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Glendalough is 'truly one of the most beautiful places in Ireland'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 24th, 2011
Catholic Online (

Glendalough, or Gleann Dá Loch, the "Valley of the Two Lakes" has been declared as "truly one of the most beautiful places in Ireland and a highlight of any trip to the island," according to Lonely Planet Ireland. The monastic settlement is just an hour south of Dublin. The area offers many walking tours, ranging from a short stroll around the ruins to demanding mountain hikes.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) -  The monastery was founded by St. Kevin, a hermit monk who died about 618 AD. The ruins on view today include several early churches, a graceful round tower and various sites associated with the life of St. Kevin.

Historically, St. Kevin was a descendent of one of the ruling families of Leinster. As a boy he studied under three holy men and as a young man he went to live at Glendalough "in the hollow of a tree."

He returned later with a small group of followers. After a life of sleeping on stones, wearing animal skins, barely eating and communing with the local birds and animals, he died around 618.

Glendalough flourished for the next 600 years, with the deaths of abbots and various raids featuring heavily in the Irish Annals. In the 9th century, Glendalough rivaled Clonmacnoise as the leading monastic city of Ireland.

At its height, the settlement included not only churches and monastic cells but also workshops, guesthouses, an infirmary, farm buildings and houses. Most of the buildings that survive today date from the 10th through 12th centuries.

An especially notable figure connected with the monastery is St. Laurence O'Toole, an abbot of Glendalough known for his holiness and hospitality. He was appointed Archbishop of Dublin in 1162, but still returned occasionally to the solitude of St. Kevin's Bed at Glendalough.

The dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin were united in 1214. The cultural and religious status of Glendalough began to decline. The settlement was destroyed by English forces in 1398, but even as a ruin it continued to be a local place of worship and a pilgrimage destination.

Visitors today enter Glendalough by crossing a manicured lawn and a bridge over a peaceful stream, but the medieval entrance was through the monumental gateway to the west.

Totally unique in Ireland, the monastery originally had two stories with two fine granite arches. The projecting walls at each end indicate it had a timber roof. Inside is a cross-inscribed stone, indicating the boundary of the sanctuary or area of refuge.

The largest building at Glendalough is the cathedral, which was built in several phases from the 10th through the early 13th century. The earliest part is the nave with antae for supporting the wooden roof. The chancel, sacristy, and north door were added in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

The nave and chancel were restored in the 1870s using the original stones. The Romanesque chancel arch has three orders and carved capitals; there are more carvings next to the east window, which has two round-headed lights. Carvings including a serpent, a lion, and two birds holding a human head between their beaks.

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