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Early Medieval Monastic Sites

Date of Submission: 08/04/2010
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Ireland to the OECD and UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
County Offaly (Clonmacnoise and Durrow), CountyWicklow (Glendalough), County Clare (Inis Cealtra), County Meath (Kells), County Louth (Monasterboice)
Ref.: 5527

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party



- Clonmacnoise: N53 19 40 W7 58 43

- Durrow: N53 16 22 W7 48 01

- Glendalough: N53 0 37 W6 17 25

- Inis Cealtra: N52 48 46 W8 26 35

- Kells: N53 43 33 W6 52 45

- Monasterboice: N53 46 48 W6 24 12

The sites chosen are a representative sample of Early Medieval Monastic sites in Ireland, which embody the Celtic Church's rich cultural and historical past, playing a crucial role in Europe's educational and artistic development.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The six Early Medieval Monastic Sites chosen are the epitome of the Early Medieval Monastic Cities which derived their unique settlement patterns from the major sites of pre-Christian Celtic Ireland which themselves developed over the several centuries of the Iron Age. During these first centuries of the first millennium AD Britain and Western Europe fell into the orbit of the Roman Empire and the Christian Church, influences which Ireland largely escaped until the 5th century. The properties nominated are amongst the principal examples of centres of Celtic learning, teaching and enlightenment.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The authenticity of these 6 properties as monastic cities founded in the 6th and 7th centuries AD is attested in form and design, material and substance, location and setting and spirit and feeling. Their histories have been researched by eminent scholars back to their foundations in the 6th century.


The integrity of all 6 properties can be examined visually and physically and experienced with the senses as suggested in paragraph 88 of the Revised Operational Guidelines, and expressed in the Criteria of Outstanding Universal Value. They are of adequate size and five are situated in pastoral settings without significant immediate development.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Early Celtic Monastic Society evolved from the mingling of the indigenous pagan cultural, social and legal systems with those of Western European Christianity. This latter system declined while the Celtic system developed and prospered leading to a reversal of learning before and during the Carolingian Empire. This theme of the cross fertilization of scholarship is in the process of continual study and development, and its expression in the relationships between Ireland and Western Europe seems uniquely expressed by the two social cultures. This legacy is experienced in the physical presence of the monastic centers of learning, which remain in Europe and in Ireland as presented in this proposal.

Skellig Michael: Ireland

An isolated monastic complex, perched on an island in the Atlantic, difficult to ascend, and at times cut off from all human contact for weeks on end by weather conditions, this site embodies the most extreme characteristics of early Christian eremitical asceticism.

Principal differences to Early Medieval Monastic Sites:

  • It demonstrates eremitic monasticism
  • It is non-congregational
  • It had no national symbolic value in the medieval period
  • It is situated on an island
  • It is nominated as a group of buildings rather than as a cultural landscape
  • It lacks the architectural and artistic wealth evidenced at the other properties

Saint Catherine, Sinai: Egypt

This site is inscribed for its landscape setting, sacred to three religions, and for the significance of the buildings, and their collections, to the study of Byzantine art and architecture. It is one of the earliest examples of an ascetic monastic site to survive in a state of preservation to the current day.

Principal differences toEarly Medieval Monastic Sites:

  • The chronological time frame is different
  • Its societal role as an enclosed community difficult to access depicts ascetic monasticism
  • It has an Eastern architectural tradition

Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs: Hungary

This is a remarkable complex of early Christian tombs, dating to the 4th century. Originally the cemetery of the provincial Roman town of Sopianae, the modern town of Pécs developed not around the ancient city, but around its cemetery. This is indicative of the importance of the cult of the dead in early Christian Europe. The architecture and ornament of these tombs make them a significant example of commemorative art of the early Christian period.

Principal differences to Early Medieval Monastic Sites:

  • Its chronology is 4th century.
  • There is a uniformity of purpose: confined to burial and commemoration.
  • It depicts part of a mutating tradition of architecture and art which nevertheless was still uniformly based on Roman precedents.