Glendalough down through the centuries
A NEW exhibition taking place in the National Museum of Ireland explores the Glendalough monastic site down through the centuries.
The launch of the ‘ Glendalough: Power, Prayer and Pilgrimage’ on Wednesday was live-streamed and featured contributions from Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin T.D., Chair of the National Museum of Ireland Catherine Heaney and Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland Diarmuid Martin, amongst others.
Since it was founded by St Kevin in the late 6th century, Glendalough has been a place where people have retreated to seek isolation and healing, making the timing of this as the first new exhibition to open at the National Museum of Ireland since Covid-19 arrived - causing widespread acts of self-isolation on a global level - particularly pertinent.
Despite reasonably rich historical evidence, archaeology, and in particular portable objects, provide important physical evidence for life in this important early monastery. Partnership between archaeologists, park administrators and local authorities and the local community at Glendalough has allowed a rich approach to making places through heritage.
Twenty six objects which have never been exhibited before celebrate this special place. Researching these objects brings rich insights into the lives of both the humble and powerful who travelled as pilgrims or who lived at Glendalough.
Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Lynn Scarff said; ‘ This exhibition demonstrates so clearly the connections between our material, natural and cultural heritage and how all these elements are intertwined. One of the few positives of the COVID 19 lockdown period was that people got to explore their immediate environment within 2k of their home and the heritage – be it built or natural on their doorstep. We hope this exhibition shines a light on a very special place in Ireland.’
Among the items on display is a bronze coated iron handbell, dated to the 8th or 9th century AD, found at a site near Glendalough and recently donated to the National Museum of Ireland by Archbishop Martin on behalf of the diocese. Ironworking evidence from Glendalough suggests that this bell may well have been made at the monastery.
Archbishop Martin said: Glendalough holds a special place in Irish history and in the history of Christianity. I am delighted that the iron bell we have donated to the National Museum is on display for the first time in this important exhibition, helping to tell the story of Glendalough as a centre of spirituality for centuries.’
Also featured is a tiny cross made of jet originating in north-eastern England discovered in 2017 and thought to have been worn by a pilgrim as a mark of private devotion, which is considered a rare find in an Irish medieval context.
Another exhibit is a fragment of a porphyry tile, a stone quarried in the eastern Mediterranean, which was recovered during the excavation of one of the most remote sites in the Glendalough valley in 1958 and is thought to have been taken from a building in Rome or from a Roman building in Europe and carried back to Glendalough by a cleric and used as a mark of authority.
A late 10th / early 11th century bell, the earliest in Ireland, which was suspended for rope-ringing in a belfry at St Kevin’s Church, is thought to have been imported from England or north-western Europe.
The exhibition also features items such as a shoe from the 10th century which belonged to a pilgrim and which was lost in a bog until it was found by a passer-by and reported to the National Museum of Ireland over a thousand years later, as well as a collection silver coins found as part of a hoard in the 1980s.