Saint Kevin, Hermit of Glendalough

“Saint Cóemgen (modern Irish: Caoimhín), popularly anglicized to Kevin (498 –618) is an Irish saint who was known as the founder and first abbot of Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland.
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Kevin was ordained by Bishop Lugidus and following his ordination, he moved on to Glendalough in order to avoid the company of his followers. He lived as a hermit in a cave, a Bronze Age tomb now known as St. Kevin’s Bed, to which he was reportedly led by an angel.
St. Kevin’s Bed can best be described as a man made cave cut in the rock face very close to the edge of the mountain. It overlooks the upper lake from a height of about 30 odd feet (10 metres). The approach to the cave is very difficult, with access to it is through a rectangular space and a short passageway 3 ft. (1 metre) high and 2½ ft. wide. The inner or main part of the cave is just 4 ft. wide (1.5 metres) and less than 3 ft.(1 metre) high. It is reasonable to assume that the cave could only have been used as a sleeping place, and would have been impossible for an adult to stand upright in it, so it is quite likely that St Kevin only used it as his bed, or a place for pious prayer or meditation. Dr. Leask expresses the opinion that this cave was constructed long before Kevin’s time and it was probably the first and oldest piece of work to be undertaken by man in the glen.
kevins bed
kevins bed 2
St Kevin’s Bed
Kevin lived the life of a hermit there with an extraordinary closeness to nature, his companions were the animals and birds all around him. He lived as a hermit for seven years wearing only animal skins, sleeping on stones and eating very sparingly. He went barefoot, and spent his time in prayer. Disciples were soon attracted to Kevin and a further settlement enclosed by a wall, called Kevin’s Cell, was established nearer the lakeshore. By 540 Saint Kevin’s fame as a teacher and holy man had spread far and wide. Many people came to seek his help and guidance. In time Glendalough grew into a renowned seminary of saints and scholars and the parent of several other monasteries.
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In 544 Kevin went to the Hill of Uisneach in Co.Westmeath to visit the holy abbots, Sts. Columba, Comgall, and Cannich. He then proceeded to Clonmacnoise, where St. Cieran had died three days before. Having firmly established his community, he retired into solitude for four years, and only returned to Glendalough at the earnest entreaty of his monks. Until his death around 618 Kevin presided over his monastery in Glendalough, living his life by fasting, praying and teaching.”
kevin's chapel
The Chapel of Saint Kevin at Glendalough
kevins monastic city
“The ‘monastic city’, originally founded by Saint Kevin in the sixth century, has an impressive thirty meter high, fully intact round tower. Below it there are various other buildings and church ruins dating from the eleventh century, but by far the most impressive is Saint Kevin’s Church, commonly called ‘Kevin’s Kitchen’. This is a little barrel-vaulted church with a miniature round tower belfry. Nearby all of these churches is a seventh century stone cross.”
kevins well
St Kevin’s Well
”Thou wast privileged to live in the age of saints, O Father Kevin, being baptized by one saint, taught by another, and buried by a third. Pray to God that he will raise up saints in our day to help, support, and guide us in the way of salvation.
With hymns of praise let us all bless the noble Kevin, who by his godly love poureth divine grace into the hearts of those who honor him; for he dwelleth now with the saints and angels in heaven, where he standeth before the throne of the Most High, praying unceasingly for us all.
Forsaking thy noble inheritance, and shunning all the crooked ways of this sin-loving world, thou didst apply thine obedient feet to the straight and narrow path of Christ, eagerly hastening throughout thy life toward the heavenly Sion, where with all the saints and the bodiless hosts thou criest aloud in ecstasy: Let every breath praise the Lord!
Ye lofty trees of Ireland, ever move your verdant branches, that with the rustling of your leafs, as with the strings of a multitude of harps, ye may make sweet music for the King of kings; for thus of old did ye delight His faithful servant, the venerable Kevin, with your melodious song, easing the severity of his ascetic life with the beauty of your hymnody, filling his soul with exultation, and causing him to cry aloud: Let every breath praise the Lord! “
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For more on Saint Kevin, see:
“Life of Saint Coemgen” in “Bethada Náem nÉrenn. Lives of Irish Saints”, Charles Plummer (Oxford, 1922), volume 2, pages 121-126:
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