Here begins the Catalogue of the Orders of the Saints in Hibernia according to different periods:
The first Order of the Saints was in the time of Patrick, and then all the bishops, 350 in number, were famous and holy and full of the Holy Spirit. They were founders of churches, worshipped one head, Christ, and followed one leader, Patrick. They had one tonsure, one celebration of Mass, and celebrated one Easter, namely, after the vernal equinox. And what was excommunicated by one church, all excommunicated.
They did not object to having women as housekeepers and companions, because founded on the rock, Christ, they did not fear the wind of temptation. This Order of Saints lasted during four reigns: to wit, from the time of Laoghaire, the son of Niall, who reigned thirty-seven years; and Olioll, styled Moll, who reigned thirty years; and Lughaidh, who reigned seven years; and this Order of Saints lasted to the very end of Tuathal Maelgarbh, and all remained throughout holy bishops, and these were for the most part, Franks and Romans and Britons and Scots by birth.
The Second Order of the Saints was like this. In this second Order now there were few bishops and many priests, 300 in number. They worshipped one head, God, and had different rituals or rites of celebration, and different rules of living, and celebrated one Easter: to wit the 14th of the moon. And they made a uniform tonsure from ear to ear. They shunned having women as companions and housekeepers, and excluded them from the monasteries. This lasted for four reigns also …. Those (saints) received the ritual of celebrating Mass from holy men of Britain; to wit, from St. David and St. Gildas and St. Cadoc. And their names are these: to wit, Finian, Endeus, Colman, Congal, Aedh, Kieran, Columba, Brendan, Brechen, Caineoh, Caemgin, Laidrean, Laisre, Lugeus, Barrideus, and many others who were in the second grade of the Saints.
The third Order of the Saints was like this. Now they were holy priests and few bishops, 100 in number, who used to dwell in desert places. They lived on vegetables and water and on the alms of the faithful, and held earthly things of no account, and wholly shunned back-biting and slander. These had different rules (of living), and different rituals of celebration, and also different tonsures, for some had the coronal tonsure and some the hair. And they had a different Paschal Solemnization, for some celebrated on the 14th and others on the 13th moon. This Order lasted through four reigns…..And their names are—Petran, bishop; Ultan, bishop; Colman, bishop; Edan, bishop; Lomnan, bishop; Senach, bishop. These were all bishops and many more. And these now were the priests—Fechan, priest; Airendan, Failan, Commian, Ernan, Cronan, and many other priests.
Note that the first Order was holiest, the second very holy, the third holy. The first glows like the sun, with the heat of charity; the second like the moon sheds a pallid light; the third shines with the bright hues of the dawn. When a bishop was appointed over the new diocese his first and most important work was the construction of a church. The churches of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries were very small and rudely built. The first churches were of wood and circular in shape, and there are 110 remains of these, but we have the remains of stone churches of the period, and we find they were built without cement, and the stones used were very large, from 6 to 17 feet long, which would take four men to lift.
The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick furnishes us with the dimensions of the churches he used to build:—”In this wise then St. Patrick measured the ferta, namely, seven score feet in the enclosure, and seven and twenty in the great house (tig mor), and seventeen feet in the chule (kitchen), and seven feet in the aregal, and in that wise it was he used to found the congabala always.” The ” great house ” was the church, which at the time was circular, and the diameter used to be 27 feet. The roof was formed by overlapping. The doorway was placed at the west-end and covered by a lintel and was broader at the bottom.
Churches with arches and semi-circular window heads were erected in the early part of the 9th century. Recessed semi-circular arches belong to the 10th century. The walls built in this period lose much of massive stone work, and are higher, and cement was used. The windows exhibit a slight recess upon the exterior, and were of greater size. As style advances the sides of the doorways become cut into a series of recesses, chevron and other decorations are commonly found, and various mouldings of doors and windows become rich and striking. The term Irish Romanesque has been applied to this style of architecture. The transition can be traced to the beginning of the nth century, but was not fully developed till a century later. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, decorated art reached a high state of perfection in this country.
Cormac MacCuillenen’s chapel on the Rock of Cashel, which was consecrated in the year 1134, presents a specimen of Irish architecture which has not been excelled. Donough O’Brien, King of Thomond, founded the cathedral, 1152. It consists of nave and chancel, with a square tower at each side, 55 and 50 feet high. The walls of nave and chancel are ornamented with a row of semi-circular arches slightly recessed, and enriched with chevron, billet, and mouldings. We have remains of many churches scattered through the country which exhibit the highest degree of art. These and the beautifully sculptured crosses and metal work which still remain afford ample evidence of the skill the Irish attained in various departments of art prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion.
The training of the clergy was an important matter for the consideration of St. Patrick and his successors. Colleges or seminaries had to be established for the education and training of young levites to fit them for their future mission. St. Patrick again followed the practices that prevailed in France, where monasticism was the established system. The monks founded in that country schools and colleges in which the future clergy were trained in the practices of discipline and piety. Monasticism was thus introduced into Ireland by St. Patrick, and became an important factor in the Irish Church. Monasteries sprang up in different parts of the country. Clerics and others not only from Ireland but from Great Britain and the Continent flocked into them, and received gratis their education. Some of those institutions contained as many as 3,000 pupils. This may be the place to describe the origin of monasticism.
One of the areas looked at is Archaeology where we can find physical examples such as Temples, ritual objects, and statues, and other types of artefacts and burial places, which can tell us a little bit about the religious beliefs of the people of the time. It must be said that there is not a lot of archaeological clues but the few we have available to us are worthy of close analysis.
In the case of the Celts it proves very little. As stated earlier Archaeologists contend that there are too few objects found in Ireland to prove any invasion of Celts actually occurred. Interesting, Geneticists support the Archaeologists theory. Geneticists say the Celts share D.N.A. and had a pre disposition to Cystic Fibrosis and were usually of the O type Blood Group.
In the 1960‘s there were Blood Group studies and the distribution of Blood types and the results may indicate where Celts located. Munster has the strongest distribution of Blood Type O and this may indicate the Celts densely populated this area. In the 1990‘s Studies In DNA And Chromosomes showed that Y Chromosomes are Inherited from the father while Mitochondrial DNA is Inherited from the Mother. However, this can not be deemed a totally reliable source for accurate information and most Scientists are dubious, to say the least, about the results of DNA research because samples have been contaminated both inside and outside of the laboratory.
In short, Genetics is far too young a discipline to draw any firm conclusions. Geneticists contend that there is little or no evidence to conclude that there was, in fact, a prehistoric Celtic invasion which leads us to the problem of why then do we speak a form of Celtic language. In point of fact we do know that C.400 CE when St. Patrick arrived on Irish soil he could communicate with the natives in some form of Celtic.
Through the centuries many events and stories change in the retelling for many reasons. Exaggeration, bias or perhaps hostility to the subject matter or the outcome of the event led to inevitable distortion and misrepresentation of the reality. We must allow for this fact as we study ancient documents relating the events of the distant past.
Manuscripts started to emerge from Monks and Monasteries hundreds, and in some cases a thousand years or more after certain events were documented by them. One can only imagine what happened to these stories before the Monks and Scribes began to recount them in document form. It is a difficult job to interpret these stories. Nonetheless, these stories are a rich source of information as to the beliefs and religions of the Celts.
We find our information in manuscripts and the earliest of these is the Cathach of St. Columba of Iona which is kept in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin and comes from the late 6th or early 7th Century in date, almost two hundred years after St. Patrick arrived in Ireland (c.400 CE) and is a copy of the Old Testament Psalms and written in Latin. The manuscript known as the ‘Cathach’ ‘, a psalter or book of the Psalms. It is conceivable that this, the earliest surviving Irish manuscript, was written in the lifetime of the saint, if not as traditionally claimed by Columba himself. (Columba died in 597 CE.) The decorative features which characterised the later magnificent manuscripts are already present in simple form in the Cathach.
The earliest known manuscript of Native Stories was The Book of Armagh (C.808 CE) and was kept in a leather satchel. It was a small personal copy of the Old Testament written for the leader of the Armagh community that included a number of stories about St. Patrick and written in Irish and Latin and this makes this document of great help to us. The St. Patrick that emerges from this manuscript is far different from the St. Patrick we learn of from his own manuscripts (St. Patrick‘s Confession, which appears to be a genuine copy written by him). In the former he emerges as a sort of mystical warrior, a hero figure, and in the latter a hard working gentle and humble man. What is really important here is the fact that The Book of Armagh is the first book we have that is a book written in Irish by Irish people. This demonstrates that even though the stories in this manuscript are about Saints some of the material to do with them, appear to be borrowed from earlier stories of earlier Christian mythology.
The earliest manuscript relating stories of Ireland‘s warrior society that we know of is The Book Of The Dun Cow which was compiled in 1106AD, The Book of Leinster around 1150AD at the same time as another book known simply as Rawlinson‘s Manuscript.
The Book of Ballymote was written in 1390/91 and was produced by scribes and remains to this day at Trinity College, Dublin and is an invaluable source of information for historians.
We must remember when we start to interpret ancient texts that three dates need to be applied:
1. The date of when the text was published.
2. The date the text was written
3. The date of when the story of which the text relates is set.
When we look at, for example, a manuscript written in the 14th century, the events depicted in this hypothetical manuscript may be copies of earlier texts written, let‘s say in the 13th Century, but relating to events in the 10th Century and thus confusion and disinformation is entirely possible. The first date we can be sure of and the second date more difficult because they may be copies of copies and so on and so forth, copying was very common in ancient Ireland and thus the third date is completely wild because the storytellers set things in the ancient past at supposed dates. All we really know about the third date is that this was what the story tellers choose as the date. Thus, for the most part, the real dates of events are beyond our knowledge.
However, many of these stories are mythological which renders the date unimportant. The stories can still tell us many things about the culture, traditions, religions and beliefs of ancient Irish society and this is where these myths and sagas have their real significance.
The earliest known tales of Irish tradition in terms of language are from the 8th Century just before the arrival of the Vikings. We will be looking at four different strands of Mythology (A modern classification techniques which was different from pre-modern methods. We will characterise the stories by the Characters involved rather than the events they describe which was how the pre-modern documents categorised them.
1. The Ulster Cycle.
2. The Fenian Cycle.
3. The Cycle Of The Kings
4. The Mythological Cycle.
The Mythological Cycle is a cycle is very much concerned with tales from the Book of Invasion which documented how various tribes came and settled in Ireland down through the centuries. Our interest in this book for now is what it documents in relation to a tribe known as the Tua De Danaan. They are portrayed as a tribe of people with magical powers but realistically we can infer with some confidence that these were the Gods and Goddesses of pre-Christian Ireland. There are no dating indications with this grouping and we can not imply dates but we can have early or late stories in the Mythological Cycle. These stories were mainly composed by Christians so they naturally embedded religious elements into the stories.
The medieval manuscripts, primarily the Lebor Gabála Érenn imply that the first ever groups of immigrants who arrived in Ireland were some of the descendants of Noah. They tell of a woman named Cessair, a granddaughter of Noah who arrived here along with forty-nine women and three men prior to the Biblical flood which was to eventually sweep all of them away with the exception of Fintan who survives in various guises by becoming a shape-shifter and turning into a salmon for the duration of the flood and eventually, after a series of animal transformations, he becomes a man again and tells his people‘s story.
The next group to settle in Ireland were led by Partholon who supposedly arrived after the Biblical Flood with a thousand followers who multiplies to four thousand and then all were dead within a week after a plague. All of which were buried in Tamhlacht (Tallaght) – the plague grave. Interestingly, many of the stories were tied to real place names and this gave them an element of substance. The story of Partholon was relayed by the lone survivor of the plague and his name was Tuan mac Cairill through a series of animal transformations he survived into Christian times and relayed his tale to St. Finnian. (The story is documented in The Book of Dun Cow).
Tuan told St. Finnian that he witnessed many of the waves of invaders including the Nemedians, Firbolg and the Tuatha De Danaan. He claimed he crawled off to a cave as an old man and went to sleep. When he awoke he was a young stag and this process kept repeating itself each time he became old and he was reborn as a boar, an eagle and eventually as a salmon. During his life as a salmon he was eaten by the wife of a chieftain and passed into her womb to be reborn as Tua mac Cairill (son of Cairill.)
The tale of the Nemed was recounted in some detail to St. Finnian by Tuan. They were the third group (according to the Book of Invasions) to come to Ireland. The country had been empty for many years when Nemed sailed to Ireland to settle at Tory island. His wife Macha died and was buried at Ard Macha (Armagh).
He went to battle with the Formorians (a divine race said to have inhabited Ireland in ancient times) and was victorious but soon after he fell victim to plague, along with 3,000 others and died. The survivors separate into three different tribes, Fir Bolg, Fir Domnainn, Fir Galeoin and all depart Ireland (Eriu as it was known then) to different lands. The Fir Bolg went to Scandinavia and learned magic and decided to return to Ireland where they ruled until the arrival of the fifth group to settle here, according to Lebor Gabhala Erenn, the Tuatha De Danaan.
They went to war with the Fir Bolg in Sligo and the latter were defeated but The Tuatha De Danaan was led by their first King Nuada who lost an arm in the battle which meant he was no longer eligible for Kingship, according to the rules of the Tuatha De Danaan, and he was replaced by King Bres.
The new king was not at all popular because he lacked generosity and hospitality. Under his tyrannical rule times were not good in the Kingdom of Ireland and revolution was inevitable. The people started to manufacture weapons and in time Bres was removed from Kingship and Nuada, who had had his arm restored by physicians, and he ruled for many more years. He eventually became known as Nuada of the Silver Arm and is, perhaps, the statue we still see at Tandragee in County Armagh. Bres, assisted by the Formorian Balor attempted to retake the Kingship and war followed. When the youthful Lugh joined Nuada‘s court he stood down to allow the youthful warrior to lead the attack against the Formorians and during this battle Nuada was killed and beheaded but Lugh led the Tuatha De Danaan to victory.
On analysis of the available evidence, surviving documentation and archaeological inscriptions, it can be seen that Ireland had two contemporaneous evangelists advocating Catholic philosophy but both coming from entirely different standpoints. Both missions were conducted in an apparently Christian conscious Ireland by the early 5th century CE. It is also clear that these missionaries proclaiming equal faith, first Palladius (as advocate of Pope Celestine), then Patrick (as advocate of God), had some impact on their own co-existing communities. With the rise of Catholic historical documentation, monastic propaganda reduced the efforts of Palladius’ ‘failed’ mission and, for no reason other than expediency, merged all credit for Christian conversion exclusively to Patrick, whose ‘successful’ mission was better serving the purposes of the advocations of Catholicism.
By the 5th century CE Pelagianism (and paganism) were proliferating in Western Europe and Ireland to such effect that Roman Catholicism, led by Pope Celestine I (Celestine the Deacon) (422-432 CE), himself a Roman and zealous for orthodoxy, sent Palladius as a Bishop to Ireland in 431. The chronicle of the contemporary St. Prosper of Aquitaine presents two important entries relating to Palladius. Under the date of 429 it has, “Agricola, a Pelagian, son of Severianus, a Pelagian bishop, corrupted the churches of Britain by the insinuation of his doctrine; but at the insistence of the Deacon Palladius (ad actionem Palladii Diaconi), Celestine sends Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre as his representative to root out heresy and direct the Britons to the Catholic Faith”. Again under the date of 431, in the consulship of Bassus and Antiocus: “Palladius was consecrated by Pope Celestine and sent to the Scots believing in Christ, as their first bishop” (Ad Scotum in Christum credentes ordinatur a Papa Celestino Palladius et primus episcopus mittitur).
It is clear then that by ordaining a bishop for the Irish (Scotis), whilst he laboured to keep the Roman Island (Britain) Catholic, he made also the barbarous Island (Ireland) Christian. The words of the second entry to the chronicle, “to the Scots believing in Christ” can only have the meaning that when the chronicle was being written in 447, the Irish had become a Christian people. Another relevant source to the authenticity of Palladius’ papal authority is The Seventh Century Life Of St. Patrick by Muircu Maccumachthenus in the “Book of Armagh” which expressly styles Palladius “Archidiaconus Papæ Coelestini urbis Romæ Episcopi”, repeated in several of the other lives of St. Patrick.
The conversion of Ireland was very significant to Celestine because, according to the writings of St Jerome (c.347-420), an Illyrian Christian priest and apologist , we suspect that Pelagius himself was of Goidelic-Celtic origin, q-Celt, (perhaps Irish), “He tells us that he was descended from the Scots (Irish) de vicinia Britannorum, and that he was “reared on Scotch porridge.” This simple fact feasibly meant that if Celestine could conquer the homeland of Pelagius, ‘the seat of his realm’, this may discredit his philosophy. Palladius soon abandoned the mission and was quickly replaced by an ostensibly self-appointed evangelist calling himself Bishop Patricius. In his ‘Confessio’ he elaborates in some detail as to the success of his mission (he attributes this success to God) when he writes, “’it is not you who speaks but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.’ (Confessio Vs 20) This proved an ideal declaration of divine faith and his successful work was endorsed by his Roman contemporaries. The efforts of his predecessor, whose contribution to Irish Christianity was minimal, were inexplicably obliterated.
Christian inscriptions in Irish began about the middle of the 5th Century CE and are primarily located in the south-eastern side of the country. They show that Christian teaching must have been accepted among the native Irish, of this region, prior to the arrival of both missionaries. ‘The chiefs of the pre-Patrician saints include St. Ailbe in Co. Tipperary, St. Ibar of Wexford, St. Declan of Waterford, …..the controversy between Cashel, as the premier home of the Christian church and Armagh as the latter implies that it is possible two evangelists were at work in the country. Palladius to the South and Patrick to the North, “it is exactly the sort of controversy that was inevitable if these Southern Churches looked back to an independent origin and an earlier date than that of the apostle of Ireland, whose later glory had obscured their own”.
With St. Patrick came flourishing literacy and the subsequent documentation of reality, by his cohorts, was inexorably biased in favor of the message advocated their apostle. The primary strategy of Patrick was to introduce an episcopal church which indicates that he had some papal influences. In the ‘Catalogue Of The Order Of The Saints’ for the period 432-543 it is clearly stated that there were founders of churches who worshipped Christ and followed one leader, Patrick, and this clearly implies that in his lifetime he was undoubtedly held in high reverence by his contemporaries and immediate generations to follow. This loyalty manifested itself in propaganda that all but eliminated the presence and influence of Palladius. Interestingly, these passages also indicate that the Roman Church tradition was firmly in place, “one tonsure, one celebration of mass, one Easter” It is fair to conclude from this that Patrick’s mission had deep long lasting impact and was far more significant than that of Palladius.
While academics often give credit to both these men for the introduction of Christianity the more common view is that Patrick was indeed the true Apostle of Christ regardless of papal appointment or not. There is still good reason to debate the timeline of Palladius and Patrick, with ‘possibility’ being a significant part of the deliberations. By considering the surviving documentation, The Chronicles Of Prosper Of Aquitaine, The Annals Of The Irish Churches and Patrick’s own writings, it can be seen that the papal commission of Palladius coincided with the mission of Patrick though only the latter reaps commendation.
To track the short timeline of Palladius’ mission we turn to the ‘Chronicles of Prosper of Aquitaine’, “Ad Scottos in Christum credentes ordinatus a papa Caelestina Palladius primus episcopus mittitur”, Palladius was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine as the first bishop to the Irish who believe in Christ in 431 AD. In 434 Prosper again wrote regarding Palladius, that Pope Celestine ‘having ordained a bishop for the Irish, while he labours to keep the Roman island [Britain] Catholic, has also made the barbarian island [Ireland] Christian’ in his Contra Collatorem. These two passages place Palladius in Ireland evangelising to the Irish from 431 onwards. In Ireland, church Annals record Palladius’ arrival. The Annals of Ulster show Palladius, having been approved by Pope Celestine, is sent to Ireland in the consulship of Aetius and Valerius in 431 while the Annals of the Four Masters say that Palladius landed in the county of Leinster in 430. With these pieces of evidence added to the writings of Prosper it verifies that Palladius was in Ireland fulfilling his papal commission in the early 430’s.
In order to establish Saint Patrick’s time in Ireland, the surviving sources are principally recorded internally by the Irish church Annals. The Annals of the Four Masters also go on to record that Patrick arrived in 432 and proceeded to baptize and bless the Irish. The Annals of Ulster confirm that Patrick reached Ireland in 432 the ninth year of the reign of Theodosius Mino. These church writings firmly place Patrick arriving in Ireland and converting the people at the same time as Palladius.
To corroborate this we can garner some facts from Patrick’s own writings in his Letter to Coroticus demanding the release of enslaved, by Tyrannus, Irish Christians and his later life biographical Confessio both of which survive in the Book Of Armagh.
According to RPC Hanson, there are two men who could have gone by the name Tyrannus, the son of a man called Cuned from North Wales who had a child possibly named Coroticus or the King of Dumbarton on the coast of Scotland. Either of these still place Patrick in Ireland writing this communication in the first half of the fifth century. In his Epistola, Patrick mentioned “…with many thousand solidi, to redeem baptized captives…” This solidi was a gold coin reintroduced by Constantine the Great in 312 and remained in circulation throughout the supremacy of the Roman Empire. The fact is that the coins were last minted in 411 so circulation had diminished. The further into the fifth century, the less likely it is that Patrick would refer to the coin in his letter. Passages of Saint Patrick Confessio have an eschatological tone and it is obvious from this that his mission was based around the fall of Rome which occurred in 410. R.P.C. Hanson states that this tone places Patrick in Ireland in the early half of the fifth century. The information gathered from the surviving evidence of the Confession of Saint Patrick and his Letter to Coroticus points to him writing these letters from Ireland in the first half of the fifth century. The same time that Palladius was converting the Irish to Christianity.
Palladius mission in Ireland is clearly recorded internally by the Annals of the Irish churches and externally by the chronicles of Prosper of Aquitaine. These sources place Palladius converting the Irish to Christianity from 431 onwards. There is reliance on deductive reasoning in determining a timeframe for Patrick’s mission based on his own writings. The answers gathered from those deductions point to the first half of the fifth century and corroborate Patrick’s mission with the recorded dates of the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster. By not getting immersed in the theories of Patrician scholars and remaining within the confinement of surviving evidence, it is provable that the mission of Palladius to convert the Irish to Christianity must have been at the same period of time as that of Saint Patrick.
With Thanks To:
Dr. Liam Irwin.