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(21st October 1879.)


Neither the history nor the remains of the early Christian period in Scotland can be studied apart from those of Ireland. The ultimate establishment of the Christian Church in this country was the work of Irish ecclesiastics, and was therefore an extension into Scotland of the ecclesiastical system then prevailing in Ireland.

It follows from this that the study of the early Christian remains in Scotland is the study of a derived group, exhibiting local peculiarities, but possessing the general features and characteristics of the principal group of which it is an outlier or an offshoot. I might even go farther, and say that in Ireland itself the study of its early Christian remains is also (though not equally) the study of a derived group, inasmuch as Christianity did not originate there, and its adoption consequently implied the introduction of usages,—such as writing for instance; of styles of construction, such as building with lime; of typical forms of structure, such as churches and oratories; and applications of ornament, such as the carving of memorial crosses—which had no previous existence in the country. But it is sufficient in the meantime to indicate the principles on which the investigation must proceed. These are (1) That the typical characteristics of a group are most readily obtained from the study and comparison of the greatest possible number of the most perfect specimens; (2) That this number is more likely to be met with in the principal group than in the derived group; and (3) That the characteristics thus obtained, as typical of the principal group, will also be present in the derived group in consequence of its subordinate character.

The earliest churches in Ireland were constructed within the fortified enclosures of the chiefs who embraced the faith, and took the founders under their protection. Thus we learn from the tripartite life of St. Patrick, that the church at Donaghpatrick, one of the earliest erected by him in Meath, was built where the house of Conall, the king's brother, was situated, which was given up to St. Patrick for the purpose. The church of Cill Benen was erected within the fortress of Dun Lughaidh, so called from a chief who with his father and four brothers was baptized, and gave up his Dun for the purpose.1 When Aodh Finn, the son of Feargna, was converted by St. Caillin he gave up to him his Cathair, or stone fortress, in order that he might erect his monastic buildings within it.2 The system which thus arose in the incipient stages of the church's growth, continued long after the circumstances which rendered it necessary had passed away. The association of the church with a fortified enclosure, which had been at first dictated by necessity, became established by long custom as the normal form of the ecclesiastical structure, and the rath or the cashel3 surround

1 Petrie, Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland, p. 444. In 1826, when Dr. Petrie visited Kilbannon, the remains of this great Rath, a portion of the circle, was still to be seen; in 1838, when Dr. O'Donovan visited it, all traces of the enclosure had been swept away.—Dunraven's Notes on Irish Architecture, p. 72.

* The Book of Fenagh, quoted by Petrie, loc. tit.

* The oldest forms of defensive structure mentioned in ancient Irish writings are the Caisel, the Rath, the Lis, the Cathair, and the Dun. The ing the monastic buildings remained to mark their separation from the outer world long after its primary purpose as a defensive structure had ceased to be recognised. In the Irish annals for instance, the great ecclesiastical settlement of Armagh is often spoken of in later times as the Rath of Armagh with its churches.1 Even so late as the second half of the twelfth century we have a suggestive glimpse of the appearance of St. Columba's monastery at Deny, in the following entry in the Annals of the Four Masters:

"A.D. 1162, the separation of the houses from the church of Derry was made by the Comharbaof Columcille, Flaithbhertach O'Brolchain, and by Muircertach O'Lochlainn, King of Ireland; and they removed eighty houses or more from the place they were, and Caiseal an urlair was erected by the Comharba of Columcille, and he pronounced a curse on the person who should come over it."

Caisel or Cashel was a circular wall or enclosure for the defence of royal residences or of monasteries, and was usually constructed of stone. The Rath was an earthen fort or palisaded work enclosed with one or more ditches, and with ramparts of earth or of earth mixed with stones. Many of the Raths contained chambers constructed of stone, often in the form of long narrow underground galleries. Lis or Lios was almost synonymous with Rath. The Cathair was the largest of all the fortified works, built of stone without cement, mostly of circular or oval form, with strong thick walls, sometimes with chambers in the thickness of the walls. The walls rose to a considerable height, and had in many cases internal platforms or banquettes with stairs, and were finished with a parapet. The buildings which these huge fortifications enclosed are mostly so ruined that their form is not determinable. They were most numerous in the west of Ireland. Smaller enclosures of similar type exist in Kerry, and they have bee-hive huts within them. The word Dun was a generic term applied to a strong place, whether it might be a fortified hill or a construction of strength on a plain. It is thus used synonymously with Rath, Lis, and Cathair.—Stokes's Life vf George Petric, p. 235. See also Dunraven's Notes on Irish Architecture, vol. i., for descriptions and photographs of Irish Cathairs.

1 Even so late as 1266, when the Franciscan monastery of Armagh was founded, they cut a broad and deep trench round their church.—Annals of the Four Masters.

Thus we find the historic evidence testifying that from the earliest planting of Christianity in Ireland down to the twelfth century the rath or cashel surrounding the church was a special feature of the ecclesiastical settlement.1 The cashel itself, it is to be observed, was a construction of Pagan origin, indigenous to the country. The church which it enclosed was a construction of external origin, the form and purpose of which were alike foreign to the habits and unfamiliar to the usages of the people among whom it was introduced. For this reason there are no typical forms of native structures with which it can be confounded. However nearly it may approach to them in style of construction, it never loses its distinctive character. The rath or the cashel which surrounds it remains undistinguishable in character from a rath or a cashel of the Pagan time, but there is no Pagan structure which, in Scotland or in Ireland, assumes

1 The historic testimony is amply borne out by the evidence of the remains themselves. Thus the church of Dundesert in Antrim, 60 feet long and 25 feet wide, stood within the space enclosed by a double rath and ditch. The outer ditch was of the breadth of a moderate roadway, and the earth excavated from it had been heaped up inside to form a rampart carrying up the slope to about the height of 16 or 20 feet from the bottom. The whole face of the slope was covered with large stones imbedded in the earth. Concentric with this enclosure, and about 7 yards within it, was another ditch with a rampart on the inner side similarly constructed, and in the space enclosed by this stood the church. The ditches and ramparts were nearly circular, and there were two level entrances paved with stones, one at the N.W. and the other at the S.E. side. Every trace of cashel and church is now obliterated, and the ground ploughed over. St. Mochee's timber church at Nendrum was superseded in course of time by one of more permanent character. The ruins of a church still exist on the summit of a hill which forms the western extremity of the island. The ascent is interrupted by three oval enclosures which gird in succession the crown of the hill. The two lower are thirty yards apart, and the third, more circular in shape, encompasses a level space 70 yards in diameter, near the centre of which is the church, and near it the base of a round tower.—Reeves's Antiquities of Down, Connor, and Dromore, pp. 181-196.

^either the form or character of a Christian church, however early or however rude.

The rudest and earliest of those that have survived the lapse of time possesses so few of the features which we are now accustomed to associate with buildings of an ecclesiastical character, that it is necessary for the observer to divest himself of all preconceived notions on the subject, and to approach their investigation in the spirit of pure scientific inquiry. The basis of the investigation is founded on the historical fact that the constitution of the early Scotic Church was monastic. Hence the rath which surrounded the place of worship also enclosed the dwellings of the family of ecclesiastics. These dwellings, like the rath, were not necessarily affected either in form or style by the change of faith of their occupants; and they continued to be constructed after the ancient native manner. If, therefore, we find in Scotland a church or churches thus associated with a group of dwellings constructed in the ancient native manner, we are warranted in concluding that a group of Christian remains of an earlier type than this is not likely to be discovered.

I therefore proceed to describe in the first place four different groups of early ecclesiastical remains in Ireland possessing this typical character. I have selected these chiefly for the reason that we have no such complete or characteristic groups in Scotland.

The first group is situated on Skellig Mhichel, or St. Michael's Eock, a small but lofty island lying about twelve miles off the coast of Kerry. The rock is divided into two peaks not unlike the Eock of Dumbarton, and the monastic settlement occupies a kind of oblong platform measuring about 180 feet in length by from 80 feet to 100 feet in width, which is situated on the summit of the lower peak, and close to the edge of the cliff, which is here about 700 to 800 feet

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