Celtic Christianity

Celtic Christianity or Insular Christianity refers broadly to certain features of Christianity that were common, or held to be common, across the Celtic-speaking world during the Early Middle Ages.[1] Celtic Christianity has been conceived of with differing levels of specificity: some writers have described a distinct Celtic Church uniting the Celtic peoples and distinguishing them from the Roman Church, while others classify it as simply a set of distinctive practices occurring in those areas.[2] Varying scholars reject the former notion, but note that there were certain traditions and practices present in both the Irish and British churches that were not seen in the wider Christian world.[3]

Such practices include: a distinctive system for determining the dating of Easter, a style of monastic tonsure, a unique system of penance, and the popularity of going into "exile for Christ".[3] Additionally, there were other practices that developed in certain parts of Britain and Ireland, that were not known to have spread beyond particular regions. The term typically denotes the regional practices among the insular churches and their associates, rather than actual theological differences.

The term "Celtic Church" is deprecated by many historians as it implies a unified and identifiable entity entirely separate from that of mainstream Western Christendom.[4] For this reason, many prefer the term "Insular Christianity".[5] As Patrick Wormald explained, "One of the common misconceptions is that there was a Roman Church to which the Celtic Church was nationally opposed."[6]

Popularized by German historian Lutz von Padberg, the term "Iroschottisch" is used to describe this supposed dichotomy between Irish-Scottish and Roman Christianity.[7] As a whole, Celtic-speaking areas were part of Latin Christendom at a time when there was significant regional variation of liturgy and structure. But a general collective veneration of the Papacy was no less intense in Celtic-speaking areas.[8]

Nonetheless, distinctive traditions developed and spread to both Ireland and Britain, especially in the 6th and 7th centuries. Some elements may have been introduced to Ireland by the Briton St. Patrick, and later, others from Ireland to Britain through the Irish mission system of Saint Columba. However, the histories of the Irish, Welsh, Scots, Breton, Cornish, and Manx Churches diverge significantly after the 8th century.[9] Interest in the subject has led to a series of "Celtic Christian Revival" movements, which have shaped popular perceptions of the Celts and their religious practices, most notably Celtomania.

Celtic cross Knock Ireland
A Celtic Cross in Knock, Ireland.


People have conceived of "Celtic Christianity" in different ways at different times. Writings on the topic frequently say more about the time in which they originate than about the historical state of Christianity in the early medieval Celtic-speaking world, and many notions are now discredited in modern academic discourse.[10][11] One particularly prominent feature ascribed to Celtic Christianity is that it is supposedly inherently distinct from – and generally opposed to – the Catholic Church.[12] Other common claims include that Celtic Christianity denied the authority of the Pope, was less authoritarian than the Catholic Church, more spiritual, friendlier to women, more connected with nature, and more comfortable dealing with Celtic polytheism.[12] One view, which gained substantial scholarly traction in the 19th century, was that there was a "Celtic Church", a significantly organised Christian body or denomination uniting the Celtic peoples and separating them from the "Roman" church of continental Europe.[13] Others have been content to speak of "Celtic Christianity" as consisting of certain traditions and beliefs intrinsic to the Celts.[14]

However, modern scholars have identified problems with all of these claims, and find the term "Celtic Christianity" problematic in and of itself.[1] Modern scholarship roundly rejects the idea of a "Celtic Church" due to the lack of substantiating evidence.[14] Indeed, distinct Irish and British church traditions existed, each with their own practices, and there was significant local variation even within the individual Irish and British spheres.[15] While there were some traditions known to have been common to both the Irish and British churches, these were relatively few. Even these commonalities did not exist due to the "Celticity" of the regions, but due to other historical and geographical factors.[13] Additionally, the Christians of Ireland and Britain were not "anti-Roman"; the authority of Rome and the papacy were respected as strongly in Celtic areas as they were in any other region of Europe.[16] Caitlin Corning further notes that the "Irish and British were no more pro-women, pro-environment, or even more spiritual than the rest of the Church."[12]

Corning writes that scholars have identified three major strands of thought that have influenced the popular conceptions of Celtic Christianity. The first arose in the English Reformation, when the Church of England declared itself separate from papal authority. Protestant writers of this time popularised the idea of an indigenous British Christianity that opposed the foreign "Roman" church and was purer (and proto-Protestant) in thought. The English church, they claimed, was not forming a new institution, but casting off the shackles of Rome and returning to its true roots as the indigenous national church of Britain.[17] Ideas of Celtic Christianity were further influenced by the Romantic movement of the 18th century, in particular Romantic notions of the noble savage and the intrinsic qualities of the "Celtic race". Romantics idealised the Celts as a primitive, bucolic people who were far more poetic, spiritual, and freer of rationalism than their neighbours. The Celts were seen as having an inner spiritual nature that shone through even after their form of Christianity had been destroyed by the authoritarian and rational Rome.[18] In the 20th and 21st centuries, ideas about "Celtic Christians" combined with appeals by certain modern churches, modern pagan groups, and New Age groups seeking to recover something of ancient spirituality that they believe is missing from the modern world. For these groups, Celtic Christianity becomes a cipher for whatever is lost in the modern religious experience. Corning notes that these notions say more about modern desires than about the reality of Christianity in the Early Middle Ages.[19]

Attempts to associate the early Christians of Celtic-speaking Galatia (purportedly recipients of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians) with later Christians of north-western Europe's Celtic fringe appear fanciful.[20]



According to medieval traditions, Christianity arrived in Britain in the 1st or 2nd century. Gildas's 6th-century account dated its arrival to the latter part of the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius:[21] an account of the seventy disciples discovered at Mount Athos in 1854 lists Aristobulus as "bishop of Britain".[22] Medieval accounts of King Lucius, Fagan and Deruvian, and Joseph of Arimathea, however, are now usually accounted as pious frauds.

The earliest certain historical evidence of Christianity among the Britons is found in the writings of such early Christian Fathers as Tertullian and Origen in the first years of the 3rd century, although the first Christian communities probably were established at least some decades earlier.

Amphibalus baptizing converts, from The Life of St. Alban, written and illustrated by Matthew Paris († 1259)
Line illustration of a Saint's bones unearthed. Wellcome M0007956
The discovery of St. Alban's bones, illustrated in The Life of St. Alban

Initially, Christianity was but one of a number of religions: in addition to the native and syncretic local forms of paganism, Roman legionaries and immigrants introduced other cults such as Mithraism. At various times, the Christians risked persecution, although the earliest known Christian martyrs in Britain – Saint Alban and "Amphibalus" – probably lived in the early 4th century.[a] Julius and Aaron, citizens of Caerleon, were said to have been martyred during the Diocletianic Persecution, although there is no textual or archaeological evidence to support the folk etymology of Lichfield as deriving from another thousand martyrs during the same years.[25]

Christianization intensified with the legalisation of the Christian religion under Constantine the Great in the early 4th century and its promotion by subsequent Christian emperors. Three Romano-British bishops, including Archbishop Restitutus of London, are known to have been present at the Synod of Arles in 314.[26] Others attended the Council of Serdica in 347 and the Council of Ariminum in 360. A number of references to the church in Roman Britain are also found in the writings of 4th-century Christian fathers. Britain was the home of Pelagius, who opposed Augustine of Hippo's doctrine of original sin; St Germanus was said to have visited the island in part to oppose the bishops who advocated his heresy.

Around 367, the Great Conspiracy saw the troops along Hadrian's Wall mutiny, allowing the Picts to overrun the northern areas of Roman Britain (in some cases joining in), in concert with Irish and Saxon attacks on the coast. The Roman provinces seem to have been retaken by Theodosius the Elder the next year, but many Romano-Britons had already been killed or taken as slaves. In 407, Constantine III declared himself "emperor of the West" and withdrew his legions to Gaul. The Byzantine historian Zosimus (c. 500) stated that Constantine's neglect of the area's defense against Irish and Saxon raids and invasions caused the Britons and Gauls to fully revolt from the Roman Empire, rejecting Roman law and reverting to their native customs.[27] In any case, Roman authority was greatly weakened following the Visigoths' sack of Rome in 410. Medieval legend attributed widespread Saxon immigration to mercenaries hired by the British king Vortigern. The Saxon communities followed a form of Germanic paganism, driving Christian Britons back to Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany or subjugating them under kingdoms with no formal church presence.

Columba at Bridei's fort
Columba at the gate of Bridei I's fortress, book illustration by Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton (1906)

Fifth and sixth century Britain, although poorly attested, saw the "Age of Saints" among the Welsh.[28] Saint Dubric, Saint Illtud, and others first completed the Christianization of Wales. Unwilling or unable to missionize among the Saxons in England, Briton refugees and missionaries such as Saint Patrick[b] and Finnian of Clonard were then responsible for the Christianization of Ireland[29] and made up the Seven Founder Saints of Brittany.[30] The Irish in turn made Christians of the Picts and English. Saint Columba then began the conversion of the Dál Riata and the other peoples of Scotland, although native saints such as Mungo also arose. The history of Christianity in Cornwall is more obscure, but the native church seems to have been greatly strengthened by Welsh and Irish missionaries such as Saints Petroc, Piran, and Breaca. Extreme weather (as around 535) and the attendant famines and disease, particularly the arrival of the Plague of Justinian in Wales around 547 and Ireland around 548, may have contributed to these missionary efforts.[31]

The title of "saint" was used quite broadly by British, Irish, and English Christians. Extreme cases are Irish accounts of Gerald of Mayo's presiding over 3,300 saints and Welsh claims that Bardsey Island held the remains of 20,000.[c] More often, the title was given to the founder of any ecclesiastical settlement, which would thenceforth be known as their llan. Such communities were organized on tribal models: founding saints were almost invariably lesser members of local dynasties, they were not infrequently married, and their successors were often chosen from among their kin.[33] In the 6th century, the "Three Saintly Families of Wales" – those of the invading Irish Brychan and Hen Ogledd's Cunedda Wledig and Caw of Strathclyde – displaced many of the local Silurian rulers in favor of their own families and clans.[33] By some estimates,[34] these traditions produced over 800 pre-congregational saints that were venerated locally in Wales, but invasions by Saxons, Irishmen, Vikings, Normans, and others destroyed many ecclesiastical records. Similarly, the distance from Rome, hostility to native practices and cults, and relative unimportance of the local sees has left only two local Welsh saints in the General Roman Calendar: Saints David and Winifred.

Insular Christianity developed distinct traditions and practices, most pointedly concerning the computus of Easter, as it produced the most obvious signs of disunity:[35] the old and new methods did not usually agree, causing Christians following one system to begin celebrating the feast of the Resurrection while others continued to solemnly observe Lent.[d] Monasticism spread widely; the Llandaff Charters record over fifty religious foundations in southeast Wales alone. Although the clasau were rather modest affairs, great monasteries and monastic schools also developed at Llantwit Major (Llanilltud Fawr), Bangor, and Iona. The tonsure differed from that elsewhere and also became a point of contention. A distinction that became increasingly important was the nature of church organisation: some monasteries were led by married clergy, inheritance of religious offices was common (in Wales, as late as the 12th century),[37] and illegitimacy was treated much more leniently with fathers simply needing to acknowledge the child for him to inherit an equal share with his brothers. Prior to their conquest by England, most churches have records of bishops and priests but not an established parish system. Pre-conquest, most Christians would not attend regular services but relied on members of the monastic communities who would occasionally make preaching tours through the area.[37]


A portrait of Augustine of Canterbury from an 8th-century manuscript of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum

At the end of the 6th century, Pope Gregory I dispatched a mission under Augustine of Canterbury to convert the Anglo-Saxons, establish new sees and churches throughout their territories, and reassert papal authority over the native church. Gregory intended for Augustine to become the metropolitan bishop over all of southern Britain, including the existing dioceses under Welsh and Cornish control. Augustine met with British bishops in a series of conferences – known as the Synod of Chester – that attempted to assert his authority and to compel them to abandon aspects of their service that had fallen out of line with Roman practice. The Northumbrian cleric Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People is the only surviving account of these meetings: according to it, some of the clerics of the nearest British province met Augustine at a site on the border of the Kingdom of Kent that was known thereafter as Augustine's Oak. Augustine focused on seeking assistance for his work among the Saxons and reforming the Britons' obsolete method for calculating Easter; the clerics responded that they would need to confer with their people and await a larger assembly.[38] Bede relates that the bishops particularly consulted a hermit on how to respond. He told them to respond based on Augustine's conduct: were he to rise to greet them, they would know him for a humble servant of Christ and should submit to his authority but, were he to remain seated, they would know him to be arrogant and prideful and should reject him. As it happened, Augustine did keep his seat, provoking outrage. In the negotiations that followed, he offered to allow the Britons to maintain all their native customs but three: they should adopt Rome's more advanced method of calculating the date of Easter, reform their baptismal ritual, and join the missionary efforts among the Saxons. The British clerics rejected all of these, as well as Augustine's authority over them.[38] John Edward Lloyd argues that the primary reason for the British bishops' rejection of Augustine – and especially his call for them to join his missionary effort – was his claim to sovereignty over them, given that his see would be so deeply entwined with Anglo-Saxon Kent.[39]

The death of hundreds of British clerics to the pagan king Æthelfrith of the Kingdom of Northumbria around 616 at the Battle of Chester was taken by Bede as fulfillment of a prophecy allegedly made by Augustine of Hippo that the British church would receive war and death from the Saxons they refused to proselytise.[40][41][42][e] Despite the inaccuracies of their system, the Britons did not adopt the Roman and Saxon computus until induced to do so around 768 by "Archbishop" Elfodd of "Gwynedd". The Norman invasion of Wales finally brought Welsh dioceses under England's control. The development of legends about the mission of Fagan and Deruvian and Philip the Apostle's dispatch of Joseph of Arimathea in part aimed to preserve the priority and authority of the native establishments at St David's, Llandaff, and Glastonbury. It was not until the death of Bishop Bernard (c. 1147) that St Davids finally abandoned its claims to metropolitan status and submitted to the Province of Canterbury, by which point the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's pseudohistorical Historia Regum Britanniae had begun spreading these inventions further afield. Such ideas were used by mediaeval anti-Roman movements such as the Lollards and followers of John Wycliffe,[43] as well as by English Catholics during the English Reformation. The legend that Jesus himself visited Britain is referred to in William Blake's 1804 poem "And did those feet in ancient time". The words of Blake's poem were set to music in 1916 by Hubert Parry as the well-known song "Jerusalem".


Ninian of Whithorn
Saint Ninian as intercessor from Book of Hours of the Virgin and Saint Ninian (15th century)

According to Bede, Saint Ninian was born about 360 in what is present day Galloway, the son of a chief of the Novantae, apparently a Christian. He studied under Martin of Tours before returning to his own land about 397. He established himself at Whithorn where he built a church of stone, "Candida Casa". Tradition holds that Ninian established an episcopal see at the Candida Casa in Whithorn, and named the see for Saint Martin of Tours. He converted the southern Picts to Christianity,[44] and died around 432. Many Irish saints trained at the "Candida Casa", such as Tigernach of Clones, Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, and Finnian of Movilla. Ninian's work was carried on by Palladius, who left Ireland to work among the Picts. The mission to the southern Picts apparently met with some setbacks, as Patrick charged Coroticus and the "apostate Picts" with conducting raids on the Irish coast and seizing Christians as slaves. Ternan and Saint Serf followed Palladius. Serf was the teacher of Saint Mungo,[45] the apostle of Strathclyde, and patron saint of Glasgow.


A Welshman of noble birth, Saint Petroc was educated in Ireland. He set out in a small boat with a few followers. In a type of peregrinatio, they let God determine their course. The winds and tides brought them to the Padstow estuary.[46] Kevin of Glendalough was a student of Petroc. Saint Endelienta was the daughter of the Welsh king Brychan. She also travelled to Cornwall to evangelize the locals. Her brother Nectan of Hartland worked in Devon. Saint Piran is the patron saint of tin miners. An Irishman, he is said to have floated across to Cornwall after being thrown into the sea tied to a millstone. He has been identified on occasion with Ciarán of Saigir.[47]


Stpatrick hilloftara
St. Patrick

By the early fifth century the religion had spread to Ireland, which had never been part of the Roman Empire. There were Christians in Ireland before Palladius arrived in 431 as the first missionary bishop sent by Rome. His mission does not seem to have been entirely successful. The subsequent mission of Saint Patrick established churches in conjunction with civitates like his own in Armagh; small enclosures in which groups of Christians, often of both sexes and including the married, lived together, served in various roles and ministered to the local population.[48][49] Patrick set up diocesan structures with a hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons. During the late 5th and 6th centuries true monasteries became the most important centres: in Patrick's own see of Armagh the change seems to have happened before the end of the 5th century, thereafter the bishop was the abbot also.[50] Within a few generations of the arrival of the first missionaries the monastic and clerical class of the isle had become fully integrated with the culture of Latin letters. Besides Latin, Irish ecclesiastics developed a written form of Old Irish. Others who influenced the development of Christianity in Ireland include Brigid, Moluag and Caillín.

Universal practice

Connections with the greater Latin West brought the nations of Britain and Ireland into closer contact with the orthodoxy of the councils. The customs and traditions particular to Insular Christianity became a matter of dispute, especially the matter of the proper calculation of Easter. In addition to Easter dating, Irish scholars and cleric-scholars in continental Europe found themselves implicated in theological controversies but it is not always possible to distinguish when a controversy was based on matters of substance or on political grounds or xenophobic sentiments.[51] Synods were held in Ireland, Gaul, and England (e.g. the Synod of Whitby) at which Irish and British religious rites were rejected but a degree of variation continued in Britain after the Ionan church accepted the Roman date.

The Easter question was settled at various times in different places. The following dates are derived from Haddan and Stubbs: southern Ireland, 626–628; northern Ireland, 692; Northumbria (converted by Irish missions), 664; East Devon and Somerset, the Britons under Wessex, 705; the Picts, 710; Iona, 716–718; Strathclyde, 721; North Wales, 768; South Wales, 777. Cornwall held out the longest of any, perhaps even, in parts, to the time of Bishop Aedwulf of Crediton (909).[52]

A uniquely Irish penitential system was eventually adopted as a universal practice of the Church by the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.

Pan-Celtic traditions

Caitlin Corning identifies four customs that were common to both the Irish and British churches but not used elsewhere in the Christian world.[53]

Easter calculation

Easter was originally dated according to Hebrew calendar, which tried to place Passover on the first full moon following the Spring equinox but did not always succeed. In his Life of Constantine, Eusebius records that the First Council of Nicaea (325) decided that all Christians should observe a common date for Easter separate from the Jewish calculations, according to the practice of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria.[54] Calculating the proper date of Easter (computus) then became a complicated process involving a lunisolar calendar, finding the first Sunday after an idealized Passover on the first full moon after the equinox.

Various tables were drawn up, aiming to produce the necessary alignment between the solar year and the phases of the calendrical moon. The less exact 8-year cycle was replaced by (or by the time of) Augustalis's treatise "On the measurement of Easter", which includes an 84-year cycle based on Meton. This was introduced to Britain, whose clerics at some point modified it to use the Julian calendar's original equinox on 25 March instead of the Nicaean equinox, which had already drifted to 21 March. This calendar was conserved by the Britons and Irish[55] while the Romans and French began to use the Victorian cycle of 532 years. The Romans (but not the French) then adopted the still-better work of Dionysius in 525, which brought them into harmony with the Church of Alexandria.

In the early 600s Christians in Ireland and Britain became aware of the divergence in dating between them and those in Europe. The first clash came in 602 when a synod of French bishops opposed the practices of the monasteries established by St Columbanus; Columbanus appealed to the pope but received no answer and finally moved from their jurisdiction. It was a primary concern for St Augustine and his mission, although Oswald's flight to Dál Riata and eventual restoration to his throne meant that Celtic practice was introduced to Northumbria until the 664 synod in Whitby. The groups furthest away from the Gregorian mission were generally the readiest to acknowledge the superiority of the new tables: the bishops of southern Ireland adopted the continental system at the Synod of Mag Léne (c. 630); the c. 697 Council of Birr saw the northern Irish bishops follow suit. The abbey at Iona and its satellites held out until 716,[56] while the Welsh did not adopt the Roman and Saxon computus until induced to do so around 768 by Elfodd, "archbishop" of Bangor.

Monastic tonsure

Fra Angelico 052
The "Roman" tonsure, in the shape of a crown, differing from the Irish tradition, which is unclear but involved shaving the hair from ear to ear in some fashion

All monks of the period, and apparently most or all clergy, kept a distinct tonsure, or method of cutting one's hair, to distinguish their social identity as men of the cloth. In Ireland men otherwise wore longish hair, and a shaved head was worn by slaves.[57]

The prevailing "Roman" custom was to shave a circle at the top of the head, leaving a halo of hair or corona; this was eventually associated with the imagery of Christ's Crown of Thorns.[58] The early material referring to the Celtic tonsure emphasizes its distinctiveness from the Roman alternative and invariably connects its use to the Celtic dating of Easter.[59] Those preferring the Roman tonsure considered the Celtic custom extremely unorthodox, and associated it with the form of tonsure worn by the heresiarch Simon Magus.[60] This association appears in a 672 letter from Saint Aldhelm to King Geraint of Dumnonia, but it may have been circulating since the Synod of Whitby.[61] The tonsure is also mentioned in a passage, probably of the 7th century but attributed wrongly to Gildas: "Britones toti mundo contrarii, moribus Romanis inimici, non solum in missa sed in tonsura etiam" ("Britons are contrary to the whole world, enemies of Roman customs, not only in the Mass but also in regard to the tonsure").[62]

The exact shape of the Irish tonsure is unclear from the early sources, although they agree that the hair was in some way shorn over the head from ear to ear.[63] In 1639 James Ussher suggested a semi-circular shape, rounded in the front and culminating at a line between the ears.[64] This suggestion was accepted by many subsequent writers, but in 1703 Jean Mabillon put forth a new hypothesis, claiming that the entire forehead was shaven back to the ears. Mabillon's version was widely accepted, but contradicts the early sources.[65] In 2003 Daniel McCarthy suggested a triangular shape, with one side between the ears and a vertex towards the front of the head.[63] The Collectio canonum Hibernensis cites the authority of Saint Patrick as indicating that the custom originated with the swineherd of Lóegaire mac Néill, the king who opposed Patrick.[66]


In Christian Ireland – as well as Pictish and English peoples they Christianised – a distinctive form of penance developed, where confession was made privately to a priest, under the seal of secrecy, and where penance was given privately and ordinarily performed privately as well.[67] Certain handbooks were made, called "penitentials", designed as a guide for confessors and as a means of regularising the penance given for each particular sin.

In antiquity, penance had been a public ritual. Penitents were divided into a separate part of the church during liturgical worship, and they came to Mass wearing sackcloth and ashes in a process known as exomologesis that often involved some form of general confession.[68] There is evidence that this public penance was preceded by a private confession to a bishop or priest (sacerdos), and it seems that, for some sins, private penance was allowed instead.[69] Nonetheless, penance and reconciliation was prevailingly a public rite (sometimes unrepeatable), which included absolution at its conclusion.[70]

The Irish penitential practice spread throughout the continent, where the form of public penance had fallen into disuse. Saint Columbanus was credited with introducing the medicamenta paentitentiae, the "medicines of penance", to Gaul at a time when they had come to be neglected.[71] Though the process met some resistance, by 1215 the practice had become established as the norm, with the Fourth Lateran Council establishing a canonical statute requiring confession at a minimum of once per year.


A final distinctive tradition common across Britain and Ireland was the popularity of peregrinatio pro Christo ("exile for Christ"). The term peregrinatio is Latin, and referred to the state of living or sojourning away from one's homeland in Roman law. It was later used by the Church Fathers, in particular Saint Augustine of Hippo, who wrote that Christians should live a life of peregrinatio in the present world while awaiting the Kingdom of God. Augustine's version of peregrinatio spread widely throughout the Christian church, but it took two additional unique meanings in Celtic countries.[72]

In the first sense, the penitentials prescribed permanent or temporary peregrinatio as penance for certain infractions. Additionally, there was a tradition of undertaking a voluntary peregrinatio pro Christo, in which individuals permanently left their homes and put themselves entirely in God's hands. In the Irish tradition there were two types of such peregrinatio, the "lesser" peregrinatio, involving leaving one's home area but not the island, and the "superior" peregrinatio, which meant leaving Ireland for good. This voluntary exile to spend one's life in a foreign land far from friends and family came to be termed the "white martyrdom".[73]

Most peregrini or exiles of this type were seeking personal spiritual fulfilment, but many became involved in missionary endeavours. The Briton Saint Patrick became the evangelist of Ireland during what he called his peregrinatio there, while Saint Samson left his home to ultimately become bishop in Brittany. The Irishmen Columba and Columbanus similarly founded highly important religious communities after leaving their homes.[72] Irish-educated English Christians such as Gerald of Mayo, the Two Ewalds, Willehad, Willibrord, Wilfrid, Ceolfrith, and other English all followed these Irish traditions.

Other British and Irish traditions

A number of other distinctive traditions and practices existed (or are taken to have existed) in Britain or Ireland, but are not known to have been in use across the entire region. Different writers and commenters have identified different traditions as representative of so-called Celtic Christianity.[74]


National Library of Ireland MS G10 p24
Excerpt from the Martyrology of Oengus

Monastic spirituality came to Britain and then Ireland from Gaul, by way of Lérins, Tours, and Auxerre. Its spirituality was heavily influenced by the Desert Fathers. According to Richard Woods, the familial, democratic, and decentralized aspects of Egyptian Christianity were better suited to structures and values of Celtic culture than was a legalistic diocesan form.[73] Monasteries tended to be cenobitical in that monks lived in separate cells but came together for common prayer, meals, and other functions. Some more austere ascetics became hermits living in remote locations in what came to be called the "green martyrdom".[73] An example of this would be Kevin of Glendalough and Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.

One outdated belief is that that the true ecclesiastical power in the Celtic world lay in the hands of abbots of monasteries, rather than bishops of dioceses.[12][75] It is certain that the ideal of monasticism was universally esteemed in Celtic Christianity.[76] This was especially true in Ireland and areas evangelised by Irish missionaries, where monasteries and their abbots came to be vested with a great deal of ecclesiastical and secular power. Following the growth of the monastic movement in the 6th century, abbots controlled not only individual monasteries, but also expansive estates and the secular communities that tended them.[77] As monastics, abbots were not necessarily ordained (i.e. they were not necessarily priests or bishops). They were usually descended from one of the many Irish royal families, and the founding regulations of the abbey sometimes specified that the abbotcy should if possible be kept within one family lineage.[78]

This focus on the monastery has led some scholars, most notably Kathleen Hughes, to argue that the monastic system came to be the dominant ecclesiastical structure in the Irish church, essentially replacing the earlier episcopal structure of the type found in most of the rest of the Christian world.[79] Hughes argued that the paruchia, or network of monasteries attached to an abbey, replaced the diocese as the chief administrative unit of the church, and the position of Abbot largely replaced that of bishop in authority and prominence.[80] According to this model, bishops were still needed, since certain sacramental functions were reserved only for the ordained, but they had little authority in the ecclesiastical structure.[81]

However, more recent scholarship, particularly the work of Donnchadh Ó Corráin and Richard Sharpe, has offered a more nuanced view of the interrelationships between the monastic system and the traditional Church structures.[79] Sharpe argues that there is no evidence that the paruchia overrode the diocese, or that the abbot replaced the Bishop;[76] Bishops still exercised ultimate spiritual authority and remained in charge of the diocesan clergy.[79] But either way, the monastic ideal was regarded as the utmost expression of the Christian life.[76]

The focus on powerful abbots and monasteries was limited to the Irish Church, however, and not in Britain. The British church employed an episcopal structure corresponding closely to the model used elsewhere in the Christian world.[12][75]

Irish monasticism was notable for its permeability. In permeable monasticism, people were able to move freely in and out of the monastic system at different points of life. Young boys and girls would enter the system to pursue Latin scholarship. Students would sometimes travel from faraway lands to enter the Irish monasteries. When these students became adults, they would leave the monastery to live out their lives. Eventually, these people would retire back to secure community provided by the monastery and stay until their death. However, some would stay within the monastery and become leaders. Since most of the clergy were Irish, native traditions were well-respected. Permeable monasticism popularised the use of vernacular and helped mesh the norms of secular and monastic element in Ireland, unlike other parts of Europe where monasteries were more isolated. Examples of these intertwining motifs can be seen in the hagiographies of St. Brigid and St. Columba.[82]

This willingness to learn, and also to teach, was a hallmark of the "permeable monasticism" that so characterised the Irish monastery. While a hermitage was still the highest form of dedication, the monasteries were very open to allowing students and children within the walls for an education, without requiring them to become monks. These students were then allowed to leave and live within the community, and were welcomed back in their old age to retire in peace. This style of monasticism allowed for the monastery to connect with, and become a part of, the community at large. The availability of the monks to the people was instrumental in converting Ireland from paganism to Christianity, allowing a blend of the two cultures.[82]


According to hagiographies written some centuries later, Illtud and his pupils David, Gildas, and Deiniol were leading figures in 6th-century Britain.

Not far Llantwit Fawr stood Cadoc's foundation of Llancarfan, founded in the latter part of the fifth century. The son of Gwynllyw, a prince of South Wales, who before his death renounced the world to lead an eremitical life. Cadoc followed his father's example and received the religious habit from St. Tathai, an Irish monk, superior of a small community at Swent near Chepstow, in Monmouthshire. Returning to his native county, Cadoc built a church and monastery, which was called Llancarfan, or the "Church of the Stags". Here he established a monastery, college and hospital. The spot at first seemed an impossible one, and an almost inaccessible marsh, but he and his monks drained and cultivated it, transforming it into one of the most famous religious houses in South Wales.[83] His legend recounts that he daily fed a hundred clergy and a hundred soldiers, a hundred workmen, a hundred poor men, and the same number of widows. When thousands left the world and became monks, they very often did so as clansmen, dutifully following the example of their chief. Bishoprics, canonries, and parochial benefices passed from one to another member of the same family, and frequently from father to son. Their tribal character is a feature which Irish and Welsh monasteries had in common.[84]

Illtud, said to have been an Armorican by descent, spent the first period of his religious life as a disciple of St. Cadoc at Llancarvan. He founded the monastery at Llantwit Major. The monastery stressed learning as well as devotion. One of his fellow students was Paul Aurelian, a key figure in Cornish monasticism.[85] Gildas the Wise was invited by Cadoc to deliver lectures in the monastery and spent a year there, during which he made a copy of a book of the Gospels, long treasured in the church of St. Cadoc.[83] One of the most notable pupils of Illtyd was St. Samson of Dol, who lived for a time the life of a hermit in a cave near the river Severn before founding a monastery in Brittany.

St David established his monastery on a promontory on the western sea. It was well placed to be a centre of Insular Christianity. When Alfred the Great sought a scholar for his court, he summoned Asser of Saint David's. Contemporary with David were Saint Teilo, Cadoc, Padarn, Beuno and Tysilio among them. It was from Illtud and his successors that the Irish sought guidance on matters of ritual and discipline. Finnian of Clonard studied under Cadoc at Llancarfan in Glamorgan.


Finnian of Clonard is said to have trained the Twelve Apostles of Ireland at Clonard Abbey.

Saint John, evangelist portrait from the Book of Mulling, Irish, late 8th century

The achievements of insular art, in illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells, high crosses, and metalwork like the Ardagh Chalice remain very well known, and in the case of manuscript decoration had a profound influence on Western medieval art.[86] The manuscripts were certainly produced by and for monasteries, and the evidence suggests that metalwork was produced in both monastic and royal workshops, perhaps as well as secular commercial ones.[87]

In the 6th and 7th centuries, Irish monks established monastic institutions in parts of modern-day Scotland (especially Columba, also known as Colmcille or, in Old Irish, Colum Cille), and on the continent, particularly in Gaul (especially Columbanus). Monks from Iona under St. Aidan founded the See of Lindisfarne in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria in 635, whence Gaelic-Irish practice heavily influenced northern England.

Irish monks also founded monasteries across the continent, exerting influence greater than many more ancient continental centres.[88] The first issuance of a papal privilege granting a monastery freedom from episcopal oversight was that of Pope Honorius I to Bobbio Abbey, one of Columbanus's institutions.[89]

At least in Ireland, the monastic system became increasingly secularised from the 8th century, as close ties between ruling families and monasteries became apparent. The major monasteries were now wealthy in land and had political importance. On occasion they made war either upon each other or took part in secular wars – a battle in 764 is supposed to have killed 200 from Durrow Abbey when they were defeated by Clonmacnoise.[90] From early periods the kin nature of many monasteries had meant that some married men were part of the community, supplying labour and with some rights, including in the election of abbots (but obliged to abstain from sex during fasting periods). Some abbacies passed from father to son, and then even grandsons.[91] A revival of the ascetic tradition came in the second half of the century, with the culdee or "clients (vassals) of God" movement founding new monasteries detached from family groupings.[92]

Rule of Columbanus

The monasteries of the Irish missions, and many at home, adopted the Rule of Saint Columbanus, which was stricter than the Rule of Saint Benedict, the main alternative in the West. In particular there was more fasting and an emphasis on corporal punishment. For some generations monks trained by Irish missionaries continued to use the Rule and to found new monasteries using it, but most converted to the Benedictine Rule over the 8th and 9th centuries.[f]

Again, however, the Rule of Columbanus was used exclusively in monasteries in the Irish sphere of influence; it was not followed in British monasteries.


Bede implies that in the time of Augustine of Canterbury, British churches used a baptismal rite that was in some way at variance with the Roman practice. According to Bede, the British Christians' failure to "complete" the sacrament of baptism was one of the three specific issues with British practice that Augustine could not overlook.[93] There is no indication as to how the baptism was "incomplete" according to the Roman custom. It may be that there was some difference in the confirmation rite, or that there was no confirmation at all.[39] At any rate, it is unlikely to have caused as much discord as the Easter controversy or the tonsure, as no other source mentions it.[39] As such there is no evidence that heterodox baptism figured into the practice of the Irish church.[12][75]

Accusations of Judaizing

A recurrent accusation levelled against the Irish throughout the Middle Ages is that they were Judaizers, which is to say that they observed certain religious rites after the manner of the Jews.[51] The belief that Irish Christians were Judaizers can be observed in three main areas: the Easter Controversy, the notion that the Irish practiced obsolete laws from the Old Testament and (not unrelated to this) the view that they adhered too closely to the Old Testament. Quite apart from the intricate theological concerns that underpinned the debate over Easter in early 7th-century Gaul, Columbanus also found himself accused of Quartodecimanism, a heresy whose central tenet was observing Easter on the same date as the eve of the Jewish Passover, namely the fourteenth day of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan. Although this false accusation was raised at a time of heightened political tensions between Columbanus and the Gallic bishops, some historians have cautioned that it ought not be dismissed as a mere ruse because the Gauls may have been genuinely worried about blurring the boundaries between Gallic Christians and their Jewish neighbours.[94] That the Irish practiced obsolete Old Testament laws is another accusation that repeats itself a number of times in the early Middle Ages, most famously in the case of the 8th-century Irish charismatic preacher, Clement Scotus I (fl. 745), who was condemned as a heretic, in part for urging followers to follow Old Testament law in such controversial matters as obliging a man to marry his widowed sister-in-law upon his brother’s death.[95] Finally, a good example for the Irish tendency to adhere closely to the Old Testament is the Hibernensis, a late 7th- or early 8th-century Irish canon law collection which was the first text of church law to draw heavily on the Bible, and in particular the Old Testament, at a time when Christians were meant to be "dead to the old law" (Romans 7:4). In Scotland similar accusations surround the supposed cultural taboo concerning pork.

Celtic Christian revivalism

Ian Bradley notes that the recurrent interest in medieval insular Christianity has led to successive revival movements he terms "Celtic Christian revivalism". According to Bradley, most, though not all, revivalists are non-Celts for whom Celtic Christianity has an "exotic and peripheral" appeal.[96] Adherents typically claim their revivals restore authentic practices and traits, though Bradley notes they reflect contemporary concerns and prejudices much more closely, and most are "at least partially inspired and driven by denominational and national rivalries, ecclesiastical and secular power politics, and an anti-Roman Catholic agenda." Though often inaccurate or distorted, the beliefs of these movements have greatly influenced popular conceptions of historical Celtic Christianity.[97]

Bradley traces the origins of Celtic Christian revivalism to the Middle Ages. In the 8th and 9th century, authors wrote idealised hagiographies of earlier saints, whose "golden age" of extraordinary holiness contrasted with the perceived corruption of later times. Similarly, the 12th- and 13th-century literary revival popularised and romanticised older Celtic traditions such as the Arthurian legend. These ideas were expanded during the English Reformation, as Protestant authors appropriated the concept of a "Celtic Church" as a native, anti-Roman predecessor to their own movement.[98]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, antiquarianism, the Romantic movement, and growing nationalism influenced ideas about what was becoming known as "Celtic Christianity". Beginning in the early 20th century, a full-fledged revival movement began, centred on the island of Iona and influenced by the Irish literary revival and more general Christian revivals. By the end of the 20th century, another wave of enthusiasm began, this time influenced by New Age ideals.[98] Today, a self-identification with and use of "Celtic Christianity" is common in countries such as Ireland, both among participants in established churches and independent groups.[99]

See also


  1. ^ The date of Alban's execution has been a subject of discussion among historians with John Morris proposing that it took place during the persecutions of Emperor Septimius Severus as early as 209.[23] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle lists the year 283,[24] and Bede places it in 305. Still others argue that sometime during the persecutors Decius or Valerian (251-259) is more likely.
  2. ^ Note, however, that many events of Patrick's hagiographies may have originally intended the earlier Saint Palladius, a Gaul dispatched to Ireland by Pope Celestine I.
  3. ^ The Bollandists compiling the Acta Sanctorum were even driven to complain of the Irish "canonising dead men in troops whenever they seemed to be somewhat better than usual".[32]
  4. ^ Indeed, this is noted as occurring in the household of King Oswiu of Northumbria, whose kingdom had been evangelised by both Irish and Roman missionaries.[36]
  5. ^ Bede says 1,200 British clergy died; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says 200. Bede is unclear on the date of the battle, but the current view is that it occurred in 616.
  6. ^ The main source for Columbanus's life or vita is recorded by Jonas of Bobbio, an Italian monk who entered the monastery in Bobbio in 618, three years after the Saint's death; Jonas wrote the life c. 643. This author lived during the abbacy of Attala, Columbanus's immediate successor, and his informants had been companions of the saint. Mabillon in the second volume of his "Acta Sanctorum O.S.B." gives the life in full, together with an appendix on the miracles of the saint, written by an anonymous member of the Bobbio community.


  1. ^ a b Koch 2006, p. 431
  2. ^ Koch 2006, pp. 431–432
  3. ^ a b Corning 2006, p. 18
  4. ^ Ó Cróinín 1995; Charles-Edwards 2000; Davies 1992, pp. 12–21; Hughes 1981, pp. 1–20; Kathleen Hughes, The Church in Early English Society (London, 1966); W. Davies and P. Wormald, The Celtic Church (Audio Learning Tapes, 1980).
  5. ^ Brown 2003, pp. 16, 51, 129, 132
  6. ^ Wormald 2006, p. 207
  7. ^ Padberg, Lutz von (1998). Die Christianisierung Europas im Mittelalter. Reclam. ISBN 9783150170151.
  8. ^ Sharpe 1984, pp. 230–270; Wormald 2006, pp. 207–208, 220 n. 3
  9. ^ Wormald 2006, pp. 223–224 n. 1
  10. ^ Corning 2006, p. xii
  11. ^ Bradley 1999, pp. vii–ix
  12. ^ a b c d e f Corning 2006, p. 1
  13. ^ a b Koch 2006, p. 432
  14. ^ a b Koch 2006, pp. 432–434
  15. ^ Corning 2006, p. 4
  16. ^ Corning 2006, pp. 1, 4
  17. ^ Corning 2006, p. 2
  18. ^ Corning 2006, pp. 2–3
  19. ^ Corning 2006, p. 3
  20. ^ Boyle, Elizabeth (2017). "Writing Medieval Irish History in the Nineteenth Century". In Hill, Jacqueline; Lyons, Mary Ann (eds.). Representing Irish Religious Histories: Historiography, Ideology and Practice. Histories of the Sacred and Secular, 1700-2000. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. p. 72. ISBN 9783319415314. Retrieved 4 February 2018. '[...] a Celtic Christianity, with its peculiar national faults and characteristics, finds place even in the New Testament. The Galatians, whose apostasy from pure Christianity has endowed the Church with St Paul's masterly defence of Christian freedom, were Celts [...]' There was a Celtic-speaking population in Galatia in the late centuries BC and perhaps into the early centuries AD, of which only fragmentary traces of the language survive in attested personal and place name evidence. However, the idea that the early Christian communities in Galatia shared certain 'national faults and characteristics' with the population of early medieval Ireland is entirely without foundation.
  21. ^ Gildas. De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae. 6th century. ‹See Tfd›(in Latin) Translated by Thomas Habington. The Epistle of Gildas the most ancient British Author: who flourished in the yeere of our Lord, 546. And who by his great erudition, sanctitie, and wisdome, acquired the name of Sapiens. Faithfully translated out of the originall Latine (8 vols). T. Cotes for William Cooke (London), 1638. Edited and reprinted by John Allen Giles. "The Works of Gildas, Surnamed 'Sapiens,' or the Wise", §8 in Six Old English Chronicles of Which Two Are Now First Translated from the Monkish Latin Originals: Ethelwerd's Chronicle, Asser's Life of Alfred, Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History, Gildas, Nennius, and Richard of Cirencester. Henry G. Bohn (London), 1848. Hosted at Wikisource.
  22. ^ Pseudo-Hippolytus (1999). "On the Seventy Apostles of Christ". Ante-Nicean Fathers. 5. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. pp. 254–256.
  23. ^ "St. Alban the Martyr", Orthodoxy's Western Heritage, archived from the original on 15 November 2009, retrieved 21 November 2013
  24. ^ Ingram, James; Giles, J.A. (eds.). Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Project Gutenburg.
  25. ^ "Explaining the origin of the 'field of the dead' legend". British History Online. Retrieved 20 November 2008.
  26. ^ Williams, Rowan (22 May 2004). "1400th anniversary of the re-organisation of the Diocese of London". Dr Rowan Williams: 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.
  27. ^ Snyder, Christopher A. (1998). An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons A.D. 400–600. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-271-01780-5.
  28. ^ Thomas, Jeffrey L. (2009). "The Age of Saints". The Castles of Wales. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  29. ^ Baring-Gould 1898, p. 41
  30. ^ Baring-Gould 1898, p. 26
  31. ^ Hughes 2005, pp. 310–311
  32. ^ Quoted translated from the Latin in Baring-Gould 1898, p. 39
  33. ^ a b Baring-Gould 1898, pp. 30–40
  34. ^ Williams, Rowan. "Reviews and comments on The Book of Welsh Saints".
  35. ^ Lloyd 1912, pp. 175–177
  36. ^ Lloyd 1912, p. 176 and note.
  37. ^ a b "Early Christianity in Wales". Powys Digital History Project.
  38. ^ a b Lloyd 1912, pp. 174–175
  39. ^ a b c Lloyd 1912, p. 177
  40. ^ Lloyd 1912, p. 180
  41. ^ Yorke 2006, pp. 118–119
  42. ^ Bede (1907). Ecclesiastical History of England. London: George Bell and Sons – via Internet Archive.
  43. ^ Tuchman, B. (1978). A Distant Mirror. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-34957-1.
  44. ^ "Saint Ninian". The Whithorn Trust. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011.
  45. ^ "Butler, Alban. "The Lives of the Saints", Vol. VII, 1866". Bartleby.
  46. ^ "The Story of St. Petroc". St. Petroc's, Padstow. Archived from the original on 20 August 2013.
  47. ^ "Saint Ciaran of Saigir". New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. p. 117.
  48. ^ Hughes 2005, pp. 306 & 310
  49. ^ Riley, 82–93, 95–96
  50. ^ Ryan 1931, pp. 100–102
  51. ^ a b Flechner & Meeder 2016, pp. 231–41
  52. ^ A. W. Haddan and W. Stubbs (ed.), Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, 3 vols (Oxford, 1869–78), I, 112-3, Quoted in "The Catholic Encyclopedia".
  53. ^ Corning 2006, pp. 1–19
  54. ^ Constantine (325), "Letter on the Keeping of Easter to those not present at Nicaea", in Eusebius of Caesaria (ed.), The Life of Constantine, III (published 1996), §18–20, ISBN 1-56085-072-8
  55. ^ Wormald 2006, p. 224 n. 1
  56. ^ John 2000, p. 34
  57. ^ Ryan 1931, p. 217
  58. ^ McCarthy 2003, p. 146
  59. ^ McCarthy 2003, p. 140
  60. ^ McCarthy 2003, pp. 141–143
  61. ^ McCarthy 2003, p. 141
  62. ^ A. W. Haddan and W. Stubbs (ed.), Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, 3 vols (Oxford, 1869–78), I, 112-3
  63. ^ a b McCarthy 2003, pp. 140–167
  64. ^ McCarthy 2003, pp. 147–148
  65. ^ McCarthy 2003, p. 149
  66. ^ McCarthy 2003, pp. 142–143
  67. ^ McNeill & Gamer 1938, p. 28
  68. ^ McNeill & Gamer 1938, pp. 7–9
  69. ^ McNeill & Gamer 1938, pp. 9–12
  70. ^ McNeill & Gamer 1938, pp. 13–17
  71. ^ Brown 2003, p. 252
  72. ^ a b Corning 2006, p. 17
  73. ^ a b c Woods, Richard (Fall 1985). "The Spirituality of the Celtic Church". Spirituality Today. 37 (3): 243–255. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013.
  74. ^ This list includes information from Plummer, Charles (1975) [1892]. "Excursus on the Paschal Controversy and Tonsure". In Plummer, Charles (ed.). Venerablilis Baedae, Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 348–354.
  75. ^ a b c Koch 2006, p. 433
  76. ^ a b c Herren & Brown 2002, p. 13
  77. ^ Hughes 2005, pp. 311–312
  78. ^ Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí in Youngs 1989, pp. 13–14
  79. ^ a b c Hughes 2005, p. 311 and note
  80. ^ Hughes 2005, p. 312
  81. ^ John 2000, pp. 32–34
  82. ^ a b de Paor, Máire; de Paor, Liam (1958). Early Christian Ireland: Ancient Peoples and Places. Frederick A. Praeger.
  83. ^ a b Chandlery,, Peter (1912). "Welsh Monastic Foundations". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  84. ^ Newell, E.J. (1895). "Chapter III". A History of the Welsh Church to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. London: Elliot Stock – via Internet Archive.
  85. ^ Thurston, Herbert (1912). "Welsh Church". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  86. ^ Nordenfalk 1977; Pächt 1986
  87. ^ Youngs 1989, pp. 15–16, 125
  88. ^ John 2000, p. 36
  89. ^ John 2000, p. 37
  90. ^ Hughes 2005, p. 317
  91. ^ Hughes 2005, pp. 313, 316, 319
  92. ^ Hughes 2005, pp. 319–320
  93. ^ Lloyd 1912, p. 175
  94. ^ Stancliffe 1992, pp. 211–12
  95. ^ Meeder 2011, pp. 251–80
  96. ^ Bradley 1999, pp. viii–ix
  97. ^ Bradley 1999, p. ix
  98. ^ a b Bradley 1999, p. viii
  99. ^ Gierek, Bozena (2011). "Celtic spirituality in contemporary Ireland". In Cosgrove, Olivia; Cox, Laurence; Kuhling, Carmen; Mulholland, Peter (eds.). Ireland's new religious movements: Alternative Spiritualities, Migrant Religions, the New Age and New Religious Movements. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars. pp. 300–317. ISBN 978-1-4438-2588-7. OCLC 758707463.


Primary sources

  • Adomnan (1991). Anderson, A.O.; Anderson, M.O. (eds.). Life of Columba (2nd ed.). Oxford Medieval Texts.
  • Williams, John, ed. (1860). Annales Cambriae. London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts – via Internet Archive.
  • Bede (1896). Plummer, Charles (ed.). Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Angelorum. Venerabilis Baedae Opera Historica. Oxonii: E Typographeo Clarendoniano – via Internet Archive.
  • Cummian (1988). Walsh, Maura; Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí (eds.). De controversia paschali and De ratione conputandi. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. pp. 93–5.
  • Gildas (1848). Giles, J.A. (ed.). De Excidio Brittaniae. Six Old English Chronicles. London.
  • Giles, J.A., ed. (1848). Historia Brittonum. Six Old English Chronicles. London.
  • McNeill, John T.; Gamer, Helena M., eds. (1938). Medieval Handbooks of Penance. New York: Columba University Press.
  • Patrick (Saint) (1998). Skinner, John (ed.). Confessio. Translated by John Skinner. Image.
  • Baring-Gould, Sabine (1907). The Lives of the British Saints. Scanned by Google; alphabetized.

Secondary sources

  • Baring-Gould, Sabine (1898). "The Celtic Church and its Saints". The Lives of the Saints. 16. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co.
  • Bradley, Ian (1999). Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1047-2. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  • Brown, Peter (2003). The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Charles-Edwards, T.M. (2000). Early Christian Ireland. Cambridge.
  • Corning, Caitlin (2006). The Celtic and Roman Traditions: Conflict and Consensus in the Early Medieval Church. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-7299-0.
  • Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí (1995). Early Medieval Ireland: 400–1200. London.
  • Davies, Wendy (1992). "The Myth of the Celtic Church". In Edwards, Nancy; Lane, Alan (eds.). The Early Church in Wales and the West. Oxbow Monograph. 16. Oxford: Oxbow. pp. 12–21.
  • Flechner, Roy; Meeder, Sven, eds. (2016). The Irish in Early Medieval Europe: Identity, Culture and Religion. London: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137430595.
  • Herren, Michael W.; Brown, Shirley Ann (2002). Christ in Celtic Christianity. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-889-7.
  • Hughes, Kathleen (1981). The Celtic Church: Is This a Valid Concept? O'Donnell lectures in Celtic Studies, University of Oxford 1975. Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. 1. pp. 1–20.
  • Hughes, Kathleen (1966). The Church in Early Irish Society. London: Methuen. ISBN 1-59740-067-X. OCLC 711797907.
  • Hughes, Kathleen (2005). "The Church in Early Irish Society: 400–800". In Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí (ed.). A New History of Ireland: Prehistoric and Early Ireland. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-922665-8. Google Books link 2
  • John, Eric (2000). "The Social and Political Problems of the Early English Church". In Pelteret, David A. E. (ed.). Anglo-Saxon History: Basic Readings. New York: Garland Publishing.
  • Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.
  • Lloyd, John Edward (1912). A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest. Longmans, Green, and Co. Retrieved 17 May 2010.
  • Newell, J. Philip (2000). Celtic Benediction: Morning and Night Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • McCarthy, Daniel (2003). "On the Shape of the Insular Tonsure" (PDF). Celtica. 24: 140–167. Retrieved 18 June 2009.
  • Meeder, Sven (2011). "Boniface and the Irish Heresy of Clemens". Church History. 80: 251–80. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  • Nordenfalk, Carl (1977). Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Painting: Book illumination in the British Isles 600–800. New York: George Braziller.
  • Pächt, Otto (1986). Book Illumination in the Middle Ages. London: Harvey Miller Publishers. ISBN 0-19-921060-8. (trans fr German)
  • Ryan, John (1931). Irish Monasticism, Origins and Early Development. Dublin: Talbot Press.
  • Sharpe, Richard (1984). "Some problems concerning the organisation of the Church in early medieval Ireland". Peritia. 3: 230–70.
  • Stancliffe, Clare (1992). "Columbanus and the Gallic Bishops". In Constable, G.; Rouche, M. (eds.). Mélanges offerts au Professeur Oliver Guillot. Paris. pp. 205–14.
  • Wormald, Patrick (2006). "Bede and the 'Church of the English'". In Baxter, Stephen (ed.). The Times of Bede: Studies in Early English Christian Society and its Historian. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Yorke, Barbara (2006). The Conversion of Britain: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain c. 600–800. London: Pearson/Longman. ISBN 0-582-77292-3.
  • Youngs, Susan, ed. (1989). 'The Work of Angels', Masterpieces of Celtic Metalwork, 6th–9th centuries AD. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 0-7141-0554-6.

Further reading

  • Cahill, Thomas (1996). How the Irish Saved Civilization. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-41849-3.
  • Mayr-Harting, Henry (1991). The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.). London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.
Ancient British Church

The Ancient British Church was a British religious movement founded by Jules Ferrette (Mar Julius) and Richard Williams Morgan (Mar Pelagius).The Ancient British Church was founded circa 1874 as a restoration of the Christian church of the first millennium in the British Isles.

The leader of the Ancient British Church was styled as "British Patriarch".

Although the name Ancient British Church is no longer used, a number of present-day bodies may be said to have derived (or partly derived) from the Ancient British Church, for example the British Orthodox Church, the Celtic Orthodox Church, the Evangelical Apostolic Church of North America (Syro-Chaldean), and the Ancient British Church in North America. The Free Protestant Episcopal Church (which in 2012 adopted the name Anglican Free Communion) was merged or very closely linked with the Ancient British Church from 1897 until 1939 and from 1900 to 1939 leadership of these two bodies coincided in the same sequence of individuals.

Celtic Rite

The term "Celtic Rite" is appliedto the various liturgical rites used in Celtic Christianity in Britain, Ireland and Brittany and the monasteries founded by St. Columbanus and Saint Catald in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy during the early middle ages. The term does not imply homogeneity; the evidence, scanty and fragmentary as it is, is in favour of considerable diversity.

Celtic chant

Celtic chant is the liturgical plainchant repertory of the so-called Celtic rite of the Roman Catholic Church performed in Britain, Ireland and Brittany. It is related to, but distinct from the Gregorian chant of the Sarum use of the Roman rite which officially supplanted it by the 12th century. Although no so-called Celtic chant was notated, some traces of its musical style are believed to remain.

Christianisation of Scotland

The Christianisation of Scotland was the process by which Christianity spread in what is now Scotland, which took place principally between the fifth and tenth centuries.

Christianity was probably introduced to what is now Lowland Scotland by Roman soldiers stationed in the north of the province of Britannia. After the collapse of Roman authority in the early fifth century, Christianity is presumed to have survived among the British enclaves in the south of what is now Scotland, but retreated as the pagan Anglo-Saxons advanced.

Traditional narratives depict Scotland as largely converted by Irish missions associated with figures such as St. Columba, from the fifth to the seventh centuries, but many of these figures were later constructs or founded monasteries and collegiate churches in areas to which Christianity had already spread. Scholars have identified a distinctive form of Celtic Christianity, in which abbots were more significant than bishops, attitudes to clerical celibacy were more relaxed, and there were significant differences in practice with Roman Christianity, particularly the form of tonsure and the method of calculating Easter, although most of these issues had been resolved by the mid-seventh century.

After the reconversion of Scandinavian Scotland in the tenth century, Christianity under papal authority was the dominant religion of the kingdom. The process of Christianisation was also significant in the development of Scottish national identity, the Hiberno-Scottish mission to Continental Europe, the development of Insular art, and the introduction of Latin and formal education.

Christianity in Medieval Scotland

Christianity in Medieval Scotland includes all aspects of Christianity in the modern borders of Scotland in the Middle Ages. Christianity was probably introduced to what is now Lowland Scotland by Roman soldiers stationed in the north of the province of Britannia. After the collapse of Roman authority in the fifth century, Christianity is presumed to have survived among the British enclaves in the south of what is now Scotland, but retreated as the pagan Anglo-Saxons advanced. Scotland was largely converted by Irish missions associated with figures such as St Columba, from the fifth to the seventh centuries. These missions founded monastic institutions and collegiate churches that served large areas. Scholars have identified a distinctive form of Celtic Christianity, in which abbots were more significant than bishops, attitudes to clerical celibacy were more relaxed and there were significant differences in practice with Roman Christianity, particularly the form of tonsure and the method of calculating Easter, although most of these issues had been resolved by the mid-seventh century. After the reconversion of Scandinavian Scotland in the tenth century, Christianity under papal authority was the dominant religion of the kingdom.

In the Norman period, from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, the Scottish church underwent a series of reforms and transformations. With royal and lay patronage, a clearer parochial structure based around local churches was developed. Large numbers of new monastic foundations, which followed continental forms of reformed monasticism, began to predominate. The Scottish church also established its independence from England, developing a clear diocesan structure and becoming a "special daughter of the see of Rome", but continued to lack Scottish leadership in the form of Archbishops.

In the late Middle Ages the problems of schism in the Catholic Church allowed the Scottish Crown to gain greater influence over senior appointments and two archbishoprics had been established by the end of the fifteenth century. Historians have discerned a decline in traditional monastic life in the late Middle Ages, but the mendicant orders of friars grew, particularly in the expanding burghs, emphasised preaching and ministering to the population. New saints and cults of devotion also proliferated. Despite problems over the number and quality of clergy after the Black Death in the fourteenth century, and evidence of heresy in the fifteenth century, the Church in Scotland remained stable before the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

Hiberno-Scottish mission

The Hiberno-Scottish mission was a series of missions and expeditions initiated by various Irish clerics and cleric-scholars who, for the most part, are not known to have acted in concert. There was no overall coordinated mission, but there were nevertheless sporadic missions initiated by Gaelic monks from Ireland and the western coast of Scotland, which contributed to the spread of Christianity and established monasteries in Britain and continental Europe during the Middle Ages. The earliest recorded Irish mission can be dated to 563 with the foundation of Iona by the Irish monk Saint Columba. Columba is said by Bede and Adamnán to have ministered to the Gaels of Dál Riada and converted the northern Pictish kingdoms. Over the next centuries more missions followed and spread through Anglo-Saxon England and the Frankish Empire. Since the 18th and 19th centuries, these early missions were called 'Celtic Christianity', though aside from some idiosyncratic cultural features, this version was still orthodox and maintained relationships with the Holy See.The Latin term Scotti refers to the Gaelic-speaking people of Ireland and western Scotland. In early medieval times Ireland was known as "Éire" (Irish), "Hibernia" and "Scotia" (Latin). By the end of the 11th century it generally referred to the Kingdom of Scotland, the remainder of which had become Gaelicised in the preceding few centuries, and from where the name Scotland derives. Thus, the "Scot" missionaries who so influential in the early Church history of Germany included men from both modern countries, though mainly from Ireland.Schottenklöster (German for "Scottish monasteries") is the name applied to the monastic foundations of Gaelic missionaries in Continental Europe, particularly to the Scottish Benedictine monasteries in Germany, which in the beginning of the 13th century were combined into one congregation whose abbot-general was the Abbot of the Scots monastery at Regensburg. Ireland's sobriquet "Island of Saints and Scholars" derives from this period, when scholars and missionaries from Ireland exerted great influence on Continental Europe.

Insular art

Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art, is the style of art produced in the post-Roman history of Ireland and Britain. The term derives from insula, the Latin term for "island"; in this period Britain and Ireland shared a largely common style different from that of the rest of Europe. Art historians usually group insular art as part of the Migration Period art movement as well as Early Medieval Western art, and it is the combination of these two traditions that gives the style its special character.Most Insular art originates from the Irish monastic movement of Celtic Christianity, or metalwork for the secular elite, and the period begins around 600 with the combining of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon styles. One major distinctive feature is interlace decoration, in particular the interlace decoration as found at Sutton Hoo, in East Anglia. This is now applied to decorating new types of objects mostly copied from the Mediterranean world, above all the codex or book.The finest period of the style was brought to an end by the disruption to monastic centres and aristocratic life of the Viking raids which began in the late 8th century. These are presumed to have interrupted work on the Book of Kells, and no later Gospel books are as heavily or finely illuminated as the masterpieces of the 8th century. In England the style merged into Anglo-Saxon art around 900, whilst in Ireland the style continued until the 12th century, when it merged into Romanesque art. Ireland, Scotland and the kingdom of Northumbria in northern England are the most important centres, but examples were found also in southern England, Wales and in Continental Europe, especially Gaul (modern France), in centres founded by the Hiberno-Scottish mission and Anglo-Saxon missions. The influence of insular art affected all subsequent European medieval art, especially in the decorative elements of Romanesque and Gothic manuscripts.Surviving examples of Insular art are mainly illuminated manuscripts, metalwork and carvings in stone, especially stone crosses. Surfaces are highly decorated with intricate patterning, with no attempt to give an impression of depth, volume or recession. The best examples include the Book of Kells, Lindisfarne Gospels, Book of Durrow, brooches such as the Tara Brooch and the Ruthwell Cross. Carpet pages are a characteristic feature of Insular manuscripts, although historiated initials (an Insular invention), canon tables and figurative miniatures, especially Evangelist portraits, are also common.

Insular illumination

Insular illumination refers to the production of illuminated manuscripts in the monasteries of Ireland and Great Britain between the 6th and 9th centuries, as well as in monasteries under their influence on continental Europe. It is characterised by decoration strongly influenced by metalwork, the constant use of interlacing, and the importance assigned to calligraphy. The most celebrated books of this sort are largely gospel books. Around sixty manuscripts are known from this period.


The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, also known simply as Holy Island, is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, which constitutes the civil parish of Holy Island in Northumberland. Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD; it was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on the island in 1550.

Liturgical Latinisation

Liturgical Latinisation is the process of adoption of Latin liturgical rites by non-Latin Christian denominations. Throughout history, liturgical Latinisation was manifested in various forms. In Early Middle Ages, it occurred during the process of conversion of Gothic Christianity, and also during the process of reincorporation of Celtic Christianity. During the Crusades, it was introduced to Eastern Christians. After the creation of various Eastern Catholic Churches, several forms and degrees of liturgical Latinisation were adopted by some of those Churches, in order to make their liturgical customs resembling more closely the practices of the Latin Church of the Catholic Church.

This particular process continued up to the 18th and 19th centuries, until it was forbidden by Pope Leo XIII in 1894 with his encyclical Orientalium dignitas. Latinisation is a contentious issue in many churches and has been considered responsible for various schisms.In recent years the Eastern Catholic churches have been returning to ancient Eastern practices in accord with the Second Vatican Council's decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum. The decree mandated that authentic Eastern Catholic practices were not to be set aside in favour of imported Latin Rite practices. This further encouraged the movement to return to authentic Eastern liturgical practice, theology and spirituality. Implementation has varied amongst the Eastern Catholic Churches, however, with some remaining more Latinised than the others.

In a somewhat similar development, practices once associated only with the West, such as polyphonic choirs, icons in the style of the Western Renaissance, as in the Cretan School of painting, or even of the Baroque period, and pews, have been adopted also in certain Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches and are today the object of controversy or have been abandoned.

Neo-Celtic Christianity

Neo-Celtic Christianity or Contemporary Celtic Christianity are terms used to describe a religious movement founded by Jules Ferrette (Mar Julius) and Richard Williams Morgan (Mar Pelagius) in 1858 upon the establishment of the Ancient British Church, a movement to re-assert or restore forms of Christian belief and practice that the movement's adherents believe to have existed in the Atlantic Isles (the isles now known as the British Isles) during the first millennium of the Christian era, and particularly during the first half of the first millennium.Contemporary Celtic or neo-Celtic Christianity portrays a gentle, tolerant, 'green', meditative, egalitarian and holistic form of Christian faith and practice. Such a 'Celtic' form of Christianity is seen by some as representing a survival or restoration of an early 'pure' form of Christianity which they hold as having existed in the Atlantic isles (the isles now called the British Isles) long before missions such as Augustine's mission to Canterbury in AD 597 introduced and overlaid Roman forms of Christian faith and practice.Some consider that the transition from the 'old religion' (i.e. from pre-Christian Celtic beliefs) to Christian faith and allegiance was an easy, smooth and harmonious transition, and that neo-Celtic Christianity or contemporary Celtic Christianity holds a distinctive and unique place within Christianity in that it has allegedly preserved or restored an ancient body of esoteric divine wisdom unknown in other branches of Christianity.Reincarnation is widely regarded as a Celtic belief in neo-pagan, New Age, and druidic circles. Even in some neo-Celtic Christian circles (contemporary Celtic Christian circles), belief in reincarnation may be retained.The origins of some contemporary Neo-Celtic beliefs can be traced to the works of Bishop Thomas Burgess, which were further expounded in works such as Richard Williams Morgan's book Saint Paul in Britain.

Religion in Jersey

Despite its small size, the population of Jersey is made of people with a diverse range of religions and beliefs. Traditionally seen as a Christian island, Jersey's established church is the Church of England, and Anglicanism and Catholicism are practised on the island in roughly equal numbers. Together, these religions account for around half the population of Jersey. Other denominations of Christianity and other religions such as Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Buddhism account for handfuls of people on the island. In recent years, irreligion has been an increasing force in Jersey, with two fifths of the population identifying as having no religion. This number rises to 52% for Jersey people under 35.

Saint Paul in Britain

St. Paul in Britain, or, The origin of British as opposed to papal Christianity is a book written by Richard Williams Morgan and published in 1861. The book and others by Morgan had an influencing effect on the development of Neo-Celtic Christianity.The work suggests the early entry of Christianity into Britain by Saint Paul, Simon Zelotes and Joseph of Aramathea. It lists thirty one different druidic universities which he says had been established in most of the subsequently well known English cities (which Morgan named using real or invented Welsh names).History professor Joanne Pearson noted that "Morgan's lifetime saw both the heyday and the demise of the story in Wales" of an alleged early entry of Christianity, which began with works written the year Morgan was born by Bishop Thomas Burgess arguing that St. Paul converted Britain to Christianity and ended with an essay by Vicar John Pryce which refuted the arguments for an early entry of Christianity and was written shortly before his death.The book makes the claim that Caratacus and his family was converted to Christianity and that he founded "the royal family of ancient Britain,— of whom her present Majesty, Queen Victoria, is, through the Tudors, the lineal blood representative." He also argued that Boudica was a Christian and related by marriage to St. Paul.The author Gerald Gardner had a copy of Morgan's book and used it as the basis for his writing on British Christianity.Edward Cardwell published a critical booklet on the topic in 1837 entitled The Supposed Visit of St Paul To Britain: A Lecture Delivered In The University of Oxford (Sermons, Volume 2), that predated Morgan's book.

St Nectan's Kieve

Saint Nectan's Kieve (Cornish: Cuva Nathan, meaning Nathan's tub) in Saint Nectan's Glen, near Tintagel in Cornwall, Great Britain, is a plunge pool or basin fed by a 60-foot-high (18 m) waterfall on the Trevillet River.

St Tewdric's Church

St Tewdric's Church is a Church in Wales parish church in Mathern, Monmouthshire, Wales. It is purportedly built over the resting place of Saint Tewdrig for whom it is named. A church has been located on the site since the 6th century. It was reconstructed by the Normans in the Early English style, and later was renovated by the Victorians. It is a Grade I listed building.

Synod of Brefi

The Synod of Brefi was a church council held at Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion, Wales, around 560.

The synod was apparently called in order to condemn the heretical teachings of Pelagius, although this is far from certain. It was an important milestone in the rise of Saint David. The story goes that Saint Paulinus persuaded Saint Dubricius, the senior bishop there, to allow David, a minor abbot, to address the crowd. His words were so eloquent that Dubricius retired in David's favour. One of his first duties was to consecrate Saint Deiniol as Bishop of Bangor. It is also said that the synod was called while Saint Cadoc, Abbot of Llancarfan, was away in Brittany. In disgust, he refused to return for many years.

The Brefi synod was followed by the "Synod of Victory" at Caerleon around 569.

Synod of Victory

The Synod of Victory was a church council held in Caerleon, Wales, around AD 569 to condemn the heresy of Pelagianism. It was officiated by Saint David.

Synod of Whitby

The Synod of Whitby in 664 was a Northumbrian synod where King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than the customs practised by Irish monks at Iona and its satellite institutions. The synod was summoned at Hilda's double monastery of Streonshalh (Streanæshalch), later called Whitby Abbey.

The Christ's Assembly

The Christ's Assembly Worldwide, The Christ's Assembly or TCAWW for short, is an alliance of traditional Bible believing Christian ministries.

It describes itself as a descendant of the historical Celtic Orthodox Church that upholds the original Sabbath, the feasts and dietary laws while utilizing a canonical version of the English Liturgy (1549 Book of Common Prayer). The church is led by duly consecrated bishops in apostolic succession of the Celtic church lines from the American Orthodox Catholic Church.

Ancient Celts
Celtic studies
Modern Celts
Celtic Revival

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