The Life of a Monk in Early Christian Ireland

SPIH: The Life of a Monk in Early Christian Ireland
Christian missionaries began to arrive in Ireland to convert pagan Celts to Christianity between 400 and 500 AD.
The first to arrive was Paladius but he died soon after his arrival.
Patrick came next; first as a slave and later, he returned as a bishop.
Soon, some devout Christians decided to live away from the other people and they built monasteries where they could pray.
The first monastery was built by St. Enda on the Aran Islands in 490 BC.
Monasteries resembled forts in many ways and they had a sacred and a non-sacred section.
The sacred section housed the main church, graveyard, round tower, stone cross and Abbot’s cell.
The abbot was the head of the monastery.
The non-sacred section was where animals were kept, where farming was done and where the other monks slept.
Every monk lived in his own special room called a beehive hut. Beehive huts were built using the corbel method – a method of building without the use of supports. It involved layering stone slabs on top of each other with the top one always jutting out slightly from the one beneath it.
Monks’ clothes were made from coarse, un-dyed wool. Most of them wore a simple white tunic and over it a cape and a hood.
On their feet, they wore leather sandals.
As well as praying prayers such as lauds – dawn prayers – , matins – morning prayers – , and vespers – evening prayers – , the monks also worked around the monastery, farming, cooking, teaching and making crafts.
They carved beautiful stone crosses and used the images on them to teach the ideas of Christianity.
They also taught basic reading and writing.
Monks were skilled metalworkers and they made chalices and other church vessels. These were made from gold and/or bronze. They were decorated with coloured glass, enamel and delicate filigree work.
The metalworkers also made church bells.
The scriptorium was a very important building in the monastery.
In it, a monk, known as a scribe, created manuscripts which were decorated with Celtic designs.
They wrote on parchment or vellum with a quill made from goose feathers.
They added color to their manuscripts by creating ink from the juice of crushed berries, crushed acorns and crushed beetles.
The most famous manuscript today is the “Book of Kells” which is kept in Trinity College in Dublin, and the oldest is the “Cathach.”
Monks also spent a lot of their day in their beehive huts, praying to God and studying the Bible and the Gospels.
Sometimes, a monk would work in the fields around the monastery where crops were grown and animals were kept. They only ate what they needed. A bell on top of a round tower rang at dinner time and at prayer time.
However, the bell would also be rung when the monastery was about to be attacked – usually by the Vikings.
When this happened, the monks would run the round tower, taking their manuscripts and gold and silver objects with them.
The doors of round towers were situated about three metres from the ground and were reached by ladders which were removed once every monk was inside.


The Life of a Neolithic Farmer

SPIH: The Life of a Neolithic Farmer
Neolithic Farmers were the first people to farm in Ireland and they came here circa 3500 BC.
Unlike the Mesolithic people before them, they were farmers, and not hunter-gatherers.
Instead, they grew crops and kept animals. They began to clear the forests to make room for farming. They led a more settled life and did not move from place to place like the first settlers did.
Evidence gathered by archaeologists at Céide Fields, in Co. Mayo, suggests that they divided land into separate fields, surrounded by stone walls. These enclosures kept in their own animals as well as keeping out other, wild animals.
The Neolithic farmers were more skilled and made better tools than the earlier settlers. They still used stone tools but they polished the stone to make it stronger.
Stone axes were used to cut down trees to allow in some sunlight so that growth could take place.
Forests were also cleared by a method known as ring-barking. This involved cutting a small circular section from the tree or branch, which prevented re-growth. Once the trees were removed, the land was then prepared for crops or grazing by using mattocks or wooden ploughs to turn the soil.
Neolithic Farmers used the wood that they cut down in the forests to build rectangular houses for themselves. They used a method of weaving branches and plastering it with mud to make the walls. This is known as wattle and daub.
The roof was made from straw or rushes. The house had one room and there was a fire in the centre so homes were generally dark and smoky as the smoke had to escape through a small hole in the roof. Food was stored in pots made from clay.
They ate domestic animals and grew wheat, barley and oats which they used to make porridge or – with the use of quern stones – bread.
They cooked in a fulacht fiadh which was a pit dug in the ground and then filled with water. Hot stones were placed in the water to heat it up.
Meat was wrapped in straw and then lowered into the water and so cooked.
They used stone scrapers to clean animal skins which were then sewn with needles made from animal bone. Therefore, the clothes worn by Neolithic Farmers were made from animal skins and wool from sheep kept by the farmers.
The art of weaving and spinning began to develop. Dyes made from plants were used to add color to the wool.

Leonardo da Vinci

SPIH: A named Renaissance painter or sculptor (Leonardo da Vinci)

Leonardo da Vinci was born in Vinci, near Florence in Italy in 1452.

At the age of fifteen, he was sent to train as an artist’s apprentice in Florence.

He worked with other apprentices in the studio of the famous painter and craftsperson, Andrea del Verrocchio.

Here he learned the skills of painting and sculpture.

His first painting of note was one of an angel in the corner of a larger work by Verrocchio called the “Baptist of Christ.” This angel was apparently painted so well that it caused Verrocchio to never paint again.

Leonardo da Vinci was accepted into the Florentine artists’ guild at the age of twent and spent the next ten years working there, sometimes for Lorenzo de Medici.

In 1482, he went to Milan to work for Ludovico Sforza, who often used him to organize engineering works and festivals.

Around this time also, Leonardo da Vinci was compiling notebooks full of ideas for tanks, submarines, helicopters and parachutes. These notes were written in ‘mirror writing’ – from right to left.

During his seventeen years in Milan, da Vinci painted only six paintings, including “The Virgin of the Rocks” and “The Last Supper,” which is a fresco painted onto a wall of a monostary in Santa Maria delle Grazie.

In 1499, Leonardo left Milan and went to Florence where, among other work, he painted “The Mona Lisa,” which is now on display in Paris’ Louvre Museum.

Sfumato is used in this painting which is a Renaissance technique which causes the lady’s hair and clothing to blend into the background.

Leonardo da Vinci also studied science, dissecting corpses in his study of anatomy and drawing plants, horses and birds in flight in his effort to further the study of biology.

He died in France, as a guest of King Francis I, in 1519.

Christopher Columbus

SPIH: A named leader on a voyage during the Age of Exploration. (Christopher Columbus)

Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa in 1451 and got his first sailing experience from voyages on Genoese merchant ships around the Mediterranean Sea.
Legend has it that while stopping in Galway once, on a voyage to Iceland, Columbus saw two bodies washed ashore. The bodies were of Asiatic appearance and this made him wonder how ‘eastern’ people could drift to Ireland on currents from the west.
This helped to convince Columbus that Asia actually lay to the west of Europe and not to the east.
The Italian cartographer, Paolo Toscanelli further encouraged Columbus of this with a ‘map’ which showed Japan to be quite close to the west coast of Portugal.
Columbus approached King John of Portugal with the idea, asking for sponsorship for the voyage, but he was rejected.
He then turned to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and, after seven years of persistence, they agreed to sponsor him.
He was given three ships – the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
The Santa Maria was a nao ship and Columbus chose this as his own flagship.
The Nina and the Pinta were caravels and they were captained by the two brothers, Martin and Vincente Pinzon.
The three ships set sail from Palos, on the 3rd of August, 1492.
However, after eighteen days at sea, many of the sailors feared that they had gone too far, and wanted to turn back before their supplies ran out.
Only the threat of Martin Pinzon that he would personally hang six of them from the mainmast of the Santa Maria seems to have prevented mutiny.
After sailing further, they reached a sea filled with seaweed and correspondingly named it the Sargasso Sea.
Grumbling about the distance travelled returned among the sailors and therefore, Columbus sometimes lied about the actual distance that they had travelled.
The first man to see the “New World” was Rodrigo de Triano who saw it on the 12th of October, aboard the Pinta. He was promised a reward by Columbus but afterwards, Columbus refused to give it tom him, claiming that he himself had seen the island four hours earlier but had said nothing.
At daybreak, Columbus went ashore and placed a crucifix and the Spanish flag on the shore and named the island San Salvador.
Soon, natives began to approach the crew. Believing that he had reached Asia, Columbus named them ‘Indians.’ They were tricked into giving the crew gold and riches in return for worthless goods like cheap glass beads, bells and hats which had been brought from Spain.
Columbus kidnapped six natives and brought them back to Spain.
He returned to the ‘New World’ three more times but on the third time he was sent home in disgrace for being cruel to the natives.
He died in 1506 without knowing that the land he had discovered was not Asia, but actually America, a completely ‘New World.’