In the Roman Catholic Church, an oratory is a semi-public place of worship constructed for the benefit of a group of persons (Code of Canon law, can. 1223). Other faithful may attend the church under certain circumstances. An oratory is more private than a church, since in a church everyone has a right to attend. It is, however, more public than a chapel since only the owners of a chapel have the right of entrance.
The Gallarus Oratory is situated on the Dingle Peninsula near Ballyferriter in County Kerry, Ireland. (Bally [baile], meaning "town" in the Irish language ) Although I did a bit of a search for the name 'Gallarus', I found nothing, so I have no idea what that name means. Regardless, the Gallarus Oratory is a very interesting bit of ancient architecture. The boat-shaped building can sometimes be traced to early Viking times, the earliest of which was excavated at an 11th-Century site in southern Jutland.
Click on any image for a larger view.
From The Golden Age Project
The Gallarus Oratory is believed to be a product, perhaps, of the 6th to the 8th century. Nobody really knows for sure. Even it's designation as a place of Christian worship is uncertain. But it's placement, and the existence of a small stone, engraved with an Irish cross, nearby, make it probable. As early as the 6th century, monastic settlements were built in remote areas of Ireland. And this windwswept place is certainly remote, even today.
This small oratory, built without mortar, uses corbel vaulting, a technique developed by Neolithic tomb-makers. It is dimly lit, with only a tiny window opposite the entrance door. Shaped like an upturned boat, this miniature church overlooks the harbour at Ard na Caithne (formerly also called Smerwick) on the Dingle Peninsula.
It is built with the stones being laid at a slight angle, lower on the outside than on the inside, allowing rainwater to run off. This design has kept the interior relatively dry, despite the lack of mortaring, allowing the building to stay in excellent condition.
The following images are from Gallarus Oratory, a web page by Brian T. McElherron.
Gallarus Oratory is a fine boat-shaped structure with a narrow doorway with inclined jambs.
It is the only perfect example of its type to survive in Ireland. There is a small round-headed east window. Just above the doorway on the inside are two hinge-stones.
The walls are about 1m thick and internally the oratory measures about 5m by 3m by 5m high.
Close to the building is a stone about 1m high and inscribed with a cross within a ring, as well as some writing. the remains stand within an oval enclosure about 36m by 44m.
It has one doorway, and one window opposite. That east-facing window has a rounded top made of two carved stones (not a true arch). According to local legend, if a person climbs out of the oratory via the window, their soul will be cleansed. This is, however, physically impossible, because the window is approximately 18cm in length and 12cm in width. Some locals, however, claim that babies are passed out through the window, as they have been told it protects the child from ever drowning.
For more images see the Gallarus Oratory page maintained by Mary Ann Sullivan.