Sun Dancing

Overview

Visible on a clear day off the west coast of Ireland, the Skellig Islands, a cluster of cruel rocks, rise spectacularly from the Atlantic Ocean. A sanctuary to birds and seals today, for over six hundred years during the middle ages it was a center for a particularly intense form of monastic life, one that acclaimed writer Geoffrey Moorhouse explores with utmost fascination, scholarship, and imagination in Sun Dancing. A must read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Celtic spirituality, Moorhouse's ...

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Overview

Visible on a clear day off the west coast of Ireland, the Skellig Islands, a cluster of cruel rocks, rise spectacularly from the Atlantic Ocean. A sanctuary to birds and seals today, for over six hundred years during the middle ages it was a center for a particularly intense form of monastic life, one that acclaimed writer Geoffrey Moorhouse explores with utmost fascination, scholarship, and imagination in Sun Dancing. A must read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Celtic spirituality, Moorhouse's lively narrative is a superbly imagined account of the monks' isolated life-the spiritual struggles and triumphs and unbelievable physical hardships. To complement and enrich the book, Moorhouse establishes the historical context of Irish monasticism and describes the monks' influence and undeniable role in preserving western civilization, as well as unexpected connections between medieval Ireland and India, Egypt, and Byzantium, and the surviving impact of pagan mythology. An entertaining and enlightening work, Sun Dancing makes medieval Ireland come alive.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Geoffrey Moorhouse has taken his fascination with the Skellig Islands and created from it a unique work. . . . Its distinctive combination of documentary fiction and engrossing scholarship will compel many readers."-Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List and The Great Shame
"Highly original, gracefully written, and carefully researched . . . Moorhouse can go deep, and his scholarship is impressive."-The Boston Globe
"Moorhouse writes with eloquence and a quiet humor calculated to charm even the blackest of heathens."-The Atlantic Monthly
Kirkus Reviews
The rigors of Irish monasticism in the medieval period, well told by travel writer Moorhouse (On the Other Side, 1991; Hell's Foundations, 1992; etc.).

The first half of the book is an imaginative reconstruction of life in an Irish monastery on the secluded rock-island of Skellig Michael from its founding in 588 to its dissolution in 1222. Moorhouse uses fictional vignettes to enliven the text. Each chapter is a well-chosen window onto a significant figure or event in the monastery's history—an 824 attack by Viking raiders, for example. In these fictional glimpses, we see the larger picture of Irish monasticism's evolution from a rigorously austere island faith to a less zealous, Romanized religion. Skellig Michael, perilously located on a sheer cliff rising from the ocean, began as one of the most ascetic of the Irish monasteries. Gradually, however, the population of monks began to dwindle, and the last fictionalized chapter shows the abbot and his aging disciples rowing their way back to the security of the mainland. The first half of the book is so intriguing and beautifully written that the second, a more traditional historical treatment of Irish monasticism, arranged topically, pales by comparison. Some of the discussions are absorbing, though; in one instance, Moorhouse explores the theme of syncretism, arguing that early Irish Catholicism, rather than eradicating pagan Celtic rituals, incorporated them into monastic life. This eclectic borrowing was able to continue for centuries because of Ireland's geographical remoteness from the centralizing forces of Rome. Due to accommodation with a Celtic spring ritual, Easter was dated differently than in Rome, a discrepancy that continued until Rome demanded conformity in the early 8th century.

An uneven work, then, more fascinating in its first, fictionalized half than in the rigorous explications of the second, and one that might have worked better presented purely as a novel.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156006026
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/1/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 298
  • Sales rank: 986,513
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note
Pt. 1 The Tradition
1 AD 588 3
2 AD 670 19
3 AD 780 35
4 AD 824 55
5 AD 950 71
6 AD 1044 85
7 AD 1222 105
Pt. 2 The Evidence
Fionan 119
Peregrinatio 122
Pagans and Christians 126
St. Patrick 130
Brendan the Navigator 136
Irish Monasticism 143
Book Illustration 146
The Scoti 154
Antony and Cassian 156
The Desert Fathers 159
St. Antony in Art 167
The Irish Kings and Tara 173
Three Martyrdoms 177
The Curach 182
Fasting 185
Monastic Dress 190
The Gallican Creed 192
Skellig Michael 195
Nature Worship 198
The World View 200
The Buildings 202
Soul-friends 205
The Monastic Horarium 208
Cu Chulainn 212
Two Tonsures 214
The Synod of Whitby 216
Columcille and Iona 219
Mingled Traditions 222
Monastic Feuds 223
Penance 225
Sin 230
Poverty and Sickness 232
The Vikings 236
Celtic Metalwork 240
Skellig Birdlife 243
The Dancing Sun 245
The Irish Annals 247
Brian Boru 249
Olaf Tryggvason 251
The Culdees 254
Giraldus Cambrensis 257
The Hermitage 259
Origen 261
The Bestiaries 263
Hubris 266
The Withdrawal 268
St. Benedict's Rule 273
Ballinskelligs and the Arroasians 275
Unanswered Questions 278
A Bibliography 281
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