The Rise of Celtic Christianity

The rise of Christianity in the Celtic regions of Europe – more specifically, Ireland, Scot- land, Cornwall, Brittany, and Wales – is of considerable interest, not least in that this form of Christianity found itself in opposition to the more Romanized forms which rapidly gained the ascendancy in England. Although the origins of Celtic Christianity seem to lie in Wales, it is Ireland which established itself as a major missionary center during the fifth and sixth centuries. Other centers of missionary activity in the Celtic sphere of influence are known from this period, most notably Candida Casa (modern-day Whithorn, in the Galloway region of Scotland), which was established by bishop Ninian in the fifth century. The significance of this missionary station was that it lay outside the borders of Roman Britain, and was thus able to operate without having to conform to the norms of Roman forms of Christianity.

The person who is traditionally held to be responsible for the evangelization of Ireland was a Romanized Briton by the name of Magonus Sucatus Patricius, more usually known as “Patrick” (c. 390–c. 460). There are some difficulties in clarifying Patrick’s career. Some scholars argue that this confusion arises through some accounts of the works of Palladius, sent by Pope Celestine I as the first bishop to Irish Christians in 431, being mistakenly understood to refer to Patrick. According to the traditional account of his life, Patrick was taken captive in Wales by a raiding party at the age of sixteen, and sold into slavery in Ireland, probably in the region of Connaught. Here, he appears to have discovered the basics of the Christian faith. After six years in captivity, he was able to escape and make his way back to his family.

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