Early Ecclesiastical Sites
Early Ecclesiastical Sites
Christianity was probably first introduced into Ireland during the 4th century A.D., and by 431 A.D., prior to St. Patrick's 5th century mission in the northern part of the country, there were sufficient Christians in the south of the country for Pope Celestine to send Palladius as their first bishop. During the early centuries of Christianity here, the organisation of the church was diocesan and episcopal, similar to that established elsewhere in Europe under the Roman Empire, and the territory or paruchia ruled by each bishop seems to have been co-terminus with the tuath or local political unit (Hughes 1980, 50). Monastic foundations appear in Ireland from the mid-6th century onwards, and, though the 2 systems co-existed for a time, by the late 7th and 8th centuries the monastic paruchiae or federations had become the dominant ecclesiastical units. They remained so until the reforms of the 12th century when the Irish church was re-organised on the diocesan and parochial system by which it is still governed today.
A wide variety of ecclesiastical sites existed in Early Christian Ireland, ranging from great monastic cities to small isolated hermitages, with a range of lesser monasteries and church sites in between. Some of the church sites were affiliated to the monasteries, others were independent foundations, some were tribal churches, others private churches (Hurley 1982, 299). In adirelandion, there would have been undeveloped cemeteries as defined by Thomas (1971), and a variety of pilgrimage sites. Isolated cross-inscribed pillars and ogham stones may have been erected to mark boundaries, routeways or notable events, and crosses were inscribed on some prehistoyic standing stones. Holy wells were venerated and cross-slabs erected beside them in some instances.
None of the ecclesiastical sites on the Dingle Peninsula developed to the status of monastic cities, though Kilmalkedar was undoubtedly an important centre. The majority are small enclosed church sites of a type common in the west of Ireland, particularly on the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas. These have often been described as eremitic monasteries, but, with the exception of the pilgrimage site on Mount Brandon and perhaps the island monasteries, few are in remote or isolated locations. Their distribution is similar to that of ringforts, the secular enclosed settlements of the period. Hurley (1982, 311) suggests that the majority should be regarded simply as small church sites which provided essential religious services for the local community, and possibly for pilgrims as Harbison (forthcoming) suggests.
These small church sites were generally located within a stone-walled or earthen-banked enclosure which would have served not only as protection but also to define the termon or area of sanctuary of the church. Usually circular or oval in plan, though occasionally D-shaped or rectangular, these enclosures are generally larger than the average ringfort, the majority ranging between 30 and 70m in maximum dimension. They survive at about 30 ecclesiastical sites in the Dingle Peninsula. The remains of circular and rectangular huts are visible at many of the sites, and souterrains occur at a few.
This above information was sourced from the Archaeological Survey of the Dingle Peninsula (1986) and provided to dodingle.com courtesy of Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne. Republication of the extract or any part therin, in any form or capacity, is strictly prohibited without the express permission of the publishers. © Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne 1986-2010.Copies of the Survey are available in the bookshop of Músaem Chorca Dhuibhne,
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from Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne, tel. 066-9156100
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