Glendalough’s Hidden Gem…..
Moving on a little further up the green track I found the Priory of St. Saviour. To me this is my favourite site in Glendalough. Tucked away from the rest of the complex, it’s about half a mile from Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, but only five minutes’ walk from St. Kevin’s Well. It sits on the south bank of the river, and is completely surrounded by trees. If it was not for a well-placed sign, you would probably never find it. To get to it you follow a small dirt track down the hill towards the river. The Priory stand at the bottom of the hill within an oval shaped clearing in the trees, and covers an area of approx 18 x 41 meters. Not surprisingly it is also enclosed by an earthen bank of approx 1.5 meters in height and three meters thick, with dry stone walling within, to support the external face of the bank.
Whilst I walked around the mound to get a feel for the place, I wondered what purpose this might have served. For a lot of similar sites it was not uncommon to have some type of enclosure around a church or graveyard, mainly to keep animals out. But considering its close proximity to the river I wonder might it have also served as a flood defence for the site. Taking into account that it stands in the middle of a glacial Valley, it would be all too easy in heavy rain for the river to burst its banks. Whether this happened or not I can’t really say, it’s just an observation.
The Priory is yet another Romanesque styled church, which consists of a Nave and Chancel. It is believed to be one of the newest additions to Glendalough and was founded back in 1162 by Lawrence O’Toole, where it served as a priory for the members of the order of the Canons of St Augustine. A year later it is said to have become part of the Arrosian in 1163. The building itself unfortunately underwent some very poor reconstruction work during the 19th century. It consists of a Nave and Chancel with what may have been some sort of domestic structure attached to the north side of the Nave, which may well have been a Chapter House or refectory for the canons.
The remains of the chancel arch which consists of three orders and a twin-light east window has some stunning Romanesque design, which includes carvings of both human and animal figures. The real stand out feature of this priory is the Romanesque arch between the Nave and Chancel with its three orders. This consists of three sets of pillars with arches which are lavishly decorated with Chevrons and Celtic motifs such as spirals and floral patterns. It is believed to have collapsed in the late nineteenth century and was only partially rebuilt by the OPW using stones situated on site. The stonework looks to have been disfigured by calcite from the mortar used in the reconstruction.
The window in the Chancel east wall which is a twin round headed light, is decorated in the Romanesque style and includes human and animal figures, sadly it appears to have been reconstructed, with pieces in the wrong order. Certain parts of the outer walls have been filled in using local quartz stone which can be found in abundance in to local are. There are two aumbries in the east wall, one at either side of the window opening which would have been used to store precious artefacts. The chancel is believed to have once been barrel vaulted. The nave has two doors and two windows in the south wall with another door in the North wall. There is what appears to have been a mural stairs rising southwards in the east wall of the attached building which would suggest that there may have been an upper floor in this part of the structure. If you do get to visit Glendalough at some stage, I would highly recommend checking out St. Saviour’s Priory, you won’t be disappointed.
See all the images in the Slideshow.