When The Shrine of St Manchan was dramatically stolen from the Boher Catholic Church in Ireland on Friday 1st June 2012, the local community was devastated. Thankfully, the precious relic was quickly recovered but church officials were forced to place the 12th Century artefact in temporary storage until a suitable way of protecting the exhibit within the church could be found.

Dublin based firm, Blackwood Architects, were commissioned to design and procure the replacement casing. Benan Clancy, the responsible Architect, explains: “The brief was in essence to balance the requirements of designing a case that would exhibit the Shrine attractively to visitors, while protecting the relic from damage and pollution, and also minimising the risk of theft. Due to the remote location outside of the normally secure museum environment, the requirement to incorporate, state of the art security features which would allow the shrine to remain in-situ was of foremost importance.

“We spoke with quite a few showcase manufacturers and even companies that specialise in security installations, but no-one could offer a solution which met all of the specification criteria.”

Benan and his team then met with Armour Systems, the showcase brand of Conservation by Design (CXD), a specialist manufacturer of museum display cases and cabinets based in Milton Keynes. Although they had never produced anything like this before, they were quick to take up the challenge and were confident they could meet the brief. Benan added: “The team from Armour Systems CXD initially met with me in Dublin, and then the client and I went over to their factory in Milton Keynes. Together we were able to develop a design which offered the high level of security, conservation properties and ease of use that was required. It was a very challenging installation and we were extremely impressed with how they managed the complex detailed design and manufacture of this bespoke showcase.”


The showcase is designed to look simple and elegant with a glass vitrine top mounted on a satin lacquered plinth. Discreet LED lighting all around the underside of the plinth creates a lifted floating effect to the whole structure. Designed to give visitors an unhampered view of the exhibit, the frameless glass top is made from low reflective security glass of almost twice the standard thickness to resist penetration and is raised and lowered for access using a remote interface. All materials specified for internal use are of conservation grade to preserve and protect the relic.

In the event of an attack or tampering, seismic detectors in the case trigger a mechanism that lowers the Shrine into a protected steel enclosure, and can only be recovered by way of a secure process. Security systems are also carefully integrated with the church’s existing burglar and fire alarms.

The interlocking mechanisms were built using a series of highly efficient and reliable electric ball screw actuators, all synchronized and automated to manage inputs from sensors and switches and controlled via a secure interface panel.

Andrew Gascoigne, from Armour Systems CXD commented: “This was certainly a very unusual brief and had lots of challenges. We hadn’t created anything like this before so it was a really exciting project to work on. The design and technical team liaised closely with Benan and the client to produce the design using the latest 3D modelling software. As with all our products, the design was then prototyped, manufactured and tested in house before being installed at Boher Church in May.

“We’re honoured that our work has meant that the Shrine of St Manchan could be returned to Boher Church and hope that it will continue to ensure the access and ongoing conservation of this impressive artefact for many years to come.”

Considered a masterpiece of Romanesque metalwork, the Shrine of St Manchan was created in 1130 in Clonmacnoise and is believed to hold the bones of St Manchan.

Fr. James McKiernan, curate at Boher Catholic Church commented: “The Shrine of St Manchan is extremely important to the local community and the team at Armour Systems CXD has done a fantastic job in helping us to return this precious relic to its rightful place. Their dedication and enthusiasm for the project was highly commendable.”


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