The shrine of St. Patrick’s hand was in possession of the late Catholic Bishop of Belfast. The relic itself has long disappeared; but the shrine, after it was carried off by Bruce, passed from one trustworthy guardian to another, until it came into his hands. One of these was a Protestant, who, with noble generosity, handed it over to a Catholic as a more fitting custodian. One Catholic family, into whose care it passed at a later period, refused the most tempting offers for it, though pressed by poverty, lest it should fall into the hands of those who might value it rather as a curiosity than as an object of devotion.
This beautiful reliquary consists of a silver case in the shape of the hand and arm, cut off a little below the elbow. It is considerably thicker than the hand and arm of an ordinary man, as if it were intended to enclose these members without pressing upon them too closely. The fingers are bent, so as to represent the hand in the attitude of benediction.
But there is another relic of St. Patrick and his times of scarcely less interest. The Domhnach Airgid contains a copy of the Four Gospels, which, there is every reason to believe, were used by the great apostle of Ireland. The relic consists of two parts—the shrine or case and the manuscript. The shrine is an oblong box, nine inches by seven, and five inches in height. It is composed of three distinct covers, in the ages of which there is obviously a great difference. The inner or first cover is of wood, apparently yew, and may be coeval with the manuscript it is intended to preserve. The second, which is of copper plated with silver, is assigned to a period between the sixth and twelfth centuries, from the style of its scroll or interlaced ornaments. The figures in relief, and letters on the third cover, which is of silver plated with gold, leave no doubt of its being the work of the fourteenth century.
The last or external cover is of great interest as a specimen of the skill and taste in art of its time in Ireland, and also for the highly finished representations of ancient costume which it preserves. The ornaments on the top consist principally of a large figure of the Saviour in alto-relievo in the centre, and eleven figures of saints in basso-relievo on each side in four oblong compartments. There is a small square reliquary over the head of our divine Lord, covered with a crystal, which probably contained a piece of the holy cross. The smaller figures in relief are, Columba, Brigid, and Patrick; those in the second compartment, the Apostles James, Peter, and Paul; in the third, the Archangel Michael, and the Virgin and Child; in the fourth compartment a bishop presents a cumdach, or cover, to an ecclesiastic. This, probably, has a historical relation to the reliquary itself.