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Circles under churches
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FourWinds
FourWinds
10943 posts

Re: Circles under churches
Apr 29, 2005, 07:32
The trend in Ireland was slightly different in the early Xtian days. When the first monks arrived they were, more often than not, given an old fort to build their churches in. This means there are a lot of round churchyards in Ireland. It is my personal belief that this was primarily to give the monks no chance of stealing more land, because the banks of the rath/fort clearly defined an area. Some of the oldest tales tell of monks performing miracles to get more land and if these stories are actually contemporary then local kings would have been rather wary.

One such story is told of St Kevin at Glendalough. The kind told him he could have the land that his lame goose could fly around - Kevin promptly healed the goose and got half the kingdom!

Many of the old forts have legends of being inhabited by the little folk too and people wouldn't live in them anymore for fear of upsetting the Gentry. Ireland seems to have been converted in a different way to most places. There wasn't a persecuted underground cult first. Whereas Xtianity had two bites of the cherry in most places (after the Roman Empire collapsed many places seemed to have returned to pagan beliefs for a while), but in Ireland the transition seems to have been smooth. The usual Piper related stories about stone circles exist, but many pre-Christian practices were assimilated into Xtianity rather than removed altogether: wells, bullauns, pilgrimages to the tops of mountains were all taken in and are still in use today in many cases.

Some of the circular Cillin or church enclosures could have been henges rather than forts, but noone has really undertaken this study.

I don't know of any Irish churches that were definitely built in a stone circle, but I know of many that are built on what were obviously (to me) ancient sacred sites. The church on Church Mountain in Wicklow for instance is built on the base of a passage tomb, the stones of the cairn being used to build the church while leaving the cairn clearly defined: http://megalithomania.com/show/site/999

Another example of reuse is at Labbamaloga in Cork. Here the door of the 8th century church ( http://megalithomania.com/show/image/2816 ) is probably made using the stones from the stone circle or avenue in the next field ( http://megalithomania.com/show/image/2821 ). Another thing to note about this church is that it does not align east-west, but towards the hill hilighted in the second image. The larger and newer church right next to it aligns properly east-west making the alignment of the original very blatant.
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