Sacred Places Europe

Sacred Places Europe

Sacred Places Europe: 108 Destinations by Brad Olsen.

Combining current trends, academic theories, and historical insights, this travel guide brings European spiritual locales into perspective by explaining the significance of each sacred site. The cultural relevance, history, and spirituality of each site are explained, creating a moving and artistic travel experience. Each destination with selections spanning more than 15 countries throughout Europe is accompanied by maps and directions.

Irish Sacred sites include Croagh Patrick, the Hill of Tara, Loughcrew, Newgrange and Skellig Michael.

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In the verdant green Boyne Valley are three huge earth mounds, the most impressive is called Newgrange. The two other nearby mounds are named Knowth and Dowth. All three are said by dowsers to intersect at key "telluric energy" points, as well as being situated in perfect alignment with seasonal points of solar movements.

Newgrange and the other megaliths in the valley were created some 5,000 years ago by little known kinsmen known as the Beaker People, who built in the Boyne Valley but nowhere else in Ireland. To add further mystery, the Beaker People also constructed monuments on the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo. No direct traces of these people have been found anywhere else in the world.

Surrounding the exterior of the Newgrange mound are images of spirals, chevrons, and other symbolic forms carved on the huge stones. There are a total of 97 curbstones lying on their sides around the mound, with the carved patterns also appearing inside the passage. The carvings are believed to be recordings of astronomical and cosmological observations. The internal chamber has a funnel shaped roof and is externally connected by a long passageway.

Whatever rituals or activities the Beaker People may have performed in this internal chamber remain a mystery. The mound covering the internal passage is more than 40 feet (12m) in height and covers an acre (.4 hectare) of ground. The egg-shaped mound is called a tumulus, rising from the meadow and surrounded by a stone curbing. Over 20,000 cantaloupe-size stones were brought in from 75 miles (120 km) away to create the bulk of the tumulus. The entrance to Newgrange is marked by the elaborately carved Threshold Stone, featuring carved spirals framed by concentric circles and diamond shapes. The outside construction of Newgrange was once surrounded by 38 enormous pillars, but only 12 survive.

Winter Solstice

Newgrange could be the largest and oldest sundial in the world.

Conventional archaeologists regard the mounds in Boyne Valley as part of a prehistoric cemetery complex, largely because charred human remains were found deep inside their chambered passageways. The Boyne Valley passage chambers are fine examples of megalithic construction, but Newgrange is more than just a burial tomb.

On the days near the winter solstice, December 21st, the entrance passage exactly aligns with the rising sun, illuminating a triple spiral relief sculpture in the farthest recess of the chamber. It was clearly built to mark the final turning point in the sun's cycle, making Newgrange an efficient and accurate sundial.

Hill of Tara

In times of lore, the Hill of Tara was famous as a pilgrimage destination where the High Kings held supreme reign over Ireland. In the long pagan epoch, devotees arrived bearing gifts from all over the island nation to join celebrations, coronations, or simply for devotion.

The Hill of Tara was most familiar in Irish history as the seat of the High Kings until the 6th century CE. This role extended until the 12th century, yet the earlier splendor was diminished by a changing religious preference to Christianity. The Hill of Tara predates Celtic times, with a known Neolithic structure factoring into the long drama. By the 12th century the Hill of Tara was all but destroyed and left to ruin.

There are a multitude of remains on the hill, including a passage mound, two wells, round trenches surrounding artificial mounds, and various other earthworks and structures. Most of Tara's features were given fanciful names by 19th century antiquarians, who were inspired by the exploits of the Celts. Though it only stands 300 feet (90 m) above sea level, the Hill of Tara is quite a magnificent structure.

At the summit of the hill is a circular Iron Age hill fort, almost 3,300 feet (1,000 m) in circumference, known as Ráith na Rig (the Fort of the Kings, also known as the Royal Enclosure). It is within this enclosure where Tara's most significant remains can be found. The most prominent earthworks here are two linked ring forts known as Teach Chormaic (Cormac's House) and the Forradh, or the Royal Seat. In the middle of the Royal Seat stands an erect standing stone, which is an Irish menhir identified as the Lia Fáil, or the "Stone of Destiny." Some think the original Stone of Destiny was taken to Scotland and is now the Stone of Scone. Whichever stone stood in pagan times, it was at the base of this phallic rock where the High Kings of Ireland were crowned.

To the north of the ring forts is a small Neolithic passage chamber known as Dumha na nGiall (Mound of the Hostages), which dates to between 2500-3000 BCE. To the south of the Royal Enclosure lies another ring fort known as Ráith Laoghaire (Laoghaire's Fort), where a king of the same name is said to have been buried in an upright position.

Half a mile south of the Hill of Tara is another hill fort known as Rath Maeve - the fort of either the legendary queen Medb, who is more usually associated with Connacht, or the less well-known legendary figure of Medb Lethderg, who is associated with Tara. Still another ring fort with three banks called Ráith na Seanadh (the Rath of the Synods) is located north of Tara, just outside the bounds of the Ráith na Rig. Excavations of this monument have produced Roman artifacts dating from the 1st - 3rd centuries CE.

Further north is a long, narrow rectangular feature commonly known as the Banqueting Hall, although most researchers now view it as a ceremonial avenue leading to the site. Along the avenue are two circular earthworks known as the Sloping Trenches and Gráinne's Fort.

Many generations of historians and archaeologists have worked to uncover the mysteries of Tara. Scholars at first disputed Tara's importance as a pre-Celtic site, but there is one known structure dating to around 5,000 years old from the Neolithic period. This monument, the Mound of the Hostages, is an ancient passage mound reminiscent of those found in the Boyne Valley and Loughcrew.

The Mound of the Hostages has a short passage which aligns with the setting sun on the true astronomical cross-quarter days of November 8th and February 4th - significant dates that also corresponded to the ancient Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolg. The mound's passage extends 13 feet (4 m) into the cairn, enough for a sunbeam to adequately determine specific days of the year. The backstone is illuminated on the first days of the winter quarter and again with the coming of spring. The backstone is carved with arcs and circles.

Boyne Valley Private Day Tour

Boyne Valley Tours
Immerse yourself in the rich heritage and culture of the Boyne Valley with our full-day private tours. Visit Newgrange World Heritage site, explore the Hill of Slane, where Saint Patrick famously lit the Paschal fire. Discover the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of power for the High Kings of Ireland. Book Now