Irish churches. The ancient Irish churches were made of wood and therefore have not survived: the description given by Cogitosus of the Church of Kildare 7th c. is the best source of information about them PL 72, 788D-789. The Church of Kildare, in wood, hung with draperies and decorated with pictures, seems to have been much larger than the oldest stone churches known to us, given that the monastery hosted a bishop with a school of clerics and an abbess with her virgins and widows, not to mention, presumably, those attached to the monastery, since Cogitosus speaks of a layman attached to the church.
The surviving stone churches are very simple, especially the oldest ones, but they do not seem to be older than the 9th c.: in fact, the first example is at Kells, if Columcille’s House is the church which the annals say was completed in 814. The simplicity of the architecture, however, is notable in itself, given that the Irish certainly knew the plans of Continental churches. Adamnan, in his small, dark building on Iona, probably passed in review some plans and certainly described a certain number of Eastern basilicae Adamnan’s De locis sanctis, ed. D. Meehan, Scriptores Latini Hiberniae, III, Dublin 1958. Despite this, the architecture of the Irish churches offers no signs of the influence of foreign models.
3. Irish monasteries and hermitages. 1 Nendrum: The ancient monasteries are well-known, especially in remote and often panoramic locales, but a convincing date that goes back to the 6th or 7th c. can be given for none of them. Two, however, have yielded ceramic which may indicate a use of the site in the 7th c. One of these, Nendrum, was a threewalled circular enclosure, and the other, Armagh, was an enclosure before being employed for cultural use. At Nendrum the existence of a stone church with a round tower demonstrates that the monastery had a long history, which the excavations have not clarified. It seems probable, however, that the cells of the monks were in the form of circular buildings of dry-wall stone probably with beehive roofs. The presence of crucibles and of a stone mold among the other objects found here shows the importance of artistic metalwork to make chalices, reliquaries and book covers.
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