This book explores the morphology of early medieval Irish religious settlement. It seeks to shift the focus of academic interest away from simply the materiality of settlement towards a greater concern for its possible theological significance. The critical literature is reviewed and the archaeological and literary evidence revisited in search of evidence for a consistent early medieval Irish schema for the layout of religious settlement. This study suggests that the enclosure and zoning of religious space was primarily inspired by depictions of the Jerusalem Temple through the medium of a universally received scriptural 'canon of planning'. The distinctive early Irish religious landscape is a result of the convergence of this Christian exemplar of ordered holy space with vernacular building forms.These building forms were shaped by the legacy of Ireland's recent pagan past whose architectural leitmotif was the circular or sub-circular form, in contrast to the buildings described in Christian texts. Some of the traditional assumptions about the possible heterodox nature of the ecclesiology of the early medieval Irish church are also challenged. Irish religious topography is set within the context of a universal Christian understanding of holy space which impacts upon the topography of religious settlement not just in Ireland but further afield in Anglo-Saxon England, Gaul and the Middle East. In this the book, like many other recent studies, challenges the presumption that there was a 'Celtic church' distinctive in its practices from the wider church, while documenting the local contribution to Christian architecture.
Rev. Canon Dr. David Harold Jenkins is an Anglican clergyman. Presently he is a residentiary canon at Carlisle Cathedral and Director of Education for the Diocese of Carlisle.