Churches in Early Medieval Ireland: Architecture, Ritual, and Memory
This is the first book devoted to churches in Ireland from the arrival of Christianity in the fifth century to the early stages of the Romanesque ... Show synopsis This is the first book devoted to churches in Ireland from the arrival of Christianity in the fifth century to the early stages of the Romanesque around 1100, including those built to house treasures of the golden age of Irish art such as the Book of Kells and the Ardagh chalice. Carragain's comprehensive survey of the surviving examples forms the basis for a far-reaching analysis of why these buildings looked as they did, and what they meant in the context of early Irish society. The most immediately striking feature of these buildings is their simplicity: virtually all are rectangular in plan with a single doorway in the west wall. This was not because of ignorance of architecture elsewhere in Europe, but the result of an imperative to perpetuate a building form, derived largely from Romano-British and biblical exemplars, that had become associated with the saints who had christianized Ireland and founded its great ecclesiastical centres. These churches were associative relics: permanent stone versions of wooden churches built by the founders, embodying memories about these saints and legitimising the authority of their successors. It was primarily through rituals that these ideas were conveyed to the general population. In this book, the Irish architectural context of early medieval rituals is analysed for the first time. It also includes the most detailed analysis to date of the layout of the most important Irish ecclesiastical complexes, including Armagh, Clonmacnoise and Glendalough. At each of these sites there were ten or more churches, along with other monuments such as round towers and high crosses. O Carragain argues that some of these monumental schemes were intended to recall distant sacred topographies, especially Jerusalem and Rome. He also identifies a clear political and ideological context for the first Romanesque churches in Ireland and shows that, to a considerable extent, the Irish Romanesque represents the perpetuation of a long-established architectural tradition.