Eight miles from Ballinskelligs Bay off the tip of Iveragh Peninsula is situated the island of Skellig Michael, one of the most enigmatic and remote sacred sites of all Europe. Home to thousands of puffins, Skellig Michael is the westernmost sacred site along a long line of ancient pilgrimage places running from western Ireland through France, Italy and Greece, and then onto Mt. Carmel in the Palestine.
This line, sometimes called the Apollo/St. Michael axis was known thousands of years before the advent of Christianity and linked the venerated holy places of St. Michael’s Mount, Mont St Michel, Bourges, Perugia, Monte Gargano, Delphi, Athens and Delos.
It is interesting to reflect on the identity of St. Michael, the patron saint of Skellig. St. Michael, almost always shown killing a ‘dragon’ with a sword, is the Christian saint that carried the souls of the worthy to heaven.
Scholars have commented on the similarity between the Celtic notion of the ‘Isles of the Blessed’ where the spirits of deceased persons journeyed to the otherworld and Skellig’s later dedication to St. Michael. In this regard it is important to mention that a 13th century German source claims that Skellig was the final location of the battle between St. Patrick and the venomous snakes and devils that plagued Ireland. With the aid of St. Michael, the ‘dragon slayer’ (dragons equal snakes in ancient mythologies), we have a clear indication of old folk memories about the suppression of the pagan ways by the new religion of Christianity.