If you’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens (don’t worry, no major spoilers here!), a key scene takes places on a mysterious island with beautiful ancient ruins. Surely, you may have thought, this setting came from the filmmakers’ imaginations and was a constructed set, like many of the fantastic Star Wars settings?
Nope, the place really exists: it’s the Irish island Skellig Michael, and the ruins are an ancient Christian monastery!
Here’s a shot of the island:
And here’s part of the monastery (more pictures at the end of the article!):
Skellig Michael is one of the two Skellig Islands, about 7 miles (11 km) off the coast of southwestern Ireland. It was apparently uninhabited (probably due to its inaccessibility and rocky terrain) until St. Finnian of Clonard founded a monastery there in the 6th century.
St. Finnian is really important to Irish Christianity, since the 12 early Irish saints known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland studied under him.
The monastery thrived and lasted for centuries. Winding stairs, a number of monastic cells (the small buildings that look like beehives), oratories, a hermitage, and a full church were eventually built. One written history of the island even records that the monastery survived a Viking attack in the 9th century.
The island got its name “Michael” from the fact that a church was built on the island in the mid-10th century and was dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.
Unfortunately, the monastery was abandoned sometime in the 12th or 13th centuries. Today, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open to visitors.