selected passages from "THE ANCIENT SUNDIALS OF IRELAND", by M.Arnaldi, edited by B.S.S., London, 1999
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From the start of
the fifth to the end of the ninth century, the green island of Ireland experienced
an unexpected rise in the number of monastic communities. The new religion
brought to the land by St. Patrick burnt like a fire in the night, and hardly
a day passed that a monastery, or church, did not spring up in some corner
of the country. In some of these places, still extant today, there exist sundials,
used by the monks of that far-off period to ensure that the religious services
were held at the correct time of day.
Among the great megalithic monuments and ancient vestiges of the Bronze Age, the Emerald Isle offers all the sweetness and wilderness of the countryside to those with eyes to observe it. From the heights of Tara, as from Ben Bulben, the vastness of the panorama is enriched with standing stones and ancient abbey ruins among woods, lakes, and by the ocean. The Irish sky gives a dark blue backcloth to the ever-present clouds, as does religion to the life of its people. In antiquity the island was known as the Land of the Saints and Scholars and it is scattered with dozens of monasteries which were for many centuries important centres of Christian culture in medieval Europe; it is enough to think of Clonmacnoise, Kells or Bangor. As in every monastic community, the Divine Offices were recited at certain times of the day and night. Sundials were part of a series of devices to help the monks to determine the correct time of the sung prayers. Many of these ancient artefacts are still visible among the ruins of the Irish monasteries. I believe that a study of these monastic dials leads one into geographical and cultural areas which reflect the diversity of the rules and liturgy of the different religious orders. In other words, it is necessary to remember that the Benedictine Order, which was taken as the model for all the Western Monasteries, was not the only one, and not even the first. Even though the Saint wrote his precepts, other monks who were living under different rules, in different centuries and historical conditions brought about changes in the practices of various churches. The Celtic Church, as an example of this, was one of the historical liturgical elements of most importance in medieval times.