Philip Kosloski is a writer and author of the book, The Last Monks of Skellig Michael, and creator of a comic book under the same name. He is a spirituality writer for Aleteia.org and a big Star Wars geek.
The final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens captivated me. As I watched Rey climb the ancient stone steps and walk past rocky hovels to reach Luke Skywalker, I couldn’t help but step back in awe. What struck me the most is that the place was familiar to me and I knew it was not a set constructed on a sound stage or some cgi invention: it was real and infused with a spiritual “force” that is beyond us all.
I remembered studying Skellig Michael in a course on early Christian architecture and images of the beehive huts always fascinated me.
The solitary peaks of Skellig Michael off the coast of County Kerry certainly appear not to belong to this world. They seem to rise out of nowhere from the depths of the sea and possess an aura of mystical energy that enchants all those who approach them.
It was this beauty and ancient spiritual vibrancy that attracted director J.J. Abrams to transplant the island into the Star Wars universe. When the production team reached Skellig Michael, they were blown away by its beauty and were extremely grateful for the chance to film there. Both Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley described the experience of filming there as “indescribable” and “unbelievable.”
Filming on Skellig Michael provided an added authenticity to the Star Wars planet of Ahch-To, a place in the fictional universe that was home to the first Jedi Temple and refuge for character Luke Skywalker. The production team needed a location that possessed an ancient spiritual past to illustrate the origins of the Jedi Order, and they struck gold with Skellig Michael.
While the physical location of Skellig Michael is extremely inspiring, what is even more fascinating is how a group of Irish monks made the island their home over a thousand years ago. Believed to have been founded in the late sixth to early seventh century, solitary monks inhabited the island for a period of six hundred years.
These monks were, one could say, the first “Jedi Knights” to live on the island. They truly were warrior monks on the frontline of a spiritual battle and saw themselves as waging war against the “Dark Side” of this world.
A perfect summary of their warrior spirituality comes from an influential monk of the sixth century named Benedict. He wrote the following passage that helps paint a picture of what they believed.
“The second kind [of monks] are the Anchorites or Hermits:
no longer in the first fervor of their reformation,
but after long probation in a monastery,
having learned by the help of many brethren
how to fight against the devil,
go out well armed from the ranks of the community
to the solitary combat of the desert.
They are able now,
with no help save from God,
to fight single-handed against the vices of the flesh
and their own evil thoughts.”
They chose Michael the Warrior Archangel as their patron and later the island was named “Michael’s Rock” (“skellig” simply means a steep rock in the sea).
And do you know a common phrase that could be heard on that island from these warrior monks? They would frequently say to each other, “May the Lord be with you” both in their liturgy and in every day life. It probably sounds familiar as the Jedi have a similar phrase, “May the force be with you,” that George Lucas developed from the Christian phrase.
To top it all off these warrior monks would be heard constantly praying over and over again the words, “God, come to my assistance. Lord make haste to help me.” The frequency of their prayers would rival Chirrut Îmwe’s prayer in Rogue One (“I am one with the Force. The Force is with me”).
In the end, the mysterious monastery atop the jutting rock of Skellig Michael has fascinated the world for centuries and will continue to do so for centuries to come. And the monks who lived there weren’t all that different from the Jedi Knights who are now making the island famous.