The Flowering of
Celtic Christianity was that form held by much of the population of
the British Isles from about the end of the fourth century, until some time after the
year 1171. Like any church it varied in form, from place to place, and time to time. However, there is a constant
stream that runs it that identified it as an unique entity.
The classic period of Celtic
Christianity ran from the fifth through the ninth centuries. It ran throughout the "traditional" Celtic
Lands of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. On the continent throughout France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and
Germany. Even stretching to the far reaches of Iceland, the Farroes, and other North Atlantic islands perhaps
in Russia and North America.
Celtic Christianity was characterized by extreme holiness - a love of God and
man. It included the wonder lust from the need to bring the light of Christ to rest of
Many of the issues that the Celtic Christians dealt with are amazingly
contemporary. Things like:
- The position of women in the Church
- Nature and our environmental surroundings
- Dealing with others of different customs and beliefs (both pagan and Christian).
Much of its attraction comes from how it dealt with these problems. They tool the best of the older traditions
while still standing firm in the truth and weaving in the newer traditions that have come about since the birth of
Tradition holds that the faith was brought to the British Isles by Joseph of Arimathea and Aristobulus in A.D.
55 (some argue it was as early as A.D. 35). Modern scholarship rejects this, and places the introduction in the
middle of the second century.
Little is known of the first several centuries, however, Christianity was firmly established in Roman Britain by
the time of the council of Arles (314 A.D.) as two British bishops were in attendance. (There is also a possibility
that British bishops were at Nicaea).
The true flowering of Celtic Christianity
However, the true flowering of Celtic Christianity occurred after the pagan Romans left
Britain. The Celts found themselves alone, surrounded by hostile barbarians. This is the time of the great Celtic
Saints: Patrick, David, Brigid, Columba, Brendan, Columbanus, and many, many others.
This period was characterized by great holiness, love of learning and nature. It reached it's peak in the
seventh century in the Columban monastic federation of Iona.
Its decline began soon after when, in 671, it lost Saxon Northumbria to the Roman observance. This was by no
means the end.
Celtic Christianity survived for the next five centuries. Due to many forces, demographic changes, Viking raids
and settlement, and the expanding Roman rite; Celtic Christianity slowly retreated.
Yet this was the period when the Celts reached the pinnacle of their artistic genius. During this period they
combined Mediterranean plait work, barbarian zoo morphs, and even their own native spiral and key patterns. They
created metalwork, illuminated manuscripts and stone carvings that amaze us even today.
Some examples include the Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels, the Ardagh Chalice, the Tara brooche and the Linsmore
Source: International Revival Network:
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