Salvaged 15th-century altarpiece makes €40,000 at auction

Piece found when presbytery outbuilding cleared of rubbish to convert it into parish office

A Flemish altarpiece discovered by a priest in Co Wexford was sold at auction last night for €40,000. The 15th-century artwork went under the hammer at Sheppard's art auction in Durrow, Co Laois, where it had been catalogued with an estimate of between €80,000 and €120,000. The winning bid was made by an anonymous buyer in Belgium.

Fr John O’Reilly, the parish priest of Piercetown, a village between Wexford town and Rosslare, who attended the auction said afterwards he was happy with the “marvellous and fantastic” price achieved. Fr O’Reilly said the money would be used to benefit the parish, including a project to renovate the church sacristy for use as an oratory.

The altarpiece was discovered when an outbuilding of his presbytery residence was being cleared of rubbish to convert it into a parish office. Workmen found what they thought was an old press or bathroom cabinet and were about to dump it into a skip when Fr O'Reilly asked them to leave it to one side. He later cleared it of cobwebs and dust and discovered it was a triptych with painted door panels and a centrepiece featuring a sculpted frieze of the Lamentation of Christ.

Following consultations with experts in Ireland and overseas who determined it was, indeed, an altarpiece – of a type made for private devotional use – he consigned it to auction.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques