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.


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.

The Labyrinth Stone

Some thoughts on the Hollywood or  Labyrinth stone

The Hollywood or Labyrinth stone is one of the most interesting relics of medieval pilgrimage that survives today  in  Ireland. The stone as it name suggest is a large boulder  with an incised labyrinth motif on its face.

The Hollywood stone

The stone was  originally located in the townland of Lockstown in the west Wicklow mountains some 4.8 Km from the ecclesiastical site of Templeteenaun and 3.2km from the village of Hollywood.  Shortly after 1908   the stone  was moved to the National museum. The stone is on display at the Glendalough visitor centre and is well worth a visit.

Another boulder with a small incised latin cross was found close by but this stone has since disappear.

The cross incribed on a boulder beside the Hollywood stone (after Bremer, 1926, 52, Fig.2).

Labyrinth motifs can be traced back to prehistoric times in ancient Egypt and Greece (Harbison 1998, 107). Prehistoric labyrinths are generally composed of seven outer circuits and the highest density of stones incised with this motif are found in northern Europe, in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

In  medieval times  the labyrinth  underwent a revival and became primarily a symbol of pilgrimage, and in particular pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Jerusalem ( Coleman & Elsner 1995, 112). Shortly after the loss of Jerusalem to the Muslims in the twelfth century, large labyrinths of mosaic or paving stones were incorporated into the western nave bays of a number of European cathedrals in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Connolly 2005, 286). Examples include Chartres near Paris, St Quentins, Amiens, St Omer and Rheims in France, San Vitale in Ravenna, San Savino Piacenza in Turin and Lucca Cathedral in Italy (Westbury 2001, 47-49, 104-105). Lucca was an important pilgrimage shrine as well as a stopping point for pilgrims travelling along the pilgrim route Via Francigena to Rome. One of the best preserved, largest and most famous and largest of medieval labyrinths (c.13m in diameter) is found at the cathedral of Chartres, France. It is believed that the Chartres labyrinth, like many others, was designed in response to the loss of Jerusalem and presented the medieval audience (Connolly 2005, 287).

By walking, or in some cases crawling on their knees, along the labyrinth, pilgrims could perform an imagined pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Westbury 2001, 51-52). Apart from its associations with Jerusalem, the motif also became symbolic of the individual’s journey through life and salvation in the next (Coleman & Elsner 1995, 112).

How old is the  Hollywood Stone?

At present it is not possible to definitively date the Hollywood stone. Price (1940, 260-261), and Harbison (1991, 142) all favour an early medieval date but given that the majority of medieval labyrinths date to the twelfth-thirteenth century or later, it may be worth considering a high medieval date for the stone. It was also during this period that the pilgrim movement across Europe reached a peak and the labyrinth as a symbol of pilgrimage came to be in vogue.

Function and Meaning of the Hollywood/Labyrinth stone
The  proximity of the Labyrinth stone to St. Kevin’s road and the ecclesiastical sites of Hollywood and Templeteenaun, along with the symbolism of the labyrinth motif, suggests that this stone was, connected to pilgrimage in the Kings River valley (Harbison 1991, 122, 142; Orpen 1923 Nugent 2009 Vol. I, 223-225 ).  It is possible that the stone functioned as a wayside station for pilgrims entering the western end of the Kings River valley en-route to Glendalough, and provided a place to pray and reflect before continuing onwards.

St Kevin’s Road

Only two other medieval labyrinths, incised stones are known in Ireland one located at the late medieval parish church of Rathmore, Co. Meath the other a carving found on the base of the twelfth century high cross at Cashel but neither appear to be associated with pilgrimage (Harbison 1998; Leask 1933).

© Louise Nugent 2012

Bremer, W. 1926. ‘Notes on The Hollywood Stone’, JRSAI Vol. 56. Conc. Series,
Coleman, S. & Elsner, J. 1995. Pilgrimage: past and present: sacred travel and
sacred space in the world religions. London: British Museum Press.
Harbison, P. 1994. ‘Early Irish Pilgrim Archaeology in the Dingle Peninsula’, World
Archaeology, Vol. 26, No. 1, 90-103.
Harbison, P. 1998. ‘A labyrinth on the twelfth-century High Cross base on the Rock
of Cashel, Co. Tipperary’, JRSAI Vol. 128, 107-111.
Leask, H. G. 1933. ‘Rathmore Church, Co. Meath’, JRSAI Vol. 63, 153-166.
Nugent, L. 2009. Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland, AD 600-1600. Vol. I-III. Unpublished PhD  Thesis, University College Dublin
Orpen, G.H. 1911. ‘Carved stone near Hollywood, Co. Wicklow’, JRSAI Vol. 41,
Orpen, G. H. 1923. ‘The Hollywood Stone and he Labyrinth of Knossos’, JRSAI
Vol. 53. Cons Series, 180-189.
Orpen, G.H. 1929. ‘The Hollywood Stone’, JRSAI Vol. 59, 176-179.
Price, L. 1940. ‘Glendalough: St. Kevin’s Road’, In Ryan, J. (ed.) FéilSgríbhinn
Éoin Mhic Néil. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 244-71.
Westbury, V. 2001. Labyrinths. Ancient Paths of Wisdom and Peace. Singapore: De
Capo Press.