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The Archaeology and Architecture of Monasteries in Ireland, 1100-1600

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Monastic life, guided by the templates laid down by two of the early church’s great intellectual heavyweights, SS Benedict and Augustine, was a career option for generations of scions of well-to-do medieval families. The choices were many. Those entering monastic life could choose to be canons (or canonesses) or monks, or preachers or hospitallers. Depending on their choice, they could live in the centres of towns and participate in civic life, they could bear arms on the medieval frontier, or they could remove themselves to remote and isolated rural settings for the full apostolic experience. They could aspire to promotion to abbacies and priorships; some might even have fantasised about episcopal office. Ireland, geographically at Europe’s periphery but cognitively at the core of its Christian tradition, is an ideal laboratory in which to study medieval monasticism as a social phenomenon that simultaneously shaped and was shaped by those who opted for a life within it. This book surveys the physical residue of monastic Ireland – its archaeology, in other words – between the early twelfth century, when church reform paved the way for new monastic congregations following the rules of Benedict and Augustine, and the late sixteenth-century aftermath of Henry VIII’s suppression of religious houses. It explores the relationships between the missions, imaginations and materialities of the communities and of the individuals who ceded their lives to these regulated collectives.

Published: Nov 1, 2026