Posted by: kljolly | July 31, 2013


I went to Glendalough in County Wicklow today on the tour hosted by ISAS (International Society of Anglo-Saxonists).  Glendalough is an early medieval monastic site set in a lovely, albeit wet, valley.  I was glad to have my boots and raincoat, but as others noted, we were getting an authentic monastic experience of the site.



Gateway to Glendalough, through which pilgrims (and Anglo-Saxonists) enter

Gateway to Glendalough, through which pilgrims (and Anglo-Saxonists) enter

The strongest feeling I had from the site was a sense of enclosure:  a sacred space bounded by streams and crosses, a place of sanctuary for contemplation.

We entered through the gateway  and then examined three structures:  the tower, the main church, and St. Kevin’s smaller church.

The tower, our very knowledgeable guide explained,Glendaltower2 was NOT for hiding from rampaging vikings or other hordes (that would be like hiding in a chimney, she said), but was more likely a bell tower, a visible symbol from afar, and a safe place for storing manuscripts.  It is very sturdy and well-built, as you can see.

The main church, now roofless, has two parts, an original tenth-century sanctuary and an added twelfth century chancel (with Romanesque style arches decorated with chevrons).  Of course my interest was in the tenth-century part, but it is surprisingly hard to get a feel for a church with its roof gone:  it loses its interiority.

Glendalough cathedral

Glendalough cathedral

St. Kevin's church, Glendalough

St. Kevin’s church, Glendalough

The smaller church of founder St. Kevin did have a roof, of stone amazingly enough.  It gave it a sense of enclosure, a bit claustrophobic with 30 or so Anglo-Saxonists crammed in it.  It was too dim to really get a good look at the cross slab and the altar front slab that are inside.

St. Kevin's church interior

St. Kevin’s church interior

So the main lessons I take away, if I am imagining Aldred’s landscape, is a different sense of space, both outdoor and indoor, than I am used to.  I am not yet sure how to describe it.

Everything was round and round about, working inward to the enclosed sacred space in which monks conducted their opus dei, contemplative prayer and scribal work, voice and text.

If we had chanted in St. Kevin’s church and scratched with quills on parchment in another space, we might have gotten a better auditory experience (the visitor center has a nice video of a scribe’s hand working, projected on a wooden screen, but it lacks the sound).  There was also this market cross, with which I will close.

Market cross (front), Glendalough visitor center

Market cross (front), Glendalough visitor center

Market cross (back), Glendalough Visitor Cener

Market cross (back), Glendalough Visitor Cener


  1. I visited once, many years ago, but the sense of a profoundly spiritual place remains with me. A lot of ghosts, I thought …

  2. It was hard to sense ghosts with that many living tramping over the site! But if I had, I would call their presence the community (and communion) of the saints, living and dead.

  3. Good to get a chance to see the church and other buildings! My wife and I were there in 2001 on a college trip – during the hoof & mouth disease outbreak – and just about everything was off-limits, sadly. We played a lot of Monopoly in the hostel on that weekend…

  4. […] at Glendalough, stone crosses can mark boundaries, the precincts of the religious community, or stand as a center […]

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