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What is Celtic Christianity?

Updated on March 16, 2011

Christianity in the celtic-speaking world developed in its own unique.way. Celtic spirituality was imbued with a respect for the natural world and this influenced the practice of Christianity in Celtic countries (mainly Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Today there are still unique traditions mixing Christian practice with older Celtic beliefs, and the old sense of celtic spirituality has been revived and re-imagined through the books of John O'Donohue, among others.

In the first centuries AD, the emerging Christian religion was understood and practiced quite differently in different parts of the world. Celtic Christianty was notable for a strong commitment to monasticism - the early Irish and Scottish monks founded settlements on isolated and windswept islands, far from daily human life. In this way Celtic Christianity was similar to the practices of the Desert fathers who shunned human society and sought God in solitude. It offers us an insight into an older, now-forgotten form of Christianity.

Celtic Christianity in the early middle ages was notable for the number of saints who travelled across Europe, risking injury and death, to share their Christian faith with various pagan peoples. In later years, the practice of Christianity came under heavier influence from Rome and distinct practices such as the Celtic way of determining the date of Easter were gradually erradicated. Despite this, in the Celtic-speaking world (mainly the countries we know today as Ireland, Scotland and Wales), people's undestanding of Christianity continued to be influenced by older Celtic beliefs and practices. The Cetlic peoples had always had a close, spiritual relationship with the landscape around them. This led to a form of Christianity intimately connected with sacred sites such as 'holy wells' and mountains which were sites of pilgrimage. In Ireland these holy places are still important today and are visited by believers in search of hope and healing.

John O'Donohue, an Irish writer and Catholic scholar, has written beautifully on the subject of Celtic spirituality invoking the Irish tradition of blessings and soul-friendship and bringing them into the twenty-first century. To me, he respresents a continuance of the ideals of the early Celtic Christian monks and nuns who looked for God in all they saw around them.


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    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 6 years ago from Ireland

      I'd say you know all about Celtic Christianity, being from Armagh. Thanks for the positive feedback - I'll try to keep it up!

    • BrendyMac profile image

      BrendyMac 6 years ago

      Another great hub...I love reading about the ancient Celts and their way of life...their Christianity was very distinct to was only when they united with the doctrians of Armagh that they became more universal in their outlook,probaly losing a lot of the Irishness of their teachings.Yet so much still remains after all those years!! Keep posting...your hubs are very enjoyable to read!!

    • Marie McKeown profile image

      Marie McKeown 6 years ago from Ireland

      I know what you mean - today it is mainly Irish Catholics who continue traditional practices such as visiting holy wells. But in the Early Middle Ages the Celtic Saints were simply Christian, the term 'Catholic' didn't exist. That is why is has become known as 'Celtic Christianity'.

    • HOOWANTSTONO profile image

      HOOWANTSTONO 6 years ago

      I would say its more accurate to say "Celtic Catholicism".