Who Are The Celtic Saints? by Kathleen Jones. Cutting through the mists of Celtic myth, this historical account introduces the saints as real men and women in the pursuit of holiness. The Celtic period began with Patrick's mission to Ireland in 435 and ended with the submission of the British church to Rome in 715. This book tells the stories of the various branches of the Celtic church during this period and includes biographies of the outstanding personalities of the era.
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The Age of Saints
The Christian religion survived the departure of the Roman Imperial administration, probably
in a more widespread and organized fashion than most sources acknowledge. While
legitimized Germanic royal houses, in the western areas,
beyond Anglo-Saxon influence, Christianity appeared to be largely monastic and unwordly with little
regard for urban comforts. But this changed over time.
Wendy Davies (1982: 81) describes the spread of Christianity within Ireland
We know that conversion appears to have taken most of the fifth and sixth
centuries and that the early church was diocesan, organized like the continental church,
drawing many of its rulings from continental canonical collections, emphasizing the rule of
bishops. In the course of the sixth and seventh centuries many monastic foundations were
made and, ultimately, the emergence of powerful monastic federations, a development noticeable
in some areas in the seventh century but far from usual before the eighth century, assisted the
transfer of fiscal and jurisdictional powers from many bishops to the major abbots. Although it is
possible to overemphasize the distinctiveness of the Irish church, it is nevertheless
reasonable to note that it subsequently became characterized by an unusual administrative structure,
in which dioceses were often insignificant or non-existent, real powers of direction and control
lay in the hands of abbots, and many bishops performed no more than sacred ritual functions. It was
also characterized by the unusually close relationship between royal kindreds and eccleistical
The illuminated manuscripts associated with Irish Christianity indicate a high level of
artistic competence and a link with pre-Roman Celtic art. Such manuscripts were also produced in Britain, for example, the
originally written in Wales. In the immediate post-Roman period, evidence is scant
with the stones of Ireland, west Wales, Cornwall and
south-west Scotland being prominent exceptions. The Welsh examples are often bilingual, also
carrying Latin inscriptions. Most appear to be memorial stones and may have been located originally
in 'llans' or enclosures with wooden cells or churches that have since disappeared without trace.
According to Hilling (1976):
"A large proportion of the churches that exist to this day in Wales - although rebuilt in
later centuries - were originally founded in these Early Christian times, and this may account
for their often isolated positions in far valleys and on remote moorlands. The circular or oval boundary
walls of the llan in which many of them still stand testify to their great antiquity, for
when Augustine (first Archbishop of Canterbury, 601) arrived in Kent from France to convert the
still heathen English, many of the cells and churches which have given the Welsh nearly six
hundred 'Llan' place names had already been long established. Conclusive proof of this
is the fact that those British people with Welsh leaders who emigrated to Brittany (Armorica)
from Devon and 'West Wales', as a result of Saxon invasions, in the fifth century established there a large number
of 'Tre' and 'Lan' place names, the Breton lan corresponding to the Welsh Christian llan.
Obviously the word must have existed in Wales before the emigration. No other parts of the
Christian world are as thickly covered as Wales and its early colony, Brittany, with
the holy names of their Early Christian origins."
Each llan is associated with a saint, although they may have been later dedications. So.
Llandeilo comes from llan + Teilo, Llanilltyd from llan + Illtyd and the numerous Llanddewis from
llan + Dewi = the patron saint of Wales. Notice that the first letters of Welsh words are
changed to meld with the word before - this is called mutation and is a distinctive feature of
the Celtic languages. Mutation operates to a strict set of rules.
The early monastic cells in these llans were modest affairs, seemingly small
rectangular structures of wood or stone. Hilling says that St Trillo's chapel at Rhos (near Llandudno)
was just 2.5 metres wide by 3.5 metres long and had a vaulted roof of large stone pebbles.
Hilling, J.B. (1976) The Historic Architecture of Wales, University of Wales Press
Davies, W. (1982), 'Clerics as Rulers' in Brooks, N. (ed.) Latin and the Vernacular Languages in
Early Medieval Britain, Leicester University Press.
The Tribes of Britain
by David Miles. The diverse peoples of Britain and Ireland are revealed not only by physical characteristics but also through structures and settlements, place names and dialects. Using the latest genetic and archaeological research, the author shows how different peoples traded, settled and conquered, establishing the 'tribal' and regional roots still apparent today. Its vast scope considers the impact of prehistoric peoples and Celtic tribes, Romans and Vikings, Saxons and Normans, Jews and Huguenots, as well as the increasing population movements of the last century. Available from:
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