Monasticism and its limits: rematerialising monastic space in early medieval Ireland

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McCarthy, Bernadette
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University College Cork
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This thesis creates a multi-faceted archaeological context for early Irish monasticism, so as to ‘rematerialise’ a phenomenon that has been neglected by recent archaeological scholarship. Following revision of earlier models of the early Irish Church, archaeologists are now faced with redefining monasticism and distinguishing it from other diverse forms of Christian lifestyle. This research addresses this challenge, exploring the ways in which material limits can be set on the monastic phenomenon. The evidence for early Irish monasticism does not always conform to modern expectations of its character, and monastic space must be examined as culturally unique in its own right - though this thesis demonstrates that early Irish monasticism was by no means as unorthodox in its contemporary European setting as has previously been suggested. The research is informed by theories of the body, habitus and space, drawing on a wide body of archaeological, religious, sociological and anthropological thought. The data-set comprises evidences gathered through field-survey, reassessment of archaeological scholarship, historical research and cartographic research, enabling consideration of the ways in which early Irish monastics engaged with their environments. A sample of thirty-one early Irish ecclesiastical sites plus Iona forms the basis for discussion of the location and layout of monastic space, the ways in which monastics used buildings and space in their daily lives, the relationship of monasticism and material culture, the setting of mental and physical limits on monastic space and monastic bodies, and the variety of monastic lifestyles that pertained in early medieval Ireland. The study then examines the Christian landscapes of two case-studies in mid-Western Ireland in order to illustrate how monasticism functioned on the ground in these areas. As this research shows, the material complexities of early Irish monastic life are capable of archaeological definition in terms of both communal and personal lived experience.
Monasticism , Archaeology , Early medieval Ireland , Early Irish Church , Eremitism , Material culture , Space , Landscape archaeology
McCarthy, B. 2013. Monasticism and its limits: rematerialising monastic space in early medieval Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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