Medieval Pilgrimage at Hollywood Co. Wicklow

Hollywood,  Co Wicklow could not be further from its glitzy namesake in Los Angeles. This  quiet rural village is  a really interesting place and has its own unique charm. There is much about the history of pilgrimage at  Hollywood that we do not know, but I firmly believe that this little village played a very important role in the early and later medieval  pilgrimage  landscape of the King’s River Valley and was a stop  for pilgrims en-route to the shrine of St Kevin at Glendalough.

Hollywood Co. Wicklow.

Located at one of the main entry points into the King’s River Valley, the village is traditionally held to be the starting point of St Kevin’s road, a well known medieval pilgrim route .  The route of St Kevin’s road cuts through the Wicklow Mountains via the King’s River and the Glendassan Valleys. The road  linked Hollywood to the ecclesiastical site of Glendalough. Over the centuries countless pilgrims would have passed through Hollywood when travelling to Glendalough.

Unfortunately  there are few historical sources relating to Hollywood. The first mention of the area is in a charter granting land and the right to build a castle here, to the de Marisco family in 1192 (Price 1983, 207-08). All that remains of the castle is a large Medieval Motte located at the edge of the modern village.

View of Motte from St Kevin's Bed

View of Motte from St Kevin’s Bed

The charter and subsequent documents refer to Hollywood as Bosco Sancto or ‘holy wood’  interestingly a later sixteenth century source refers to the area as Cillín Chaoimhín or the little church of St Kevin. This late reference confirms links with St Kevin the founder of Glendalough and alludes to the existence of a church and cult associated with the saint. I believe that this association has a much earlier history. Folklore suggests that St Kevin spent time here in retreat before he headed across the Wicklow mountains and founded the ecclesiastical site of Glendalough. It is possible that a small church or hermitage may have existed at Hollywood  in the early medieval period. The earliest mention to a church at Hollywood is found in a thirteenth century charter but  no physical traces of the medieval church survive. Its location is likely to be the site of the seventeenth century Church of Ireland.

The seventeenth century church built on the site of the earlier medieval church at Hollywood.

Five  medieval cross slabs dating to the thirteenth-early fourteenth century are to be found in its surrounding graveyard and they represent the only visible evidence of  medieval ecclesiastical activity  (Price 1983, 208; 216; Corlett 2003, 99-100; 105).

Medieval Cross Slab at Hollywood

Medieval Cross Slab at Hollywood.

All traces of past pilgrimage are located a short distance from this church in an E-W running valley at the edge of the village.

The Village of Hollywood after google maps

The valley containing the pilgrim stations, is located below the village of Hollywood.

The  aforementioned Norman Motte (site of the de Marisco castle) is found at the entrance to the valley. The Motte overlook a mini pilgrim landscape of two natural caves and a boulder all linked to St Kevin. Although the earliest records of pilgrimage date to the nineteenth century the strong folklore tradition linking the area to St Kevin and its location on the route of St Kevin’s road  suggests that this place would have held significance for passing pilgrims during the early and later medieval period.

View of St Kevin's Cave and St Kevin's Bed from valley floor

View of St Kevin’s Cave and St Kevin’s Bed from valley floor

The two natural caves known as St Kevin’s Cave and St Kevin’s Bed  are sited on a steep east-facing cliff face. I have  visited the caves on a number of occasions, winter is definitely the easiest time to approach them as vegetation is low. The climb is steep and challenging.

  St Kevin’s Cave  is the larger of the two caves.

St Kevin's Cave

St Kevin’s Cave

I found some  graffiti at the back of the cave in 2006 ‘Help me Lord to find my home’ a simple Latin cross was painted over this inscription,  when I visited  again this summer the inscription had  faded and the cross had disappeared.

Graffiti at back of St Kevin's Cave

Graffiti at back of St Kevin’s Cave (2012)

Close by is St Kevin’s Bed,  a narrow  vertical shaft   that leads  through the rock above .  St Kevin spent time in both caves and supposedly  used to sleep here.

The entrance to St Kevin’s Bed

St Kevin’s chair is located on the floor the valley, directly opposite the caves . The boulder is hard to see despite its size, I always seem to walk past it.  According to  the Ordnance Survey Name Books (1840’s) St Kevin, in a fit of rage, threw the rock/chair from St Kevin’s Cave at a woman who annoyed him. Irish saints were not known for their patience.   Sitting on the “chair”  was supposed to  cure   backache.

The stone known as St Kevin’s Chair.

It should be noted that  the pilgrim rituals  at Glendalough included  visiting a cave known as St Kevin’s Bed and a piece of natural rock called St Kevin’s chair . I am hoping to dig a little deeper into the history and folklore of the area in the coming months and I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has any other information on the area and past pilgrimages here.

Bibliography

Corlett, C. 2003. ‘The Hollywood Slabs- some late medieval grave slabs from West Wicklow and neighbouring Counties’, JRSAI vol. 133, 86-110.

Nugent, L. 2009. Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland, AD 600-1600. Unpublished PhD Thesis.

Price, L. 1940. ‘Glendalough: St. Kevin’s Road’, In Ryan, J. (ed.) FéilSgríbhinn

  Éoin Mhic Néil. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 244-71.

Price, L.  1983(reprint 1953). The Place-names of Co. Wicklow. Vol. IV-The Barony

  of Talbotstown Lower. Dublin: Dublin Institute For Advanced Studies.

St James, Irish Pilgrims & Pirates

Today is the feast of St James  the apostle.  The saint’s shrine  at Santiago de Compostela in Spain attracted large numbers of pilgrims from all over the Christian world  during the medieval period. Medieval souvenirs purchased by pilgrims to Santiago have been recovered  across Europe including  Ireland.  St James enjoyed  great devotion  in medieval Ireland and  his image turns up on a number of Irish medieval  tombs.

St James

Image of St James on a medieval tomb at the Franciscan Friary at Kilconnell, Co Galway

Given the long distance of the journey from Ireland to Santiago and the requirement to travel part of the journey by boat, a pilgrimage to Santiago from Ireland  was very expensive. Historical sources suggest that the majority of Irish pilgrims travelling to Santiago were  from the upper echelons of  Irish society. Pilgrims would have embarked from a variety of Irish ports such as Drogheda, Dublin, Wexford, New Ross, Waterford, Youghal, Cork, Kinsale, Dingle, Limerick and Galway (Stalley 1988, 398).

Roger Stalley gives an excellent discussion of the literary and archaeological evidence for Irish Pilgrimage to Santiago in his article ‘Sailing to Santiago: Medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de  Compostela and its artistic influences in Ireland’.

Travel by sea was shorter than by land but it was not without its own hazards. Pilgrims traveling by sea  were at risk from storms, disease and pirates. Bad weather was the biggest threat as storms had the potential of causing ship wrecks (Davies 1988, 47-48). There are many accounts of  pirates attacking ships  from Continental sources. Pirates  were known to  kill, kidnap and ransom or enslave pilgrims. A Lübeck chronicle dating to 1453 recorded the capture of some three hundred pilgrims returning from the Holy Land by hostile Saracens who killed all the men and enslaved the women (Ohler 1989, 48-49; Harpur 2002, 79). One of the most interesting reference to Irish Jacobean pilgrims dates to the year 1473.

The 1473 account concerns Irish pilgrims  traveling on ship called the La Mary London.  The  pilgrims appear to have been on their return journey from pilgrimage to Santiago when their boat was captured by pirates. It is not known  exactly how the events unfolded but the pilgrims were later released in the port of Youghal, Co. Cork, although the ship had originally been destined to dock at Waterford. It is likely that the pilgrims were ransomed by the pirates. They  had a lucky escape as they could have easily been, murdered or sold as slaves like the villagers of Baltimore in 1603  (Stalley 1988, 397 after Cal. Pat rolls. 1476-85, 78).

Bibliography

Harpur, J. 2002. Sacred Tracks. 2000 Years of Christian Pilgrimage. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd.

Ohler, N. 1989. The medieval traveller; translated by Caroline Hillier. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

Stalley, R. 1988. ‘Sailing to Santiago: Medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and its artistic influences in Ireland’, In Bradley, J. (ed.) Settlement and  Society in Medieval Ireland. Studies presented to F.X. Martin, o.s.a. Kilkenny:  Boethius Press, 397-420.