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.
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, 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.
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.
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.