THE SEVEN CHURCHES

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The Aran Islands, located off the coast of Galway in Ireland, are known for their rugged beauty, rich culture and ancient heritage. Among the many attractions that draw visitors to these islands, one of the most remarkable is Na Seacht Teampaill, or the Seven Churches as it’s also known, a complex of medieval religious buildings that once served as a major pilgrimage site.

The name “Seven Churches” is somewhat misleading, as there are only two churches still standing on the site: Teampall Brecan and Teampall an Phoill. The other buildings include a clochán (a beehive-shaped stone hut), a holy well, a cemetery and some stone crosses. The most common theory is that the site gives an allusion to the number of structures among the ruins, while others state that it may be in reference to a Roman pilgrimage trail that incorporated seven churches or that the name lends itself to the seven saints who are buried on the site with their graves marked with ancient Celtic crosses. Alternatively, it may have been a way of exaggerating the importance and size of the site.

The Seven Churches date back to the 7th or 8th century, when they were founded after Saint Brecan, a 5th-century missionary who is said to have converted many people to Christianity on the islands. The site was a popular destination for pilgrims from Ireland and abroad, who came to seek healing, forgiveness and blessings. The site was also a monastic community, where monks lived, prayed and studied.

The largest and most impressive building at the site is Teampall Brecan, or Brecan’s Church, which was built in several phases between the 8th and 13th centuries. It has a Romanesque doorway, a chancel arch and some carved stones. Inside, you can see some medieval graveslabs, one of which bears the inscription “VII Romani”, meaning “Seven Romans”. This may refer to seven pilgrims who came from Rome and died here.

The smaller church, Teampall an Phoill, or the Church of the Hollow, is named after Saint Colmán MacDuach, who lived in a nearby cave before becoming the bishop of Kilmacduagh. The church has a simple rectangular plan and a lintelled doorway. It may have been used as a mortuary chapel, where the bodies of the dead were prepared for burial.

The clochán, or stone hut, is located next to Teampall an Phoill. It has a corbelled roof and a small window. It may have been used as a dwelling or a storage place by the monks. The holy well, dedicated to Saint Brecan, is situated near the entrance to the site. It is surrounded by a low wall and has a stone cross on top. Pilgrims would drink from or wash in the water, hoping for cures or miracles.

The cemetery contains many graves, some marked by plain stones and others by ornate crosses. One of the most notable crosses is the Leaba Brecan, or Brecan’s Bed, a large stone slab with two carved crosses and several holes. It is said that if you lie on it and fit into one of the holes, you will be cured of any illness. Another cross is the Tigh an Phoill Cross, which has an inscription in Latin and Irish asking for prayers for two local families.

The Seven Churches are located on Inis Mór (Inishmore), the largest of the Aran Islands. You can reach the island by ferry from Rossaveal or Doolin, or by plane from the Connemara Airport at Inverin. The site is about 3 km from Kilronan, the main village on the island. You can walk, cycle or take a minibus or horse-drawn carriage to get there.

The site is open 24 hours a day and admission is free. There is no visitor centre or guided tours, but there are information panels that explain the history and significance of the buildings.

The Seven Churches are a fascinating place to explore and experience the ancient history and faith of the Aran Islands. Whether you are looking for spiritual inspiration, historical insight or simply a peaceful escape, you will find something to enjoy at this unique site.

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The Seven Churches

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