Sceilg Mhichíl is an outstanding, and in many respects unique, example of an early religious settlement deliberately sited on a pyramidal rock in the ocean, preserved because of a remarkable environment. It illustrates, as no other property can, the extremes of a Christian monasticism characterizing much of North Africa, the Near East, and Europe.
Sceilg Mhichíl, also known as Skellig Michael, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996. The island of Sceilg Mhichíl lies at the extreme north-western edge of Europe, rising from the Atlantic Ocean almost 12 km west of the lveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. It is the most spectacularly situated of all Early Medieval island monastic sites, particularly the isolated hermitage perched on narrow, human-made terraces just below the South Peak.
Faulting of Devonian sandstone has created a U-shaped depression known today as “Christ’s Valley” or “Christ’s Saddle” 130 m above sea level in the centre of the island, and this is flanked by two peaks, that to the north-east rising to 185 m and that to the west-south-west, 218 m. The rock is deeply eroded and weathered, owing to its exposed position, but it is almost frost-free.
The three island landing points communicate by flights of steps with the principal monastic remains, which are situated on a sloping shelf on the ridge running north-south on the north-eastern side of the island; the hermitage is on the steeper South Peak.
The monastery, its cells and oratories and the even more precipitous structures of the South Peak Hermitage symbolise both the arrival and spread of Christianity and emerging literacy of lands so remote that they were beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire and the ultimate reach of organised monasticism which spread from Egypt by land and sea through Italy and Gaul to Britain and Ireland in a mere two centuries (the 5th and 6th). The date of the foundation of the monastery on this island is not known. It was dedicated to St Michael somewhere between 950 and 1050.
All the physical components of the ideal small monastery exist on Skellig: isolation, difficulty in accessing the site, living spaces, buildings for worship and plots for food production. Here, amongst dramatic and unique settings, the indigenous stone architecture of a past millennium is intact and in a relatively stable condition. A clear evolution of dry stone masonry techniques is evident so this site offers a unique documentation of the development of this type of architecture and construction.
Sceilg Mhichíl is also one of Ireland’s most important sites for breeding seabirds, both for the diversity of the species and the size of the colonies it supports.
Criterion (iii): Sceilg Mhichíl illustrates, as no other property can, the extremes of a Christian monasticism characterizing much of North Africa, the Near East and Europe.
Criterion (iv): Sceilg Mhichíl is an outstanding and in many respects a unique example of an early religious settlement deliberately sited on a pyramidal rock in the ocean, preserved because of a remarkable environment.
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