Celtic Christianity for faith geeks part 1

Muiredach's High Cross
Muiredach’s High Cross (Wikipedia: Matteo Corti)

Faith geeks enjoy learning about the various facets of their own religion, as well as variations of their chosen faith. One aspect of Christianity that is of interest to many faith geeks nowadays is Celtic Christianity.

The Celts were a group of tribes who ended up settling in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. The Celtic religion was polytheistic and had a special reverence for the number three. Sacred places and shrines were important to the Celts and were located near powerful natural features such as lakes, groves, or springs.

By the third century when Christianity came to Britain, the conversion of the Celts to Christianity began. The Irish conversion came in the fifth century when Saint Patrick arrived. In the 6th century Saint Columba traveled from Ireland to Scotland to spread Christianity.Other important Celtic Christians include Saint Brigit, Saint Columbanus, and Saint Aidan.

Christianity was accepted into Celtic society because of similar beliefs between the two as well as the Christians’ willingness to incorporate Celtic practices into Christianity. For example, Christian sites for worship were often the same sites that had been used for the Celts’ pagan rituals. Celtic images were used at Christian sites of worship and in Christian artwork. The High Crosses seen throughout Ireland were probably an adaptation of symbolic stones erected by the Celts. These crosses, which are a variation of the Celtic cross, have magnificent carvings of images from the Bible and the lives of the saints, along with images from pagan mythology.

The Celtic cross is probably the most famous symbol of Celtic Christianity. It is a cross which has a ring or circle around its intersection. Legends state that the Celtic Christian cross was introduced by Saint Patrick who combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun cross, a pagan symbol of a cross inside a circle, to show the importance of the cross by linking it with the idea of the life-giving properties of the sun.

For faith geeks who would like to learn more about Celtic Christian there are numerous books, DVDs, and other resources available on Amazon and other websites. You can view a PowerPoint presentation I made for a retreat called Thin Places: Exploring Celtic Spirituality on the website of the Parish Resource Center.

In the weeks to come the Faith Geeks blog will be exploring other facets of Celtic Christianity.


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