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St. Kevin and his Thin Place

Your soul no longer stays still. It’s moving with God in the world, and moving toward God, revealed in signs or shrines or saints or surroundings. The pilgrim’s walking body holds incarnate this inner journey of the soul.

—Wesley Granberg-Michaelson

Yesterday was a day that the locals called unheard of...Sunny, dry and spectacular. We Glendalough pilgrims took advantage of is and "moved with God" all around the holy village and St. Kevin's monastic city. (One pilgrim recorded 23,000 steps!)

St. Kevin was a sixth century monastic who felt the call of Creation and the presence of God incarnate from childhood. Drawn by these callings, Kevin searched for the most remote part of Ireland he could find, where he could be with God in solitude, and there he settled in, "living a very simple and austere life in the hollow of a tree, eating only herbs and drinking water." Kevin was not the only one who longed for this holiness, and a community grew up around him, leading to the creation of what is known as a Monastic City, "an example of an early Celtic monastery, providing a sanctuary for expression of the deepest and most vibrant religious and spiritual beliefs of the people and a place where the veil between this world and the next was perceived to be only wafer thin"...thus the term a Thin Place.

Today the ruins of this Monastic City are remarkably intact. The cemetery is still used by families in the village and thus excavation is not allowed. However, what has been discovered outside of the monastic site walls indicates that the land was occupied as long as 5000 years ago. St. Kevin was not the first to discover what a holy place this was.

The stone churches that remain were built in the 11th and 12th centuries, replacing the wooden structures built during St. Kevin's time. Very few of them have roofs because they would have been wooden, but they are filled with the holy presence of worshippers from centuries ago. There are crosses carved in the stone above the doorways and on the walls, and even one at the entrance to the city called the Sanctuary Cross to offer safety to all who come within the gates of the city.

This cross, called a Saltire cross, is above the doorway to St. Mary's Church also known as the Lady Church where women worshipped and perhaps where the women monastics lived. The church is in the outer enclosure of the Monastic City because the women were either not allowed to worship within the heart of the city or where they felt more comfortable worshiping without men. Back behind the church in a bleak little spot are a few ancient stones marking the graves of children who died before they were baptized, because according the the church's traditional teaching, such children were sent to a place called limbo (or sheol) from which there was no salvation. This church is the only one in which the altar has stood the test of time, and here we marked each other as Christ's own forever in memory of the lost souls of the unbaptized children of Glendalough.


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