Thursday, December 15, 2011

Anglo-Saxon Writings for Advent

"O, let not any believer who wishes to see God grieve for the world's end! They should grieve for the destruction of the world who have planted the root of their heart in the love of it, who do not seek the life to come, nor even believe in it; but truly, we, who know of all the joys of our heavenly homeland, should with one mind be hastening there. We ought to wish that we may swiftly travel there, and come there by the short way, because this world is afflicted with many sorrows, and made wretched by many evils.

What is this deathly life but a journey? Consider what it would be like to grow weary labouring on with a journey, and yet not to wish for the journey to end! The Lord said, "Behold this fig-tree, and all other trees: when they sprout leaves, then you know that summer draws near. So in the same way, when you see the aforementioned signs, then you may know that the kingdom of God draws near." Truly, by these words it is shown that the fruit of this world is falling. It grows so that it may fall; it sprouts up so that it may destroy with pestilence what had previously sprouted."

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Thursday, December 8, 2011


The ancient Irish writing known as Ogham is believed to be the earliest recorded script used in Celtic Ireland. The ancient Irish lived in a stable tribal society with learned men who preserved their history by means of this unusual written form of Gaelic. With references to books of the old testament, some of Ireland's early history is compared to biblical history. Some suggest that Ireland was first settled by the daughter of a Greek, hEiru (Erin), who is said to have given the country her name. It is also said that Ireland was inhabited prior to the time of Noah and the flood. Of course, this civilization would have been wiped out during the deluge.

There are references to Noah's son, Japheth, who came upon Ireland after the flood while exploring the seas for new land. The Japhethitic Magogians, named after Noah's son, Japheth, and grandson, Magog, are said to have been one of the earliest tribes to settle in Ireland. This tribe was also known as the Scythians. Their king, Phenius, took it upon himself to study letters and learned all seventy-two languages known at the time. He is credited with founding a college of languages and inventing Ogham. He also appointed Gadel to regulate the Irish language into five dialects known as Gaoidhealg, or Gaelic.

History referred to as the 'seven ages of man', beginning with year one, after the appearance of Adam. The date mentioned was 'the year of the world 2317', when the Scythians arrived in Ireland. I do not know how to convert that into modern chronology known as B.C. or Before Christ. Ogham script was used to record the earliest old Irish texts written in about the same era. Ogham inscriptions are found only in the Celtic countries of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Most are genealogical inscriptions on corners of large stone slabs.

Ogham letters are divided into four groups, each containing five letters, for a total of twenty Ogham letters. The Ogham alphabet consists of a series of vertical lines, with horizontal lines crossing it to represent vowels. Sometimes the vowels use dots rather than intersecting lines. When inscribed on stones, Ogham is written vertically from bottom to top. Various opinions exist on the exact origin of the script. Some say that it stemmed from a cryptic way of writing runes (a pagan alphabet of characters), and others claim that it was inspired from the Roman alphabet. Still others believe that it was an original invention.

The order in which the letters appear is a mystery because it is nothing like either the Roman or runic order of letters. The script seems to have some phonetic basis using the names of trees as the sound for each letter; and Ogham is sometimes known as the Celtic Tree Alphabet.

Many years later, old Irish was written with an Irish stylized version of the Roman alphabet, and Ogham disappeared. Some knowledge of Ogham must have been preserved in some form, as its provenance is notated in the fifteenth-century work 'The Book of Ballymote', which also contains other histories of Ireland.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Celtic Advent

Celtic Advent is always Nov. 15-Dec. 24 (Observance begins at Sunset on Nov. 14). The Dates are the same for Eastern Orthodox Advent (Nativity Fast).

For those Christians that observe the Church Seasons, Advent is theChurch Season just before Christmas. In what is referred to as the Western Church (Roman Catholics and Protestants, including Anglicans) observance of Advent Season occurs during the period of the four Sundays before Christmas. The beginning of Western Advent can therefore fall any time between November 27th and December 3rd.

Advent ends on December 24th at sundown, the beginning of Christmas Eve (for Roman Catholics, when December 24 falls on a Sunday, as it did in 2006, the Sunday obligation for Catholics to attend Church still applies, and it is treated as the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and the Vigil of Christmas begins at Evening Prayer I, later that day).

Our English word advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means arrival. In the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, this was the word used to translate the Greek word parousia, which in the New Testament refers to the Second Coming of Christ. So in Advent season we reflect on the two advents, or arrivals of Christ. The Nativity, the birth of Christ, the coming of the Christmas celebration. And also on the Second Coming of Christ, for which, since we do not know when it will be (or the time of the end of our own lives), we should always be ready.

Advent has historically been a time for reflection and prayer. Christ, the Messiah, will be born in Bethlehem, he will save us from our sins. On Christmas day we will celebrate His Nativity, his birth, His First Coming. Christ will come again, to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. Let us use this time of preparation for the celebration of His First Coming to especially prepare our hearts and lives for His Second Coming.

From its origin in the 4th century and on, it was also a time of fasting. The fasting portion was first dropped by the Protestant Churches, and then by the Roman Catholic Church, but is still observed in the Eastern Orthodox Communions.During the time of ancient Celtic Christianity, the entire Church, both Western (including the Celtic Christians), and Eastern (the Orthodox Communions, Oriental Churches, and Eastern Rite Roman Catholics) all celebrated a longer Advent Season as a lesser Lenten fast.

It began on the same date every year on November 15th (Orthodox Churches still observe it as beginning on this day). In the early Church (and going back also through the Old Testament era) and still currently inOrthodox and Roman Catholic practice, every day (liturgical day) officially begins at sundown of the previous date (in this case, sundown on the 14th begins the liturgical observance of the 15th of November).

Observance of Advent appears to have taken place since the 4th Century (300's A.D.) Like Lent, it originally was a season when new Christians studied in preparation for being baptized. In the early Middle AgesAdvent was the Season of preparing oneself for the Second Coming of Christ. It was a season of repentance and dedication to prayer.

Advent seems to have been a result of the observance of the Celticmonks in Gaul, which was taken and combined with a similar three to six-week period of fasting that had been observed in the city of Rome before Christmas (remember, France was still known by the Roman name of "Gaul" in this era, and was still a Celtic country at this time--this was even before St. Patrick converted Ireland---and there were as yet no IrishCeltic monks!).

The Gallic fast (in modern-day northern France) began at sundown after the celebration of the Feast Day (Nov. 11th) of Martin of Tours, a Roman Cavalry officer who became a Christian and founded the first monastery in Gaul (modern-day France).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Coming of Welsh

The construction of Offa's Dyke in the late eighth century was a turning point in Britain's history. It effectively marked out a boundary between the Britons of the west (now Wales) and Germanic tribes of the east (now England) - although there still remained Welsh speakers living to the east of the boundary and English speakers to the west.

Wales, given a geographic expression by the Dyke, was to enjoy a cultural and political autonomy that lasted until the Norman invasions. The word Cymry had been used as early as the seventh century, but it now became popular to describe the Welsh. Derived from the Brittonic word Combrogi, meaning fellow countryman, it is also the origin of the place name Cumbria.

As the Welsh kingdoms developed behind the Dyke, the Welsh language began to assume official status. Whereas previously Latin was the main language of writing, early in the ninth century its alphabet was adapted for the writing of Welsh.

A memorial in Tywyn dated to 810 AD carries an inscription in Early Welsh, barely understandable to a modern Welsh speaker: "Cingen celen tricet nitanam" translates as "The body of Cingen dwells beneath". And glosses in Welsh - that is, written notes in margins - have been found on ninth and 10th century medieval manuscript.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

I have News for you ~ 9th Century Irish

"I have news for you:
The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone
Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course
The sea running high.
Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost;
The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry,
cold has seized the birds' wings;
season of ice, this is my news."

9th Century Irish Poem

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Every Earthly Blessing ~ Comgall

"Preserve the rule of the Lord;
in this way you will run no risk;
Try not to transgress it
as long as your life lasts.

This is the most important part of the rule;
love Christ; hate wealth;
Devotion to the king of the sun
and kindness to people." 

Comgall 7th Century

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Caerleon ~ Dark Age Capital of Wales? ~ David Nash Ford

The town of Caerleon is mentioned so often in King Arthur's story, that it has become synonymous with his very name. If it were his Capital City, surely it is the true Camelot.

The Tradition: Stories of King Arthur holding court at Caerleon stretch back to the time ofGeoffrey of Monmouth and further still to the oral traditions set down in the Mabinogion. Geoffrey says of Caerleon:

"Situated as it is in Morgannwg, on the River Usk, not far from the Severn Sea, in a most pleasant position, and being richer in material wealth than other townships, this city was eminently suitable...The river which I have named flowed by it on one side, and...On the other side, which was flanked by meadows and wooded groves, they had adorned the city with royal palaces, and by the gold-painted gables of its roofs it was a match for Rome. What is more, it was famous for its two churches. One of these, built in honour of the martyr Julius, was graced by a choir of most lovely virgins dedicated to God. The second, founded in the name of the blessed St. Aaron, the companion of Julius, was served by a monastery of canons, and counted the third metropolitan see of Britain. The city also contained a college of two hundred learned men, who were skilled in astronomy and the other arts and so by their careful computations prophesied for King Arthur any prodigies due at that time."

Caerleon was especially noted for "Arthur's Table", a huge grass-covered raised oval hollow around which King Arthur and his knights often sat. At one meeting there, King Arthur appointed St. Dyfrig as Archbishop of St. Aaron's Cathedral in Caerleon. He was later succeeded by St. Dewi (David) who removed the archdiocese to Mynwyr (St. Davids). It was to St. Julius' that Queen Gwenhwyfar retired after the Battle of Camlann, and here she apparently died.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Offa's Dyke ~ Jeffrey L. Thomas

Forming the traditional boundary between England and Wales, this impressive earthwork runs, although not continuously, from the Dee estuary in the north to the river Wye in the south. Constructed by King Offa of Mercia (757-96), late in the eighth century, it is a tribute to the authority he commanded from the Humber to the Channel. Offa was the most powerful and successful of all the Mercian kings. He dominated England, and his power was acknowledged on the Continent by the great Charlemagne himself. Offa had led many expeditions into Wales, but in his later years he decided upon a policy of stabilizing or at least permanently marking the frontier.

Offa's Dyke is one of the most remarkable structures in Britain. Offa's intention was to provide Mercia with a well-defined boundary from Prestatyn to Chepstow, a distance of 240 kilometers. Natural barriers were utilized where that was practicable; where it was not, an earth embankment was built which in places still stands to a height of two and a half meters and which is, with its ditch, up to twenty meters wide. A total of 130 kilometers of dyke was constructed, assuming that all the sections of earthwork associated with the name Offa can be considered part of the same project.

The labour of thousands of men was needed to build the dyke, proof that the kingdom of Mercia possesses a high degree of cohesion; in places it is absolutely straight for kilometers, proof of the technical skills of its designers. It's twelve kilometers longer than Hadrian's Wall but, unlike Hadrian's barrier, that of Offa is an earth not a stone construction, and it was never garrisoned. Its purpose was to denote rather than defend the frontier. Where both lie side by side, Wat's Dyke is up to seven meters to the east of Offa's Dyke; the one gives Oswestry to Wales, the other to England. Wat's Dyke marked the boundary of the lowlands, but parts of Offa's Dyke are located as much as four hundred meters above sea level. The intention, no doubt, was to give Mercia command of the approaches to the lowlands. It is highly unlikely that the dyke marked the precise boundary between the two peoples; during the age of Offa, there were English communities to the west of it and Welsh communities to the east.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Celtic Writings for the start of Autumn

"A good season for staying is autumn; there is work then for everyone before the very short days. Dappled fawns from among the hinds, the red clumps of the bracken shelter them; stags run from the knolls at the belling of the deer-herd. Sweet acorns in the wide woods, corn-stalks around cornfields over the expanse of brown earth. There are thorn-bushes and prickly brambles by the midst of the ruined court; the hard ground is covered with heavy fruit. Hazel-nuts of good crop fall from the huge old trees on dykes"

This was taken from a work called 'The Four Seasons' by a unknown Irish writer of the 11th century.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Shut up the Bee (for St Matthew's Day)

St Mathee, shut up the Bee;
St Mattho, take thy hopper and sow;
St Mathy, all the year goes by
St Matthie, sends sap into the tree
St Matthew
Brings the cold, rain and Dew

NB I am unable to put a date on this poem. Can you help?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bede's Death Song

"Before the unavoidable journey there, no one becomes
wiser in thought than him who, by need,
ponders, before his going hence,
what good and evil within his soul,
after his day of death, will be judged."

                        * ~*~*

"Fore there neidfaerae naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnotturra than him tharf sie
to ymbhycggannae aer his hiniongae
huaet his gastae godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege doemid uueorthae."

Hear in Nothumbrian English

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Columba's Nettle Broth ~ 11th Century Irish

"Once when he was going round the graveyard in Iona, he saw an old woman cutting nettles for broth for herself. What is the cause of this, poor woman?" Said Colum Cille. "Dear Father" said she, "I have one cow, and it has not yet borne a calf; I am waiting for it, and this is what has served me for a long time." Colum Cille made up his mind then that nettle broth should be what should serve him mostly from then on for ever; saying,"Since they suffer this great hunger in expectation of the one uncertain cow, it would be right for us that the hunger which we suffer should be great, waiting for God; because what we are expecting, the everlasting Kingdom, is better, and is certain." And he said to his servant "Give me nettle broth every night," said he, "without butter or milk with it." "It shall be done", said the cook.

 He hollowed the stick for stirring the broth and made it into a tube, so that he used to pour the milk into that tube and stir it into the broth. Then the people of the church noticed that the priest looked well, and talked of it among themselves. This was told to Colum Cille, and then he said,"May your successors grumble for ever! Now!" said he to the servant, "what do you give me in the broth every day?" "You yourself are witness," said the menial, "unless it comes out of the stick with which the broth is mixed, I know of nothing in it except broth alone." Then, the explanation was revealed to the priest, and he said. "Prosperity and good deeds to your successor for ever!" And this has come true."

 -Irish 11th Century

Nettle soup recipe that uses ingredients available in the 11th century

Monday, September 5, 2011

Borgund Stave Church

Stave Church: Borgund, Norway 

 Borgund Stave Church in Norway, built in the late 1100's. When the Vikings became Christians, they built Churches like this one, over 1,000 of them.The majority of existing stave churches are found in Norway, but related church types were once common all over northwestern Europe.

Borgund stave church (Borgund stavkyrkje) is a stave church located inBorgund, Laerdal, Sogn, Norway. It is classified as a triple nave stave church of the so-called Sogn-type. This is the best preserved of Norway's28 extant stave churches. It was probably built in the end of the 12th century, and has not changed structure or had a major reconstruction since that date.

Most striking and odd to modern Christian eyes are the four dragon's heads, like those used on the prows of the old Viking ships (these were placed on the highest roof-peaks to serve the same function as the gargoyles on medieval Cathedrals) to ward off evil spirits. It should be noted that many more Christian crosses than dragon's heads adorn the peaks of the church roof.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Britain's First Christians ~ Michael Wilson

Historical evidence is not always available or reliable when available. The earliest positive evidence of Christianity in Britain is Roman. Following the exploratory raid by Julius Caesar in 55BC Britain was invaded by the Roman legions in 43 AD under the command of the Emperor Claudius. It was he who personally entered the Celtic settlement now known as London and later the much larger Celtic capital Camelodunum now known as Colchester. Over the following years more legions, merchants and land speculators arrived together with their servants, slaves and followers. Despite the brief set back caused by the Boudicca led revolt, the romanisation process continued. However it should not be thought that the Claudian legions waded ashore bearing Christian symbols, far from it. Paganism, with its plethora of gods and observances was very much the norm, Mithras being one of the main Roman deities, particularly popular with the army. Evidence shows that in the beginning Christianity was very much the religion of the poor, the servant, and the slave or lowly artisan. I would suggest that amongst these groups women would be very much in the majority. The Chi Rho, Alpha and Omega symbols have been found scratched on the remains of early Romano-British everyday earthenware articles, the possessions of the poor and on the walls of excavated Romano-British sites.

The spread of Christianity can be traced by the change in funerary rites. During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD cremation and internment of the ashes in urns was very much the norm. By the 3rd and 4th century AD burials of the person intact became increasingly common; what could be seen as "Orthodox burials". At Poundbury in Dorset a large Romano-British Christian community existed according to the evidence from the burials discovered there and similar evidence has been found at York. Also in Dorset remains of Roman villas have been unearthed at Frampton and Hinton-St Mary with the Chi Rho symbol in floor mosaics. At Lullingstone in Kent there are the remains of a private chapel in a villa. In the North West during the late 1970's much construction work was carried out in Manchester in the Castlefield area which is the site of Roman Mancunium. It was here that an earthenware tablet was unearthed inscribed with a seemingly incoherent jumble. This would have been displayed in a Roman Christian home. To an unbeliever just a tablet with letters, but any Christian entering the house would immediately be able to decipher the letters into the "pater nostra" or "Our Father." They would then know that they were safe to discuss their beliefs which was very important during that brutal period of persecution which took place before 313 AD. The significance of this find is clear when it is realised that this is only the second "pater nostra" acrostic to be found; a similar tablet having been unearthed in Turkey some years previously.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Pre-English ~ Suzanne Kemmer

c. 3000 B.C.
Proto-Indo-European spoken in Baltic area.
(or Anatolia?)
ca. 1000 B.C.After many migrations, the various branches of Indo-European have become distinct. Celtic becomes most widespread branch of Indo-European in Europe; Celtic peoples inhabit what is now Spain, France, Germany and England.
55 B.C.Beginning of Roman raids on British Isles.
43 A.D.Roman occupation of Britain. Roman colony of "Britannia" established. Eventually, many Celtic Britons become Romanized. (Others continually rebel).
200 B.C.-200 A.D.Germanic peoples move down from Scandinavia and spread over Central Europe in successive waves. Supplant Celts. Come into contact (at times antagonistic, at times commercial) with northward-expanding empire of Romans.
Early 5th century.Roman Empire collapses. Romans pull out of Britain and other colonies, attempting to shore up defense on the home front; but it's useless. Rome sacked by Goths.Germanic tribes on the continent continue migrations west and south; consolidate into ever larger units. Those taking over in Rome call themselves "Roman emperors", even though the imperial administration had relocated to Byzantium in the 300s. The new Germanic rulers soon adopt the Christianity of the late Roman state, and begin what later evolves into the not-very-Roman "Holy Roman Empire".
ca. 410 A.D.First Germanic tribes arrive in England.
410-600Settlement of most of Britain by Germanic peoples (Angles, Saxons, Jutes, some Frisians) speaking West Germanic dialects descended from Proto-Germanic. These dialects are distantly related to Latin, but also have a sprinkling of Latin borrowings due to earlier cultural contact with the Romans on the continent.Celtic peoples, most of whom are Christianized due to the late Roman adoption of Christianity, are pushed increasingly (despite occasional violent uprisings) into the marginal areas of Britain: Ireland, Scotland, Wales. Anglo-Saxons, originally sea-farers, settle down as farmers, exploiting rich English farmland.
By 600 A.D., the Germanic speech of England comprises dialects of a language distinct from the continental Germanic languages.
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Æðelflæd (Aethelflaed)

Æðelflæd (Aethelflaed) - "The Lady of the Mercians" - The eldest child of the famous King Alfred of Wessex and Ealhswyth, his noble Mercian wife, Aethelflaed was born about 869 CE, two years before her father ascended to the throne of Wessex - then the most powerful of the English kingdoms. Like her younger siblings, Aethelflaed learned to read and write in English and Latin, memorized the Psalms, and learned the seven liberal arts. She was considered intellectually gifted in her schooling, and beyond.

She married King Aethelred II of Mercia (not Unraed, he was later) in 884, as part of a political deal. Aethelred accepted the overlordship of Alfred and demoted himself from cyning (king) to ealdorman ( earl), but in return had the security of connection to the Wessex royal family. In this marriage, at least, it seems as if Aethelflaed was acting in the stereotypically feminine capacity of peace-weaver. Aethelflaed was not a subservient wife, however, nor was she demonstrably peaceful. She immediately began working with Aethelred in developing military strategies, and joined with him in the fights against Viking invaders.

From 888 CE -- the year Aethelred was struck with a debilitating illness-- until his death in 911 CE , Aethelflaed wielded the royal power in her marriage. Unlike her mother, Ealhswyth, Aethelflaed did not retire to a monastery at the death of her husband, but continued the control she had wielded over her kingdom until her own death in 918 CE. It was she who invaded and conquered part of Wales, built defensive burhs in Mercia, refortified several fortresses, and fended off the Vikings. In her refortification efforts, Aethelflaed rebuilt the Roman walls at Gloucester, and developed a city plan. Gloucester still bears the mark of Aethelflaed's plan today; the roads that are in the city are where they are because Aethelflaed put them there. When Aethelred died in 911 CE, Aethelflaed continued to rule, joining with her younger brother Edward to put down rebellions to the north, create political alliances with other kings, and (surprise!) fight off Viking invaders. She defeated the Danes of York, who then submitted to her overlordship in 918 CE in return for defense from the Norse in Ireland.

When Aethelflaed died in the same year (918 CE), her kingdom of Mercia was nominally left in control of her 20 year-old daughter Aelfwynn. However, Aelfwynn was almost immediately brought to the court of Edward, her maternal uncle, by reason of her "minority" and Wessex annexed Mercia.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Prayer of Edward the Confessor

"O God, who didst call thy servant Edward to an an earthly Throne that he might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst give him zeal for thy Church and love for thy people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever."

Modern Version

"O God, who called your servant Edward to an an earthly throne That he might advance your heavenly kingdom, and gave him zeal for your Church and love for your people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever."

Edward the Confessor 1003 - 1066

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Brown Mouse Plague ~ Irish 9th Century

....And this is the second plague next, namely the Brown Mouse; that is , a puppy which a widow's son found in the hollow of a tree-trunk, and the widow reared it until it was big, At last however it turned against the widow's sheep, and killed her cows and her son, and killed her herself; and went after that to the Great Pig's Glen. It would devastate a farmstead in Ulster every night, and lie asleep every day. "Rid us of it, Celtchar!"! said Conchobar. Celtchar went to the woods and brought away an alder log, and a whole was bored through it as long as his arm, and he boiled it in fragrant herbs and honey and grease, until it was supple and tough. Celtchar went to the cave where the Brown Mouse used to sleep, and entered the cave early before the Brown Mouse should come after its ravages. It came with its snout lifted up to the scent of the trunk, and Celtchar pushed the trunk out through the cave towards it. The hound took it in its jaws and set its teeth in it, and the teeth stuck in the tough wood. Celtchar dragged the trunk towards him and the hound dragged in the other direction; and Celtchar thrust his arm along inside the log, until he brought its heart up through its mouth, so that he had it in his hand. And he took its head with him.... 

~  Irish ninth century

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Scribe ~ Irish 9th Century

"Over my head the woodland wall
Rises; the ousel sings to me.
Above my booklet lined for words
The woodland birds shake out their glee.

There's the blithe cuckoo chanting clear
In mantle green from bouth to bough!
God keep me still! for here I write
A scripture bright in great woods now."

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Anglo-Saxon Christianity

The Anglo-Saxons entered the historical scene in the fifth century CE as pagan Germanic pirates and mercenaries, accompanied by their camp-followers. This was part of a much wider movement of 'barbarian' peoples (those living beyond the frontiers of Roman territory) who forced their way into the empire, stimulated by a variety of motives. By the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, Anglo-Saxon England was one of the most sophisticated states of the medieval West, renowned for its cultural and ecclesiastical achievements and possessing complex administrative, legal and financial structures, many aspects of which were preserved by the new Norman élite. Command of the written word, in addition to a well-developed oral tradition, was of tremendous importance in this transformation.

The Anglo-Saxons were introduced to a full system of literacy as part of the process of conversion to Christianity, an enterprise launched by both the Celtic and Roman churches, with some Gaulish participation, in the late sixth century. Within a century they and their Celtic neighbours had transformed the book into a rich vehicle for their distinctive art and culture, which was to exert an influence throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

The Anglo-Saxon period may perhaps usefully be viewed as a series of phases: first, the sub-Roman and migration period (early fifth to late sixth century); second, the insular period (later sixth to mid-ninth century); third, the Alfredian renewal (late ninth century); fourth, the later Anglo-Saxon period (tenth and eleventh centuries, to 1066).

Each phase brought new developments to the history of the book. The sub-Roman period witnessed a certain level of continuity of the literacy of antiquity, through the agency of the church. In the face of the pagan Germanic onslaught, the indigenous British church largely retreated into the 'highland zone' (modern 'Celtdom'). It participated actively in the conversion of Ireland where a distinctive Christian culture emerged, noted for its learning and influenced by its Celtic and British legacies and those of the eastern Mediterranean, Gaul and Spain. Episcopal and monastic organisations were adopted, Latin was learnt systematically as a new language, and a system of scripts was developed, free from the vulgarisation often experienced in areas of the old empire (of which Ireland never formed a part). The earliest surviving books from these islands (such as Codex Usserianus and the Springmount Bog Tablets) were produced in Ireland, probably during the early seventh century.

In England the resistance to the Germanic advance, associated with Ambrosius Aurelianus and the historically elusive figure of Arthur, had collapsed by the second half of the sixth century (as lamented by the British monk Gildas), and by c.600 a myriad of small Anglo-Saxon political units had been established, out of which several larger kingdoms emerged. Of these Kent, Essex, Sussex, Wessex, East Anglia, Northumbria (Deira and Bernicia) and Mercia assumed prominence. Pockets of indigenous British settlement and some kingdoms (notably Strathclyde, Rheged and Elmet) survived, but the bulk of the population was forced into Wales, Cornwall and southern Scotland, whilst many migrated to Brittany.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Prayer against Viking Raids ~ Charles the Bald c.870

"Pity the highest favor by preserving and guarding our bodies, free us from the savage Norman tribe who devastates our realms.
They aged and young would have their throats slit, and maidens and lads too, and the multitudes also. Repel the evil from us, we altogether implore [thee]. Bring thee the ruling realm, we plead on our knees, to the king of glory, who pity us with true peace, soundness, hopes and strength. Give us peace and harmony. Bestow us unmitigated hope, genuine faith also; concede us continual charity and let completed be. Sanctify our prayers that we be availed in achieving this, that we be rejoiced in glorious measure. Praise be peace and glory, to the Trinity who wholly most-magnificent for the people. 

From the collection of Charles the Bald c.870

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011


The Early Welsh Poets are known collectively as Y Cynfeirdd, a literal translation. Taliesin is one of the most well-known and highly-regarded early Welsh poets, one of Y Cynfeirdd, dating from the sixth century.

Taliesin is often referred to in early poetry and legend as Taliesin Ben Beirdd, meaning Taliesin, Chief of Bards. He is noted in a now famous passage of the Historia Brittonum, a Latin work that some associate with a Welsh cleric called Nennius (c.800) but others attribute to an unknown writer, as being one of a number of early poets who flourished in the late sixth century:

"Then Talhaearn Tad Awen gained renown in poetry, and (A)neirin and Taliesin and Blwchfardd and Cian who is called Gwenith Gwawd gained renown together at the same time in British poetry."

Poems attributed only to Taliesin and Aneirin have survived. No poems by the other three poets mentioned in the Historia - Talhaearn, Bluchbard and Cian - have survived, and may have been lost at an early date.

"Fair Elffin, cease your lament!
....Though I am weak and small,
On the wave crest of the surging sea,
I shall be better for you
Than three hundred shares of salmon.
Elffin of noble generosity,
Do not sorrow at your catch.
Though I am weak on the floor of my basket,
There are wonders on my tongue....''

"Floating like a boat in its waters,
I was thrown into a dark bag,
and on an endless sea, I was set adrift.
Just as I was suffocating, I had a happy omen,
and the master of the Heavens brought me to liberty."
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Anglo-Saxon Verse ~ The Flood begins! Genesis XX

"Until the sons of God began to seek out wives
among the kindred of Cain, an accursed folk,
and they chose women there over the favor of the Maker,
the sons of man, women more wicked yet beautiful and fair.
Then spoke the Sovereign of the Skies, angry at mankind
and speaking these words: “They are not free from my punishment
in spirit, the progeny of Cain, but that kindred has sorely
enraged me. Now the children of Seth has renewed my anger
and take to themselves the women of my foes as mates.
The lovely women penetrate there troublesomely,
the beautiful faces of the ladies, and my eternal enemy
into the multitude of my people, when they were before 
in my protection.”

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Celtic Cross

The Celtic Cross had it's evolution in the British Isles, with it's earliest form dating to approximately the ninth century and appearing mostly in Ireland. This early version is called a recumbent cross-slab, lying flat rather than standing upright. Eventually these made their way into an upright position (now called erect cross-slabs), and acquired a slightly rounded top. Both versions were often decorated with key patterns, interlaced knotwork, and spirals.

The celtic cross then underwent another change. Extraneous rock was carved away from the head of the slab, leaving the rock with the outlined shape of a tall cross, usually on a wider base. Because the cross form was in effect "freed" from the rock now, these types of crosses were commonly called erect free-standing crosses. From these, the arms of the cross eventually became extended beyond the ring of the cross, and the inner quadrants between the rings and the arms were cut away or recessed from the rest of the cross design. The free-standing crosses were elaborately made, and often composed of several pieces of stone. A large cross could have been made of up to four pieces of stone (the base, the shaft, the head, and the upper cross arm), held together by mortise and tenon joints carved into the stone.

The celtic cross and Irish cross shape itself has been widely used by many ancient peoples, long before the arrival of Christianity. Its four arms were perfect for denoting the four elements, the four directions of the compass, and the four parts of man - mind, body, soul and heart. The addition of the ring around the cross has had many explanations, everything from sun worship and symbolism, to creating a shape with the cross that was well contained and aesthetically pleasing.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The 'Cædmon Manuscript'

Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon herdsman attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch (Whitby Abbey) during the abbacy of St. Hilda (657–680), he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream, according to the 8th-century monk Bede. He later became a zealous monk and an accomplished and inspirational religious poet.

It was not until the seventeenth century that any existing poems were attributed to Cædmon. In 1651 Archbishop Ussher presented a unique manuscript of Anglo-Saxon poems from about the year A.D. 1000 to the Dutch scholar Francis Junius. Junius was serving as librarian to the Earl of Arundel, and had devoted himself to the study of Anglo-Saxon. The poems in the manuscript fit Bede's description of Cædmon's work very well -- they included poetic paraphrases of Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel, and a group of poems concerning the Fall of the Angels, Christ's Descent into Hell, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Last Judgment, and the Temptation in the Wilderness. And so after he returned to Holland, Junius published an edition of this manuscript in which he attributed the poems to Cædmon. The manuscript thus became known as the 'Cædmon Manuscript.' It is now in the Bodleian Library, and designated Codex Junius 11. Today most Anglo-Saxon scholars doubt that these poems (in their present form) were in fact written by Cædmon. Instead, they theorize that the poems are the remaining work of a whole school of poets which flourished somewhat later. Nevertheless, there is good reason to suppose that parts of the poems, at least, are the work of Cædmon.

Whether or not these poetic paraphrases contain the work of Cædmon, they are valuable relics of the Anglo-Saxon age. They indicate the manner in which the Bible was popularly known and interpreted at the time, and they continue to be excellent devotional literature. As one scholar concludes, "Bede tells us that many English writers of sacred verse had imitated Cædmon, but that none had equalled him. The literary value of parts of the Cædmonian poems is undoubtedly of a high order. The Bible stories are not merely paraphrased, but have been brooded upon by the poet until developed into a vivid picture, with touches drawn from the English life and landscape about him. The story of the flight of Israel resounds with the tread of armies and the excitement of camp and battle. The Genesis and the Christ and Satan have the glow of dramatic life, and the character of Satan is sharply delineated. The poems, whether we say they are Cædmon's or of the school of Cædmon, mark a worthy beginning of the long and noble line of English sacred poetry."

Below is a small sample of Cædmon's poetic paraphrase of the book of Genesis, followed by a modern English translation.

"Yet the Almighty Father would not take away from Adam and from Eve, at once, all goodly things, though He withdrew His favour from them. But for their comfort He left the sky above them adorned with shining stars, gave them wide-stretching fields, and bade the earth and sea and all their teeming multitudes to bring forth fruits to serve man's earthly need. After their sin they dwelt in a realm more sorrowful, a home and native land less rich in all good things than was their first abode, wherefrom He drove them out after their sin. Then, according to the word of God, Adam and Eve begat children, as God had bidden. To them were born two goodly sons, Abel and Cain: the books tell us how these brothers, first of toilers, gained wealth and goods and store of food."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Ancient Celts

The ancient Celts were not an ethnic unit but a conglomerate of different peoples of Indo/European extraction. Although they were known to have reached Spain and the Atlantic coast sometime in the 6th century BC, the first mention of them in classical literature (as ‘Celts’) comes in Herodotus’ The Histories (c. 440 BC) where he said that the Keltoi (Celts) lived on the Upper Danube and ‘’… beyond the Pillars of Heracles…’’ There was no such thing as a ‘typical’ Celt for they ranged from the small and dark to the tall and blond but what they held in common was their related languages, laws, history and religion. By the 3rd century BC, the Celtic world stretched from Ireland in the west to the Black Sea in the east, from where they traded with China.

They also held territory from the Baltic region of Scandinavia and Russia, down to the Mediterranean coast, and it was only with the advance of the Greek and the Roman world that the Celtic one began to shrink geographically. Although the Celts had kings, Caesar says that the real power lay in the hands of the Celtic priests who were called Druids. Caesar thought that this priesthood originated in Britain before it spread to the continent, and it was their great power over the tribes that the Romans tried to eradicate.

Christianity would have entered Britain with the Romans although archaeological evidence is sparse, and is seen mainly in the form of the chi-rho, which is etched into walls, lamps and other artefacts. The earliest written reference to Christianity in Ireland and Britain comes from Origen of Alexandra (d. c. AD 254) who wrote that those parts of Britain which were not under Roman sway, had been subjected to Christianity i. e. Northwest Scotland, Ireland, Brigantia (parts of northern England), Wales and Cornwall. We also know that 3 British bishops were present at the Synod of Arles in AD 314 – which means that there must have been some sort of Christian organisation by that time. However, there was no such a thing as a ‘unified’ Celtic Church with set beliefs and practices, for it had no centralised authority or hierarchy to tell it what to do (as did the continental Church). Basically, it developed local rules to suit local conditions, and interpreted the Scriptures as it thought best.

Monday, June 27, 2011

11th Century Scottish Peace Prayer

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, for ever.

Friday, June 24, 2011

He Supports all Things ~ Patrick

Our God, God of all men,
God of heaven and earth, sea and rivers,
God of sun and moon, of all the stars,
God of high mountains and of lowly valleys,
God over heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.

He has a dwelling
in heaven and earth and sea
and in all things
that arc in them.

He inspires all things,
He quickens all things,
He is over all things,
He supports all things.

He makes the light of the sun to shine,
He surrounds the moon and stars, and
He has made wells in the arid earth, placed dry islands in the sea
and stars for the service of the greater luminaries.

He has a Son coeternal with Himself,
like to Himself;
not junior is Son to Father,
nor Father senior to the Son.

And the Holy Spirit
breathes in them;
not separate are Father
and Son and Holy Spirit.

Patrick ~ 5th Century

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