Ancient Celtic Center — St. Kevin Finds God in the Glendalough Valley
Ancient Celtic Centers — St. Kevin Finds God in the Glendalough Valley
In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher takes us on a visit to Glendalough in ancient, Celtic Ireland.
Walk through Glendalough valley in the Wicklow Mountains of southeastern Ireland and you will feel the presence of God in the trees, the lakes, and the hills. It’s a place of serenity, beauty, and isolation. Perhaps that’s what drew Kevin, later called a saint, to the place.
Glendalough, Well Worth the Visit
Glendalough means “valley of two lakes” and is well worth visiting. My wife and I drove there the same day we flew into Dublin from Minneapolis—a bad idea after an overseas flight. Still, Glendalough was a pleasant surprise. Alas, all my pictures of Glendalough were lost with my camera somewhere on the Ring of Kerry.
Keeping to the vein of my series on ancient Celtic centers, let us read another long-forgotten and recently discovered missive from a visitor to that ancient place at the very time St. Kevin was alive…
In the Month of June, in the Year of Our Lord Five Hundred and Ninety Two
To the Most Honored Ninean mac Neas, Abbot of Aill Farraige Monastery
Travel through the drumlins has left me somewhat ill-used and pining for my bed back at the monastery. For two days, our chariot bounced like a baby on its mother’s knees over the wooden bog roads. Still, I arrived safely in Glendalough, valley of the two lakes, weathered, shaken, but alive.
I am struck by the serenity of this place. Each morning I walk beside the quiet waters of lakes nestled between silent blue and green mountains. A light mist often hovers over far banks, where green pines march down to meet the shore’s edge. No wonder Kevin chose this valley for himself. Of the great man himself, I have seen or heard nothing.
In the valley, a small community of aspiring holy men has sprung up. Newcomers live in one of two large communal roundhouses, and this is where I make my bed. Some longer-term residents have built for themselves beehive huts of stone, big enough for only one person. These are in imitation of the cell Kevin created for himself, piling stone upon stone. Their goal is isolation, meditation, and closeness to God. I begin to feel a sense of peace come over me.
I have learned why we haven’t seen the great man. They tell me he often spends time alone somewhere on the mountain. At night, he sleeps in a cave cut in the cliffs above one of the lakes. I’ve heard it’s an austere room, big enough only for one person to lie down. During the day, he sits alone somewhere on the mountaintop, praying and meditating, preferring to commune with God, rather than with his fellow man. They tell me that for seven years this was how he lived before the arrival of all these other supplicants. Now he occasionally returns to such a hermitage. Did you know that he was born of noble parents in Western Wicklow?
Another man arrived today, joining a growing community of men. All seek closeness with God and retreat from the world. They come because of Kevin, of whom we have seen nothing.
Today, I had my first sight of Kevin. His time of seclusion is apparently finished. He came walking slowly through the holy settlement nodding and bowing as each man approached. Barefoot, wearing only a deerskin tunic, his hair a wild mass of uncut locks, he reminded me of an illustration of John the Baptist in one of our newly copied manuscripts. I write this by candlelight, after sitting all evening in a wide circle around this most holy of men. He spoke to us at length of the greatness of our Lord, how God made the valleys, the animals, the trees, and the lakes. His love for all things wild and untouched shines through. I could listen to him all day and not tire. Every so often, he stops to read from an enormous Bible, either a Psalm or the gospel of John.
Kevin walked among us today, talking with each man individually. He encouraged us, told us of the love of Christ for all men, and bowed to each of us. My heart fills with joy at the teaching he has given us.
I regret to inform your lordship that I will not be returning to serve again as your aide. Such a peace and sense of calm have pervaded my soul that I have decided to remain here in Glendalough. I know this report is shorter than you wished, but I must end it and hand it to a traveler leaving tomorrow for Galway. He promises to divert his path to our monastery over the western cliffs. I hope I can trust in his word and that you will receive it. Forgive me, but this is the life I have chosen.
From Muireach mac Flannagan, Now a Humble Servant to Kevin of Glendalough
Keywords: Glendalough, St. Kevin, Celtic center, Celtic Ireland
Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient Celtic Ireland at the time of St. Patrick. To learn more about his book, click on the link.
Sources for this post were Wikipedia and the Glendalough Hermitage Centre.