History of Celtic Christianity

During the period when much of mainland Europe was devastated by invasions, war, and the collapse of the Roman Empire, Christianity flourished in the parts of Britain where Celtic peoples lived. Monasteries became centers for learning and spirituality, beacons of civilization in an age when much of mainland Europe was devastated by invasions and war (for an entertaining history of this era, read Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History).

Ireland in particular experienced a period of extraordinary cultural, artistic, and religious growth. Living on the edge of the known world and spared Roman invasion, Irish Christians embraced the Christianity brought to them by St. Patrick and other missionaries, forging a vibrant and creative spirituality that attracted followers from throughout Europe.

Celtic Christianity had a number of distinctive features. Its hallmarks included a deep love for nature, an emphasis on the constant presence of God, and an artistic renaissance that included beautiful illuminated manuscripts, carved High Crosses, and lyrical prayers and hymns. The Book of Kells, a lavishly illustrated version of the Gospels now at Trinity College in Dublin, is regarded as one of the most exquisite pieces of religious art in the world.

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