This is our academic blog post on Glendalough. This blog contains the adventures of Brad, Meghann, Elizabeth, and Eva.
Glendalough means The valley of the two lakes and it is a very important monastic site. Glendalough is one of the most well-preserved historical sites in Ireland. The stone church looks to the valley where the sun sets and bathes the valley with its golden rays. Slightly up into the hills is the mining village and some spectacular waterfalls. After St Kevin started his Green martyrdom lifestyle in the mountains, followers soon came and built a monastery. The round tower located in the center of the village is still almost completely intact, one of few in Europe. It is believed that the tower was used as a bell tower, signaling the time of day or notifying the monks if it was time for their daily prayer. The doorway of round towers always faces the most important building -- usually the church. The church was built was a dontrey stone, which was very expensive and usually had to be transported from overseas. However, since there was a large quantity of stone up in the valley, the monks just transported it from there. Some of the monks built a village next to the stream and would haul large quantities of rock back down to the village to build the church, tower, St Mary’s church, and some of the homes as well.It is said that the closer you are buried to a church, the closer you are to heaven, therefore, the church is now surrounded by a massive number of graves, some from only a few years ago. It is a wonderful site to see those who live around the Monastery are still connected to it to this day. Although the town of Glendalough does not follow the same lifestyle as the monks once did, they still show a great respect for their ancestors and the village they left behind. It is clear to see the grounds are well kept and the people are still very connected to the church that St Kevin built.
|The doorway to the round tower was 3 meters off the ground.|
|High crosses marked some of the graves.|
|Gateway to Glendalough|
In 498, St. Kevin founded his monastery in Glendalough. In this valley, a whole village of monks lived together and this site has remained a huge part of Irish history. Although the cone roofing of the round tower was struck by lightning in the 1800s, the tower is in wonderful condition and is 110ft tall. This tower was built to, not only, keep the monks safe during an attack, but also to see far and wide when the Vikings were coming. The height of the tower helped to keep their treasures safe from attackers. Four windows face north, south, east, and west- another genius creation of the monks to keep time of day and location at the tip of their fingers. Another structure found in the valley at Glendalough is the Cathedral. This cathedral was not like you would imagine, you one you may have been in for a wedding. This cathedral was made of mica schist stones, which form most of the structure. Over the centuries different parts were added to the cathedral, but the earliest part is the nave which supports the wooden roof. Most of the churches at Glendalough do not have roofs because they were made of wood and usually rotted away as time passed. To be standing in the ruins of a monastery so old, it was hard to imagine what life was like back then.
The monks in Glendalough weren't the typical monk figures you think of. Nor was Glendalough the typical monastery. In the middle ages when Glendalough was built, Ireland didn't have any real towns so Glendalough became a “city” and a major stop on the trading route. Life at for the monks at this monastery was not quiet at all. They had the hustle and bustle of traders coming through, people wanting to learn from the monks and various other figures who stopped by. They also took in runaways. Just inside the gateway of the monastery, there is a cross engraved on the stone. When a fugitive came into the gateway they were offered protection from whoever was chasing them for ninety days. At this cross, they were said to “lay” their sins as they entered the holy monastery.
These medieval monks were not only scholars they also farmed, raised livestock, and were craftsmen. There were talented woodworkers and blacksmiths. The woodworkers fashioned plates, bowls, buckets, tool handles, and writing utensils along with various other things. The blacksmiths made knives, nails, and farming tools, some worked with bronze and precious metals to make chalices, brooches, or bells. There were leather workers who made shoes, belts, and harnesses. Animal skins were also used for bedding, bones were used to make combs, pins, and needles, and animal fat was used to make candles. The monks threaded their goods of leather, metal, and wood for wine, spices, fine textiles, and exotic dyes for their manuscripts.
The monks would have eaten bread, milk products, eggs, and meat. The forest, lakes, and rivers provided food and barley and oats were likely grown on near the monastery. Cows were the most valuable animal in Ireland and would have provided milk and meat for the monks. They also would have kept goats, sheep, pigs, cats, and dogs. Oxen were used to plough and small ponies were pack animals in the mountains.
But the most important work that the Irish did at this monastery was learning and copying. They spent years studying not only the Bible but also the ancient texts of the Greeks and Romans which were left to them after the Romans fled from Europe. These monks copied these manuscripts and when they fled from Glendalough because of the Vikings, they took these works with them and founded monasteries all over Europe. They brought the teaching of the Greeks and Romans and played a huge role in bringing Europe out of the Dark Ages.
Brad made a video containing footage from our trips to Glendalough and Newgrange. More information on Newgrange will be given Friday.