Skellig Michael

Background:

  • Name of site: Skellig Michael
    • Also known as Great Skellig
  • Country: Ireland
    • Off the coast of County Kerry Island
  • Year this site was added to the World Heritage List: 1996
  • Criteria as to why this site was nominated to be a UNESCO site
    • iii
      • it has important remnants of a culture or civilization which may or may not exist today
    • iv
      • the buildings, architecture, technology, or landscape is both momentous and vital to understanding human history
  • Number of UNESCO sites in Ireland
    • Cultural: 2
    • Natural: 0
    • Mixed Heritage: 0

Basic Archaeological Site Information:

  • Site size: 22ha
  •  2 major peaks
    • One peak is 185 meters tall, while the other is 218 meters tall
  • There are two Skellig islands. Skellig Michael is the bigger one of the two, the second being Little Skellig.
  • Skellig Michael is located 12 km off the coast of South-West Ireland
  • Time period this site represents: 600-1200 A.D.
    • There is some debate as to when the site was first discovered. Some believe that the Irish settled on it as early as 600 A.D. Yet the earliest written records found on the island date back to 700 A.D.
  • This site is said to be the home of the first Irish Christians.

Archaeological Summary:

       Skellig Michael is an extraordinary cornucopia of ancient Christian artifacts. Due to its small size and secluded location, the island and its artifacts are well-preserved. From between 600-800 A.D., a tiny gathering of Irish monks landed on this island and began an enclosed civilization. They desired a closer union with their God, and believed that such a union could only be created through solitude. Therefore, an island in the middle of nowhere was perfect for their purpose. Eventually, a monastery was built on the tiny island, along with, “a church, oratories, cells, a souterrain, and many crosses and cross-slabs” (“Skellig.” UNESCO.org). Between 950 and 1050, the monks dedicated their little island to Saint Michael, and even named their church after him. The inhabitants continued to practice their religion until they moved back to the mainland in the 13th century due to severe weather.

       However, even after the monks left the island, Christians continued visiting the island. After the monastery left, a hermitage was built in its place. A hermitage is a place where an individual or a group goes to practice their religious beliefs. Yet there were few to none permanent residents living on the island. Eventually, the island was used as a destination for Christian travelers on a pilgrimage due to its deep roots in Christianity. All the building on the island were repaired, while the church was expanded to accommodate all the new visiting inhabitants. Ever since then, the only major buildings added to the island are two 19th-century lighthouses.

       The artifacts themselves are noteworthy simply due to their beauty, though their history is also fascinating. Through a combination of Christian imagery and Celtic aesthetics, the inhabitants of Skellig Michael created a myriad of gorgeous relics that still tantalize viewers today. When walking through the monastery, you can see a number of stone crosses lining the pathway. Although most of the crosses are worn because of the weather, you can still see how much time and effort people took to create these monuments of worship. The photograph on the right was taken by IrishFireside on July 26, 2010. If you wish to see artifacts found on Skellig Michael, take a look through this online edition of the book The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael.

Threats/Status

There are no known threats to this site at this time.

Links/Media

chb1848 took the below photograph of the Skellig Michael on September 3, 2007.

 

This photograph gives you a good view of both Skellig Michael (left) and Little Skellig. The photograph was taken by Zoonie on May 19, 2005.

 

Davers took this photograph of the monastic settlements on June 19, 2004.

 

This is a video by blackfeeling of Loreena McKennitt’s song about the monastery on Skellig Michael called “Skellig.” Loreena McKennitt’s voice is very beautiful!

This is a link to an online copy of the book The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Not only is the information comprehensive, but the images are beautiful and fascinating: http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft1d5nb0gb;brand=ucpress

This is a link to the World Heritage Site about Skellig Michael. There is a ton of good information, so make sure you check it out! http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/757/

Additional Information/ Fun Facts:

The famous playwright George Bernard Shaw said this about Skellig Michael: “An incredible, impossible, mad place. I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in; it is part of our dream world.”

Citations

Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke. The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1990. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1d5nb0gb/

“Skellig Michael.” The Skellig Experience. 2009. 20 February 2011. <http://www.skelligexperience.com/skellig_michael.html>.  

“Skellig Michael.” UNESCO.org. World Heritage Convention. 2011. 20 February 2011. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/757/>.

“Skellig Michael.” World Heritage: Ireland. 2010. 21 February 2011. <http://www.worldheritageireland.ie/skellig-michael/>.

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