Situated off Ireland's southwest coast, inhospitable and uninhabited today, the Great Skellig or Skellig Michael fascinates all who visit it, and recently served as the magnificent backdrop for the final scene of Star Wars.
Recent accidents have caused concern for the safety of the visitors to the rocky outcrop but from the sixth to the thirteenth century, Skellig Michael was home to a monastic community that built the 'treacherous' steps and 'dangerous' walkways.
Many have wondered about the life of the monks on the rock centuries ago.
In this remarkable and refreshing feat of imagination and reconstruction Geoffrey Moorhouse shows how this community worshipped and survived from c500 to 1200AD.
Shortlisted for the Booker in 1997, the book is in two parts: in the first, Moorhouse gets inside the minds and austere world of the monks in a fictionalised description of their life, beginning with their arrival on the island and their withdrawal from the world to a life of prayer and fasting, hardship and danger.
Subsequent scenes depict aspects of Celtic spirituality, a Viking raid and finally, the departure of the abbot and his aging disciples from the island following a severe storm.The second part is a collection of short essays setting out the evidence for the detail in the first part, and describes the many features of medieval monastic life.Topics covered include the conversion of the Irish to Christianity, Celtic monasticism, lives of early saints and scholars, wildlife and more recent history of the Skelligs.