Robert Macfarlane writes, “Ynys Enlli [meaning Island of the Currents] was among the many remote places of the west and north-west coast of Britain and Ireland to be settled between around AD 500 and 1000. Monks, anchorites, solitaires and other devout itinerants began to travel in their thousands to the bays, forests, promontories, mountain-tops and islands of the Atlantic littoral. In frail craft and with little experience of seamanship, they sailed out across the dangerous seas, in search of something we might now call wildness. Where they stopped, they built monasteries, cells and oratorios, dug cemeteries for their dead and raised stone crosses to their God. These travelers were know as peregrini: the name derives from the Latin peregrinus and carries the idea of wandering over a distance, giving us our word pilgrim.
[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]
It is clear that these edgelands reciprocated the serenity and the asceticism of the peregrini. Their travels to these wild places reflected their longing to achieve correspondence between belief and place, between inner and outer landscapes. We can surmise that the monks moved outward because they wished to leave behind inhabited land, land in which every feature was named. Almost all Celtic place-names are commemorative: the bardic schools, as late as the seventeenth century, taught the history of places through their names, so that the landscape became a theatre of memory, continually reminding its inhabitants of attachment and belonging. To migrate away from the named places (territories whose topography was continuous with memory and community) to the coasts (the unmapped islands, the anonymous forests) was to reach land that did not bear the marks of occupation. It was to act out a movement from history to eternity….
There [on Ynys Enlli], with the ocean extending away from them, and nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or delay the eye, the monks were free to consider infinitude.” — from “The Wild Places”