the legend of the Jumping Church.

The oral tradition is as follows: A mason, who had been ex-communicated from the Catholic Church, was employed with a number of men to build the church at Stabannon, a village a few miles away. On a Holy Day of Obligation (some say it was August 15th), the workers took a break to attend mass. All except our one ex-communicated mason who remained and continued to work. On the return of the workers following mass, they found the lone mason lying dead at the bottom of scaffolding, where he had apparently fallen.

His family, distraught at their loss, had their grief made greater when no priest would allow him to be buried in a consecrated graveyard. Attempts were made to have him buried at a number of cemeteries in the area, all to no avail. Finally, in February, after many months of trying, it was agreed he could be buried inside the ruin of the Kildemock church. (Though some say this was agreed to, only with the persuasive use of weapons.) The mason was finally put to rest, buried against the west gabled wall of Kildemock Church.

That night, a great storm developed with tremendous winds, known ever after as “the night of the Great Wind.” When the locals awoke, they discovered something that left them quite puzzled. A large section of the west wall, nearly down to its foundation, was now, over three feet inside the church, still standing erect. This section of wall, 19 feet high, 15 feet wide and nearly 3 feet thick, estimated to weigh some 40 tons, had jumped inside the church, leaving the newly buried mason outside the sacred enclosure.

Had the “Great Wind” been strong enough to move a 40 ton wall over 3 feet? Could a strong tornado possibly do that? Or is there something beyond nature, the hand of the supernatural at work here?

A curious case? Indeed. There is no doubt, upon seeing the wall as it exists now, that something very unusual moved it.

Here is a report from some 30 years later:

“ ….a wonderful accident happened here which the inhabitants attribute to a miracle in the great wind in the beginning of February 1715. The west end of the church, which is about 6 yards broad and 9 high, was by the wind, lifted off its foundation and settled upright near 4 feet within the church…” extract from Issac Butler’s journal 1744.

Did the wall move by the hand of God to keep the remains of an ex-communicated man outside the walls of the church? Or was it simply a freak of nature and the Great Wind really was strong enough to move a 40 ton wall? It remains a puzzle yet to be solved. Come see for yourself and you decide.