Glendalough and the Book of Kells

At Glendalough, about an hour’s drive south of Dublin, we visited the ruins of a Christian monastery which was founded in the sixth century. Only three structures are still standing today. The cathedral’s stone walls are still standing, but its roof and floor are long gone. It was raining heavily during our time there, but I stopped to note two of the gravestones inside the cathedral. One belonged to a man who died at the age of 102, and the other at the age of 106. It seems those monks must have discovered the fountain of youth somewhere out there in those mystical mountains. Not a drop of the rain penetrated the interior of the nearby church, with its roof and walls still intact 900 years after it was built. The 30-metre high Round Tower is the most impressive of the buildings. It, too, is largely intact. The entry doorway is several metres above the ground, requiring the monks to use a wooden ladder to gain entry.

The site of the monastery is picturesque, with a stream gently flowing past the ruins and a leafy green forest nearby. In more recent times, relatively speaking, the grounds have been used as a burial ground. Many of the grave sites have fallen into disrepair, but they give a strong indication that Glendalough always has been, as still is, a very spiritual place.

Upon our return to Dublin city we walked down to Trinity College to visit the famous Long Room in the Library and the fabled Book of Kells, which is possibly Ireland’s most precious cultural artefact. We queued for a time in the rain to enter, but it was worth doing just to see the book. It is an illuminated manuscript containing the four gospels of the New Testament, created by monks over a thousand years ago. There are over 300 folios which comprise the book. The monks performed the roles of scribes and illustrators. The text was written in Latin on calfskin vellum. It is a stunning work of medieval craftsmanship. Two folios of the book are open beneath a glass case for visitors to examine. I was surprised by how small the book was.

Beyond the Book of Kells was the Long Room of Trinity College Library. This 65-metre long room was built during the early 1700s, and today houses about 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. Some of the books are housed on very high shelves, so long ladders are on hand to provide access to anyone brave enough to scale them. A number of other important historical and cultural documents and artefacts are housed in the Long Room. Unfortunately the number of tourists viewing the Long Room led to a good deal of congestion in there, so we decided to leave and get away from the crush. Nevertheless, we’d witnessed two different aspects of Irish medieval monastic life on the same day, so we were well satisfied.

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