Saturday, 7 February 2015

Liturgy (Readers, 2014-2016) 2: Understanding
the Liturgy and Worship of the Church of Ireland

The ‘Prayer Book’ means different things to different people, across the generations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute:

Reader Course Day Conference

Saturday, 7 February 2015

16:15 to 17:15, Liturgy 2: Understanding the Liturgy and Worship of the Church of Ireland:

The Book of Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland

Introduction:

In our last seminar, we looked at the meaning of liturgy, the meaning of liturgical space, and how seek to bring both of these together.

Part of our role as liturgical leaders and facilitators is to enable and to empower people to grow in these understanding themselves, so that they enter and enjoy and engage in the worship of the Church, knowing that we are all in communion with God through Christ, and in communion with one another in Christ.

But, despite our best efforts, we all know how some parishioners resist change, never mind their resistance to engaging in the wider and deeper theological concepts involved in worship and liturgy.

How often, like me, do you still hear some parishioners, as they come into the parish church and are handed The Book of Common Prayer (2004), ask: “Why can’t we have The Book of Common Prayer?”

They may simply refer to it as “the Black Book.” But, of course, they think they are hankering back to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. In fact, what they think is the 1662 book is the 1960 book, with many changes, amendments, deletions, and additions in between.

And being aware of how we came to have the present 2004 Book of Common Prayer is part of what helps us to facilitate people to engage fully in the worship and liturgy of the Church today.

How did we get The Book of Common Prayer?

For more than 450 years, the Book of Common Prayer has contained and conveyed the essence of Anglican spirituality (Photo collage: Patrick Comerford)

How did we get The Book of Common Prayer?

At the time of the Reformation in England, the Church of Ireland had no convocation. And so the Reformation was introduced through orders from the government rather than through ecclesiastical measures.

Edward VI’s Act of Parliament which commanded that Holy Communion should be given “under both kinds” applied to the “people within the Church of England and Ireland.” The Proclamation affixed to “The Order of the Communion” (1548) made no distinction between the two countries. However, only one attempt was made to introduce the Order in Ireland. But those efforts by Bishop Edward Staples of Meath caused such uproar that both he and the other bishops took refuge in silence in the years immediately after.

It was not until 6 February 1551 that a royal letter was sent to the Lord Deputy, Anthony St Leger, reminding him that the king had “caused the Liturgy and prayers of the Church to be translated into our mother tongue of this realm of England.” And he was instructed that The Book of Common Prayer was to be provided in English in places where English was understood.

On receiving the letter, St Leger summoned an ecclesiastical assembly of the bishops and clergy and placed the order before them. It was strongly resisted by Archbishop George Dowdall of Armagh, who left the assembly with the greater part of bishops. Those who remained included Archbishop George Browne of Dublin, Bishop Staples of Meath and three others.

On Easter Day, 29 March 1551, the first Book of Common Prayer, which had been published in England two years earlier, was introduced for the first time in the Church of Ireland.

This service in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, attended by St Leger and other senior figures, was the first occasion on which the post-reformation liturgy in English was used in any church in Ireland. But this was a culturally significant moment in Irish life in general too, for this was the first book printed with movable type on this island.

St Leger also had The Book of Common Prayer translated into Latin, and this version was used and used in Limerick City. However, instructions to have the services read in the Irish language were not followed in areas where people spoke Irish as their first language. In other words, the majority of people on the island were by-passed or ignored.

Only five Irish bishops, led by Archbishop George Browne of Dublin, were prepared to use the new Book of Common Prayer. The Archbishop of Armagh left his diocese, saying “he would never be a bishop where the Holy Mass were abolished,” and fled the country.

And so, the progress of The Book of Common Prayer in Ireland was very slow from the beginning. In the greater part of the country English was less understood than Latin. A year after the introduction of the book, in 1552, St Leger found great negligence. The old ceremonies were still being used in many places, even in English-speaking cities and towns.

The 1552 Book of Common Prayer in Ireland

The second Book of Common Prayer (1552) was introduced in England the following year. But it was never authorised for use in Ireland, and its only recoded use was when the strong reformer, John Bale (1495-1563), insisted on using it for his consecration as Bishop of Ossory by Archbishop Browne in Dublin on 2 February 1553. Bale’s consecration caused controversy with his refusal of the Roman rite at his consecration, demanding a Bible in place of the crozier, and the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, protested against the revised office during the ceremony.

However, the second Book of Common Prayer (1552) was never authorised for use in Ireland, and the 1549 book remained in use until the end of the reign of Edward VI in 1553. However, it appears to have been unpopular everywhere. The conservative priests, as in England, made the best of it for moment, retaining the ceremonial.

Bale reported scathingly: “The Communion was altogether like a popish Mass, with the old Papish tricks of the Antichrist, bowings and backings, kneelings and knockings.” The majority of the clergy made no delay in restoring the Latin Mass on the first news of the death of Edward VI.

Although Bale had visited Kilkenny after his appointment in 1552, he never took possession of his diocese. He fled Dublin on the accession of Queen Mary, and was captured and imprisoned in Dover. He died as a canon of Canterbury Cathedral in 1563.

Meanwhile, after the death of Edward VI in 1553, the Reformation legislation was overthrown by Queen Mary in England, although no act was passed in Ireland during her reign to prohibit the use of the English Book of Common Prayer.

And so the 1552 Book of Common Prayer made only a very limited and an unusual appearance in the Church of Ireland.

The 1559 Book of Common Prayer in Ireland

After the death of Mary and the accession of her sister Elizabeth in 1558, the third Book of Common Prayer (1559) was introduced. Perhaps, as Michael Kennedy suggests, it might have been more helpful in Irish circumstances, to have reintroduced the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.

In the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, the pre-Reformation roots of the liturgy remained evident in spite of its clearly Reformed character, and the order for the Holy Communion was based on the old Sarum Rite of the Mass. In England, Bishop Stephen Gardiner of Winchester had claimed he could read the old doctrines in the new rites.

The significant amendment to the 1552 rites in the 1559 book was the restoration of the traditional words of administration of Holy Communion, prefixed to the words “Take and eat this …” and “Drink this in remembrance …”

On 30 August 1559, the new English Litany was sung in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, when the Earl of Sussex was sworn in as Lord Deputy. Part of the instructions to Sussex were “to set up the worship of God as it is in England, and to make such statutes next Parliament as were lately made in England.”

So, at the meeting of the Irish Parliament in January 1560, in the face of great opposition, the 1559 book was introduced to Ireland with the passing of the Act of Uniformity.

The 1559 book was printed in both English and Latin, but not in Irish, supposedly because of difficulty in getting it printed. Permission was also given for services from The Book of Common Prayer to be read in Latin, particularly in colleges and places where English was not understood. It was also to allay the “prejudices of Catholics against the reformed worship by allowing it to be performed in the usual language of their devotions” … so long as the new form of the services was observed. [See Ronan, p. 29; Pyle, p. 22; Kennedy in Mayne (2004), p. 11; Mayne (2006), p. 202.]

The Latin translations were made in 1560 and 1571. The 1560 translation contained a large number of divergences from the English text that were corrected in 1571. However, we have no evidence as to how widely these translations were used in Ireland.

Meanwhile, large Bibles were set up in the choirs of Christ Church Cathedral and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

However, popular enthusiasm for reform was lacking in Ireland, and there was considerable resistance to the prayer book among both the clergy and the laity, not least among the Anglo-Irish or “Old English” families in the Pale, who were the most Anglicised sector of society.

By 1570, the administration had provided the characters needed for printing in the Irish language, but the Church of Ireland went without an Irish-language translation of The Book of Common Prayer for more than another generation.

Until the foundation of Trinity College Dublin in 1592 – mainly to provide theologically-educated clergy for the Church of Ireland – there was essentially no means of training clergy in the Reformed tradition. Many of the clergy inherited by the Church of Ireland were ill-educated and strongly inclined towards the faith and order of the old unreformed church. Highly-motivated Irish clergy of the post-Tridentine Roman obedience, who were trained in continental European seminaries, returned to Ireland and worked hard at confirming people in the traditional beliefs and practices.

The 1604 Book of Common Prayer

The Hampton Court conference called by James I gave rise to both the 1604 Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible. The modifications in The Book of Common Prayer were mainly to the rubrics in the Office of Private Baptism; after the word “absolution” in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, the words “or remission of sins” were inserted. The meaning of “Confirmation” was expanded. And a new portion on the sacraments was added to the Catechism.

In 1608, that 1604 Book of Common Prayer became available in the Irish language for the first time with a printing of an Irish translation of the 1604 edition of The Book of Common Prayer.

In 1615, the Church of Ireland adopted its own articles of religion, the 104 Articles. However, these were abandoned, although never fully repealed, when the 39 Articles were accepted by the Irish Convocation in 1634.

From the time of the Reformation until the Rising of 1641, the Church of Ireland was generally Calvinist in its outlook. However, during the Cromwellian or Commonwealth period, from 1649 to 1660, when The Book of Common Prayer was prohibited, loyalty to the 1604 Book of Common Prayer became a touchstone of Anglicanism. [Bolton, p 139 ff.]

The Caroline tradition and The Book of Common Prayer

Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, and a new edition of The Book of Common Prayer was adopted in England in 1662. As we have already seen, there were four main changes in the 1662 edition:

1, There were adjustments in the rubrics and the calendar.

2, Some phrases in the liturgy that were now regarded as old-fashioned were amended or changed.

3, The new translation of the Bible published in 1611 (the Authorised Version or King James Version) was used.

4, Some prayers and thanksgivings were added.

In 1665, the 1662 book was annexed to the Irish Act of Uniformity, having already been approved by the Irish Convocations, primarily through the hard work of Bishop Jeremy Taylor and Archbishop John Bramhall of Armagh.

Jeremy Taylor: “This excellent book ... is not consumed.”

It is this book, described by that saintly bishop Jeremy Taylor as “this excellent book,” that served the Church until a separate revised Book of Common Prayer was approved in 1878.

However, a few differences appeared in the Church of Ireland’s Book of Common Prayer over time, namely in the addition of several services. These additions included:

● A service commemorating the thwarted attempt of the seizure of Dublin Castle by Roman Catholics on 23 October 1641 (this incident and the service are both rather similar to that in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the Gunpowder Plot).

● A prayer for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was added to the state prayers at Matins and Evensong.

● A service for the Visitation of Prisoners, approved in 1711; the service of the same name in older US Prayer Books is essentially identical to this form.

● Three related services – (a) for the Consecration of Churches or Chapels, (b) an Office for the Restoration of a Church, and (c) an Office for the Expiation of a desecrated Church – were printed in certain Irish Books of Common Prayer from 1700 on, although they were not part of the book approved by the Act of Uniformity. The service for the Consecration of Churches or Chapels was discussed at the English Convocations in 1662 and 1663, and was probably written by Bishop John Cosin.

● A “Form for receiving lapsed Protestants, or reconciling converted Papists” also appears in certain Irish editions of The Book of Common Prayer from 1700 on.

The Act of Union

In 1801, the Act of Union united not only the parliaments of Britain and Ireland but also the Church of Ireland and the Church of England.

All differences in The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland ceased in 1801 when the two Churches were merged under the terms of the Act of Union as the United Church of England and Ireland. The unmodified 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England then became The Book of Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland.

Prayer books printed between then and 1870 declare the books to be “according to the use of the United Church of England and Ireland.”

Some of the new services introduced to the Church of Ireland included:

● A service revised in 1715 and for use on 5 November, giving thanks not only for the deliverance of James I from the 1604 “Guy Fawkes” Gunpowder Plot, but also for the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and William III’s landing in England.

These services were removed from The Book of Common Prayer in 1859. Just over a decade later, the Church of Ireland was disestablished.

Irish-language translations of The Book of Common Prayer

In 1551, the Lord Deputy, St Leger, had received instructions from London that The Book of Common Prayer was to be provided in English in places where English was understood. However, instructions to have the services read in the Irish language were not followed in areas where people spoke Irish as their first language. In other words, the majority of people on the island were by-passed or ignored.

We might ask what would have happened had an Irish-language version of The Book of Common Prayer been produced simultaneously. Would the religious history of Ireland have been radically different? Were The Prayer Book and the English Bible viewed as part of an attempt to impose the English language upon Ireland?

Michael Kennedy and others would argue that the failure to provide The Book of Common Prayer in Irish for two full generations between 1549 and 1608 was a contributing factor in the comparative lack of success of the Reformation in Ireland.

A printing font of Irish type was provided in 1571, but it still took another generation before an Irish-language version of The Book of Common Prayer was actually printed.

The New Testament was published in Irish in 1602, but only in a limited edition of 500 copies.

The 1604 Book of Common Prayer was translated into Irish by Archbishop William O’Donnell in 1608. Modern Irish scholars are full of praise for this translation and its linguistic style. The book was typeset in a special font created from mediaeval manuscripts and prepared in England. An order from the Lord Deputy said it should be distributed throughout the Church of Ireland by the bishops, with a copy being available to every parish.

During the reign of Charles I, the Provost of Trinity College Dublin, William Bedell (1571-1642), later Bishop of Kilmore, prepared an Irish translation of the Old Testament. During Bedell’s time as Provost of TCD, there was an Irish lecture in hall and Irish prayers in the chapel on holy days. However, Bedell’s Old Testament was not published for more than 40 years after his death. In 1685, it was published by Archbishop Francis Marsh of Dublin and Robert Boyle, the physicist and philosopher.

An Irish-language version of the Catechism was printed separately in 1680.

A new translation of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was made by John Richardson in 1712 – a delay of 50 years. Although experts say this translation it was inferior to O’Donnell’s translation, it was the commonly used translation for more than two centuries. However, most Irish speakers could not read the characters used.

A rubric in the 1878 Book of Common Prayer allows for its use in Irish where the Irish language is understood. The 1926 edition was translated into Irish in 1931, and a new Irish-language edition of The Book of Common Prayer using the Roman alphabet was published in 1965.

The publication of the Irish and English language editions of the 2004 Book of Common Prayer was almost simultaneous. Most of the work on this was by Archdeacon Gary Hastings, the Rector of Galway.

Next: 3,

The Book of Common Prayer (2004): understanding the liturgy and worship of the Church of Ireland.

Supplementary bibliography:

The Book of Common Prayer(1662 and 2004 editions of the Church of Ireland).

RT Beckwith, ‘The Prayer Book after Cranmer,’ pp 106-110, in C Jones, G Wainwright, E Yarnold and P Bradshaw (eds), The Study of Liturgy (London: SPCK, 1992).
RT Beckwith, ‘The Anglican Eucharist: From the Reformation to the Restoration,’ pp 309-318, in Jones, Wainwright, Yarnold and Bradshaw (eds, 1992).
FR Bolton, The Caroline Tradition in the Church of Ireland (London: SPCK, 1958).
GJ Cuming, A history of Anglican liturgy (London: Macmillan, 2nd ed, 1982).
A Dunstan, ‘The Eucharist in Anglicanism after 1662,’ pp 318-324 in Jones, Wainwright, Yarnold and Bradshaw (eds, 1992).
WJ Grisbrooke, Anglican Liturgies of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (London: SPCK, 1958).
C Hefling and C Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey (2006).
GV Jourdan, “Reformation and Reaction,” Chapter IV in WA Phillips, History of the Church of Ireland, vol ii (Oxford: OUP, 1934).
J McCafferty, “John Bramhall and the Church of Ireland in the 1630s,” in A Ford, J McGuire and K Milne (eds), As by Law Established – the Church of Ireland since the Reformation (Dublin: Lilliput, 1995).
B Mayne, “Ireland,” pp 202-208 in Hefling and Shattuck (eds) (2006).
B Mayne (ed), The Prayer Books of the Church of Ireland, 1551-2004 (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
H Miller, “The Church of Ireland,” pp 431-437, in Hefling and Shattuck (eds) (2006).
F Procter, WH Frere, A new History of Book of Common Prayer (London: Macmillan1961).
H Pyle, You can say that again: Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland (Dublin: APCK, 1977). MV Ronan, The Reformation in Dublin 1536-1558 (London: Longmans, 1926).
K Stevenson, B Spinks (eds), The Identity of Anglican Worship (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1991).

Next (6 June 2015):

How did we get to where we are today? today

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes for a lecture at the Reader Course Day Conference on Saturday 7 February 2015.

Church History 2 (Readers 2014-2016)
Early Christianity in Ireland

Saint Patrick … a stained glass window in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

Reader Course Day Conference

7 February 2015:

13.30 to 14.30:
Church History 2: Early Christianity in Ireland:

The arrival of Christianity in Ireland and the spread of Christianity from these islands through Continental Europe

Introduction

We were introduced to Church History in October, when we looked at the early Church, from the Apostles to Constantine, the early development of Christian doctrine and the first Councils of the Church.

The beginning of Christian toleration in the Roman Empire and the deliberations of the Great Councils of the Church that defined the Creeds, doctrines and limits of the Church in the fourth and fifth century all coincide with the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and the time when this island begins to earn its mythical reputation as the “Island of Saints and Scholars.”

This afternoon, I would like us to look at the origins of Christianity in Ireland, including the arrival of Saint Patrick on this island and the development of the “Celtic Church” – if there ever was such a body – and how this has contributed to the current identity of the Church Ireland.

Patrician Christianity and the Church of Ireland

The Preamble and Declaration adopted by the General Convention of the Church of Ireland in 1870, described this Church as “the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland,” … holding to that faith “professed by the Primitive Church” (see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 776).

But what does it mean to be the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland”?

What claims are being made here?

What claims to identity are being made?

And if some things are being included in our identity, what is being excluded?

[Discussion]

The only place the word “Protestant” is used in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is on the same page, where it is said: “3. The Church of Ireland, as a Protestant and Reformed Church … doth hereby …” (p. 775). On the other hand, the word Catholic is used throughout all editions of The Book of Common Prayer, and not just in the Creeds (see pp 12, &c).

The Collects of Saint Patrick’s Day describe Saint Patrick as “the apostle of the Irish people” (p. 305), and the Irish figures saints listed in the Calendar (pp 18-23) are all figures in what might be called the “Celtic Church” (Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and Saint Columba, pp 20 and 22, and 38 others on pp 22-23) with three exceptions: Richard FitzRalph (27 June, 1360), Jeremy Taylor (13 August, 1667) and Charles Inglis (16 August, 1816).

So these emphases indicate that over the years, and certainly since disestablishment:

1, The Church of Ireland sees its identity in terms of the arrival of Christianity in Ireland with Saint Patrick;

2, The Church of Ireland sees its identity in terms of continuity with “Celtic Christianity” in Ireland, especially the great monastic sites, and in particular with those monastic sites that have given their names to our dioceses.

Has history shaped our identity?

Or has our identity shaped our understanding of the history of Christianity?

Let us ask five questions:

1, Did Christianity arrive in Ireland with Saint Patrick?

2, Who was Saint Patrick?

3, Was there a distinctive Celtic Christianity?

4, Did other identities also shape the identity of the Church of Ireland?

5, And is so, how do we name or claim and integrate those identities?

[Discussion]

Question 1:

Did Christianity arrive in Ireland with Saint Patrick?

Traditionally and romantically, Saint Patrick is said to have converted the entire population of Ireland from paganism in a very short period between 432 and 461, less than the span of one generation.

But there were Christians in Ireland before Saint Patrick’s arrival and his work as a missionary is only part of the story of the origins and growth of Christianity on this island. A hint of this is already found in the way Irish mythology was long anxious to claim Irish connections with the Christian story that predate Patrick date back to Biblical times.

These include:

1, Altus, said to have been an Irish witness to the passion and death of Christ;
2, The legend that Conor Mac Nessa, King of Ireland, died of a broken heart when he heard of Christ’s crucifixion;
3, The story of a local king, Cormac Mac Airt, who converted to Christianity in the 3rd century;
4, Accounts of Mansuetus, said to have been an Irish bishop in 4th century France.

But there is a realistic medium between these legends and the concept of a sudden conversion to Christianity at the hands of a single missionary.

The seas provided Ireland with immediate access to the neighbouring islands and Continental Europe: the north Antrim coast and Galloway were a few hours apart, Wales was less than a day away; many parts of Continental Europe was accessible in a day or two by sail and ship; present-day Spain no less than three days away; Iceland, a journey of about 1,000 miles, was less than a week away.

Tacitus (ca 55-120 AD) tells us that British or Gallic merchants had a reasonably good knowledge of Ireland’s “harbours and approaches.”

The “Celtic” people in Ireland were traders, raiders and plunderers, and there is evidence of Roman traders reaching Irish harbours and beyond them up rivers such as the Nore and the Barrow, trading in wine, oil and wheat. The Irish imported pottery, metal-work and bric-a-brac from Roman Gaul and Britain, and exported copper, gold, slaves, hides, cattle and wolfhounds.

By the end of the third century, people from Ireland were establishing colonies on the neighbouring island, with colonies in north-west and south-west Wales, in Cornwall and on the west coast of Scotland.

There must have been interchange between these colonists, Christian Britons and the Roman ruling and military classes, and the traffic cannot have been all one-way either, and the return traffic must have brought some Christians to the south and east coasts of Ireland.

By the third or fourth century, there was regular commercial, mercantile and social contact between communities in Ireland and Roman communities in Britain and Gaul. So, for example, there have been abundant finds of looted Roman coins all along the northern and eastern coasts of Ireland: at the Giant’s Causeway (1831), Coleraine (1854) and more recently at Limavaddy; and Roman silver ingots with similar Christian provenance have been found in Kent and Limerick.

Catherine Swift argues convincingly that among the ruling class in Ireland, many adopted the cultural habits of Roman Britons, to the point that they became Romanised to the point that they adopted the social customs of Roman Britain and what is now Cathedral Hill in Armagh is an example of one of their temple sites.

Christianity probably arrived in Ireland in the 4th and early 5th centuries by a slow and gradual process of unplanned infiltration, from Britain and from Continental European, probably from Gaul and what we now know as Germany, and perhaps even from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal).

One local king, Niall of the Nine Hostages, commanded several raiding expeditions across the Irish Sea. British captives carried off by Irish raiders may be yet another way of Christianity coming to have a presence on this island. Some educated continental Christians may also have sought refuge in Ireland during the barbarian invasions of the crumbling Roman Empire, fleeing Gaul or present-day France, at the start of the 4th century, and bringing their Christianity with them.

Other points of contact include contacts made by the Irish emigrés in Britain, and trade links with Roman Britain, Gaul and Spain. A gravestone for a fifth century Irish Christian has been found in a Christian cemetery in Trier, and fifth century Christians, some with Latin names, are commemorated on ogham stones in southern Ireland, in Carlow, Waterford, Cork and Kerry.

In other words, many factors indicate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland long before Patrick was captured as a slave, and there was a considerable Christian presence on this island before Patrick began his mission in 432.

There is some evidence that suggests the gradual conversion of Ireland by Britons in the 4th century and possibly early fifth century.

Pre-Patrician Christian missions in Ireland

Saint Iberius’ Church, Wexford … named after one of half a dozen or more saints whose missions are said to predate that of Saint Patrick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are traditions that some Irish saints preceded Saint Patrick in date: Ciaran of Seirkieran (Diocese of Ossory); Declan of Ardmore, Co Waterford; Ibar of Begerin, Co Wexford; Ailbe of Emly, Co Tipperary; Meltioc of Kinsale, Co Cork; and so on. Most of these are associated with the south and the south-east, although there is no primary evidence to support these largely unreliable traditions.

Nevertheless, the presence of British Christians in Ireland must have had an influence, direct or indirect, on the spread of Christianity in Ireland before 431, and by the time he began his mission Patrick would have found the British Christians resident in Ireland forming the nucleus for his mission and his Church.

The background to Saint Patrick’s mission includes the presence of perhaps three heresies in Ireland – Arianism, Priscillianism and Pelagianism – that probably arrived from western Europe in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.

Some of Priscillian’s ascetic adherents may have made their way to Ireland after he was executed in 386.

Pelagius (355-425) denied the necessity of grace for salvation and emphasised God’s gift of free will to humanity. Saint Jerome vilifies him as a “most stupid fellow, heavy with Irish porridge” and claims that he, or his companion Coelestius, had “his lineage of the Irish race, from the neighbourhood of the Britons.” Perhaps Jerome was insulting his opponent, but nevertheless the possibility arises that Pelagius had Irish ancestry or had lived in Ireland.

Germanus of Auxerre was sent from Rome to Britain in 429 to combat the impact of Pelagius and Pelagianism on the Church in Roman Britain. Soon after – perhaps in 431 – Palladius was ordained by Pope Celestine, and he was sent as the “first bishop” on a mission to “the Scotti [Irish] who believe in Christ.” So, we know that from at least the third decade of the 5th century, the Irish Christians were numerically large enough to have a bishop sent from Rome, and Palladius is associated with a number of church sites in Leinster.

Palladius may have worked in the south-east of Ireland for a few years. His work in Leinster was continued, perhaps, by figures such as Secundinus, Auxilius and Iserninus. His mission activities and those of Patrick may have been confused in later writings, so that much of the work and success of Palladius was attributed wrongly to Patrick.

The late Professor Patrick Corish, in The Irish Catholic Experience (1985), links the mission of Palladius in Leinster with, perhaps, three churches in Co Wicklow. The circular letter known as The First Synod of Saint Patrick seems to provide evidence of a second-generation missionary Church in Leinster, and this stream of Christianity in Ireland has been associated with the Church in Kildare.

Question 2:

Who was Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick … an image on the wall of Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The young Patrick was captured in a great raid in which “many thousands of people” [Confessio 1], some of whom were lukewarm Christians, according to his own account, and some of them could also have been committed Christians, perhaps even priests.

Saint Patrick’s account of his flight from slavery as a young man at the age of 22 may be evidence of an escape network for fugitive slaves run by concerned Christians, presumably in Leinster, more than 20 years before Patrick began his own mission [Confessio 17 and 18].

However, Patrick does not refer to Palladius. Although the missions of Palladius and Patrick may have coincided, Patrick was working in fresh territory, while Roman missionaries in Leinster were consolidating the work of Palladius and others who, by 431, had ensured that there were many people in Ireland who were Christians.

By the time Patrick began his mission, the foundations had been laid for a Church in Ireland that over the centuries that followed became a vibrant missionary Church.

In his Confessio [51], Patrick shows he is aware of episcopal activity in other parts of Ireland, including baptisms, confirmations and ordinations.

Patrick says he travelled to places in Ireland “where no one else had ever penetrated, in order to baptise, or to ordain clergy, or to confirm the people” – suggesting there were places that had received episcopal ministry from other, earlier sources.

So, Christianity had already taken root in the island before Saint Patrick began his mission.

The traditional account of the life of Saint Patrick says he was born about 372 in Roman Britain in Bannavem Taburniae, perhaps in Cumbria or at Dumbarton in Scotland. He says his father Calpornius was a deacon and his grandfather Potitus was a priest; both were from a relatively prosperous class of Romans.

At the age of 16, he was captured and brought to Ireland and later sold as a slave. After escaping and returning to his own people, he began to have visions of the cry of the Irish pleading to him to come back – an image probably drawn from Saint Paul’s vision in Troy of a man calling him across the sea to Macedonia (see Acts 16: 9-10).

Believing he was called by God to a mission to the Irish, he entered the monastery of Saint Martin of Tours. He was subsequently ordained a bishop in Rome, and was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine, who died in 432.

Patrick arrived from Britain in Ireland around 432, and most of the details we have of his life are from his Confessio, written in reply to the attacks on his character brought against him in England, and his Letter to Coroticus.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh ... why did Armagh become the centre of the cult of Saint Patrick? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is said that Saint Patrick built 365 churches and consecrated an equal number of bishops, established schools and convents, and held synods. The sites associated with him include Armagh, which became the centre of the cult of Saint Patrick, Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo and Lough Derg on the borders of Co Donegal, where he is said to have spent time in retreat, and Downpatrick, where he is said to have been buried.

There is no historical reason to associate Saint Patrick with the site of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, or the supposed Saint Patrick’s Well at the Nassau Street side of Trinity College Dublin, or other sites such as Holmpatrick in Skerries or Saint Patrick’s Church in Donabate, both in Fingal in north Co Dublin.

There are four different dates for his death. Most traditions say he died around 460, although other authorities say he died sometime around 491 to 493.

Mediaeval sources are unanimous in describing Saint Brigid of Kildare as a contemporary of Saint Patrick.

There is a theory that there were two Patricks, although this may arise from a misreading of “the elder Patrick,” who died in 457, where elder might also be read as bishop or priest.

Neither the canons attributed to him nor the Breastplate of Saint Patrick is not his work. Later seventh-century documents speak of Patrick as the successor of Palladius. However, the O Neill dynasty had Tireachan and Muirchu write spurious accounts of Patrick’s life to establish Armagh’s claims to primacy in Ireland.

When Brian Ború became High King ca 1000 AD, he had his secretary write into the Book of Armagh a confirmation of the right of Armagh to all church revenues in Ireland. It was at least another century, however, before Armagh’s claims to primacy were recognised throughout the Irish Church.

Glendalough ... the monastic “Valley of the Two Lakes” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Is there such a thing as ‘Celtic Christianity’ or a ‘Celtic Church’?

The monastery at Clonard was once one of the most important centres of learning in the Irish Midlands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Question 3:

Was there a distinctive Celtic Christianity?

During the late fifth and sixth centuries, the monasteries became the most important centres of Irish Christianity, including Armagh which claimed its origins in the labours of Saint Patrick, and Clonard, which is associated with work of Saint Finnian of Clonard, who is said to have trained the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland” at his abbey in the Midlands.

The great monasteries included places such as Kells, Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Bangor, Ferns, Tallaght and Finglas.

Monasticism in these islands developed with particular characteristics that are unique, so that for a long time true ecclesiastical authority lay not with bishops but with the abbots of monasteries.

Following the growth of the monastic movement in the sixth centuries, abbots controlled not only individual monasteries, but also expansive estates and the secular communities that tended them. Abbots were not necessarily ordained and many were members of an hereditary caste within noble or royal families.

A late Celtic high cross at Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This focus on the monastery means the monastic system came to be the dominant ecclesiastical structure in the Irish Church, and the network of monasteries attached to an abbey, rather than the diocese, was the dominant administrative unit of the church.

Bishops had sacramental roles and spiritual authority, but appear to have exercised little ecclesiastical authority in the way that bishops did in continental diocesan structures modelled on the Roman administrative system.

Clonmacnoise on the banks of the River Shannon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The monastic system In Ireland became increasingly secularised from the 8th century on, with the monasteries even making war on each other or taking part in secular wars. For example, 200 monks from Durrow Abbey are said to have been killed when they were defeated by the monks of Clonmacnoise in 764.

Saint Maelruains’ Monastery in Tallaght was part of the reforming Ceilí Dé movement of the ninth century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A reforming monastic movement emerged in the Ceilí Dé, who were associated particularly with the monasteries in Tallaght and Finglas.

Irish missionaries in Britain

A high cross at Kells, Co Meath … this was once one of the largest monastic communities associated with Saint Colmcille or Saint Columba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the sixth and seventh centuries, Irish monks established monastic foundations in what we now call Scotland – think of Saint Columba (ca 521-597) or Saint Colmcille in Kells and Iona, and in Continental Europe, especially in Gaul – think of Saint Columbanus.

Columba is associated with the foundation of abbeys at both Kells, Co Meath, and Durrow, Co Laois. However, was held partly responsible for the Battle of Cúl Drebene (561) and was sent into exile. In 563, he founded the monastery of Iona which became one of the major centres of Irish missionary activity in Scotland and northern England.

Monks from Iona, under Saint Aidan (died 651), founded the See of Lindisfarne in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria in 635. Aidan was sent from Iona at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria, and the influences of his monks and disciples spread from Lindisfarne throughout northern England and into the Midlands.

Saint Cuthbert (ca 636-687) was involved in founding a monastery at Ripon, but when he and his colleagues from Melrose refused to conform to the date of Easter and other accepted Western practices they were expelled. He became the Prior of Melrose and later Prior of Lindisfarne, and in 685 he became Bishop of Lindisfarne. He is still associated with the Diocese of Durham

The English historian Bede (ca 673-735) implies that Irish missionary activity in northern England was more successful at converting the English than the mission started from Canterbury in southern England that began with Saint Augustine in 597.

Irish Continental missionaries

Irish monks also founded monasteries across the continent, exerting influence greater than many more ancient continental centres.

Saint Columbanus, a monk from Bangor in Co Down, left Ireland in 590 on a perpetual pilgrimage and moved to Gaul, where he founded monasteries in Annegray and Luxeuil. His fervour and his emphasis on private penance brought new spiritual energy to an area where Christianity was at a low ebb.

However, the observance of Irish customs led to the expulsion of Columbanus and his companions from Gaul in 610, and they eventually settled in Bobbio in what is today northern Italy. He died in 615. His surviving works include letters, sermons, a penitential and rules for monastic and community life.

Saint Gall was a disciple of Saint Columbanus, and followed him to Italy in 612. However, Gall remained in what is now Switzerland, where he lived the life of a hermit until his death around 650. The monastery of St Gallen, which takes its name from him, was founded ca 719 on the site of his hermitage.

Pope Honorius I issued a papal privilege to Bobbio Abbey, granting it freedom from episcopal oversight. Many of the monasteries of the Irish missions adopted the Rule of Saint Columbanus, which was stricter than the Rule of Saint Benedict, which was prevalent across western Europe. This rule involved more fasting and included corporal punishment. However, it eventually gave way to the Rule of Saint Benedict by the 8th or 9th centuries.

Irish scholars who had considerable influence in the Frankish court include John Scotus Eriugena (died ca 877), one of the founders of scholasticism and one the outstanding philosophers of the day.

Distinctive Irish practices and divisions

1, The Date of Easter:

The customs and traditions particular to Insular Christianity became a matter of dispute with the wider, Western Church. The most notable dispute was over the proper calculation of the date of Easter.

The insular churches shared a method of dating Easter that was distinct from the system used on the Continent. Calculating the date of Easter is a complicated process involving both the solar and the lunar calendars.

Irish and insular Christianity used a calculation table similar to that approved by Saint Jerome. However, by the sixth and seventh centuries, it had become obsolete and had been replaced, and the divergence emerged.

The first differences over these calculations surfaced in Gaul in 602, when Saint Columbanus resisted pressure from the local bishops to conform to the new calculation.

Most groups, including the southern Irish, accepted the new tables with relatively little difficulty. At the Synod of Mag Léne around 630, the southern Irish accepted the common Easter calculation, Northumbria at the Synod of Whitby in 664, the northern Irish at the Council of Birr around 697, East Devon, Somerset and Wessex, 705, and the Picts in 710.

However, the monks of Iona and their associated monasteries raised significant objections, and Iona did not change its practice until 718. Strathclyde followed in 721, North Wales in 768, South Wales in 777, and parts of Cornwall not until 909.

2, The monastic tonsure:

In Ireland, free men had long hair, and slaves had shaven heads. However, all monks, and perhaps most of the clergy, had a distinct tonsure or method of cutting their hair, as a mark of distinction.

The prevailing Roman tonsure was a shaved 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.

The exact shape of the Irish tonsure is unclear but it appears the hair was in some way shorn over the head from ear to ear, perhaps in a semi-circular shape. Later, the Roman party jeered this as the tonsura Simonis Magi, in contrast to their “tonsure of Saint Peter.”

3, The Irish penitentials:

In antiquity, penance had been a public ritual. A distinctive form of penance developed In Ireland, 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.

Handbooks or “penitentials” were designed as a guide for confessors and as a means of regularising the penance given for each particular sin.

For some sins, penitents took their place in a separate part of the church during the liturgy, perhaps wearing sackcloth and ashes and took part in some form of general confession. This public penance may have followed a private confession to a bishop or priest. For some sins, private penance was allowed, but penance and reconciliation was usually a public rite that ended with absolution.

The Irish penitential practice spread throughout Continental Europe, where the form of public penance had fallen into disuse. Saint Columbanus was credited with introducing the “medicines of penance”, to Gaul.

Saint John Lateran … the Irish penitential system was adopted at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although the Irish practice met resistance, by the beginning of the 13th century it had become the norm, and this uniquely Irish penitential system was adopted as a practice of the Western Church at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, with a canonical statute requiring confession at least once a year.

4, Peregrinatio:

A fourth distinctive tradition in the early Irish Church, and one connected with the penitentials, was the concept of peregrinatio pro Christo, or “exile for Christ.” The concept of peregrination in Roman Law refers to living or sojourning away from one’s homeland. It was later used by early Church Fathers, including Saint Augustine of Hippo, who wrote that Christians should live a life of peregrination in the material world while awaiting the Kingdom of God. But the idea had two additional unique meanings in Celtic countries.

The penitentials prescribed permanent or temporary exile as penance for some sins. But there was also a tradition of voluntary peregrinatio pro Christo, which involved permanently leaving home and putting oneself entirely in God’s hands. Many of these exiles became missionaries, including Saint Columba and Saint Columbanus.

There were other distinctive traditions and practices. Bede implies a baptismal rite that was at variance with the Roman practice, perhaps with some difference in the rite of confirmation.

Was Celtic Christianity unique?

But were these differences any greater than, for example, the differences that separated Roman and Byzantine Christianity?

The beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel in the Saint Chad Gospel or Lichfield Gospels … Saint Chad was trained in an Irish monastery and the work in this book shows clearly the combination of Celtic and Saxon culture in the eighth century

Christianity came to these islands at early stage, and long before the collapse of the Roman presence in Britain. The mutual trade and commerce between these two islands, including the slave trade, was responsible for the first early presence of Christianity in Ireland, including the arrival of Saint Patrick.

Many of the myths surrounding the life of Saint Patrick may have been created to support the claims of Armagh to primacy. Many of the myths about pre-Patrician Christianity may have been created to challenge that primacy.

But, while Christianity in Ireland predates Patrick, the Patrician mission, in whatever form it came, consolidated Christian presence in Ireland. And Christianity in Ireland – and in Britain – brought new life to Christianity on Continental Europe after the collapse of the Roman Ireland.

The Staffordshire Hoard, found in a field near Lichfield, shows the intimate links between the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon worlds

Question 4:

Did other identities also shape the identity of the Church of Ireland?

On the other hand, Celtic Christianity was not exclusively Irish and Irish Christianity was never exclusively Celtic. A recent exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral of the treasures found in the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ or ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ shows intricately-worked ecclesiastical and civilian objects that illustrate the inseparable and intimate inter-connection between the Celtic and Saxon worlds.

Our story is the story of Christianity in Ireland, the story of Christianity on these islands, and the shared story of Christianity throughout Europe.

And that story cannot be separated from the later arrivals: the Vikings, the Anglo-Normans, their English-speaking successors, the Ulster Scots, the French-speaking Huguenots, and so on, to our present-day new arrivals and immigrants.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin … a Viking foundation dating from ca 1030 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For example, the Vikings brought positive change to the Church in Ireland, and the establishment of towns and cities such as Dublin, settled in 841, Waterford and Limerick opened the way for change.

In 943, the future King Olaf of Dublin was baptised in England, and later retired to Iona. The Norse city dwellers in Ireland became Christians by around the early 11th century.

In 1028, King Sitric the Silkenbeard of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome, and Christ Church Cathedral was founded soon afterwards, and certainly before he was deposed in 1036.

The first Bishop of Dublin, Dúnán, was appointed in 1030, and the bishops of the Norse cities initially looked to Canterbury in their loyalty.

The diocesan structures as we know them today only date from the Synod of Rath Breasil (1111), and the Synod of Kells in Co Meath (1152), when the Archbishop of Armagh became Primate and the Diocese of Dublin was incorporated in the structures of the Irish Church.

So, when we talk about the Church of Ireland “the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland,” … holding to that faith “professed by the Primitive Church,” there is more to that than Saint Patrick, or the Celtic monasteries. Christianity in Ireland predates saint Patrick, whoever he may have been, and primitive Christianity in Ireland owes much not only to the Celts, but to Romans, Vikings, Norman, and many others.

Question 5:

And if so, how do we name or claim and integrate those identities?

The fifth question I asked was whether we can name or claim and integrate those other identities?

What about not just the Celts, Romans, Vikings, Normans, but also those who arrived later from England, Wales and Scotland, the French Huguenots, the later refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers?

[Discussion]

Next: 6 June 2015, The Mediaeval Church and the Reformation.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture during the Reader Day Conference on Saturday 7 February 2015.

Church History (2015, part-time) 2.2: Challenging
myths and memories (2): Invaders and Crusaders

Selskar Abbey, Wexford ... intimately linked with myths and legends about Crusaders from Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute:

Church History elective module (TH 7864)

Years I to IV, MTh part-time,

10 a.m. to 12.30, Brown Room,

Saturday 7 February 2015:


Church History 2.1: Challenging myths and memories (1): Celtic Christianity.

Church History 2.2: Challenging myths and memories (2): Invaders and Crusades.

Church History (2015, part-time) 2.2: Challenging myths and memories (2): Invaders and Crusades.

Introduction

Let me begin this session by telling you a tale or two.

I have a lot of respect for the work of local historians because they are like the coalminers of history. They burrow away in areas often ignored by professional and academic historians, and bring some valuable nuggets to light.

But local historians can also have a romantic attachment to their local area, and continue to tell local romantic stories, without critically analysing them.

Let me then tell you about two have contradictory legends:

Selskar Abbey in the centre of Wexford town is said to stand on the very place where the first Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed when the Anglo-Normans arrived in 1169 when the town of Wexford was surrendered to Robert FitzStephen.

Another legend says that Selskar Abbey is also the place where Henry II did public penance in 1171 for his role in instigating the murder of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury.

This may have been a Viking foundation originally. But we have no evidence to support it. We certainly know from its dedication to Saint Peter and Saint Paul that was never a “Celtic” foundation.

Whatever its origins, it was later endowed, enlarged and given to the Canons Regular of Saint. Augustine in 1190 by – according to local legends – by Sir Alexander Roche of Artramont, outside Wexford.

The legendary accounts attached to Selskar Abbey say that when Sir Alexander Roche was a young man he became infatuated with a beautiful girl, the daughter of a poor burgess of Wexford town. To prevent their marriage, his parents persuaded him to join the Crusade, and that they sent him off on foot, to join the campaign for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

On his return from Palestine, Roche’s parents had died and he was now free to marry. But when he visited the home of the woman he wanted to marry, he found she had heard he had died in battle, and so she had entered a convent.

Roche then took a vow of celibacy, endowed Selskar Abbey, dedicated it to the Holy Sepulchre, placed relics from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in the abbey church, and he became its first Prior.

Of course, it is a popular myth in Wexford.

But did Sir Alexander ever exist?

Did his childhood sweetheart ever become a nun?

Indeed, did she ever exist?

Was there ever a crusader link with Wexford Town and Selskar Abbey?

The name in Danish means Seal’s Rock, as in Selskar Rock in Bannow Bay, the site of the main Anglo-Norman landing in 1169. The existing tower is 14th century; surviving parts of the nave are 15th century; and the church you see today dates from the 19th century.

As usual, there is confusion and debate surrounding the dates: the Third Crusade (1187-1192) ended without Jerusalem being retaken; the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) never reached Jerusalem, and those involved expended their energies in sacking Byzantium. So if Sir Alexander ever existed, ad if he ever was a Crusader, and if he ever came back with relics, they were certainly not from Jerusalem and certainly not from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Indeed, the family historian says the first Alexander Roche in the Wexford family was the son of Sir Richard de la Roche, who was Lord Justice of Ireland in 1261 (Journal of the Old Wexford Society, No 2, 1969, p. 42).

He might just have been of the right age to have taken part in the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254), which only fought in Egypt; the Eighth Crusade (1270), which ended in defeat in Tunis in North Africa, and was the last major attempt to take the Holy Land; of perhaps the Ninth Crusade (1271–1272), which ended as a failure with the Knights of Saint John moving to Rhodes, and marks the end of the Crusades in the Middle East. None of these Crusades reached Jerusalem, they are too late for the foundation and endowment of Selskar Abbey, and even entertaining the possibility of trying to reconcile local legend with major events in Mediaeval History has become absurd at this stage.

Jerpoint Abbey, Co Kilkenny, linked with Irish legends about Crusaders and the bones of Saint Nicholas

My second local legend sounds like something from The Da Vinci Code or The Name of the Rose.

There is a legend in Co Kilkenny that links Jerpoint Abbey with the Crusades and with Saint Nicholas of Myra – Saint Nicholas as in Santa Claus.

The Cistercian abbey at Jerpoint was founded in 1183, and served as a launch-pad for Irish-Norman Crusaders from Kilkenny in the Third Crusade (1187–1192).

Why a Cistercian Abbey? Because the initiator of the Cistercian reform within the Benedictine tradition was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who also “preached up” the Second Crusade (1145-1149).

Jerpoint Abbey was founded during the reign of Henry II. In order to persuade the local people that the monastery was of divine origin and had supernatural powers, it was useful to have buried there a saint of high standing with a reputation as a miracle worker.

Saint Nicholas had lived in Myra, in present-day Turkey, from ca 270 until he died on 6 December 343.

In 809, Myra was captured by Muslims when the besieged town fell to Harun al-Rashid, and it fell again to Muslim conquerors between 1081 and 1118.

Taking advantage of the confusion, sailors from the port Bari in southern Italy collected half of Saint Nicholas’s skeleton in Myra in 1087, leaving the rest of his remains in the grave. These remaining remains were later collected by Venetian sailors during the First Crusade (1096–1099).

Saint Nicholas Church on Gemile Island, between Rhodes and Fethiye … was this is true burial place of Saint Nicholas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first part of his body – perhaps half his bones – arrived in Bari on 9 May 1087, and they were moved to the Church of Saint Stephen. The remaining bones were taken to Venice in 1100. Whether these were the actual remains of Saint Nicholas, but at least they were from the same body, according to the results of scientific tests. Another grave attributed to Saint Nicholas also exists on the small Turkish island of Gemile, between Fethiye and Rhodes, and some historians say this is his original grave.

The grave-slab in Newtown Jerpoint said to be carved with an image of Saint Nicholas

However, a local story in Co Kilkenny says that a band of Irish-Norman knights from Jerpoint, who had travelled to the Holy Land to take part in the Crusades, seized Saint Nicholas’s remains as they headed home to Ireland, bringing them back to Kilkenny, where they buried the bones in Jerpoint Old Town, a few miles from the abbey.

Another version of the story says a Norman family called de Frainet or Frenet, removed Saint Nicholas’s remains removed from Myra to Bari in 1169 and later brought the relics to be buried in 1200 in the Church of Saint Nicholas in the mediaeval village of Newtown Jerpoint.

The churchyard has graveslab dating from the 1300s with an image of a cleric, thought to be a bishop, and two other heads. The cleric is said to be Saint Nicholas and the heads the two crusaders who are said to have brought the saint’s relics to Ireland.

But this is all the stuff of myth and legend. The Normans and the Cistercians preferred to name their churches and abbeys after Biblical and Continental saints rather than the local “Celtic” saints. And in that sense, our discussion last month about Patrician and “Celtic” Christianity is linked to the Norman and subsequent identities of the Church in Ireland by the Crusades, which also provide a link in the change of patterns in Irish mediaeval monasticism. And looking at the Crusades also equips us to deal with some of the myths and legends that leave legacies that remain barriers to ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Church, interfaith dialogue with Jews and Muslims, and that cast shadows over our efforts to deal with major social theological issues such as war, violence, tolerance, and Church-State relations.

Introducing the Crusades

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem … at the heart of the conflict between Islam and Christianity in the Holy Land

The Crusades were a series of religious wars between 1095 and 1291 blessed by the Pope and the Church with the expressed goal of restoring Christian access to holy places in and near Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the sacred city and symbol of the three principal Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was first captured by Islamic forced in the year 638. When the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine army in 1071, Christian access to Jerusalem was cut off and the Emperor Alexis I feared the Turks would over-run all Asia Minor. The Byzantine emperor called on western Christian leaders and the papacy to come to the aid of Constantinople and to free Jerusalem from Islamic rule.

In all, there were nine Crusades from the 11th to the 13th century, along with many “minor” Crusades. Several hundred thousand Crusaders came from throughout western Europe, but they were not under any one unified command. Their emblem was the cross, and the term “Crusade,” although not used by the Crusaders to describe themselves, comes from the French term for taking up the cross. Many were from France and were called “Franks” – the common term used by Muslims.

Background

The Cathedral of Pisa … funded through two raids on Muslim territories in the 11th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the decades immediately before the launch of the Crusades, the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bin-Amir Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. His successors allowed the Byzantine Empire to rebuild the church in 1039 and Christian pilgrims were allowed once again to visit the holy sites in Palestine.

But in the second half of the 11th century, even before the First Crusade, European forces had already been at war with Muslim forces:

● The city of Pisa in Italy funded its new cathedral through two raids on the Muslims – in Palermo (1063) and Mahdia (1087).
● In Sicily, the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard had conquered northern Sicily by 1072.
● In 1085, Moorish Toledo fell to the Kingdom of León.

The Crusades came as a response to wave-after-wave of Turkish assaults on the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine emperors sent emissaries to the Pope asking for aid in their struggles with the Seljuk Turks. In 1074, Emperor Michael VII sent a request for aid to Pope Gregory VII, but there was no practical response.

In 1095, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos appealed to Pope Urban II for help against the Turks, and Urban II responded by launching the crusades on the last day of the Council of Clermont.

His speech is of the most influential speeches ever. He called for Christian princes across Europe to launch a holy war in the Holy Land. He vividly described attacks on Christian pilgrims and contrasted the sanctity of Jerusalem and the holy places with the plunder and desecration by the Turks. He urged the barons to give up their fratricidal and unrighteous wars in the West for the holy war in the East. He also suggested material rewards in the form of feudal fiefdoms, land ownership, wealth, power, and prestige, all at the expense of the Arabs and Turks.

When he finished, those present chanted: “Deus vult, God wills it.”

Immediately, thousands pledged themselves to go on the first crusade. Pope Urban’s sermon at Clermont was the start of an eight-month preaching tour he undertook throughout France. Preachers were sent throughout Western Europe to talk up the Crusade.

Pope Urban’s example inspired the preaching of Peter the Hermit, who eventually led a “People’s Crusade” of up to 20,000 people, mostly from the lower classes, after Easter 1096. When they reached the Byzantine Empire, Alexius urged them to wait for the western nobles, but the “army” insisted on moving on. They were ambushed outside Nicaea by the Turks, and only about 3,000 people escaped the ambush.

First Crusade (1095–1099):

The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem in 1099 (Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)

The leaders of the First Crusade were Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke William II of Normandy, but not King Philip I of France or the German Emperor Henry IV. In all, the forces may have numbered 100,000.

The first crusader armies set off from France and Italy on 15 August 1096. They received a cautious welcome in Constantinople from the Byzantine Emperor. The main army, mostly French and Norman knights, then marched south through Anatolia and first fought the Turks at the lengthy Siege of Antioch from October 1097 to June 1098. Once inside the city, the Crusaders massacred the Muslim inhabitants and pillaged the city.

Most of the surviving crusader army then marched south, finally reaching the walls of Jerusalem on 7 June 1099 with only a fraction of their original forces. Although Jerusalem was defended by its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants, who fought alongside each other, the crusaders entered the city on 15 July 1099. They proceeded to massacre the remaining Jewish and Muslim civilians and pillaged or destroyed the mosques and the city itself.

As a result of the First Crusade, several small Crusader states were created. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, at most 120,000 Franks ruled over 350,000 Muslims, Jews, and e Eastern Christians. The other Crusader states were the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli.

Eventually, the Muslims began to reunite and Edessa was retaken in 1144 It was the first city to fall to the Crusaders, and was the first city recaptured by the Muslims. This led the Pope to call for a second Crusade.

The historian Steven Runciman summarises the First Crusade as a barbarian invasion of the civilised and sophisticated Byzantine empire, ultimately bringing about the ruin of Byzantine civilization.

The Second Crusade (1147–1149):

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preaches the Second Crusade

After a period of relative peace in the Holy Land, the Muslims reconquered Edessa and a new crusade was called for by various preachers, especially Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. However, Saint Bernard was upset with the amount of misdirected violence and the slaughter of the Jewish population of the Rhineland.

French and German armies under the King Louis VII and King Conrad III marched to Jerusalem in 1147 but failed to win any major victories. Even the pre-emptive siege of Damascus was a failure. By 1150, the kings of France and Germany had returned home without any gains. As part of the wave created by the Second Crusade, however, Lisbon was retaken from the Muslims in 1147, and Tortosa was captured in 1148.

The Third Crusade (1187-1192)

The Crusaders before Saladin

The divided Muslim forces and powers were united by Saladin, who created a single powerful state. Following his victory at the Battle of Hattin, he overwhelmed the disunited crusaders in 1187 and all of the crusader holdings except a few coastal cities. The Byzantines, who now feared the Crusaders, made a strategic alliance with Saladin.

Saladin’s victories shocked Europe. When he heard of the Siege of Jerusalem (1187), Pope Urban VIII died of a heart attack on 19 October 1187. On 29 October, Pope Gregory VIII issued a papal bull calling for the Third Crusade. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, King Philip II of France and King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England responded by organising a crusade.

But Frederick died on the way and few of his men reached the Holy Land. The other two armies arrived but were beset by political quarrels. Philip returned to France. Richard captured Cyprus from the Byzantines in 1191, recaptured the cities of Acre and Jaffa, and his Crusader army marched south to Jerusalem. However, Richard did not believe he could hold Jerusalem once it was captured.

The crusade ended without Jerusalem being retaken. Instead, Richard negotiated a treaty with Saladin allowing merchants to trade and unarmed Christians to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204):

The Crusaders assault Constantinople in 1204

The Fourth Crusade was initiated by Pope Innocent III, with a plan to invade the Holy Land through Egypt, with a fleet contracted from Venice. But the crusaders lost the support of the Pope and were excommunicated.

They lacked supplies, the leases on their vessels were running out when they turned on Constantinople and tried to place a Byzantine exile on the throne. In 1204, the Crusaders sacked the city and established the so-called “Latin Empire” and a collection of petty Crusader states throughout the Byzantine Empire.

Finally, the Pope returned his support to the Crusade, and backed a plan for a forced reunion between the Churches of the east and the West. But this forced but short-lived reunion was the final breaking point of the Great Schism.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221):

Saint Francis of Assisi before the Sultan at Damietta in 1219

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council formulated yet another crusade plan for the recovery of the Holy Land. In the first phase, a crusading force from Austria and Hungary joined the forces of the “King of Jerusalem” and the “Prince of Antioch” to retake Jerusalem.

In the second phase, the Crusader forces captured Damietta in Egypt in 1219. Saint Francis of Assisi crossed the battle lines at Damietta to speak to the Sultan, who was impressed by Francis and spent some time with him. Francis was given safe passage and his action eventually led to the establishment of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

But in 1221, the Crusaders launched a foolhardy attack on Cairo, where they were turned back and forced to retreat.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229):

The Dome of the Rock ... left in Muslim hands by the Sixth Crusade

Emperor Frederick II launched the Sixth Crusade in 1228, when he set sail from Brindisi for Saint-Jean d’Acre. There were no battles in the Crusade, and Frederick signed a treaty with the Sultan of Egypt allowing Christians to rule over most of Jerusalem and a strip of territory from Acre to Jerusalem, while the Muslims had control of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque. In 1228, Frederick crowned himself king of Jerusalem. The peace lasted for about ten years. Following the Siege of Jerusalem in 1244, the Muslims regained control of the city.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254):

King Louis IX of France organised a crusade against Egypt from 1248 to 1254. The crusaders were decisively defeated on their way to Cairo and King Louis was captured, released only after a large ransom had been paid.

The Eighth Crusade (1270):

Louis IX again attacked the Arabs in 1270, this time in Tunis in North Africa. The king died in Tunisia, ending this last major attempt to take the Holy Land.

The Ninth Crusade (1271–1272):

The future Edward I of England, who had accompanied Louis on the Eighth Crusade, launched his own Crusade in 1271. But the Ninth Crusade was a failure and it marks the end of the Crusades in the Middle East.

Antioch had fallen in 1268, Tripoli fell in 1289, Acre n 1291, and the island of Ruad, 3 km off the Syrian shore, was captured by the Mamluks in 1302. The last traces of Christian rule in the Levant disappeared.

The Knights of Saint John relocated themselves to the island of Rhodes, which they held until 1522. Cyprus remained under the House of Lusignan until 1474, and then in the hands of Venice until 1570.

Some other ‘Crusades’:

The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars of Occitania in southern France. It was a decades-long struggle that had as much to do with the concerns of northern France to extend its control southwards as it did with heresy. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomy of southern France came to an end.

The “Children’s Crusade” The chronicles report a spontaneous youth movement in France and Germany attracted large numbers of peasant teenagers and young people in 1212, convinced they could succeed where older and more sinful crusaders had failed. Many of the children died of hunger or exhaustion on the hot summer’s journey to the port of Marseilles, others were captured and sold into slavery. At Marseilles, seven ships were put at their disposal. It was 18 years before anything more was heard of them.

Evaluating the Crusades:

The Crusades had political, economic, and social impacts on western Europe. Later consequences were, on the one hand, the way they weakened the Byzantine Empire, which fell eventually to the Muslim Turks; and on the other hand a long period of wars in Spain and Portugal leading to a Christian conquest or reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. The Crusades allowed the Papacy to assert its independence of secular rulers and developed the arguments for the proper use of armed force by Christians, leading eventually to the development of the “Just War” theories.

Some historians have argued that the Crusades opened up European culture to the world, especially Asia, and gave Christian Europe a more cosmopolitan world view that led to its world-wide empires.

Sir Steven Runciman says of the Crusades: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.”

Runciman has highlighted the tension between the Patriarchs of Constantinople and the Popes in Rome during the Crusades, and the more tolerant attitude of the Byzantines towards Muslim powers. For Runciman, the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 was the culmination of the mounting dislike and suspicion that western Christendom felt towards Byzantium.

The West misunderstood Byzantium, and could not accept the ideas that the Roman inheritance had shifted from Rome to Constantinople and that the civilised, Christian world was centred on Constantinople. For their part, the Byzantines had a deep-rooted antipathy towards the West, convinced of Byzantine cultural and religious superiority, despite Byzantium’s military and political weakness.

Nevertheless, the Crusades had an enormous influence on the Church and on western Europe in the Middle Ages. In part, they contributed to the development of nation states such as France, England, Spain, Burgundy and Portugal.

Much knowledge in areas such as science, medicine, mathematics, philosophy and architecture were introduced to Europe from the Islamic world during the crusades.

Along with trade, new scientific discoveries and inventions made their way east or west. Arab and classical Greek advances, including the development of algebra and optics and the refinement of engineering, made their way west and sped the course of advancement in European universities that led to the Renaissance in later centuries.

Maritime passage brought the rise of Western European and Mediterranean trading and naval powers such as the Sicilian Normans and the Italian city-states of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa.

Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice ... a statement in church architecture that Venice had become the new Byzantium (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Following the Crusade that proved a disaster for Byzantium, Venice began to assert its claims to be the Byzantium of the West. Treasures looted from Byzantium were put on public display and became emblematic of Venice, including the four bronze horses from the Hippodrome, carved pillars from the Church of Saint Polyeuktos, and the porphyry sculpture of the Ten Tetrarchs now at the Basilica of San Marco.

Saint Mark’s Basilica itself is a statement in church architecture that Venice is the new Byzantium. Why, even the Bishop of Venice assumed the title of Patriarch.

Trade routes opened across Europe, bringing many things to Europeans that were once unknown or rare, including a variety of spices, ivory, jade, diamonds, improved glass-manufacturing techniques, early forms of gun powder, oranges, apples, and other Asian crops and produce.

Judith Herrin, in Byzantium, the Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire (London: Penguin, 2007), reminds us that it could be said that many instruments that we take for granted today, from the fork to the organ, were introduced to the West from Byzantium through Venice.

The Crusades mark Europe’s recovery from the Dark Ages (ca 700–1000). The economy of Western Europe advanced, and the Renaissance began in the Italian maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa which were opened to the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans.

But the rising Ottoman Empire would pose a new threat to Western Europe in advance of Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1492 and the opening of the Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century.

Next (March weekend):

Church History (part-time) 3.1: Introduction to Art and Music in Church History

Church History (part-time) 3.2: Introduction to Architecture in Church History

4.1 and 4.2: Field trip: Christ Church Cathedral, National Gallery.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History. This essay is based on notes used for a lecture on the Church History elective module (TH 7864) with part-time MTh students on 7 February 2015.

Church History (2015, part-time) 2.1: Challenging
myths and memories (1): Celtic Christianity

Saint Patrick … a stained glass window in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute:

Church History elective module (TH 7864)

Years I to IV, MTh part-time,

10 a.m. to 12.30, Brown Room,

Saturday 7 February 2015:


Church History 2.1: Challenging myths and memories (1): Celtic Christianity.

Church History 2.2: Challenging myths and memories (2): the Crusades.

Introduction

You have been introduced to Church History with some challenging questions last night about why we ought to do Church History. To try to squeeze the full-time double module on Year I of the MTh course into six lectures over the four residential weekends in February, March, April and May is impossible.

We could try and race through seven centuries, and cover all 21 centuries in four weekend. That would be satisfying for neither you nor me.

I heard someone trying to summarise Exodus in two sentences: “God said let me people go. And they went.”

But I am not going to try to squeeze over 20 centuries of history into the remaining sessions.

So, what are your expectations for the next few weekends?

[Discussion]

One of the primary learning outcomes of any module on Church History in a programme of theology for ministry must be to equip us as priests, as clergy, to deal with questions surrounding heritage and identity, and to feel resourced to deal with myths that distort our understandings of the past and that have the ability to make us and our parishioners dysfunctional in our self-understanding, our relationships with our neighbours and wider society.

So I propose that during these weekends we should also look at different periods of Church History and empower us to deal with some memories and myths:

1, The myths surrounding Patrician and Celtic Christianity and the identity of the Church of Ireland.

2, The Crusades, and the legacy that have left in terms of Christian attitudes to war, the legacy they have left in terms of Christian-Muslim dialogue, and the role they played in shaping European culture and identity.

3, The myths surrounding the events we are recalling in the “Decade of Centenaries” and how they have not only been used to shape Irish identity, but how that have been shaped to misuse identity in Ireland today.

The beginning of Christian toleration in the Roman Empire and at deliberations of the Great Councils of the Church that defined the Creeds, doctrines and limits of the Church in the fourth and fifth century all coincide with the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and the time when this island begins to earn its mythical reputation as the “Island of Saints and Scholars.”

This morning, I would like us to look at the origins of Christianity in Ireland, including the arrival of Saint Patrick on this island and the development of the “Celtic Church” – if there ever was such a body – and how this has shaped and influenced—or at least contributed to – the current identity of the Church Ireland.

Patrician Christianity and the Church of Ireland

The Preamble and Declaration adopted by the General Convention of the Church of Ireland in 1870, described this Church as “the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland,” … holding to that faith “professed by the Primitive Church” (see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 776).

But what does it mean to be the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland”?

What claims are being made here?

What claims to identity are being made?

And if some things are being included in our identity, what is being excluded?

[Discussion]

The only place the word “Protestant” is used in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is on the same page, where it is said: “3. The Church of Ireland, as a Protestant and Reformed Church … doth hereby …” (p. 775). On the other hand, the word Catholic is used throughout all editions of The Book of Common Prayer, and not just in the Creeds (see pp 12, &c).

The Collects of Saint Patrick’s Day describe Saint Patrick as “the apostle of the Irish people” (p. 305), and the Irish figures saints listed in the Calendar (pp 18-23) are all figures in what might be called the “Celtic Church” (Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and Saint Columba, pp 20 and 22, and 38 others on pp 22-23) with three exceptions: Richard FitzRalph (27 June, 1360), Jeremy Taylor (13 August, 1667) and Charles Inglis (16 August, 1816).

So these emphases indicate that over the years, and certainly since disestablishment:

1, The Church of Ireland sees its identity in terms of the arrival of Christianity in Ireland with Saint Patrick;

2, The Church of Ireland sees its identity in terms of continuity with “Celtic Christianity” in Ireland, especially the great monastic sites, and in particular with those monastic sites that have given their names to our dioceses.

Has history shaped our identity?

Or has our identity shaped our understanding of the history of Christianity?

Let us ask five questions:

1, Did Christianity arrive in Ireland with Saint Patrick?

2, Who was Saint Patrick?

3, Was there a distinctive Celtic Christianity?

4, Did other identities also shape the identity of the Church of Ireland?

5, And if so, how do we name or claim and integrate those identities?

[Discussion]

Question 1:

Did Christianity arrive in Ireland with Saint Patrick?

Traditionally and romantically, Saint Patrick is said to have converted the entire population of Ireland from paganism in a very short period between 432 and 461, less than the span of one generation.

But there were Christians in Ireland before Saint Patrick’s arrival and his work as a missionary is only part of the story of the origins and growth of Christianity on this island. A hint of this is already found in the way Irish mythology was long anxious to claim Irish connections with the Christian story that predate Patrick date back to Biblical times.

These include:

1, Altus, said to have been an Irish witness to the passion and death of Christ;
2, The legend that Conor Mac Nessa, King of Ireland, died of a broken heart when he heard of Christ’s crucifixion;
3, The story of a local king, Cormac Mac Airt, who converted to Christianity in the 3rd century;
4, Accounts of Mansuetus, said to have been an Irish bishop in 4th century France.

But there is a realistic medium between these legends and the concept of a sudden conversion to Christianity at the hands of a single missionary.

The seas provided Ireland with immediate access to the neighbouring islands and Continental Europe: the north Antrim coast and Galloway were a few hours apart, Wales was less than a day away; many parts of Continental Europe was accessible in a day or two by sail and ship; present-day Spain no less than three days away; Iceland, a journey of about 1,000 miles, was less than a week away.

Tacitus (ca 55-120 AD) tells us that British or Gallic merchants had a reasonably good knowledge of Ireland’s “harbours and approaches.”

The “Celtic” people in Ireland were traders, raiders and plunderers, and there is evidence of Roman traders reaching Irish harbours and beyond them up rivers such as the Nore and the Barrow, trading in wine, oil and wheat. The Irish imported pottery, metal-work and bric-a-brac from Roman Gaul and Britain, and exported copper, gold, slaves, hides, cattle and wolfhounds.

By the end of the third century, people from Ireland were establishing colonies on the neighbouring island, with colonies in north-west and south-west Wales, in Cornwall and on the west coast of Scotland.

There must have been interchange between these colonists, Christian Britons and the Roman ruling and military classes, and the traffic cannot have been all one-way either, and the return traffic must have brought some Christians to the south and east coasts of Ireland.

By the third or fourth century, there was regular commercial, mercantile and social contact between communities in Ireland and Roman communities in Britain and Gaul. So, for example, there have been abundant finds of looted Roman coins all along the northern and eastern coasts of Ireland: at the Giant’s Causeway (1831), Coleraine (1854) and more recently at Limavaddy; and Roman silver ingots with similar Christian provenance have been found in Kent and Limerick.

Catherine Swift argues convincingly that among the ruling class in Ireland, many adopted the cultural habits of Roman Britons, to the point that they became Romanised to the point that they adopted the social customs of Roman Britain and what is now Cathedral Hill in Armagh is an example of one of their temple sites.

Christianity probably arrived in Ireland in the 4th and early 5th centuries by a slow and gradual process of unplanned infiltration, from Britain and from Continental European, probably from Gaul and what we now know as Germany, and perhaps even from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal).

One local king, Niall of the Nine Hostages, commanded several raiding expeditions across the Irish Sea. British captives carried off by Irish raiders may be yet another way of Christianity coming to have a presence on this island. Some educated continental Christians may also have sought refuge in Ireland during the barbarian invasions of the crumbling Roman Empire, fleeing Gaul or present-day France, at the start of the 4th century, and bringing their Christianity with them.

Other points of contact include contacts made by the Irish emigrés in Britain, and trade links with Roman Britain, Gaul and Spain. A gravestone for a fifth century Irish Christian has been found in a Christian cemetery in Trier, and fifth century Christians, some with Latin names, are commemorated on ogham stones in southern Ireland, in Carlow, Waterford, Cork and Kerry.

In other words, many factors indicate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland long before Patrick was captured as a slave, and there was a considerable Christian presence on this island before Patrick began his mission in 432.

There is some evidence that suggests the gradual conversion of Ireland by Britons in the 4th century and possibly early fifth century.

Pre-Patrician Christian missions in Ireland

Saint Iberius’ Church, Wexford … named after one of half a dozen or more saints whose missions are said to predate that of Saint Patrick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are traditions that some Irish saints preceded Saint Patrick in date: Ciaran of Seirkieran (Diocese of Ossory); Declan of Ardmore, Co Waterford; Ibar of Begerin, Co Wexford; Ailbe of Emly, Co Tipperary; Meltioc of Kinsale, Co Cork; and so on. Most of these are associated with the south and the south-east, although there is no primary evidence to support these largely unreliable traditions.

Nevertheless, the presence of British Christians in Ireland must have had an influence, direct or indirect, on the spread of Christianity in Ireland before 431, and by the time he began his mission Patrick would have found the British Christians resident in Ireland forming the nucleus for his mission and his Church.

The background to Saint Patrick’s mission includes the presence of perhaps three heresies in Ireland – Arianism, Priscillianism and Pelagianism – that probably arrived from western Europe in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.

Some of Priscillian’s ascetic adherents may have made their way to Ireland after he was executed in 386.

Pelagius (355-425) denied the necessity of grace for salvation and emphasised God’s gift of free will to humanity. Saint Jerome vilifies him as a “most stupid fellow, heavy with Irish porridge” and claims that he, or his companion Coelestius, had “his lineage of the Irish race, from the neighbourhood of the Britons.” Perhaps Jerome was insulting his opponent, but nevertheless the possibility arises that Pelagius had Irish ancestry or had lived in Ireland.

Germanus of Auxerre was sent from Rome to Britain in 429 to combat the impact of Pelagius and Pelagianism on the Church in Roman Britain. Soon after – perhaps in 431 – Palladius was ordained by Pope Celestine, and he was sent as the “first bishop” on a mission to “the Scotti [Irish] who believe in Christ.” So, we know that from at least the third decade of the 5th century, the Irish Christians were numerically large enough to have a bishop sent from Rome, and Palladius is associated with a number of church sites in Leinster.

Palladius may have worked in the south-east of Ireland for a few years. His work in Leinster was continued, perhaps, by figures such as Secundinus, Auxilius and Iserninus. His mission activities and those of Patrick may have been confused in later writings, so that much of the work and success of Palladius was attributed wrongly to Patrick.

The late Professor Patrick Corish, in The Irish Catholic Experience (1985), links the mission of Palladius in Leinster with, perhaps, three churches in Co Wicklow. The circular letter known as The First Synod of Saint Patrick seems to provide evidence of a second-generation missionary Church in Leinster, and this stream of Christianity in Ireland has been associated with the Church in Kildare.

Question 2:

Who was Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick … an image on the wall of Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The young Patrick was captured in a great raid in which “many thousands of people” [Confessio 1], some of whom were lukewarm Christians, according to his own account, and some of them could also have been committed Christians, perhaps even priests.

Saint Patrick’s account of his flight from slavery as a young man at the age of 22 may be evidence of an escape network for fugitive slaves run by concerned Christians, presumably in Leinster, more than 20 years before Patrick began his own mission [Confessio 17 and 18].

However, Patrick does not refer to Palladius. Although the missions of Palladius and Patrick may have coincided, Patrick was working in fresh territory, while Roman missionaries in Leinster were consolidating the work of Palladius and others who, by 431, had ensured that there were many people in Ireland who were Christians.

By the time Patrick began his mission, the foundations had been laid for a Church in Ireland that over the centuries that followed became a vibrant missionary Church.

In his Confessio [51], Patrick shows he is aware of episcopal activity in other parts of Ireland, including baptisms, confirmations and ordinations.

Patrick says he travelled to places in Ireland “where no one else had ever penetrated, in order to baptise, or to ordain clergy, or to confirm the people” – suggesting there were places that had received episcopal ministry from other, earlier sources.

So, Christianity had already taken root in the island before Saint Patrick began his mission.

The traditional account of the life of Saint Patrick says he was born about 372 in Roman Britain in Bannavem Taburniae, perhaps in Cumbria or at Dumbarton in Scotland. He says his father Calpornius was a deacon and his grandfather Potitus was a priest; both were from a relatively prosperous class of Romans.

At the age of 16, he was captured and brought to Ireland and later sold as a slave. After escaping and returning to his own people, he began to have visions of the cry of the Irish pleading to him to come back – an image probably drawn from Saint Paul’s vision in Troy of a man calling him across the sea to Macedonia (see Acts 16: 9-10).

Believing he was called by God to a mission to the Irish, he entered the monastery of Saint Martin of Tours. He was subsequently ordained a bishop in Rome, and was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine, who died in 432.

Patrick arrived from Britain in Ireland around 432, and most of the details we have of his life are from his Confessio, written in reply to the attacks on his character brought against him in England, and his Letter to Coroticus.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh ... why did Armagh become the centre of the cult of Saint Patrick? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is said that Saint Patrick built 365 churches and consecrated an equal number of bishops, established schools and convents, and held synods. The sites associated with him include Armagh, which became the centre of the cult of Saint Patrick, Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo and Lough Derg on the borders of Co Donegal, where he is said to have spent time in retreat, and Downpatrick, where he is said to have been buried. There is no historical reason to associate him with the site of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, or the supposed Saint Patrick’s Well at the Nassau Street side of Trinity College Dublin, or other sites such as Holmpatrick in Skerries or Saint Patrick’s Church in Donabate, both in Fingal in north Co Dublin.

There are four different dates for his death. Most traditions say he died around 460, although other authorities say he died sometime around 491 to 493.

Mediaeval sources are unanimous in describing Saint Brigid of Kildare as a contemporary of Saint Patrick.

There is a theory that there were two Patricks, although this may arise from a misreading of “the elder Patrick,” who died in457, where elder might also be read as bishop or priest.

Neither the canons attributed to him nor the Breastplate of Saint Patrick is not his work. Later seventh-century documents speak of Patrick as the successor of Palladius. However, the O Neill dynasty had Tireachan and Muirchu write spurious accounts of Patrick’s life to establish Armagh’s claims to primacy in Ireland.

When Brian Ború became High King ca 1000 AD, he had his secretary write into the Book of Armagh a confirmation of the right of Armagh to all church revenues in Ireland. It was at least another century, however, before Armagh’s claims to primacy were recognised throughout the Irish Church.

Glendalough ... the monastic “Valley of the Two Lakes” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Is there such a thing as ‘Celtic Christianity’ or a ‘Celtic Church’?

The monastery at Clonard was once one of the most important centres of learning in the Irish Midlands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Question 3:

Was there a distinctive Celtic Christianity?

During the late fifth and sixth centuries, the monasteries became the most important centres of Irish Christianity, including Armagh which claimed its origins in the labours of Saint Patrick, and Clonard, which is associated with work of Saint Finnian of Clonard, who is said to have trained the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland” at his abbey in the Midlands.

The great monasteries included places such as Kells, Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Bangor, Ferns, Tallaght and Finglas.

Monasticism in these islands developed with particular characteristics that are unique, so that for a long time true ecclesiastical authority lay not with bishops but with the abbots of monasteries.

Following the growth of the monastic movement in the sixth centuries, abbots controlled not only individual monasteries, but also expansive estates and the secular communities that tended them. Abbots were not necessarily ordained and many were members of an hereditary caste within noble or royal families.

A late Celtic high cross at Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This focus on the monastery means the monastic system came to be the dominant ecclesiastical structure in the Irish Church, and the network of monasteries attached to an abbey, rather than the diocese, was the dominant administrative unit of the church.

Bishops had sacramental roles and spiritual authority, but appear to have exercised little ecclesiastical authority in the way that bishops did in continental diocesan structures modelled on the Roman administrative system.

Clonmacnoise on the banks of the River Shannon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The monastic system In Ireland became increasingly secularised from the 8th century on, with the monasteries even making war on each other or taking part in secular wars. For example, 200 monks from Durrow Abbey are said to have been killed when they were defeated by the monks of Clonmacnoise in 764.

Saint Maelruains’ Monastery in Tallaght was part of the reforming Ceilí Dé movement of the ninth century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A reforming monastic movement emerged in the Ceilí Dé, who were associated particularly with the monasteries in Tallaght and Finglas.

Irish missionaries in Britain

A high cross at Kells, Co Meath … this was once one of the largest monastic communities associated with Saint Colmcille or Saint Columba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the sixth and seventh centuries, Irish monks established monastic foundations in what we now call Scotland – think of Saint Columba (ca 521-597) or Saint Colmcille in Kells and Iona, and in Continental Europe, especially in Gaul – think of Saint Columbanus.

Columba is associated with the foundation of abbeys at both Kells, Co Meath, and Durrow, Co Laois. However, was held partly responsible for the Battle of Cúl Drebene (561) and was sent into exile. In 563, he founded the monastery of Iona which became one of the major centres of Irish missionary activity in Scotland and northern England.

Monks from Iona, under Saint Aidan (died 651), founded the See of Lindisfarne in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria in 635. Aidan was sent from Iona at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria, and the influences of his monks and disciples spread from Lindisfarne throughout northern England and into the Midlands.

Saint Cuthbert (ca 636-687) was involved in founding a monastery at Ripon, but when he and his colleagues from Melrose refused to conform to the date of Easter and other accepted Western practices they were expelled. He became the Prior of Melrose and later Prior of Lindisfarne, and in 685 he became Bishop of Lindisfarne. He is still associated with the Diocese of Durham

The English historian Bede (ca 673-735) implies that Irish missionary activity in northern England was more successful at converting the English than the mission started from Canterbury in southern England that began with Saint Augustine in 597.

Irish Continental missionaries

Irish monks also founded monasteries across the continent, exerting influence greater than many more ancient continental centres.

Saint Columbanus, a monk from Bangor in Co Down, left Ireland in 590 on a perpetual pilgrimage and moved to Gaul, where he founded monasteries in Annegray and Luxeuil. His fervour and his emphasis on private penance brought new spiritual energy to an area where Christianity was at a low ebb.

However, the observance of Irish customs led to the expulsion of Columbanus and his companions from Gaul in 610, and they eventually settled in Bobbio in what is today northern Italy. He died in 615. His surviving works include letters, sermons, a penitential and rules for monastic and community life.

Saint Gall was a disciple of Saint Columbanus, and followed him to Italy in 612. However, Gall remained in what is now Switzerland, where he lived the life of a hermit until his death around 650. The monastery of St Gallen, which takes its name from him, was founded ca 719 on the site of his hermitage.

Pope Honorius I issued a papal privilege to Bobbio Abbey, granting it freedom from episcopal oversight. Many of the monasteries of the Irish missions adopted the Rule of Saint Columbanus, which was stricter than the Rule of Saint Benedict, which was prevalent across western Europe. This rule involved more fasting and included corporal punishment. However, it eventually gave way to the Rule of Saint Benedict by the 8th or 9th centuries.

Irish scholars who had considerable influence in the Frankish court include John Scotus Eriugena (died ca 877), one of the founders of scholasticism and one the outstanding philosophers of the day.

Distinctive Irish practices and divisions

1, The Date of Easter:

The customs and traditions particular to Insular Christianity became a matter of dispute with the wider, Western Church. The most notable dispute was over the proper calculation of the date of Easter.

The insular churches shared a method of dating Easter that was distinct from the system used on the Continent. Calculating the date of Easter is a complicated process involving both the solar and the lunar calendars.

Irish and insular Christianity used a calculation table similar to that approved by Saint Jerome. However, by the sixth and seventh centuries, it had become obsolete and had been replaced, and the divergence emerged.

The first differences over these calculations surfaced in Gaul in 602, when Saint Columbanus resisted pressure from the local bishops to conform to the new calculation.

Most groups, including the southern Irish, accepted the new tables with relatively little difficulty. At the Synod of Mag Léne around 630, the southern Irish accepted the common Easter calculation, Northumbria at the Synod of Whitby in 664, the northern Irish at the Council of Birr around 697, East Devon, Somerset and Wessex, 705, and the Picts in 710.

However, the monks of Iona and their associated monasteries raised significant objections, and Iona did not change its practice until 718. Strathclyde followed in 721, North Wales in 768, South Wales in 777, and parts of Cornwall not until 909.

2, The monastic tonsure:

In Ireland, free men had long hair, and slaves had shaven heads. However, all monks, and perhaps most of the clergy, had a distinct tonsure or method of cutting their hair, as a mark of distinction.

The prevailing Roman tonsure was a shaved 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.

The exact shape of the Irish tonsure is unclear but it appears the hair was in some way shorn over the head from ear to ear, perhaps in a semi-circular shape. Later, the Roman party jeered this as the tonsura Simonis Magi, in contrast to their “tonsure of Saint Peter.”

3, The Irish penitentials:

In antiquity, penance had been a public ritual. A distinctive form of penance developed In Ireland, 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.

Handbooks or “penitentials” were designed as a guide for confessors and as a means of regularising the penance given for each particular sin.

For some sins, penitents took their place in a separate part of the church during the liturgy, perhaps wearing sackcloth and ashes and took part in some form of general confession. This public penance may have followed a private confession to a bishop or priest. For some sins, private penance was allowed, but penance and reconciliation was usually a public rite that ended with absolution.

The Irish penitential practice spread throughout Continental Europe, where the form of public penance had fallen into disuse. Saint Columbanus was credited with introducing the “medicines of penance”, to Gaul.

Saint John Lateran … the Irish penitential system was adopted at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although the Irish practice met resistance, by the beginning of the 13th century it had become the norm, and this uniquely Irish penitential system was adopted as a practice of the Western Church at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, with a canonical statute requiring confession at least once a year.

4, Peregrinatio:

A fourth distinctive tradition in the early Irish Church, and one connected with the penitentials, was the concept of peregrinatio pro Christo, or “exile for Christ.” The concept of peregrination in Roman Law refers to living or sojourning away from one’s homeland. It was later used by early Church Fathers, including Saint Augustine of Hippo, who wrote that Christians should live a life of peregrination in the material world while awaiting the Kingdom of God. But the idea had two additional unique meanings in Celtic countries.

The penitentials prescribed permanent or temporary exile as penance for some sins. But there was also a tradition of voluntary peregrinatio pro Christo, which involved permanently leaving home and putting oneself entirely in God’s hands. Many of these exiles became missionaries, including Saint Columba and Saint Columbanus.

There were other distinctive traditions and practices. Bede implies a baptismal rite that was at variance with the Roman practice, perhaps with some difference in the rite of confirmation.

Was Celtic Christianity unique?

But were these differences any greater than, for example, the differences that separated Roman and Byzantine Christianity?

The beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel in the Saint Chad Gospel or Lichfield Gospels … Saint Chad was trained in an Irish monastery and the work in this book shows clearly the combination of Celtic and Saxon culture in the eighth century

Christianity came to these islands at early stage, and long before the collapse of the Roman presence in Britain. The mutual trade and commerce between these two islands, including the slave trade, was responsible for the first early presence of Christianity in Ireland, including the arrival of Saint Patrick.

Many of the myths surrounding the life of Saint Patrick may have been created to support the claims of Armagh to primacy. Many of the myths about pre-Patrician Christianity may have been created to challenge that primacy.

But, while Christianity in Ireland predates Patrick, the Patrician mission, in whatever form it came, consolidated Christian presence in Ireland. And Christianity in Ireland – and in Britain – brought new life to Christianity on Continental Europe after the collapse of the Roman Ireland.

The Staffordshire Hoard, found in a field near Lichfield, shows the intimate links between the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon worlds

Question 4:

Did other identities also shape the identity of the Church of Ireland?

On the other hand, Celtic Christianity was not exclusively Irish and Irish Christianity was never exclusively Celtic. A recent exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral of the treasures found in the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ or ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ shows intricately-worked ecclesiastical and civilian objects that illustrate the inseparable and intimate inter-connection between the Celtic and Saxon worlds.

Our story is the story of Christianity in Ireland, the story of Christianity on these islands, and the shared story of Christianity throughout Europe.

And that story cannot be separated from the later arrivals: the Vikings, the Anglo-Normans, their English-speaking successors, the Ulster Scots, the French-speaking Huguenots, and so on, to our present-day new arrivals and immigrants.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin … a Viking foundation dating from ca 1030 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For example, the Vikings brought positive change to the Church in Ireland, and the establishment of towns and cities such as Dublin, settled in 841, Waterford and Limerick opened the way for change.

In 943, the future King Olaf of Dublin was baptised in England, and later retired to Iona. The Norse city dwellers in Ireland became Christians by around the early 11th century.

In 1028, King Sitric the Silkenbeard of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome, and Christ Church Cathedral was founded soon afterwards, and certainly before he was deposed in 1036.

The first Bishop of Dublin, Dúnán, was appointed in 1030, and the bishops of the Norse cities initially looked to Canterbury in their loyalty.

The diocesan structures as we know them today only date from the Synod of Rath Breasil (1111), and the Synod of Kells in Co Meath (1152), when the Archbishop of Armagh became Primate and the Diocese of Dublin was incorporated in the structures of the Irish Church.

So, when we talk about the Church of Ireland “the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland,” … holding to that faith “professed by the Primitive Church,” there is more to that than Saint Patrick, or the Celtic monasteries. Christianity in Ireland predates saint Patrick, whoever he may have been, and primitive Christianity in Ireland owes much not only to the Celts, but to Romans, Vikings, Norman, and many others.

Question 5:

And if so, how do we name or claim and integrate those identities?

The fifth question I asked was whether we can name or claim and integrate those other identities?

What about not just the Celts, Romans, Vikings, Normans, but also those who arrived later from England, Wales and Scotland, the French Huguenots, the later refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers?

[Discussion]

Meanwhile, for this afternoon, let’s leave it at the Normans. We return to their period and the Crusades next month.

Next:

Church History 2.2: Challenging myths and memories (2): Invaders and Crusades.

(Revd Canon Patrick Comerford) is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on Saturday 7 February 2015 with part-time students on the MTh course.