Medieval Glendalough : an inter-disciplinary study
Citation:William Henry Long, 'Medieval Glendalough : an inter-disciplinary study', [thesis], Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). Department of History, 1997, pp 268, pp 319
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This thesis studies the Early and Later Medieval remains in the valley of Glendalough from different perspectives. All of the remaining field monuments are initially analysed individually with a view to establishing the following: (a) To what extent the features of these monuments today are an accurate reflection of the way they were in the Medieval period. This is done by comparing written accounts and illustrations of Glendalough before or during the reconstruction works of the 1870s with the monuments themselves. (b) Where the names of the various churches came from. (c) The significance of any archaeological excavations which have been carried out. (d) To what extent the architectural features of the various buildings are characteristic of contemporary structures at other sites in Ireland. (e) Any possible traces of architectural influences from Britain or other parts of Europe. This analysis establishes that Reefert Church and St. Saviour’s Priory are largely reconstructions. Most of the major dressed or cawed stonework can, however, be verified as original in both cases, although some of the reconstruction work at St. Saviour’s Priory cannot reflect original features. The main architectural feature of the Priests’ House, a recessed arch in the east wall, has been wrongly reconstructed and there is no reliable evidence for the existence of a tower over the Gatehouse. The reconstruction reports of the Commissioners of Public Works are very useful but generally lack significant details. They cannot be relied upon as comprehensive accounts of the main work which was carried out. In the case of the round tower, for instance, the reconstruction workers had covered over all but one of the putlock holes which were in the building. Nothing about this is mentioned in the 1876-77 report. It is a significant detail, as it elucidates the methods of construction which were originally used. Romanesque and later churches are dated on the basis of the style of their carvings and mouldings. At least three new construction projects were carried out at Glendalough between the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion and c.1220: the Priests’ House; Phase 2 of St. Mary’s; and Phase 3 of the Cathedral. In the case of the latter, a strong influence from Britain can be identified. When viewed in their historical context, these findings suggest that from 1169 to c.1220, Glendalough had not gone into decline but was surviving by co-operating to a certain extent with the Anglo-Normans. Churches and other structures which are mentioned at Glendalough before the 1870s reconstructions have disappeared. Even between 1912 and the present, St. Kevin’s Cell has almost completely vanished. While it is difficult to speculate about the extent and function of the structures which are gone, it is certain that a good deal more survived in stone in the nineteenth century than is now apparent. It is also significant that, in terms of enclosures, the rectangular shape is more dominant at Glendalough than the circular or sub-circular. There is also evidence that, at Reefert Church and Temple-na-Skellig, there are additional enclosures or earthworks which have not been previously identified. Two types of stone which had not been previously identified correctly were used in the 12th and 13th centuries at Glendalough. These are apinite/dolerite and Dundry limestone. A detailed survey of the stone types used at different stages and the manner in which they were worked reveals patterns which allow the buildings at Glendalough to be placed in a chronological sequence. A general survey of documentary evidence for the development of stone and wooden construction in the period 750-1200 A.D. provides a framework within which the sequence of building at Glendalough can be viewed. There is no reason to doubt that the earliest stone buildings could have been constructed in the late 7th or early 8th century, at Glendalough as at other major ecclesiastical sites. References to churches in stone, as opposed to wood, in the Annals of Ulster, however, do not become more numerous until the period 1050-1100. It is therefore likely that, while the earliest stone church at Glendalough may have been built in the 7th or 8th century, many of the churches could date from the 1 lth and 12th centuries. The twelfth century saw great changes in architectural style at Glendalough which are reflected in the types of stone used and the methods of working it. The increased use of stone in the 10th-12th centuries is also reflected in the law-texts on the skills of the sáer. These coincide to a remarkable degree with the evidence of the Annals of Ulster and the archaeological remains of the Early Medieval period. The buildings, crosses and other objects which the sáer is expected to produce have nearly all been found archaeologically. The lawtext on the costing of buildings also had a firm basis in reality. Although its language is somewhat difficult, it can provide Early Medieval prices when carefully analysed and practically applied to the surviving structures at Glendalough. The economic cost of Glendalough’s remains was considerable and underscores the fact that this and other ecclesiastical cities were a vital part of the economic and political landscape of Early Medieval Ireland. Religion, economics, education, culture and politics all had a part in defining Glendalough as an ecclesiastical city. There can be little doubt that, in Medieval terms, Glendalough was a city by the 11th-12th century period. In the Expugnatio Hibernica and The Song of, Dermot and the Earl, outsiders had no hesitation in using the contemporary equivalents of our English word "city" for places of a similar size and ecclesiastical status to Glendalough. Glendalough, however, consists of not just the city but a number of other settlements in the valley. The inter-disciplinary approach sheds considerable light on the remains of Glendalough. It helps us to view them not only as architectural survivals but as products of the sáer and changing approaches to construction; as symbols of economic wealth; as indicators of Irish conservatism or influences from Britain and Europe; and finally as the skeleton of an important group of settlements whose heart was the ecclesiastical city.
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Author: Long, William Henry
Qualification name:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Publisher:Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). Department of History
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Type of material:thesis
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