Here we go faith geeks – the second installment of my series about Celtic Christianity. We’ll be looking at some well-known figures who helped spread the Christian faith to the Celtic people.
Although the people of Britain were exposed to Christianity as early as the 1st or 2nd century, it wasn’t until the 4th century that the religion became popular, after Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Saint Patrick converted many Irish Celts to Christianity in the 5th century. Although he is the patron saint of Ireland, he was actually from Britain. Captured when he was 16 and taken as a slave to Ireland, he escaped after six years and returned to his family. After a dream in which an angel told him to return to Ireland as a missionary, he went and converted many Irish to Christianity. March 17 is the day we celebrate St. Patrick and that was not his birth date, but rather the day he died.
Saint Brigid was another important person in Celtic Christianity. She was born in the 5th century and founded several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare in Ireland. St. Brigid’s cross is made from rush or straw and was originally a pagan symbol known as a sun cross. It’s a tradition to make Brigid’s cross on her feast day which is February 1st. St. Brigid’s cross is often hung in Irish kitchens to protect the house from fire and evil.
In the 6th century, Saint Columba traveled from Ireland to Scotland. He founded a number of abbeys, including one on the island of Iona which became an important religious and political institution for many years. The Iona Abbey was destroyed, rebuilt, and added on to through the years. The Iona Community, which was founded in 1938, rebuilt the abbey, along with other buildings. The present Iona Community is “a Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship.” This community is a leading force in the present Celtic Christian revival.
In the 6th and 7th centuries Saint Columbanus set out from Ireland and founded a number of monasteries on the European continent.
Saint Aidan founded a monastic cathedral in the 7th century on Lindisfarne, an island off the Northeast coast of England. Lindisfarne is a popular retreat destination and is referred to as the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.