Glendalough, Cathedral

Feature Sets (3)


The ruined cathedral consists of an aisleless nave and chancel, to which a sacristy was added on the S. The nave was originally a single cell, rectangular church, with antae, belonging to the pre-Romanesque era. Its internal dimensions are approximately 14.7 m by 9.0 m, making it one of the largest such buildings in the country (along with Clonfert and Clonmacnoise). There is an early lintelled doorway in the W wall. The chancel, which has internal dimensions of 6.63 m by 11.45 m, was added about 1200, when an additional doorway was inserted in the N wall of the nave. The chancel is built of rubble masonry, but there are well-dressed quoins on the E angles, which are given a tiny chamfer


Soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion, attempts were made to unite the diocese of Glendalough with that of Dublin. The Anglo-Normans mounted a propaganda campaign against the old monastery, since it lay in an area, which the new regime found hard to control. In a document of 1215 it was described as a 'nest of thieves and robbers'. The remodelling of the cathedral took place while the independence of the see of Glendalough was under question, and it is tempting to see the alterations as a belated attempt to raise the status and appearance of the cathedral church. The union of the dioceses finally received Papal approval in 1216, after which Glendalough was reduced to the status of an archdeaconry. The cathedral appears to have become an Augustinian house and in the 1302-6 it was described as the 'Priory of the great church of Gleydelagh', presumably to distinguish it from St Saviour's. Before passing into the care of the Office of Public Works, the cathedral fabric was in a far more ruined condition than it is today. Both the chancel arch and the E window were substantially rebuilt between 1875 and 1879.

There is a drawing in the Royal Irish Academy (3C. 30) by the 18thc topographical artist, Gabriel Beranger, which purports to show the capitals of the rear arch of the E window. One side shows various floral designs and two standing affronted animals; the other shows what appear to be a lion attacking a snake, followed by a human figure grasping foliate tendrils. The drawing was later copied by Petrie.


Exterior Features


N doorway, nave

The N doorway to the nave has three external orders. The first order has a keeled roll flanked by gouged rolls, the second order has a single roll, and the third order has a keeled roll flanked by a thin roll.



The E window in the chancel was a narrow lancet.  On the exterior, only the lowest two stones survive on each jamb. These are made of yellow limestone (almost certainly from Dundry). There is an external rebate (possibly for a shutter) followed by a deep quirk.

The interior has a round-headed rear arch, much repaired and rebuilt. Some of the jamb stones have a keeled roll flanked by a gouged roll (three stones on the N and twelve on the S), the same moulding as that on the inner order of the N doorway of the nave. The rest of the jambs have been replaced with plain masonry. Some of the masonry is yellow limestone. The capitals do not survive. The arch has two stepped rolls of lateral chevron on the soffit, meeting a thin roll on the angle; the top section of the arch is badly decayed.

Some sections of jamb also survive on the exterior of the S window and in one of the two N windows. In the S window the feature between the external rebate and the quirk is worked as a large rectangular fillet, set diagonally.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

E wall

The E wall has a stringcourse, formed of a large roll, running approximately 1.8 m above the ground. It drops down below the E window, but does not return around the N and S walls. 

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Of two orders in the arch and one in the jambs. Most of the arch is missing, but a number of voussoirs survive on either side.

First order

There is a chamfered plinth, a section of which is cut out on both sides, corresponding with a socket in the pavement, measuring 0.17 m by 0.13 m. This may have been designed either to receive the vertical supports of a rood loft or to receive the base of a detached shaft. Above a simple chamfered base are plain masonry jambs, with chamfered angles terminating in stop chamfers about 0.48 m above the base. Underneath the first arch order on each side, there is a corbel, but only the northern example is original. This takes the form of a concave scalloped capital. A chamfered impost sits above, extending across first and second orders

Nine voussoirs survive on each side of the arch. There is a filleted roll on the outer angles, with a further small, plain roll each face. The soffit has a flat section, flanked by small rolls. The E face of the order on the N side retains a number of masons' marks.

Second order

Nine voussoirs survive on the W side of the arch. This has one row of point-to-point chevron, meeting on the angle roll, which has a fillet on the edge. Beyond this is a thick half-roll.

The E side of the arch has two rolls with a triangular shaped fillet in the centre. Beyond this is a thick half-roll, as on the W side.

Interior Decoration

String courses

Chancel, E wall

stringcourse comprising a single roll (of slate) runs 2.05m above the pavement, but drops around the E window. On the S it returns along the wall, drops below the southern window, and finishes with a scrolled terminal. On the N side it returns along the N wall but finishes abruptly before it reaches the jamb of the first northern window.


The early Gothic character of the mouldings of the window and the N door of the nave suggest that the alterations to the cathedral could not have taken place much before 1200, in other words not long before the diocese was united with Dublin. During the alterations limestone imported from Dundry Hill, near Bristol, was employed for the dressed masonry, a material favoured by masons working for the Anglo-Normans.


  • G. L. Barrow, Glendalough and Saint Kevin, Dundalk, 1972, 31–3.

  • Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Official Historical and Descriptive Guide, Dublin, n.d., 26–30.

  • A. Gwynn and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses:Ireland, London, 1970, 80–1, 176–7.


Site Location
Glendalough, Cathedral
National Grid Reference
T 123 968 
medieval: Wicklow
now: Wicklow
medieval: St Peter and St Paul
Type of building/monument
Cathedral (ruin)  
Report authors
Roger Stalley