Favorite Monks: Kevin of Glendalough

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Image: portion of illuminated manuscript page from "The Book of Kells."Photo: St. Kevin's Church, Glendalough, Ireland, was built in the 1100's and used for worship services through the 1800's. Celtic Chapel of (dedicated to) Kevin of Glendalough (c. 498 A.D.-618 A.D.), used for worship 1100's-1800's A.D., IrelandMonk Kevin lived in solitude at Disert-Coemgen  (Desert of Kevin) for seven years, and later established a church for the community of monks that grew up around him there.  Kevin's monastery would become the mother-house of several others.  Glendalough, with its seven churches, would later become one of the chief destinations of pilgrimage in Ireland.

Legend:

Kevin of Glendalough (Ca. 498-618 A.D.)...was the Abbot of Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland

"Kevin" is the English-language spelling of the Irish name Caoimhín (Coemgen in Old Irish, Latinized as Coemgenus).

His legend is particularly untrustworthy, as very little contemporaneous material exists.  It maintains that he was descended from a royal line, given the name Coemgen, which means "fair-begotten" ("He of Blessed Birth."), was baptized by Cronan, and educated by Petrock during that saint's sojourn in Ireland

He lived in solitude at Disert-Coemgen for seven years, sleeping on a dolmen (now known as "Saint Kevin's Bed") perched on a perilous precipice...and later established a church for his own community at Glendalough.  This monastery was to become the parent of several others. 

Eventually, Glendalough, with its seven churches, became one of the chief pilgrimage destinations in Ireland.

He was known for his disdain of human company, especially that of women; his name was used in Ireland as a term for men with cold relations with women up until the 19th century.  An extreme example of his chastity was the instance when he pushed an amorous woman into a patch of nettles.

His feast day in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches is June 3rd. 1            

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(The facts of Kevin's life are inextricably intertwined with many fantastic and miraculous legends; usually involving animals and birds, and sometimes angels; which we have, in the following account, omitted).

Life:

Birth and Childhood

St. Kevin was born circa 498 A.D. in the Irish province of Leinster to noble parents, perhaps even descendant of the Kings of Leinster.  So the babe was baptized Kevin, Coemgen in the Irish tongue.  He is the first person in history to be called Kevin.  His childhood was marked by a horrible temper and dislike of other people, although he loved animals.

At the age of seven, his parents sent him to the monastery run by St. Petroc in Cornwall.  

Kevin's Isolation

After being ordained to the priesthood, Kevin spent seven years as a hermit in the mountains surrounding Glendalough, which comes from the Gaelic words glen ("valley") and lough ("lake"), altogether meaning "Valley of the Two Lakes."  He lived in a small, five by seven by three foot cave, now know as St. Kevin's Bed.

His life was spent in prayer and self denial, and he lived off herbs and fish...he would stand up to his neck in the ice cold water to pray...in the Upper Lake of Glendalough (which he preferred to the Lower Lake, because it it was much more remote and colder).  

Kevin valued his solitude very much...

Return to society

Kevin returned to society when a farmer, named Dima, followed a cow of his who would continually wander off.  ...Dima stumbled upon Kevin's cave...and as Dima was a pagan, Kevin taught the farmer about Christ and the Gospel.

Dima eventually begged Kevin to come out of his isolation and teach his family about Christ.  After a day of prayer, Kevin saw that it was God's will that he return to society to spread the Gospel.  He began by teaching Dima's family, but his tutelage soon grew to dozens of families and he began to attract followers.  And so, seeing the need of a central place from which to teach, Kevin decided to establish a monastery.

Glendalough Monastery

Rocks were plentiful.  The farmers pitched in and built Kevin a monastery in the solitude of Glendalough.

Soon, other monks came to help teach all who would come to learn, old and young, rich and poor alike.  More buildings were added to the little settlement.  Among them was the famous tower, which still stands today, along with the large hut used by St. Kevin

Many people from far afield came to Kevin for advice, which he gave freely, and the monastery grew to such fame and renown that it was considered equal to a pilgrimage to Rome for a penitent to travel seven times to Glendalough Monastery.

It is said of Kevin that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of St. Patrick—that he was the one to come who would evangelize the region of Ireland just south of Dublin. 2

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Sources:

  • 1 Wikipedia:"Kevin of Glendalough".
  • 2 OrthodoxWiki:"Kevin of Glendalough".

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