Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ireland - Clonmacnoise Monastic Site

Clonmacnoise is an Early Christian site founded by St. Ciarán in the mid 6th century on the eastern bank of River Shannon. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th - 13th century), two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe.

Sent by Claudia, a postcrosser from Ireland.

This is from Wikipedia : The monastery of Clonmacnoise (Cluain Mhic Nóis in Irish, meaning "Meadow of the Sons of Nós", or perhaps, albeit less likely, Cluain Muccu Nóis "Meadow of the Pigs of Nós") is situated in County Offaly, Ireland on the River Shannon south of Athlone.

Clonmacnoise was founded sometime between 545 and 548 by Ciarán Mac a tSaor, a young man from Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon. Until the 9th century it had close associations with the kings of Connacht. The strategic location of the monastery helped it become a major centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade by the 9th century and together with Clonard it was the most famous in Ireland, visited by scholars from all over Europe. From the ninth until the eleventh century it was allied with the kings of Meath. Many of the high kings of Tara and Connacht were buried here.

Shortly after his arrival with seven companions - at the point where the major east-west land route through the bogs of central Ireland along the Eiscir Riada, an esker left by the receding glaciers of the last ice age crossed the River Shannon - Saint Ciarán met Diarmait Uí Cerbaill who helped him build the first church at the site. This was a small wooden structure and the first of many small churches to be clustered on the site. Diarmuid was to be the first man to be crowned High King of Ireland while a practising Christian. Ciarán died less than one year later of the yellow fever (Justinian Plague) and was reportedly buried under the original wooden church, now the site of the 9th century stone oratory, Temple Ciarán. Annals record that he died at the age of 33, one of the many coincidences recorded between Ciarán's life and that of Jesus Christ.

Clonmacnoise's period of greatest growth came between the 8th and 12th centuries. It was attacked frequently during these four centuries, mostly by the Irish (at least 27 times), the Vikings (at least 7 times) and Anglo-Normans (at least 6 times). The early wooden buildings began to be replaced by more durable stone structures in the 9th century, and the original population of fewer than ten men grew to perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 by the 11th century. Artisans associated with the site created some of the most beautiful and enduring artworks in metal and stone ever seen in Ireland, with the Clonmacnoise Crozier (on display in the National Museum of Ireland) and the Cross of the Scriptures representing the apex of their efforts.

In the 12th century Clonmacnoise began to decline. The reasons were varied, but without doubt the most debilitating factor was the growth of the town of Athlone to the north of the site from the late-12th century. Athlone became the main trading town for the midlands of Ireland, the most popular route for crossing the Shannon, as well as the best-defended settlement in the region. People migrated north from Clonmacnoise to Athlone, and with the fall in population went much of the support that the site needed to survive, and former allies began to recognise the decline in the site's influence. The influx of continental religious orders such as the Franciscans, Augustinians, Bendictines, Cluniacs, etc. around the same time fed into this decline as numerous additional competitor sites began to crop up. Ireland's move from a monastic framework to diocesan in the twelfth century similarly disimproved the site's religious standing, as it was designated the seat of a small and impoverished diocese.

It was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979. The site can be visited for a fee, via an O.P.W.-managed interpretative centre (see for prices and contact info.). The site is accessible from the River Shannon, with trips from Shannonbridge and Athlone regular features during the summer season. Some private operators also offer bus connections from Athlone, but the most common way to visit the site by road, if a visitor does not have their own car, is by taxi from Athlone (€40-50 ret.).

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