Skellig_michael_monestary_3_Inside Skellig Michael ('The Rock of St Michael') located off the south-west coast of Ireland is the most spectacularly situated of early medieval island monastic sites. There are two main sites on the island: the Monastery and the Hermitage. The Monastery consists of an inner stone enclosure with two oratories, a mortared church, seven cells and the remains of water cisterns, a cemetery, leachta (possible cult shrines or pilgrim stations), crosses and cross-slabs. It also includes two large terraces referred to as the Upper and Lower Monks’ Gardens. High retaining walls support all the terracing, on which everything is constructed. On ledges on the South Peak of the island rock-cut steps lead up to the Hermitage. It comprises a series of platforms, traverses, enclosures and terraces. The Oratory Terrace still retains its original features: an oratory, altar, leacht, bench, cisterns and a possible shrine. The oratory is an inverted-boat shaped structure, with the door in the west wall.

There is a small, rectangular window in the east wall. Cell A is the largest of the monastic cells and clearly had a communal function. It is particularly imposing and has very thick walls built of small flat stones. The door has a double lintel and the floor retains most of its original paving. There are two cupboards and projecting stone pegs probably used for storage purposes. There are window openings, one of which focuses on the South Peak and another on the Little Skellig. St Michael’s Church lies to the west of the Large Oratory and is on the same level. The church is rectangular in plan, unlike the inverted-boat-shaped oratories, and has straight walls and sharp rectangular corners. It would have had a timber roof structure. There is an east window and a doorway on the north side. There is evidence of two distinct stages of construction: an earlier, smaller, mortared church was at some later date expanded, incorporating the smaller church. Skellig Michael was an organised monastic settlement and a retreat for senior religious from mainland communities. Although attacked by the Vikings in the 8th century it continued to function as a monastery and pilgrim site well into the medieval period.

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