Monday, 8 August 2011

Glendalough, St Kelvin's monastic city

When you see such an old, ususual, humble human work, with a primitive and ascetic grandeur, you can´t but stand in amazement in presence of the kind of universal work of mankind that makes History.

The location of the monastic city of Glendalough is in itself another wonder - a valley (Glen) through which run small water lines fed by two lakes (da-lough), all hidden and encircled by the green Wicklow Mounts.

In the latter part of the sixth century, Saint Kelvin (~498 - 618 ), Dublin´s patron saint, crossed the mountains from Hollywood (Ireland) to Glendalough. The path he took later became known as St. Kevin's Way. This track facilitated the development of Glendalough, so that within 100 years it had developed from a remote hermitage site into one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland: with its seven churches, it became the chief pilgrimage destination and a veritable city in the desert.

St. Kevin

Situated in a remote valley and in an upland area, the site kept hidden for sometime from Vikking coastal attacks; but once discovered it was an easy target, and many times between 775 and 1095 it was under atack by both local tribes and Norse invaders. Usually the churches and houses were burned, but each time the monastery was rebuilt.

As its fame spread, the monastery flourished and its success continued after St. Kevin died in 617 AD.

Monasteries in pre-Norman Ireland were a considerable economic force, and were sufficiently well organised as to be capable of withstanding periodic crises and famines. The population there may have been around 500 - 1 000 people. Many would have been employed by the monastery - tending flocks, tilling, sowing and harvesting. In addition to stores of treasure, most monasteries maintained substantial stocks of food.

The Round Tower

Perhaps the most noticeable monument, the Round Tower is about 30 metres high. The narrow entrance is about 3.5 metres from the base ! That's why it resisted to so many invaders.

Round towers were multi-functional. They served as landmarks for visitors, bell-towers, store-houses, and as places of refuge in times of attack.

St. Kevin's "kitchen"

This church is most noticeable for its steep roof formed of overlapping stone, supported internally by a semi-circular vault. The belfry has a stone cap and four windows facing north, south, east and west, and is reminiscent of a round tower.

With the arrival of the Anglo-Normans a dramatic change occured within the political landscape of Ireland. Both ecclesiastical and political activity centred around Dublin. Subsequently, Glendalough was annexed to the diocese of Dublin and its importance declined.

Despite this, the place has retained a spiritual significance.

Nowadays, we can only see the ruins among a very beautiful graveyard, with plenty of celtic crosses, among green meadows and hillsides, suggesting meditation and contemplation.

Location map: