Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Glendalough: St. Mary's Church - or Lady Chapel

West gable and graveyard
There’s no denying that the central precinct of Glendalough is pretty packed with tourists during the summer season. While the round tower, St Kevin’s church, the graveyard, and all that are lovely and interesting, it’s just not possible to take a photograph without other people getting in the shot (and you becoming part of someone else’s holiday snaps too!). With buses disgorging a seemingly endless stream of sightseers, the site does take on something of the feel of a theme park. While I’m fully aware that these sites would have bustled with activity in their heydays, I do prefer my medieval ruins to be still and peaceful … and that quietude is just not to be found there. Or so I thought. In my wanderings, I bumped into a couple of student archaeologists working on a small trench near the gateway. They directed me up the road and into a field where the main UCD Archaeology Department excavation was taking place. I was lucky enough to bump into the crew just at the end of lunchtime and was given a guided tour of the excavation. You can download and read detailed accounts of some of their excavations [here]. At the end of a very enjoyable spell learning about the newly discovered archaeology of Glendalough & renewing some old acquaintances, I happened to ask if it was possible to get to the church I could see poking out thorough bushes and trees in the next field. I fully expected to be told that it was off limits and couldn’t be reached. I was instead pleasantly surprised to find that it was merely a case of negotiating a couple of gates under the shade of the trees and suddenly I was standing in the sunlight and soaking up the beauty of the ruin known as St Mary’s Church or Lady Chapel.

Lady Chapel as seen from near 'Kevin's Kitchen'
The nave appears to be of 10th or 11th century date and the chancel is a later addition. The outside of the east window has a Romanesque moulding. For my money, though, the gem of this site is the cross with circular-terminals, carved on the underside of the door lintel. Well ... that may be the archaeological gem of this place, but the really amazing thing about the site is that it was so quiet and peaceful. It’s just 500ft (about 140m) from St Kevin’s Church/’Kitchen’. Over there it was all hustle and bustle, but here – just a field away – I could hear the birdsong and the wind gently rustle the leaves.

Approaching across the field
I’m in two minds about whether I should be promoting this site for its peace and solitude, thereby potentially destroying the very thing that makes it special. However it is – in every sense – off the beaten track and I think I’m safe enough. The busloads of tourists hitting the site for their scheduled 30 minute slot, to take a few photos and buy a souvenir or two will never have the time, inclination, or footwear, to make it this far. It will, I believe, remain the preserve of the lucky few to come here and enjoy the tranquility before heading out again, refreshed, into the tumult.

East window with Romanesque moulding

West Gable

Through the cross-decorated doorway & on to the lakes beyond

Cross inscribed on the underside of the door lintel

View into the later chancel with the Round Tower in the background

The west doorway

The peace and quiet of the graveyard

Much of the detail about the individual sites has been rather shamelessly taken from some excellent sites & I urge you to go and explore them too:

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

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