May 5, 2010

Skellig Michael

photo creative commons by chb1848

In ages past a monk sat on a lonely stone precipice with a view of the turbulent northern waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The mainland, though only a mere eight miles away, was at most times unreachable due to poor weather conditions, and so he is isolated. He pulls his cowl tight around his head against the beating wind. Puffins and seabirds are his only companions, although he does not live on the island alone. His brothers are below him eking out a few vegetables from the bits of soil they created by hauling mounds of seaweed up the rocky slope.

Physical labor awaits him later; it is now his task to pray. The monks do not speak or socialize. Companionship is not the reason they came to this place. They work and they pray. They subsist on whatever God provides. They sacrifice their bodies to the harsh conditions, living in stone beehive huts that keep nature’s fury at bay just enough so that they might survive.

This scene was repeated by many generations of Celtic monks who came to Skellig Michael, a rocky island off the western coast of Ireland, between the 6th and 12th centuries.
photo via creative commons by Thomas Dimson
Today their stone huts still survive, as do the six hundred rock steps leading up from the landing point. The monks who lived there cloistered themselves voluntarily as a green martyrdom, meaning they sacrificed everything to embark on a journey that would lead them closer to the God they knew, the Creator of heaven and earth. They followed the example of the monks in ancient Egypt and Syria who chose the desert for their ascetic lifestyle. Ireland had no desert, but truly no place was lonelier than Skellig Michael, a place where one must truly put himself in God’s care.


  1. OOOOOH. Great post, Cindy! Gives me shivers, but what a wonderful insight into the monks' lives. Thanks!

  2. Lovely, informative post. Thank you!

  3. Thanks, ladies. I love sharing these things.