A few years ago I was on retreat and part of the event included a trip to Glendalough, which is one of my favourite places in Ireland. While there, the retreat leader (not Irish) said that Irish monastic cities had low walls compared to monasteries in the rest of Europe. While the walls on the continent were to keep people out, the walls around the Irish monastic cities were markers. They communicated that we live life differently inside here.
That story was one of the few positives I got out of the weekend. I thought that was such a great image, and picture of what the church is supposed to be. We live differently in the midst of an alien culture and how we live is attractive to those around us, and draws them to us and to Jesus. The book The Drama of Scripture writes about the Israelites call to live out the life God called them to and says that this life would be “such a rich and full human life” that the nations who observed it would be attracted to it which would see Israel “fulfil the Abrahamic covenant to bless all nations”. I think that is such a great picture, and the Irish monastic cities and their low walls would be another great example.
So, for about 5 years now, I have been trying to find someplace where this idea of Irish Monastic walls being lower was cited and found nothing. (Do you know how hard it is to google something and have no relevant hits?)Today while doing some research for a paper I’m writing, I came across The Early Irish Monastic Schools, by Hugh Graham. Graham writes, “The monastery, including the whole group of monastic buildings, was generally, but not always, surrounded by a strong rampart, commonly circular or elliptical”. He adds, “So much was the rampart a feature of the Irish monastery that we find it in connection with the monasteries founded by Irish monks in other lands.”
I love good fiction. But making stuff up because it suits a narrative you want to communicate, that wrecks my head.
Of course, if someone has information that argues for the low wall theory…I would love to be wrong:)