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The Monastic settlement of Glendalough in Wicklow National Park

We are now continuing our post about Wicklow National Park and would like to tell you about Glendalough, which is located there. This place is not only beautiful but is also quite interesting to people that like to learn about Irish culture. The main attraction there is a small Ancient Christian monastic settlement.

But so that while you are there you don’t feel as if you are standing in some meaningless ruins we decided to write a bit about Glendalough’s history. And the fact that Glendalough is as important to Irish people as The Trinity of St. Laverne for Orthodox Christians will help you begin to fully understand the importance of this architectural complex.

The Monastic settlement of Glendalough

In the era of early Christianity, monastic settlements in Ireland began to slowly disappear, unlike their counterparts in Europe. This is probably explainable by the fact that most European countries were under the influence of the Roman Religion/Empire, except for Ireland. This was because Ireland managed to evade capture by the Roman Empire and managed to make its own version of Christianity.

We aren’t going to get into the details of this now but what we will say is that, the Irish model of early Christianity helped Irish monasteries become (for a couple of hundred years) not only centres for religious life but also cultural and educational settlements. We would also like to note that Irish monastic centres were valued by Europe and managed to last until the mass Viking attacks in the IX – XI centuries.

St.Kevin's Church

During that time it was even more important to Ireland then Dublin is now. Word of St. Kevin’s monastery spread like wildfire across Ireland and attracted crowds of visitors to Glendalough. It was even thought that seven pilgrim journeys to Glendalough were equivalent to one pilgrim journey to Rome.

These were the main differences between the early Christian views of Irish monks and mainland Europe. Monks on the continent associated themselves with hermits who gave up the finer joys in life. This was during the time that Irish monks imagined a connection with God through the Earth and nature.

Because of the lack of towns and even villages in Ireland, Europe believed that towns were embodied in Irish monasteries where people had not only the ability to go to church but also lead educational and economical lives. You can even find ancient mines there that were used to get lead and zinc in the Upper Lough in Glendalough.

There are seven marked ruins of churches in Glendalough now that you can view yourselves, although only one church is well preserved. It is the called either ‘The Church of St. Kevin’ or ‘St. Kevin’s Kitchen’. A strange name for a church but it comes from its unusual shape. To us it didn’t look like any church we had ever seen and you will agree when you see it.

The Round Tower in Glendalough

The church itself was built from rock, including the roof, which has no windows, only a tower – like structure with a cone – like top. This tower resembles a chimney and probably, that is how the church got its name, after it stopped being used for its initial purpose.

An even better preserved element of the monastic settlement of Glendalough is the 30 meter high, round tower. These towers were built in a traditional Irish style and they are found near lots of monasteries in Ireland, for example, ‘The Rock of Cashel’. Usually these towers were built by the dry masonry method, without cement and with a door located around 3 metres off the ground. Historians estimate that these towers were used as forts during sieges and were used to store manuscripts. It is also estimated that some were also used as bell towers.

It is impossible not to mention one of the most interesting monuments in the monastery of Glendalough, ‘The Gateway’ to the monastic settlement itself. This unique monument once played a large part in the life of the monastic town of Glendalough.

The Gateway to the monastic city of Glendalough

The thing was that many Irish people wanted to see St. Kevin and touch the holy soil of Glendalough. But the ever increasing population of pilgrims disrupted the quiet life of Glendalough and also disrupted the preaching work of St. Kevin. So when Glendalough became overpopulated with pilgrims, it was agreed that a gateway would be built and that a cross-inscribed stone will be but in the west wall. By touching this stone a pilgrim would be able to end of his pilgrimage.

During the time of its rising, Glendalough had a population of 4,000 people and was a religious and cultural centre of Northern – East Ireland. It owes the gratitude for its foundation and development to Saint Kevin, about whom it is essential to talk about in more detail in the next post.

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