Ireland in western Europe is one of our homeschool countries-of-the-week, so why not spend a few minutes today learning about one of Ireland’s World Heritage Sites: the medieval island monastery of Sceilg Mhichíl. (And you won’t believe who’s been living there!)
Sceilg Mhichíl or Skellig Michael (“Michael’s Splinter,” after the archangel Michael) is one of the most famous and most remote monastic sites in western 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 [the] 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. (World Heritage Centre #757)
Skellig Michael is thought to have been most active as a monastery from the 11th through the 13th centuries, during which time as many as a dozen monks were permanently resident on the island. A small cemetery near the oratory contains some of their remains.
Although Skellig Michael has long been known to a small group of history specialists, it didn’t become intergalactically famous until recently, when this remote monastery was revealed to the hiding place of Jedi-Knight-in-exile Luke Skywalker.
You can find a gallery of additional photos of Sceilg Mhichíl on the World Heritage Centre’s website.
World Heritage Sites are cultural or natural landmarks of international significance, selected by their home countries and recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. More than a thousand such sites have been designated in over 160 countries, and we feature one every Wednesday, drawn from one of our homeschool countries-of-the-week. You can find a complete list of World Heritage Sites online at the World Heritage Centre’s website and in Wikipedia.
The World Heritage Centre also has a free and comprehensive World Heritage education kit for teachers, as well as a wonderful full-color wall map of World Heritage Sites, available for the cost of shipping. Why not add them both to your own homeschool library. 🗺
What world treasures are you and your students exploring in your homeschool this Orion Term? 🇮🇪
❡ The great globe itself: This is one of our regular Homeschool Geography posts featuring cultural and natural sites of international importance. Print your own copy of our River Houses World Heritage Calendar and follow along with us as we tour the planet, and add your name to our weekly mailing list to get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🌐
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❡ Books in the running brooks: You can always turn to your River Houses almanac, atlas, and history encyclopedia for more information about any of our countries-of-the-week. The almanac has a lengthy section with detailed profiles of all the nations of the world; the endpapers of the atlas are indexes that will show you where all of the individual national and regional maps may be found; the history encyclopedia has a comprehensive collection of national histories in an appendix; and you can find additional illustrations, flags, and other mentions through the indexes in each of these volumes. For an ideal little lesson, just write the name of the Weekly World Heritage Site on your homeschool bulletin board, find its location in your atlas, read the WHC's brief description aloud, look at a picture or two, and you're done. Over the course of the year, without even realizing it, your students will absorb a wealth of new historical, geographical, and cultural information. 📚
❡ Homeschool calendars: We have a whole collection of free, printable, educational homeschool calendars and planners available on our main River Houses calendar page. They will help you create a light and easy structure for your homeschool year. Give them a try today! 🗓
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