St Kevin of Glendalough: The Patron Saint, Hermit, and Miracle Worker

This article delves into the captivating life and miracles of the Irish hermit and monk St Kevin of Glendalough. A revered figure in the annals of Irish Christianity, his saintly life and accomplishments have been an inspiration to many. Read on to learn about his austerity, miracles, monastic foundations, and much more. This exploration promises a captivating narrative, underpinned by historical and cultural context, that makes the life of Saint Kevin relevant to modern audiences.

St Kevin of Glendalough Monastic Site Ireland
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Who was St Kevin of Glendalough?

Numerous records indicate that Saint Kevin’s birthplace was in Ireland, more specifically within the region of Leinster. His exact birth location is commonly associated with the ‘Fort of the White Fountain’. St Kevin of Glendalough was reportedly born into an aristocratic or possibly even a royal lineage. St Kevin was born in the year 498 as the year of his birth. He was given the name Coemgen, which means “Beautiful Shining Birth” in Irish.

The Upper Lake, Glendalough, The Wicklow Way, Hiking in Ireland
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He was raised as a holy man and was known for his devout Christian faith. Ordained in the priesthood, Kevin chose to live the life of a hermit, spending his time in prayer and solitude.

As he studied for the priesthood, St Kevin of Glendalough was known for his love of nature. There’s a touching story where Kevin was working in the monastery’s fields, and he outstretched his arm, on which a blackbird decided to nest. Kevin remained still until the eggs had hatched and the young birds could fly. This incident demonstrated his patience, gentleness, and love for all creatures, which made him an attraction to others who sought a similar life of peace and spirituality.

Where is Glendalough?

Glendalough is a small historic town located in County Wicklow, Ireland. It is situated in a beautiful valley within the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The name “Glendalough” translates to “valley of the two lakes” in Irish, referring to the Upper and Lower lakes visitors belove. The valley is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, with lush greenery, mountains, and lakes.

In addition to its historical and cultural significance, Glendalough is also a popular recreational area. It offers various maintained hiking trails of varying difficulty, making it an excellent destination for hiking, walking, and rock climbing.

The Upper Lake, Glendalough, Wicklow Way, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
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The Wicklow National Park, within which Glendalough is located, provides a largely untouched mountainous landscape of 20,000 hectares, offering a variety of hikes and outdoor activities.

Overall, Glendalough is a place of natural beauty, historical importance, and spiritual heritage, attracting visitors from around the world to explore its stunning landscapes and experience its rich history and culture.

Who educated and baptized Kevin?

St Kevin of Glendalough was baptized by St Cronan and educated by St Petroc of Cornwall, two revered figures in the Christian faith. Petroc played a crucial role in shaping Kevin’s spiritual path. This early religious influence laid the foundation for Kevin’s spiritual journey, shaping his path as a hermit and monk.

The Round Tower in St. Kevin's Monastic Site, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
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Why did Kevin choose solitude in Glendalough?

Longing for solitude, Kevin went to the scenic valley of Glendalough. He lived as a hermit in a partially man-made cave now known as “Kevin’s Bed.” Glendalough provided him with the perfect environment to deepen his spiritual practice and commit himself to a life of prayer and contemplation.

St Kevin of Glendalough chose solitude in Glendalough in county Wicklow because he longed for a peaceful and secluded environment where he could focus solely on his spiritual practice and deepen his connection with God. The scenic valley of Glendalough offered him the perfect setting to live as a hermit, away from the distractions and temptations of the world. By isolating himself in the partially man-made cave known as “Kevin’s Bed,” he could dedicate himself fully to a life of prayer and contemplation, allowing him to grow spiritually and cultivate a deeper understanding of his faith.  

How did the Monastery of Glendalough come into existence?

After seven years of living as a hermit, St Kevin of Glendalough’s reputation as a teacher and holy man had spread far and wide. Many were attracted to Kevin and his way of life. This led him to found a monastery in Glendalough, which grew into a thriving monastic city and a seminary of saints and scholars. 

Even after founding the monastery, St Kevin of Glendalough retained his love for solitude. He spent the winters in the monastery and the summers in his hermitage, maintaining a balance between community leadership and personal spirituality. After living as a hermit for seven years, St Kevin’s influence as the Abbot of the Monastery in Glendalough began to grow as people were drawn to his way of life.

St Kevin of Glendalough Monastic Site, Glendalough, Ireland
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The monastery started as a small community centred around Kevin’s teachings and guidance. As its reputation spread, more people came to join the community, seeking spiritual guidance and education. Over time, it grew into a flourishing monastic city known for its dedication to learning and worship.

The monastic site is now a major attraction and includes notable features such as the Glendalough Cathedral, Round Tower, St. Kevin’s Church, Monastic City Gateway, and St. Kevin’s Cross. The settlement was destroyed by English forces in 1398 but continued to be a place of local importance and pilgrimage.

The Monastery of Glendalough became a renowned centre of education and a seminary of saints and scholars.

The monks at the monastery engaged in a variety of activities, including farming, manuscript production, education, and missionary work. They played a significant role in preserving and spreading Christianity throughout Ireland.

Despite the growth of the monastery, St Kevin of Glendalough retained his love for solitude and personal spirituality. He would spend the winters within the monastery, providing leadership and guidance to the community, and then retreat to his hermitage during the summers to reconnect with his solitary, contemplative practices.

St. Kevin's Curch, St. Kevin of Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
St. Kevin’s Curch, St. Kevin of Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

The Monastery of Glendalough continued to flourish even after St Kevin’s death in the 6th century. It remained influential and prestigious for several centuries until it experienced a decline during the medieval period due to political and social changes in Ireland. However, the ruins of the monastery and the surrounding natural beauty of Glendalough and the Upper Lake and Lower Lake continue to attract visitors today, offering a glimpse into its rich history and spiritual significance. 

What miracles are attributed to Saint Kevin?

St Kevin of Glendalough is credited with performing numerous miracles. One of the most famous is the “miracle of the milk,” where a poor woman came to Kevin for help as she could not produce milk for her baby. Moved by her plight, Kevin blessed a white cow, which provided milk for the baby. This act symbolizes Kevin’s compassion and his power to enact miracles.

St. Kevin is associated with several legends, including the story of him and the blackbird. The story goes that as Kevin was deep in meditation, he held his upturned palm so still that a blackbird landed in it, nested, and laid her eggs there. The saint then chose to stay motionless, like a tree, until the fledglings had been safely hatched and left the nest. This story is widely known and has been depicted in art and literature, including a poem by Seamus Heaney called “St. Kevin and the Blackbird”

Seamus Heaney and the Blackbird of St. Kevin’s Glendalough

The poem speaks to the beauty and inspiration visitors to the Monastic City at Glendalough can find and is a testament to the site’s power to move and inspire those who visit it.

Whether you’re a fan of Seamus Heaney’s poetry or appreciate the beauty of Glendalough, this poem is a must-read for anyone interested in the site and its history.

In the poem, Heaney reflects on the beauty of Glendalough and the Monastic City and the peace he found there and describes the blackbird as a symbol of the site’s spiritual significance. He writes:

Seamus Heaney
Frankenthalerj, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“A bird sang in the mountain, Its song too proud to dwell On such a wild, cold morning. A blackbird of St. Kevin’s, It sang as if to say That everything is possible.”

Seamus Heaney, The Blackbird of Glendalough

How did St Kevin of Glendalough’s life influence Christianity in Ireland?

Through his teachings and monastic foundation at Glendalough, Saint Kevin significantly influenced Christianity in Ireland. The Monastery of Glendalough became a renowned centre of learning and spirituality, attracting students and pilgrims from far and wide. Kevin’s life served as a testament to the power of faith, solitude, and devotion, making him one of the most revered Irish saints. 

The Monastic City at Glendalough’s emphasis on simplicity and asceticism also helped shape the monastic tradition in Ireland. He lived a life of extreme austerity, spending long hours in prayer and contemplation, and his followers sought to emulate his example. This emphasis on self-discipline and detachment from worldly possessions became a hallmark of Irish monasticism.

The Round Tower in St. Kevin's Monastic Site, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
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Furthermore, Kevin’s commitment to caring for the natural environment also had a lasting impact on Christianity in Ireland. He was known for his deep love of nature and is often depicted with animals, particularly birds, which were said to have flocked to him as a sign of his holiness. This connection between spirituality and nature became deeply rooted in the Irish Christian tradition, influencing the development of a Celtic spirituality that recognized the sacredness of the natural world.

Overall, St Kevin of Glendalough’s life and teachings significantly shaped Christianity in Ireland. His emphasis on spirituality, simplicity, and care for the natural world continues to resonate in the Irish Christian tradition to this day. 

How do we remember Saint Kevin today?

Today, thousands of people visit Glendalough each year to walk in the steps of Saint Kevin. The ruins of the Glendalough Monastery still stand as a testament to Kevin’s influence and as a beacon of Ireland’s Christian heritage. Saint Kevin is also one of the patron saints of the Archdiocese of Dublin. His life continues to inspire many seeking a spiritual path.

What is the significance of Saint Kevin’s feast day?

The feast day of St Kevin of Glendalough is observed on June 3rd. On this day, people celebrate the saint’s life and his contributions to Irish Christianity.

The day serves as a reminder of Kevin’s life of prayer, service, and asceticism, encouraging the faithful to follow his path of devotion and kindness.

Is there a Pilgrim Route for St. Kevin of Glendalough?

St. Kevin’s Way is a pilgrim path in County Wicklow, Ireland, that follows in the footsteps of St. Kevin, a 6th-century saint. It is a 30-kilometre (19-mile) long trail that begins in the village of Hollywood and ends at the remains of the medieval monastery in Glendalough.

An alternative spur route also starts at Valleymount and joins the main trail at Ballinagee Bridge. The path is typically completed in one day and is known for its peaceful and scenic surroundings.

St Kevin's Way, From Hollywood to Glendalough
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In 2016, St. Kevin’s Way became part of the new National Pilgrim Passport for Ireland, which offers an opportunity to walk 125 km of Ireland’s medieval pilgrim paths.

Participants can collect stamps at the conclusion of each participating path and receive an Irish Pilgrim Paths completion certificate upon completing all five paths.

The trail is popular among walkers and hikers, offering a chance to explore the hills of Wicklow and visit the monastic ruins in Glendalough. It is considered a moderately challenging route, taking an average of one day to complete.

St. Kevin’s Way provides a unique opportunity to experience the historical and spiritual significance of the area while enjoying the natural beauty of County Wicklow.

Conclusion

Saint Kevin of Glendalough lived a life of solitude, faith, and service. His journey from being a hermit to the founder of the Glendalough Monastery continues to inspire people worldwide. Here are the key points to remember about Saint Kevin:

  • Saint Kevin of Glendalough was born around 498 and spent his life praying and serving the community.
  • Glendalough, where Kevin lived as a hermit, is integral to Ireland’s Christian history.
  • St Kevin’s education under Saint Petroc shaped his spiritual journey.
  • The Monastery of Glendalough, founded by St Kevin of Glendalough, became a centre of learning and spirituality.
  • Saint Kevin of Glendalough performed numerous miracles, demonstrating his deep faith and compassion.
  • St Kevin’s disciples played a crucial role in spreading his teachings.
  • Saint Kevin significantly influenced Christianity in Ireland.
  • Today, Saint Kevin of Glendalough is remembered as one of Ireland’s most revered saints and is the patron saint of Dublin.
  • The feast day St Kevin of Glendalough is celebrated on June 3rd, remembering his life and teachings.

Remembering Saint Kevin today encourages us to appreciate the beauty of a life dedicated to faith, service, and asceticism, helping us draw closer to our spiritual roots.

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