The monastery at Kildare

Daily Reading for January 31

“And who can describe in words the supreme beauty of this church, and the countless wonders of that minster—of that city as we may say, if it can rightly be called a city when it is surrounded by no circuit of walls? But because countless people come together in it, it earns the name ‘city’ from the gathering of crowds there. This city is supreme and metropolitan, in whose suburbs, which holy Brigit marked out with a precise boundary, is feared no mortal adversary nor onslaught of enemies. But it is the safest city of refuge, with all its external suburbs, in the whole land of the Irish for all fugitives. . . . And who can count the varied crowds and countless peoples flocking together from all provinces? Some come because of the abundance of feasts, others to obtain healing of their ailments, others to stare at the crowds; others bring great gifts and offerings to the celebration of holy Brigit’s birth.”

Thus the seventh-century Irishman Cogitosus praised Kildare. He was writing in a tradition, suffused with biblical conceptions of cities of refuge and the heavenly city, which presented the minsters of Ireland as places of safety, centrality, and popular resort as well as places of cult. The main centres of early Christian Ireland were indeed its monastic sites, and several of them have now yielded archaeological evidence for complex zoning of activities, including specialized craft production and industry, during the seventh to ninth centuries.

From The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society by John Blair (Oxford, 2005).

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