Glendalough Monastic Site

Glendalough is a glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland.  It is renowned for an early medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin.

Kevin, a descendant of the ruling families in Leinster, studied as a boy under the care of three holy men, Eoghan, Lochan, and Eanna.  During this time, he went to Glendalough.  He returned later with a small group of monks to found a monastery where the two rivers form a confluence.  Kevin’s writings discuss his fighting “knights” at Glendalough; scholars today believe this refers to his process of self-examination and his personal temptations.  His fame as a holy man spread and he attracted many followers.  He died in about 618.  For six centuries afterwards, Glendalough flourished and the Irish Annals contain references to the deaths of abbots and raids on the settlement

Glendalough is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the “Monastic City”.  Most of the buildings that survive today date from the 10th-12th centuries.  Despite attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214 A.D. and the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin were united.  Glendalough is one of the top attraction on Ireland’s Ancient East.

Around the grounds

Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul

The Cathedral is the largest of the seven churches in Glendalough.  It was built in several phases from the 10th through the early 13th century.  Large mica schist stones, which form the foundation up to the height of the west doorway, were re-used from an earlier smaller church.  The earliest part is the nave with antae for supporting the wooden roof.  The chancel, sacristy, and north door were added in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The north doorway to the nave also dates from this period. Inside there is a wall cupboard, a stone font, many grave slabs, and the remains of a decorated arch.

Glendalough Roundtower

The most famous of all the landmarks in Glendalough is the Round Tower which stands 33 meters above the ground. It was built almost 1000 years ago by the monks of St. Kevin’s monastery. The conical roof had to be replaced in 1876 when it was struck by lightning. The towers were called “Cloigtheach”, meaning bell tower, suggesting their main use. The towers were sometimes used as a place of refuge for monks when the monastery was under attack. They also served as both as lookout posts and as beacons foe approaching monks and pilgrims.

St. Kevin’s Kitchen (Church)

St. Kevin’s Church better known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen is a nave-and-chancel church of the 12th century. It is called St Kevin’s kitchen because people believed that the bell tower was a chimney to a kitchen but really no food was ever cooked there. This stone-roofed building originally had a nave only, with entrance at the west end and a small round-headed window in the east gable. The belfry with its conical cap and four small windows rises from the west end of the stone roof in the form of a miniature round tower.

Tourist or Pilgrim?

As we stand on the sacred ground of Glendalough, walking in the footsteps of holy men and women who have walked this ground before us, it is good to ponder whether we are here as tourists or pilgrims.

Have we come to see the sights, walk the hills, take some photos, bring home some souvenirs, maybe a memory or two?

Or have we come to search, to wonder, to be stopped in our tracks by the awe-inspiring majesty of this place? Do we need to rest in the peace of the Lower Lake and be healed by its waters? Do we need to wander the shore of the Upper Lake and bow before the unknown God who calls to us in our heart?

Why have you come to this place? Perhaps you need some time to ponder this question.  ~Glendalough Heritage Centre

Tourist or Pilgrim

I stand at the edge of myself and wonder
Where is home? Oh! Where is the place
Where beauty will last? When will I be safe? And where?
My tourist heart is wearing me out. I am so tired of seeking
For treasures that tarnish. How much longer, Lord?
Oh! Which is the way home?
My luggage is heavy. It is weighing me down
I am hungry for the Holy Ground of home.
Then suddenly, overpowering me with the truth,
A voice within me gently says:
‘There is a power in you, a truth in you
That has not yet been tapped.
You are blinded with a blindness that is deep,
For you have not loved the pilgrim in you yet
There is a road that runs straight through your heart.
Walk on it.’
To be a pilgrim means to be on the move, slowly,
To notice your luggage becoming lighter,
To seek for treasures that do not rust
To be comfortable with your heart’s questions,
To be moving toward the Holy Ground of home with empty hands and bare feet.
And yet, you cannot reach that home until you have loved the pilgrim in you.
One must be comfortable as a pilgrim before one’s feet can touch the homeland.
Do you want to go home?
There’s a road that runs straight through your heart
Walk on it.  ~Macrina Wiederkehr


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