Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sacred Stones

Everywhere you look on Inis Mor there are stones...ancient monastic ruins of stones, dry stone walls, standing stones, stone crosses. St. Enda and the other earliest Christian monks probably first arrived on Inis Mor in the 5th century. Crude huts of stone and small oratories were the first buildings constructed; the church ruins shown here date from the 10th and 11th centuries and were built on the sites of the original buildings.

Dara Molloy
Explaining the history of Celtic Christain monasticism on the island was our guide for the day, Dara Molloy, a former Catholic priest who came to live on Inis Mor in 1985. Dara spent his first 10 years on Inis Mor living as a hermit and Celtic monk, later marrying and raising a family here while pursuing his passion for the island, its spirituality, and its stories. He made these old stones come alive as he related the island's history and explained its pull on those early monks who came here to live on the wild edge of the then-known world and dedicate their lives to God.

Monk's bed at St Benan's oratory.
Dara told us that this structure was a hermit monk's bed right outside St. Benan's oratory where the photos on yesterday's blog post were taken. The tiny church was barely big enough to hold our small group of 12 and would have been where just the hermit worshiped. His bed outside (which would have had some type of roof) was only big enough for him to lie down in...some of our group actually tested it out by lying in it. A very austere life, but with great views...
Standing between St. Benan's oratory and the hermit monk's bed
This little church and its hermit were part of a large monastic village community called Cill Einne. Monks lived below in houses, some with wives and families, while the complex itself boasted at least 6 churches and numerous high standing crosses that we associate with Celtic Christianity. It also had the only round tower on the island....
Round Tower
marking it as a very important place. The Tower was initially 35 meters tall, but was struck by lightening in the early 19th century partially destroying it and leaving only 4 meters remaining. It's thought these round towers served multiple functions as look-out towers, bell towers, places to store relics, places of refuge in times of danger and as the centering point for the community.

Unfortunately, only remnants remain of the island's high Celtic crosses where monks would gather to pray. All of them on the island were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell's troops during the Irish Confederate Wars of 1641-1653 when Ireland was occupied by English troops and Catholicism was outlawed.

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