Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Sites

Clonmacnoise

What were early Christain monasteries like?

Christianity was first brought to Ireland during the fifth century at a time when the island had a common culture and language. In the absence of towns a distinctive expression of monasticism developed in Ireland in the sixth and seventh centuries. Large monasteries evolved and consisted of a central enclosure sometimes surrounded by outer enclosures. Access to sacred areas was restricted to high ranking clerics and the social elite.

The function of High Crosses

Clonmacnoise

The location of high crosses within these enclosures may have marked such sacred areas, sites of instruction or routes through the ecclesiastical settlement. The earliest church buildings were constructed in wood or were of unmortared stone, and took the form of circular cells or rectangular oratories. Graves were marked with decorated slabs or, in the case of important clerics, ‘house’-shaped tombs. In the eleventh and twelfth century round towers and larger churches were introduced and some were subsequently decorated in the Romanesque style.

Clonmacnoise

An early Christian site near you!

Many Irish townland names indicate the presence of early ecclesiastical settlements dotted across the county. Place-names with Kill or Temple as a prefix are derived from Irish words for church and are often named after a local saint.

Images copyright DoEHLG

 
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