Ancient Monastic site of Kells

We have this great passion for all things ancient and being in Ireland fills us just that.
This country is especially favoured with a wealth of antiquities spanning 5000 years. What it lacks in sunshine – as it rains here 365 days a year – it fills you up with remarkable archaeological landscape such as megalithic tombs, stone structures used for Pagan worship, ruins of castles, of monasteries containing fine examples of early Christian architecture, the Celtic Cross being one of them.

They are everywhere, one need not travel far to find them. On our first weekend in Ireland, we stayed in a campsite where a 10-minute climb uphill took us to a network of 3,200 year old megalithic tombs. In our town alone (pop. 1,100), if the glorious remains of a 14thC Jacobean church is not old enough, we only need to drive 7kms away to soak up the ruins of a 6thC Abbey. .

Every weekend is something we always look forward to as it is a time especially dedicated to making new discoveries. So last Saturday, we visited the historic town of Kells, one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. We were spellbound, gripped with awe as we took in the sight. This is truly worth sharing…

The monastery of Kells, founded in the 9thC, is one of Ireland’s greatest monastic settlements. Many items that are integral pieces of Irish history were created here, from the high (Celtic) crosses and Round Tower to the completion of the famous Book of Kells. This book is a manuscript of the 4 Gospels, beautifully illustrated by the monks of Kells Abbey in the 9thC.

All that remains now are the roofless tower, three high crosses and a base for the 4th high cross, and few artifacts. It is in these grounds that St Columba’s Church of Ireland Parish church and its cemetery now stand. The Book of Kells, meanwhile, is on display at the Trinity College, Dublin and that is another trip to be made.

The Round Tower.
Monasteries were surrounded by a circular boundary wall which acted as a frontier between the holy world within and the secular world outside. They often contained a church, graveyard, high crosses, monk`s cells and later on, from the late 10th century, the addition of round towers to store surplus goods, act as a refuge and a belltower.

These medieval features decorate the bell tower which is all that remains of a medieval church, now replaced by St Columba’s church.

One of the four high crosses on this site, this was damaged during the invasion of Oliver Cromwell’s army.
The carvings depict scenes from the Bible such as The Marriage feast of Cana, Christ entering Jerusalem and Christ’s baptism by St. John

20171007_121422bAll that remains of this high cross is the base.



Another high cross, the Cross of St. Patrick & St. Columba. I am guessing that this could be the Holy Trinity depicting God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The unfinished cross. Carvings were done onsite and the blank square panels show that the work was left unfinished.

Adam and Eve, probably after eating the apple as they both look embarassed of themselves here.

The crucifixion

IMG_3970bSt John’s Cemetery, 12thC
Here is a headstone engraved with an Early Christian Cross.

Original Celtic Crosses were carved on slabs of stone. It is thought to mark the transition from flat gravestones to the upright Celtic crosses.

St John’s cemetery, 12thC
A medieval effigy depicting the deceased in a state of “eternal repose”. The first medieval effigies emerged as low relief in the 12th century, gradually becoming full high relief in the 14thC, also horizontal, and later on, sculpted upright.

St John’s cemetery 
19thC headstone engraved with Early Christian cross.
St John’s cemetery, 12thC.
The use of sandstone slabs to mark graves were prevalent. I bet the wealthy ones hired carvers to create more decorative headstones.

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