Saturday, October 30, 2010

Celtic Monasticism.

One of the outstanding features of Celtic Christianity was the monastic movement. Thousands of people learned about the earliest monks from the deserts of Egypt and Palestine, and copied their way of life. Tiny hermitages were built on cliffs, and rocky outcrops became monastic sites.

In Western Europe the culture of the Roman Christian world was largely lost in the Fifth and Sixth Century as pagan barbarians (such as the Goths, Lombards, Franks, and Anglo-Saxons) settled. Levels of education, literacy, scholarship and culture declined. This was the period often called the Dark Ages.

It was during this dark period that monasticism reached Britain and Ireland. The model of monasticism used in the Celtic lands was largely Egyptian or eastern, with the same monastic enclosure surrounding a collection of individual monastic cells. Monks and nuns took up a fierce struggle against temptation, using exactly the same methods as the earlier monastics of the desert. They even called their monastic centres the “desert”, and this word is common in Wales and Ireland. Monastic leaders such as Saint David or Saint Columba or Saint Columbanus established groups of monasteries, and wrote monastic rules for them - setting out the prayer services, penances and the fasting rules for the monks.
"We have not formed a community in the monastery for quiet or security, but for struggle and conflict. We have met here for a contest; we have embarked on a war against our sins ... The struggle is full of hardships, full of dangers, for it is the struggle of man against himself... day after day we wage a war against our passions..."    (Faustus, a Celtic Christian who became Bishop of Riez in France.)

Much more (well worth looking at)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vikings and the Islamic World

More than a millennium ago, as fleets of Viking raiders were striking fear into the hearts of coast and river-dwellers throughout western Europe, other Norsemen of more mercantile inclination were making their way east. With no less boldness and stamina, bearing luxurious furs and enticing nodules of amber, they penetrated the vast steppes of what is today Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and entered Central Asia. There they met Muslim traders who paid for Norse wares with silver coins, which the Viking themselves did not mint, and which they coveted.

Their routes were various, and by the ninth and 10th centuries, a regular trade network had grown up. Some Norsemen traveled overland and by river, while others sailed over both the Black and Caspian Seas, joined caravans and rode camelback as far as Baghdad, which was then under Abbasid rule and populated by nearly a million souls. There, the Scandinavian traders found an emporium beyond their wildest dreams, for their fjord-rimmed homelands had only recently seen the emergence of a few rudimentary towns.

To the Arabs of Baghdad, the presence of the Norsemen probably didn't come as much of a surprise, for the Arabs were long accustomed to meeting people from different cultures and civilizations. They were also keen and literate observers. Abbasid historians and caliphal envoys put to paper eyewitness accounts of the roving Scandinavians, leaving a historical legacy that is shedding new light both on Viking history and on a little-known chapter of early Islamic history.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Colman of Lindisfarne

Colman was in all probability a native of the West of Ireland; born in the province of Connaught in the year 605. Not much else is known about his early adult life, except that he entered the monastery at Iona and became a monk during the abbacy of Segenius, was a devoted disciple of St. Columba, and spent years in study and fellowship with his contemporaries St. Finian and St. Aidan.
After the death of St. Finian in 661, Colman succeeded him as the third Abbot-Bishop of Lindisfarne. Lindisfarne was the most important monastery in Northumbria, England, close to the royal castle at Bamburg. The Venerable Bede gives a glowing account of the church of Lindisfarne under Saint Colman’s rule. He emphasized the example of frugality and simplicity of living set by Bishop Colman and the complete devotion of his clergy to their proper business of imparting the word of God and ministering to their people.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Prayer of Columba

Let me bless almighty God,
whose power extends over sea and land,
whose angels watch over all.
Let me study sacred books to calm my soul:
I pray for peace,
kneeling at heaven's gates.
Let me do my daily work,
gathering seaweed, catching fish,
giving food to the poor.
Let me say my daily prayers,
sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet,
always thanking God.
Delightful it is to live
on a peaceful isle, in a quiet cell,
serving the King of kings.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prayers from King Alfred the Great

"We pray to you, O Lord, who are the supreme Truth, and all truth is from you. We beseech you, O Lord, who are the highest Wisdom, and all the wise depend on you for their wisdom. You are the supreme Joy, and all who are happy owe it to you. You are the highest Good, and all goodness comes from you. You are the Light of minds, and all receive their understanding from you. We love you – indeed we love you above all things. We seek you, follow you, and are prepared to serve you. We desire to dwell under your power, for you are the King of all. Amen. "

"Lord God Almighty, I pray you for your mercy, and by the token of the holy rood, guide me to your will, to my soul’s need, better than I can myself; and shield me against my foes, seen and unseen; and teach me to do your will, that I may love you inwardly before all things with a clean mind and a clean body. For you are my maker and redeemer, my help, my comfort, my trust and my hope. Praise and glory be to you now, ever and ever, world without end. Amen."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Celtic Church

Christianity probably came to Britain with the Roman legions, the spread of the faith being certainly helped by the infrastructure of the Roman Empire, resulting in the gradual conversion of the various Celtic peoples to the Christian faith. Thus a strong and lively Celtic church existed in Britain and Ireland before the Germanic invasions took place. We know that there were British bishops at church councils at Arles, 314 AD, and Rimini, 359 AD. There are records of the martyrdoms of Alban, Julius and Aaron. Such great numbers of Celts were converted that to be British and Celtic meant to be Christian. After the legions left there appear to have been some 150 years of warfare in Britain between the invading Anglo-Saxons and the original Celtic inhabitants. So when Augustine came from Rome in 596 he came into the conflict between the Anglo-Saxon conquerors and an indigenous church among a persecuted people.
A monk called Gildas writing c.550 describes the state of the British church and the Anglo-Saxon invasions. He describes the church as largely corrupt as a result of its contact with the world. Similar corruption took place in other parts of the Roman Empire and in Egypt some Christians sickened by the immorality of the cities and their impact on the church had fled into the desert to live as hermits. By c.320 groups of hermits were building simple homes for themselves in close proximity and so developed the early monasteries. The evidence would suggest that similar monastic communities came into Britain. The example seems to have come from Gaul but the inspiration from Egypt where many monks lived ascetic lives denying themselves marriage. These were not like the great monasteries of the Middle Ages, but probably collections of huts with a common meeting place or chapel. Thus Celtic Christianity took a form based on the monastery rather than the congregation and its leading figures were abbots rather than bishops. It maintained for a long time a spirit of bold independence in the face of the papacy’s claims to exercise authority over all Western churches as the one patriarchate of the West. It fostered a rare and intense love of the natural world of creation, beautifully expressed in Celtic prayers, hymns and poems. Some examples of early Celtic blessings:
May the road rise up before you,
may the sun be always on your face,
and the wind be to your back,
and until we meet again,
may the Lord keep you in the palm of his hand.

Deep peace of the running wave to you,
deep peace of the flowing air to you,
deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
deep peace of the shining stars to you,
deep peace of the Son of peace to you.

Much more at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Prayers from Bede

"Good Jesus, as you have graciously allowed me here to drink in the sweetness of your word, so at the last, I pray, you will bring me into your presence, that I may listen to your voice which is the source of all wisdom, and watch your face forever. "
"Lord God, open my heart and illuminate it with the grace of your Holy Spirit.  By this grace may I always seek to do what is pleasing to you; direct my thoughts and feelings so that I may at last come to the unending joys of heaven.  Thus on earth may I keep your commandments, and so be worthy of your everlasting reward. "

"May your Spirit, O Christ, lead me in the right way, keeping me safe from all forces of evil and destruction.  And, free from all malice, may I search diligently in your Holy Word to discover with the eyes of my mind your commandments.  Finally, give me the strength of will to put those commandments into practice through all the days of my life." 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Herefordshire Churches ~ St Mary Wormsley

Prettily set in hilly country, this tiny church has Norman origins although the shape of the churchyard, and its prominent position suggest an earlier foundation. The nave, font and south doorway are 12th century and the double bell-cote is 13th.
The building is extremely simple, composed of a nave and chancel, with entry through a south door. In the churchyard are the graves of two local brothers, Thomas and Richard Knight. Richard was a prominent 19th century archaeologist, and Thomas was an apple grower who pioneered several new varieties of that fruit.

Wormsley church is no longer used for regular worship and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

More at

Creation Centred Spirituality

The Celts had an awesome awareness of the Presence of God all about them, within and without.  Many of the prayers and poems collected from ancient sources reflect this. The whole of creation was considered to demonstrate and proclaim the creator who could be seen in all things, places and situations. This was far different from the pantheistic concepts of their pagan contemporaries, who worshipped the gods of rivers, mountains, winds and sun etc. But it was a thoroughly Biblical understanding of God, His presence and our relationship with Him.

As Ian Bradley puts it: ("The Celtic Way" Ian Bradley)

[Our Celtic Christian forebears] "did espouse quite unashamedly and unconsciously what would nowadays be called a creation-centred spirituality. The God whom they worshipped was not conceived of primarily as the Lord of history, as in so much later Western theology, but rather as the Lord of Creation, the one who has revealed himself most fully and characteristically in the wonders and splendours of the natural world. This was above all why they wanted to worship him."

Artwork from the outstanding artist Kristen Fox at

Friday, October 15, 2010

Celtic Art in 7th and 8th Century Ireland

With the arrival of St. Patrick in the 5th century CE, full-scale conversion to Christianity took place, and monasteries became the principal artistic centers. Christian Celtic art consisted mainly of stone crosses, illuminated manuscripts, and metal objects such as chalices, shrines, and reliquaries. The art of this period utilized traditional Celtic curvilinear motifs enriched with foreign embellishments brought back to Ireland by returning missionaries-motifs such as the Saxon use of entwined, interlocking animal forms in geometric decorations.

The most impressive Celtic Christian art was produced from the late 7th to the early 8th century, both in Ireland and in Irish missions in Europe. Manuscripts of books of the Bible were embellished, or "illuminated," with decorative borders and lettering of astonishing intricacy and inventiveness. Complex, twining geometric designs predominated; the rare representations of human faces and figures were abstract and stylized.

The masterpiece of this period is the Book of Kells , which is unsurpassed for the minute perfection of its jewel-like illumination. Other art of the period included large stone crosses carved with interlacing relief decorations; ceremonial religious objects ornamented with gold filigree and colored enamel studs, such as the Ardagh Chalice; and personal ornaments of highly sophisticated design, especially brooches-called pennanular brooches-in gilded bronze and silver.

Much more at the outstandig site

Celtic Christianity and Judaism

Many of those studying early Celtic Christianity have noted strong connections with Judaism. Evidence indicates that CelticChristians observed many aspects of Jewish Law and saw the teachings of Jesus as an invitation for non-Jews to accept the teachings of the Old Testament.

Leslie Harding in his book "The Celtic Church in Britain", (London, 1972), says that the Celtic Christians of the British Isles placed a "strong emphasis on the legal aspects of the Old Testament". An Irish work ("Liber ex Lege Moisi") from c.800 c.e. uses Old Testament Law as "a prime directive, for the proper conduct of everyday life". It is said that the Celtic Church was closer to Judaism than any other branch of Christianity.

Harding says: "The shared elements include the keeping of the Saturday Sabbath, tithing, the definition of `first fruits' and offerings, the establishment of walled precincts for the priestly/monastic families, inheritance of religious office, and fasting and dietary restrictions. It also appears that the Celts kept Easter by older methods of reckoning, one of which caused Easter to coincide with the Passover".

Celtic Christianity was a cultural continuation of CelticDruidism that emphasized Oral tradition and the learning by rote of ancient law. There existed a cultural continuity between Druidism, Celtic Christianity and Judaism.

Boswell in"The Roots Of Irish Monasticism", (California, 1969) adds to the above listed Jewish features of Celtic religion:
"...the prominence of Hebrew features in Irish canon law collections (including Biblical cities of Refuge and Jubilee Years) together with Mosaic prohibitions on diet and injunctions on tithes...There was also a Hebrew treatment of the sanctuary ...and finally there were many Hebrew words occurring in cryptographic monastic Irish works such as Hisperica Famina". 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What did the Normans think of Saxon and Celtic Saints?

When the Norman Invasion of Engand and Wales took place the invaders found lands steeped in the traditions of Celtic and Saxon Christiasnity. The following passage describes some of the consequenses of  Norman influence on Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches.

Sometimes dedications were changed when a church was rebuilt or enlarged. At Llanwarne, for instance, John the Baptist became the patron saint after Dyfrig and Teilo (another British saint).

The changes introduced by the Norman Conquest reached into all aspects of life. As the Church was such an influential part of people's lives, the Normans were particularly keen to impose their form of Christianity onto the local population, and this included the veneration of saints. One Norman abbot went so far as to burn the bones of the Saxon saints Credan and Wistan to test their sanctity (the bones withstood the test) and Archbishop Lanfranc wrote:

"These Englishmen among whom we are living have set up for themselves certain saints whom they revere. But sometimes when I turn over in my mind their own accounts of whom they were, I cannot help having doubts about the validity of their sanctity." (Trevor Rowley, The Welsh Border: Archaeology, History and Landscape, Tempus, 1986, p. 119)

The Normans favoured dedications to continental saints such as St. Denys (dedications at Harewood and Pencoyd) or biblical ones such as Mary Magdalene (with eight dedications in Herefordshire).

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2002]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lewis Chessmen - Podcast

Ivory chess pieces found in the Outer Hebrides. They take us to the world of Northern Europe at a time when Norway ruled parts of Scotland. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, describes the medieval world of the Chessmen and explains how the game evolved. Historian Miri Rubin considers the genesis of the pieces and the novelist Martin Amis celebrates the metaphorical power of chess.

Download 7MB (right click & "save target as")

God With Me Lying Down - Carmina Gadelica

God with me lying down
God with me rising up,
God with me in each ray of light,
Nor I a ray of joy without Him,
Nor one ray without Him.

Christ with me sleeping,
Christ with me waking,
Christ with me watching,
Every day and night,
Each day and night.

God with me protecting,
The Lord with me directing,
The Spirit with me strengthening,
For ever and for evermore,
Ever and evermore, Amen.
Chief of chiefs, Amen.

Find much more at

Early Christian carved stones

The presence of an early Christian church or monastery in Scotland is often marked by carved stones, crosses, cross-slabs and gravestones.

The magnificent high crosses of the 8th century and later in Argyll, Islay andIona combined the Cross - the symbol of Christianity - with a circle which may have represented the sun or the moon. These ‘Celtic crosses’ may show early Christianity in Scotland incorporating symbols from the old pagan faiths.

The most important early-8th century Anglian cross is the Ruthwell Cross, Dumfriesshire. The carvings on the Ruthwell Cross include biblical scenes, vines and verses from the poem ‘The Dream of the Rood’ carved in Anglo-Saxon runes and Latin letters.

Less vulnerable to destruction were the cross-slabs, with space for decoration around a sculpted cross. By the 9th and 10th centuries traditional Pictish symbolswere joined by Christian symbols demonstrating changes in Pictish culture.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Anglo-Saxon Version of the Lord's Prayer

Holy Father, you that is in heaven and the land
may it come to pass that you are glorified joyfully.
be your name hallowed, your name amongst the children of men.
You are the Saviour of Men.
Come thine power far and wide, and thine kingly power raised under the roof of heaven,
also then over the wide world.
Give us today Mighty Spirit, our bread, Helper of Men,
then forever, True Creator.
Do not let us tribulation suffer very severely
But to us freedom give, People's Ruler,
from evil each day, forever.

Kilpeck Church Herefordshire

Kilpeck Church (aka the Parish Church of St Mary and St David in Kilpeck), located in Herefordshire near the Welsh border, is home to the finest collection of Romanesque sculpture in England. It was built in about 1140 and has survived remarkably intact and unaltered to the present day.

There has been a church on this site since the earliest days of Christianity. The village's name of Kilpeck is probably derived from kil Pedic, the "cell of St Pedic," who is otherwise unknown but was likely a local Celtic holy man. Records in the Book of Llandaff indicate that "Kilpeck church with all its lands around" was given to that diocese in 650 AD.

Part of a previous Saxon church may survive in the remains of a buttress on the north wall of the present church. It has the characteristics of Saxon architecture, but remains a bit of a mystery since the Normans usually destroyed all trace of previous Saxon work.

The Normans arrived in Kilpeck not long after the Conquest, and William the Conqueror gave Kilpeck to his kinsman William fitz Norman. This William built a timber castle at Kilpeck, which was later replaced with stone and extended but does not survive today.

William's son, Hugh de Kilpeck, was Keeper of the King's Forests, and it was he who founded Kilpeck's splendid Romanesque church in about 1140. The church was given to the Abbey of Gloucester in 1143.

Vikings and Christians

The Vikings came into contact with Christianity through their raids, and when they settled in lands with a Christian population, they adopted Christianity quite quickly. This was true in Normandy, Ireland, and throughout the British Isles. Although contemporary accounts say little about this, we can see it in the archaeological evidence. Pagans buried their dead with grave goods, but Christians normally didn't, and this makes it relatively easy to spot the change in religion.

As well as conversion abroad, the Viking Age also saw a gradual conversion in Scandinavia itself, as Anglo-Saxon and German missionaries arrived to convert the pagans. By the mid-11th century, Christianity was well established in Denmark and most of Norway. Although there was a temporary conversion in Sweden in the early 11th century, it wasn't until the mid-12th century that Christianity became established there. As part of the process of conversion the Christians took over traditional pagan sites. A good example of this can be seen at Gamle Uppsala in Sweden, where the remains of an early church stand alongside a series of huge pagan burial mounds.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Celtic Settlements

Monastic settlements laid the foundations for the spread of Christianity both in Ireland and abroad. Usually established in the 6th and 7th centuries, these became important centres of the community as no towns existed in that period. They attracted local craftsmen and farmers because they offered some degree of protection against Viking raids which were prevalent at the time. The custom was to build monasteries inside ring forts. They consisted of tiny huts made of either stone or wood and wattle. The most important building was the small church which was built at the centre. This was because the worship of God was central to people’s lives. In other huts were the kitchen, a dining room called the refectory and sometimes a library. The monks lived in individual cells usually called bee-hives because of their shape.

More at

Cewydd of Cusop

Cewydd is said to have been one of the many saintly sons of Caw of Prydyn, a Pictish king in the Strathclyde area of modern Scotland. With the rest of his family, he would have moved south to Edeirnion in Wales, around the early 6th century. However, the evidence for this family relationship is mostly based on the unreliable Iolo MSS and must therefore be treated as highly suspect.

Traditionally, Cewydd became a monk in St. Cadog's monastery at Llancarfan (Morgannwg) and places in South Wales named after him may date from this time spent in the area. Llangewydd, near Bridgend, has lost its original church dedicated to him, now only traceable in the fieldname, Caer Hen Eglwys. Lancaut near Chepstow is also probably named for Cewydd; along with Cusop, near Hay-on-Wye, and the extinct Capel Cawey in Monachlog Ddu (Pembrokes). Perhaps he also took evangelical trips to Somerset, where Kewstoke is believed to derive its name from Cewydd.

Read much more at

The original dedication of St Mary's Church, Cusop was to the Welsh saint, St Cewydd, the Welsh Rain Saint.  In fact the name Cusop is derived from Cewydd. Cewydd was the son of Caw of Prydyn (Pict Land) whose family, having been expelled from their territory in North Britain, sought refuge in Wales. Cewydd remains the patron of churches in Aberedw and Disserth.

Features of the original Norman Church can still be seen. There is Norman carving on the chancel arch and the small window to the west side of the main door is Norman. The north door is blocked but can easily be seen from outside, at the back of the church. There was once a rood loft and screen, in front of the chancel arch, but all that remains is the built-in doorway above the war memorial.
The presence of the magnificent, ancient yew trees in the churchyard raises the probability that the church was built on a former Pagan site; yew trees were considered to be symbols of fertility and immortality in Pagan times.

More at;''s+Church&ButtonPressed=Sadmin49835
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...