Seven miles off the coast of western Ireland is a rocky cliff that rises out of the Atlantic Ocean. This tiny island of 54 acres is named Skellig Michael and it’s the location of a small Gaelic Christian monastery founded in the 6th century. Access to the island is by boat only, and even that access is tough without a harbor, beach, or inlet. Boats must moor in the choppy sea along the craggy cliffs.
The monastery sits high on a terrace 600 feet above the ocean. You get there by nimbly climbing the stone steps laid along the cliff. At the top are a handful of beehive shaped huts made from neatly stacked flat stones, and a few larger common buildings.
Monastic life can be quite austere, and living on Skellig Michael is a good example. The monks who lived on the island sustained themselves with small vegetable gardens, from birds that inhabited the island, and from fish in the sea below.
Today Skellig Michael is a Unesco World Heritage Site that preserves this daring architectural expression of early Irish monasticism. You can actually visit this tiny island and hike the ancient stone steps to the preserved monastery at the top. I made that trip several years ago and the starkness of the existence was amazing. Yet the steepness of the steps without any handholds combined with the proximity of the ocean drop immediately before you can be somewhat unnerving.
You can hear about this spiritual place in the episode Spiritual Starkness of Skellig Michael / Spiritual Care Counselor John Connor / Spiritual Insights Inside Us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, or on the Spiritual Fizz website.
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