Skellig Michael Rock Island (World Heritage)
One of the most famous and oldest monasteries in the country is located on the small, inaccessible rocky island off the south-west coast of Ireland featured by historyaah. The monastic settlement was inhabited from the end of the sixth century to the 12th century and testifies to the Spartan living conditions of the first Irish Christians. The now uninhabited island is home to one of the largest gannet colonies on earth.
Skellig Michael rock island: facts
|Official title:||Skellig Michael rock island with early medieval monastery settlement|
|Cultural monument:||Ruins of a monastery settlement on Great Skellig (Skellig Michael), one of the Skellig islands in the Atlantic|
|Location:||Skellig Michael, west of Bolus Head|
|Meaning:||Testimony to the Spartan way of life of the first Irish Christians|
Skellig Michael rock island: history
|7th century||Founding of the monastery of St. Fiênán|
|9th century||several Viking raids|
|1044||Disappearance of the monastic community from the annals|
Sacred rock in the Atlantic
Two green rocks rise steeply from the gray of the Atlantic. On a clear day you can see the tiny islands called Skellig Rocks from mainland Ireland. During the summer months and when the sea is calm, you can reach the islands around twelve kilometers off the southwest coast almost every day. The crossing is usually stormy and the boat is rocking considerably. After all, the calls of puffins and gannets drown out any other sound: the Little Skellig Sanctuary is paradise for thousands of seabirds who build their nests on the cliffs and rocks.
On the further crossing, the windswept Skellig Michael soon comes into view. To live true to their vows in solitude was the goal of the monks who chose the island as the seat for their monastery. It is said to have been around 600 when the construction of living cells began. The men followed a call from St. Finian, who was venerated as a saint, and made the rock, considered uninhabitable, the most unusual monastic settlement in history. Even today, the ruins bear witness to the poor living conditions of the early residents. 670 steps carved into the stone lead up to the plateau at a height of 218 meters, which was created on the leeward south-western side. From the white lighthouse you climb the rock in serpentines – a sweaty climb and only recommended for visitors with a head for heights.
But the gaze suddenly turns to the remains of the monks’ settlement. Six clêchans, beehive-like round huts that were built by the monks from flat stones stacked on top of one another without mortar, lie on an area of over 300 square meters. The compartments set up inside are clearly visible, presumably the storage space for groceries and books. High crosses, graves, the ruins of a modest church and a boat-shaped chapel – called the oratory – complete the complex. Small, terraced fields indicate that the monastic community had practiced agriculture on a modest scale. Fish, sea birds and bird eggs were probably also on the menu of the pious brothers.
The life of the men was tough: from historiography it is known that the monastic settlement was attacked several times by Vikings. In the year 812 even the abbot of the community was killed and the monks who remained alive were left on Skellig without boats and food. One of these monks wrote about the wild sea and the no less wild Northmen: Bitter and wild is the wind tonight, tossing the tresses of the sea to white, On such a night as this I feel at ease, Fierce Northmen only course the quiet seas «.
956 became a significant date: that year Olaf Tryggvason, heir to the Norwegian throne, was born and baptized on the island after his father, King of Norway, was killed in battle and his mother found refuge on the island. Probably two centuries later, the rock island was dedicated to the Archangel Michael. However, due to monastery reforms in the subsequent period, the abbey was given up and the monks relocated to the mainland.
The attraction of the lonely island remained, however, and Skellig Michael became a pilgrimage destination. Believers climbed the top of the mountain and kissed a stone cross left by the monks. Why did the monks choose Great Skellig as their place of monastic life? Probably because the rock island was considered the westernmost point of the known world until America was discovered. Certainly also because there is hardly a place where you can be so beyond time as on the windy Skellig.