2. Skellig Michael, Saint Michael's Mount and the Mont Saint-Michel

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Saint Michael's Mount , by James Webb (c.1825–1895) - Kunsthaus Lempertz, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18700695

Skellig Michael, Saint Michael’s Mount and Mont Saint-Michel: three small rocky tidal islands with similar names, off the coasts of three different countries, a few hundred miles apart.

The Michael axis: Skellig to Mount Carmel

The distance between Skellig Michael and Mount Carmel is 2,622.82 miles. That's a very long way for an alignment. Some might say it's too long to be considered as a product of human endeavour, that no culture has ever had the technology to achieve such a feat over such a distance.

Personally, I am curious, I prefer not to dismiss the possibility of its existence as improbable and refuse to look at all.

But there's another problem, apart from the fact that technological requirements needed fall short of what we think we know about our ancestors: if you draw a line linking Skellig Michael and Mount Carmel on Google Earth, it bypasses all the places said to be on the alignment. Why is that?

The alignment is very definitely curved on the ground, and only looks straight on a map. This is the first mystery about the line: why does it curve, how great and consistent is its curvature? Why does it look straight on a map? Why does the curvature of the line seem to match exactly the distortion of the Mercator projection?

The Skellig Michael - Jerusalem line is said to be linked to the path of the sun. How, I can't say - yet. Along the Greek sections of the alignment, there are temples to Apollo, the sun deity, and his twin sister Artemis, a moon deity. The northern section of the alignment is defined by a monotheistic religion, so it cannot be the case that a sun or moon deity has any bearing on its mystery. Or can it?

How does the orientation of the line compare to the direction of the rising sun at certain times of the year? What's the azimuth of this line? A better question would in fact be: what are the azimuths for the various parts of the line, from one point to the next? Azimuth comes from the Arabic word for direction, and it's the angle between the North (azimuth 0°) and wherever you want to go or draw a line towards, horizontally. This is measured clockwise, or sunwise, from the North, so for example due East is 90°, South 180°, and West 270°.

Because of the curved nature of the line, there is no single azimuth that defines the Michael alignment. Here are some of the places that are accepted as part of the line, with the azimuths from one to the next, starting at the North-West, as well as the azimuth to each one from Skellig Michael.

Skellig Michael to Saint Michael's Mount is 115.42°, Skellig to Mont Saint Michel is 114.95°, Skellig to Sacra San Michele is 112.42° and Skellig to Monte San Angelo is 108.76°, Skellig to Corfu, Artemis temple, 108.04°, Skellig to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi is 106.99°, and Skellig to the place of Apollo and Artemis's birth on the island of Delos is 105.66°, Skellig to Rhodes (centre of the island) 104.61°, Skellig to Mount Carmel 102.00°.

You can see the curvature in the line in these figures: the azimuths, as measured from Skellig Michael, decrease the further South - West you go.

One researcher includes the city of Lyon on the line, where a huge statue of the Archangel Michael overlooks the city. Skellig to Lyon's Basilica of Fourvière is azimuth 114.72°.

Others include Bourges, Perugia, Athens.

The individual sections of the alignment have these azimuths: Skellig to Saint Michael's Mount is 115.42°, then Saint Michael's Mount to the Mont Saint-Michel is 118.33°, Mont Saint-Michel to Le Mans Cathedral (Place Saint-Michel) 118.21°, Mont Saint-Michel to Lyon Fourvière 121.38°, Mont Saint Michel to Sacra di San Michele 117.01°, distance Mount Carmel to Skellig 2,622.91 miles

Some places along the line are much further away than others. Does the azimuth change according to how far away the next place on the axis is? I don't think so. What's the ratio between distance in miles between points on the axis and the azimuth of the various sections of the line?

On the first leg, between Skellig Michael and Saint Michael's Mount, the distance is 424.95 miles, and the azimuth 115.42°, so there seems to be a ratio of 0.27. (115.42 / 424.95 = 0.2716)

On the second leg, between Saint Michael's Mount and the Mont Saint-Michel, the distance is 206.14 miles, and the azimuth is 118.32°, so a ratio of 0.5739.

Then it's Mont Saint-Michel to Le Mans Cathedral, 89.92 miles, azimuth 118.22 ° so 1.31472. Then Le Mans to Lyon Fourvière, 268.29 miles, 123.71°, so 0.4611.

Lyon to Sacra San Michele is 130.90 miles, 109.68°, so 1.1935. Or if you want to skip Le Mans and Lyon and go straight from the Mont Saint-Michel to Sacra San Michele in Italy, then the distance is 485.05 miles, azimuth 117.02°, ratio 0.2413.

Sacra San Michele to Monte Sant' Angelo 492.21 miles, 115.44°, ratio 0.2345.

Monte Sant' Angelo to Corfu, Artemis Temple, 253.69 miles, azimuth 123.64° , ratio 0.4874

Corfu, Artemis Temple to Temple of Apollo at Delphi, 159.12 miles, 118.46 °, ratio 0.7445

Temple of Apollo at Delphi to Delos, House of Inopo, 168.75 miles, 115.56° , ratio 0.6848

Delos to Rhodes (highest point on the island, Ruins of the Temple of Zeus Attavyrios) 165.46 miles, azimuth 118.99°, ratio 0.7191

Rhodes to Mount Carmel 474.29 miles, 118.46°, ratio 0.2498.

The various distances all seem very different. A ratio in the vicinity of 0.24 does come up a couple of times, but other than that there seems to be no link between the distance between points on the line and the azimuth between them. I think what this suggests is that line exists in and of itself, perhaps according to a particular set of geodectic or astronomical considerations, and that the temples and churches along it have been placed there after the line was drawn, perhaps according to local considerations such as altitude or proximity to the sea. Of course, there is also the possibility that some of them were placed at specific distances from each other.

From Skellig to Mount Carmel, there does not seem to be any pattern in the ratios between distance and azimuth or the distances themselves. The only pattern that stands out at this point is the curve of the line, and with each leg of the line, an increase of the azimuth from place to place, going South. The two greatest azimuth figures are from Le Mans to Fourvière, and from Monte Sant' Angelo to Corfu - in fact, of these four places, only Monte Sant' Angelo is accepted by most researchers as definitely being part of the alignment. All the other sections seem to have azimuths between 115° and 119°.

What about sun rise from these places, does the azimuth of sun rise at, say, the summer solstice, match the azimuth of the line at that particular point? And maybe moon rise / set?

There are many questions to be asked, and many places to explore. I will focus first on the North West section, I suppose because that's closest to where I live.

Skellig Michael

Beehive huts on Skellig Michael, by By Rob Burke, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=298416

Ireland was once known as the land of saints and scholars, famed for its books and its monks, who went around the known world setting up ever more monastic cells. These monasteries of the Celtic Church were full of vitality and energy, and owed very little to Rome.

'The most spectacular and best preserved is, of course, the monastery on Skellig Michael, off the coast of Kerry, with its group of five absolutely intact huts and its two oratories. With the exception of a later chapel, the buildings are all of dry stone, and covered by various methods of corbelling. the huts are round or square outside, and square inside; in some of the corners are marked to the top of the vault, which has, inside a pyramidal appearance, whilst outside of the roof is domeshaped (...); in others, the corners are only marked in the lower parts of the walls and the inside as well as the outside of the roof is domeshaped. The final part of the covering is done by a very large slab, or a hole is left at the top, as an outlet for the smoke; in one case, the hole is cut in the middle of the large slab which covers the centre of the dome.

The oratories are rectangular in plan, and the two gables as well as the side walls slope inwards from the bottom, but the sloping is much more marked in the side walls which eventually meet in a long straight roof-top; the final covering is done by a series of horizontal slabs plainly visible from inside but concealed by some small stones outside. '

'Early Irish Monasteries, Boat-shaped Oratories and Beehive Huts', by Francoise Henry, in Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society © 1948, Vol. 11, No. 4.

Skellig Michael, or Sceilg Mhichíl in Irish ('sceillec' meaning steep area of rock) is the pointy tip of a mountain peaking through the Atlantic Ocean, battered by winds and spray. It's only seven miles from the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, but it is a world away. There are in fact two Skellig rocks, the smaller of them is the home of thousands of puffins, and completely inaccessible. Here, you are in the wild west of Europe. It's much easier being a bird or a seal than a human.

Only a couple of other islands, the Blaskets, also off the Kerry coast, are closer to Newfoundland. Blaskets and Skelligs were inhabited once, but whatever the reasons once might have been to consider them as a home have vanished, and it now seems incredible any one could have survived on them for years at a time. Today, mostly, we try to alleviate suffering and eradicate poverty. The people who lived on Skellig were part of a mindset in which poverty and suffering were to be embraced.

Now nature has taken these places back, and thrives, thanks to the steepness of the rock and the almost constant gales.

Little Skellig, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=202534

The highest point on Skellig Michael, known as the Spit, is 714 feet (218 m) above sea level. There is almost no part of the rock which is horizontal, from every aspect it seems to jut upwards. Because of their isolation, wide varieties of flora and fauna, many of which are unusual to Ireland's mainland, have developed on the Skelligs. There is evidence of pre-Christian habitation in a megalithic stone wall, as well as an Early Christian monastery, with a church dedicated to Saint Michael, and beehive huts, or clocháns. In fact, many of the islands off this part of Kerry have churches on them, and some have clocháns to, such as Church Island.

Teilansicht der frühchristlichen Klosteranlage auf Skellig Michael mit den typischen Bienenkorbhütten aus Granit und einem alten Hochkreuz, By Yeats - selbst fotografiert von Yeats, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=915435

A clochán is a dry-stone hut with a corbelled roof, found only in the South West of Ireland.

'Although the precise date of the first Irish clochans (dry stone huts built in the corbelled method) is unknown, dry stone corbelling is undoubtedly a building technique of high antiquity in Ireland (e.g. the main chamber of the passage grave at New Grange) and certainly by the early Christian period clochans were being widely used as human residences. From the numerous surviving corbelled stone buildings a tentative reconstruction of developments in their basic style can be made. This may run from the elementary circular clochan whose interior plan conforms to the shape of the external wall through the circular cloghan with rectangular interior to elongated clochans with rectangular interiors (e.g. clochan na carraige on Inishmore, Aran Islands) and eventually, to rectangular structures with ridged roofs of stone as exemplified in Gallarus oratory on the Dingle peninsula.'

F.H.A. Aalen, 'Clochans as transhumance dwellings in the Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry', The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland © 1964

The author goes on to add that because these structures have been built for so long it is very difficult to date them.

The best way to discover the island without actually visiting it is, second perhaps only to YouTube footage of tourists to 'Star Wars Island', is this book: The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael by Walter Horn, Jenny White Marshall and Grellan D. Rourke.

You can read it online: https://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft1d5nb0gb;chunk.id=0;doc.view=print

It's absolutely fantastic, full of photos and sketches. The book is the result of fieldwork on Skellig Michael, or as they call it, an 'archaeological adventure', undertaken in the summer of 1986.

Panoramic view at monastery Varlaam, Greece, By Danimir - Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8782056

The authors introduce Skellig in this way:

''We had thought of the hermitages and monasteries of Meteora as the climax, the ne plus ultra, of monastic withdrawal until we came to work on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. In the course of investigating the island, we were startled to discover the architectural remains of a hermitage five hundred years older than the earliest hermitage of Meteora. On Skellig Michael, an island at the western edge of the European land mass—at the time the monastery was founded, the western edge of the Christian world—was a hermitage even more awesome than Meteora (Fig. 5): seven hundred feet above the sea, clinging to the narrow ledges of an austere pinnacle, the Skellig Michael hermitage is a visual wonder and a marvelous feat of construction.'

'No other monastery in Ireland was built on such difficult terrain; Skellig Michael is absolutely unique in this respect. '

'Constructing the platforms and terraces of the hermitage was an exceptionally dangerous undertaking. The manipulation of heavy slabs of stone into position as a secure base for retaining walls was an arduous and formidable task, particularly on the oratory terrace. Stout ropes to secure the laboring monks would have been necessary on the perilous slopes. The work must have proceeded at a slow pace and would have required nerves of steel. The monks' achievement is a mark of their great determination, skill, and spiritual zeal.'