SAINT PATRICK'S LEGACY - SAINT PATRICK'S WORLD
Historical and Cultural Backdrop
Historical and Cultural Backdrop
- Saint Patrick's Confession
- Saint Patrick's Confession.I, Patrick, a sinner, am a most uncultivated man, and the least of all the faithful, and I am greatly despised by many.
My father was the deacon Calpornius, son of the late Potitus, a priest of the town of Banna Venta Berniae (probably near Carlisle) He had a small estate nearby, where I was taken captive. I was barely sixteen. I had neglected the true God, and when I was carried off into captivity in Ireland, along with a great number of people, it was well deserved. For we cut ourselves off from God and did not keep his commandments, and we disobeyed our bishops who were reminding us of our salvation. God revealed himself to us through his wrath: He scattered us among foreign peoples, even to the end of the earth, where, appropriately, I have my own small existence among strangers.
Then the lord made me aware of my unbelief, so that-however late- I might recollect my offences and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God. It was He Who took heed of my insignificance. Who pitied my youth and ignorance, who watched over me as a father would a son. That is why I cannot remain silent (further it would be inappropriate to do so) about the great favours and graces which the Lord deigned to grant me in the land of my captivity. For the way to make repayment for that revelation of God through capture and enslavement is to declare and make known His wonders to every race under heaven.
Because that there is no other God, nor has there been, nor will there be in the future, other than God the Father, begotten without beginning, from whom all things begin, who governs all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ. Whom we testify to have been manifestly with the Father always, to have been spiritually with the Father since before the beginning of time to have been of the father before the beginning in a way that cannot be described. And by him were made things visible and invisible. He was made man. Having vanquished death he was taken back into heaven to the Father, who gave him the full power to govern all things in heaven and earth and hell, so that every tongue should confess to him that Jesus Christ is Lord and God. We believe in him and expect his coming in the near future as judge of the living and the dead, who will make return to all according to what they have done. He poured out abundantly on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and pledge of immortality, who makes of obedient believers sons of God and co-heirs of Christ. We confess and adore him as one God in the Trinity of the Holy name.
It was he who said through his prophet: "cal on me in the day of your trouble and I will free you and you will glorify me" And again he says: "it is an honourable thing to make known and proclaim the works of God" Although I am imperfect in many ways, nevertheless I wish my brethren and kin to know what sort of man I am, so that they may understand my motives. I am not unaware of what my Lord has taught, since he has made it clear in the psalm: "you shall destroy the speakers of lies" And again he says "the lying mouth kills the soul" And the Lord also says in the Gospel "The idle word that people speak, they shall account for it on the judgement"
So I realise I must be in the greatest dread - in fear and trembling - of incurring this sentence on the day when no one can hide himself or sneak away but we shall all, every one of us, have to account even for our smallest sins at the tribunal of the Lord Christ.
- Patrick defends himself from CriticismTherefore, while I have had it in mind for a long time to write, up to now I have hesitated. I was afraid of being exposed to criticism, because I have not the education of others, who have absorbed to the full both law and sacred scripture alike and who have never, from infancy onward, had to change to another language; but rather could continually perfect the language they had. Whereas, with me our words and our language have been translated into a foreign tongue, so that it is easy to ascertain - from the flavour of my writing - the manner of my education and of my training in expression. Because it is said: "The wise man will be distinguished by his language" as will judgement and knowledge and true teaching. But excuse, however true, are pointless, especially if we take them in conjunction with my presumption in attempting only now, in my old age, to achieve more than I could in my youth. For my sins prevented me from continuing to build on my early education. But who believes me, even if I repeat what I have already said? As youth, nay, almost as a boy not able to speak, I was taken captive, before I knew what to pursue and what to avoid. So because of this, today I am ashamed and agitated with fear, at exposing my lack of education; because I lack the fluency to express myself concisely, as my spirit longs to do and as I try with heart and soul.
But, even if I had been given what was given to others, nevertheless, out of gratitude I would not be silent. And if perhaps I seem to many people to be pushing myself forward, with my lack of knowledge and my lame language, yet it is indeed written: "The stammering tongues will quickly learn to speak peace".
How much more ought we not to aim at that, since, as it is written, we ourselves are "the letter of Christ for salvation, even to the end of the earth" and even if the language does not flow but is blocked and turgid "it is written on your hearts not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God" And again the Spirit affirms that rustic backwardness, too was created by the most high.
So, therefore be astonished all you, both great and little, who fear God. And you, reverend professors listen and pay close attention. Who was it that lifted up me - stupid me - from the middle of those who seemed to be wise and skilled in the law and powerful and all matters? And who was it that inspired me - me! - above others to be such a person (if only I were!) as could do good faithfully - in fear and without complaint to that people to whom Christ's love transported me and gave me; if I should prove worthy in short to be of service to and truth?
Consequently, I take this to be a measure of my faith in the Trinity that, without regard to danger, I make known God's gift and the eternal comfort he provides; that I spread Gods name everywhere dutifully and without fear so that after my death I may leave a legacy to so many thousands of people - my brother and sons whom I have baptized in the Lord.
- Patrick tells how God has singled him outAnd I was not a worthy or a fit person for what the Lord granted me, his minor servant: that after such calamities and such great burdens, after captivity, after many years, he should bestow on me, so great a grace in behalf of the nation - a thing which once, in my youth, I never expected nor thought of.
But after I had arrived in Ireland, I found myself pasturing flocks daily, and I prayed a number of times each day. More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times everyday - and in the night nearly as often. So that I would even remain in the woods and on the mountain in snow, frost and rain, waking to pray before first light. And I felt no ill effect, nor was I in any way sluggish - because as I now realise, the Spirit was seething within me.
And it was there in fact that one night, in my sleep, I heard a voice saying to me: "It is good that you fast, who will go soon to your home land" And again, after a short space of time I heard this pronouncement: "Look! Your ship is ready."
And it was not nearby, but was, as it happened, two hundred miles away. I had never been there and I knew no one. And shortly after I had afterwards I fled that place, leaving the man with whom I had been for six years. I travelled with the aid of God, who guided me as his son, successfully on his way and I had nothing to fear, until I arrived at that ship.
On the day I arrived the ship weighed anchor, I explained that I had the wherewithal to sail with them. And that day, furthermore, I refused for fear of God, to suck their nipples. (A Pagan custom of friendship) Nevertheless I hoped that some of them would come to faith in Jesus Christ (for they were heathen). This displeased the captain who answered sharply, with anger "Your wish to travel with us is quite futile".
And when I heard this, I left them in order to return to the shelter in which I had lodged, beginning to pray as I went. Before the prayer was finished, I heard one of them, who shouted out to me "Come quickly these men are calling you".
I returned to them immediately and they began to explain to me: "Come, we will accept you in good faith. Bind yourself to us in whatever way you wish" Because of this I was received amoung them and we set sail straight away.
And after three days we reached land. We travelled for twenty-eight days through a wilderness. They ran out of food, and hunger weakened them, and the next day the captain addressed me; "What's this, Christian? You say your God is great and all powerful. Then why can't you pray for us? For we are in danger of dying of hunger. In fact it's doubtful if we'll see another human being" I said to them confidently: "Trust in the Lord my God and turn to him with all your hearts - since nothing is impossible for him, that he may send you today more than sufficient food for your journey - for he has an abundance everywhere."
And with God's help it came about. There right before our eyes, a heard of pigs appearded. They killed many of them, and spent two nights eating their fill and fully recovered their strength, for many of them had grown weak and were half-dead along the way. After this they gave the greatest thanks to God, and I gained prestige in their eyes. From that point onward they had abundant food. They even found some wild honey and offered it to me, saying "It is a sacrifice" Thank God I tasted none of it.
That very night, when I was asleep, Satan tested me most severely: the memory of it will remain with me as long as I am in this body. It was as if a huge rock fell on top of me and I had no use of my limbs. But from what quarter came the inspiration to my ignorant spirit to call on Helias? In the midst of all this I saw the sun rise in the heavens, and when I shouted "Helias! Helias!" with all my strength - see the brilliance of the sun came down on me and straightaway removed all the weighty pressure. I believe that the Lord came to my help, and that it was the Spirit who was already crying out in me; and I pray that it will be so on the day of my troubles, as it says in the Gospel: "On that day" the Lord testifies - "It is not you who speaks, but the Spirit of the Father who speaks within you"
(And on another occasion many years later I was taken captive. And I spent the first night with my captors. However I heard a divine announcement too me: "You will be two months in their hands" This is what happened. On the sixteenth night the Lord freed me from them).
While we were on our journey he provided us with food, fire and dry conditions until, on the tenth day, we met people. As I have indicated above we travelled for twenty eight days through a wilderness, and on that night on which we met people, we had truly no food left.
Another time, after a few years, when I was in Britain, my family received me as a son, and they asked me whether after such tribulations as I had undergone they could trust me now, as a son never to leave them again. But while I was there, in a night vision, I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victorious, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "the voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea (unknown location but some authors claim it is a site west of Killala Bay, in Co. Mayo) and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us." I was pierced by great emotion and could not read on and so I woke. Thank God that after my years the Lord answered my call according to their cry.
And another night he spoke (God knows, not I, weather within me or beside me) in his words which I heard in terror, but without understanding them, except that at the end of the message he said: "he who gave his life for you, it is he who speaks within you" and so I woke, full of joy.
And again I saw him praying in me, and I was as it were within my body, and I heard him above me, that is, over my inner person and he was praying hard with groanings. And all the while I was dumbfounded and astonished, wondering who it could be that was praying within me. But at the end of the prayer, he spoke, saying that he was the Spirit. And so I woke, and I recollected what the apostle had said: "The Spirit helps us in the deficiencies of our prayers, for we do not know what it is proper to pray for; but the sprit himself pleads on our behalf with unutterable groanings which cannot be expressed in words." And again: "The Lord, our advocate, prays on our behalf."
- Patrick's Trial by his Seniors and his VindicationAnd when I was attacked by certain of my seniors, who came and cast up my sins against my laborious episcopate; on that day I was powerfully tempted and might have fallen, now and I eternity. But the Lord showed his mercy to his disciple, who is an exile for his name and he came mightily to my support in this humiliation. Since it was not through my fault that I was brought into scandal and disgrace, I pray God that it will not be reckoned against them as sin.
They found a pretext from thirty years earlier, bringing against me words of confession I made before I was a deacon. Because, in an anxious and melancholy state of mind, I had privately told my dearest friend about something I had done one day, indeed in one hour, when I was a boy before I had the strength of character. I am not sure, God alone knows if I had yet reached the age of fifteen, and I was still, since my childhood, not a believer in the living God; rather I remained in death and unbelief until I was severely chastised and truly brought down to earth, every day, by hunger and nakedness.
On the other hand, while it was not of my own choice that I arrived in Ireland at that time when I was almost a lost soul, it was a good thing for me because I was reformed by the Lord and he prepared me to be today what was once remote from me; so that, whereas once I did not even consider my own salvation, now the salvation of others is my care and concern. Therefore, on the day when I was rejected by the people mentioned above, that night I saw in a dream the dishonouring documents in front of me, while at the same time I heard the divine Voice saying to me: "It displeased us to see our chosen one in this state: stripped of honour" Nor did he say "it displeased me" but rather "it displeased us" (as if linking himself with him, just as he had said: "whoever touches you, it is if he touched the apple of my eye"
For that reason, I offer thanks that he gave me strength in all matters, as he did not frustrate the journey upon which I had decided, and the work which I had learned from Christ my Lord, rather I felt all the more his great power within me. And my faith was vindicated before God and men.
Therefore I tell you boldly that my conscience does not reproach me now or for the future. I have God as a witness that I do not lie in what I tell you. But I am all the more sorry for my close friend: how did we deserve to hear such evidence given? He to whom I had entrusted my very soul! And before that case (which I did not initiate, nor was I present in Britain for it), I learned from some of the brethren that it was he who would act on my behalf in my absence. (He is the very one who had told me, with his own mouth: "Look: you should be raised to the rank of bishop", of which I was not worthy) But how did he come, shortly afterwards in public, in the presence of people both good and bad, to bring me into disgrace over something which he had willingly and gladly forgiven. As had the Lord, who is greater than all?
- Patrick Makes the case for his Mission to the PagansEnough of this, nevertheless, I must not conceal the gift of God, which he so freely bestowed upon me in the land where I was captive. Because it was at that time that I strenuously sought him and found him. And he has saved me from all injustices, so I believe, because his spirit is within me and works in me to the present day. Another bold statement, but God knows that if the voice that guided me were merely human, I should have kept silent for the love of Christ.
And so, tirelessly, I thank my God, who kept me faithful on the ay I was tired, so that today I might offer to him, the Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of my living soul. He saved me in all your dignity you have shown yourself to me, so that today I constantly lift up and magnify your name among the heathen, wherever I have been, not only in good times but bad?"
So, whatever may come my way, good or bad, I equally tackle it, always giving thanks to God, who granted me unlimited faith in him, and who helped me so that, ignorant as I am, I might in these final days dare to undertake this work, so holy and so wonderful. It is just as if I were a follower of those whom the Lord foretold, once in former times, who were to be harbingers of his gospel for a testimony to all races before the end of the world. And indeed, we have seen this done. See: we are witnesses: the gospel has been preached to those places beyond which nobody lives. However, it would be tedious to tell in whole or in detail of my undertaking. I shall relate briefly how the most holy God frequently freed me from slavery and from twelve dangers in which my life was at stake not to mention numerous plots, which I cannot express in words; for I do not want to bore my readers. But God who knows all thoings before they happen, is my authority that he readily and frequently gave me his counsel, just because I am in his are, though I am poor and insignificant.
From where did this understanding come to me, who had knowledge neither of the number of my days nor of God? From where did I afterwards receive so great and so beneficent a gift, to know and to desire God, relinquishing homeland and family for him?
They offered me many gifts, with tears and lamentation, and I offended them, as well as going against the wish of certain of my seniors, but God guided me not to agree with them or consent to them. This was no thanks to me; rather it was God who triumphed within me and opposed them all, so that I might come to the Irish heathen to preach the gospel and suffer the insults of unbelievers. But then! To endure disgrace because of my departure! And many prosecutions, even to the extent of imprisonment, and to sacrifice my patrimony for the sake of others! I am ready indeed to give my life, freely, in his name, and I choose to spend it here even until death, if the Lord will allow me.
Because I owe a great deal to God. He gave me this great boon: that through me many heathen should be reborn in God, and that afterwards they should be confirmed as Christians, so that everywhere clergy should be ordained for a population newly coming to the faith, a population which the Lord redeemed from the ends of the earth, just as he had promised through his prohets: "The nations will come to you from the ends of the earth and will say: "how empty the idols which our forefathers erected and they are of no use" and again "I have placed you as a light among the nations so that you may bring salvation even to the end of the earth.
And it is there that I choose to await his promise, in which, at least, he will never fail, as it is stated in the Gospel:"they will come from the east and from the west and will recline at table" with Abraham and Isac and Jacob: so we believethat beleievers will come from the whole world. Therefore indeed it is true that there is an obligation to fish well and diligently, as the Lord commanded, saying "follow me and I will make you fishers of men" And again, he tells us through the prophets: "Look, I send out many fishers and hunters" says God, and so on. From which it follows most cogently that we are obliged to spread our nets so that we can catch a great shoal and multitude of God. And there should be clergy everywhere to baptise and preach to a population which is in need and longs for what it lacks, as the Lord says in the Gospel, where he admonishes and teaches, telling us: "Now therefore, go and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world."
And again he says: "Going therefore out into the whole world, preach the Gospel to all of creation: whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; they who do not believe will be condemned"
And again: "this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all peoples, and then the end will come"
And the Lord also foretells through the prophet, saying: "And in the last days" says the Lord "I will pour out my Spirit over all flesh and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams, and indeed in those days I will pour out my spirit over my male servants and my female servants and they will prophesy".
And Hosea, he says: "A people that is not mine I will call my people and a people that has not obtained mercy I will call a people that has obtained mercy. And it will be in that place where it was said: "You are not my people: there they will be called "children of the living God".
So this is why it come about in Ireland that people who had no acquaintance with God, but who up to now always had cults or idols and abominations, are recently, by this dispensation, made a people of the Lord and are known as children of God. Sons of the Scotti and daughters of chiefs are openly monks and virgins of Christ.
And indeed there was a certain blessed noblewoman, of Scottic origin, mature and beautiful, whom I baptized. A few days later she had no reason to come to us; she told us privately that she had received a message from the angel of God who commanded her to become a virgin of Christ and so draw nearer to him. Thanks be to God, just six days after that she had been embraced in the most excellent and eager way that which all the virgins of God follow. They do not do it with their fathers' consent; on the contrary they endure harassment and false accusations from their parents. And nonetheless their numbers increase (and we do not know the number of those of our own race who were born there), as well as those of widows and women living in chastity. But it is those who are held in slavery who have most to endure, even to the extent of suffering continental fears and threats. But the Lord has given grace to many His handmaids, so that they can bravely imitate Him in spite of all prohibitions.
That is why, even if I wished to leave them so that I could visit Britain (and with all my heart I was ready and anxious for my homeland and my parents, not only that, but to go on to Gaul to visit the brethren and be in the presence of my Lord's saints, god knows how much I longed for it), I am bound by the spirit, whose testimony is that if I do this he will afterwards find me guilty. And I am afraid of wrecking the task I have begun, nay, not I, but Christ the Lord who bade me come here and stay with them for the rest of my life, if the Lord will, and will guard me from every evil way that I may not sin before him.
I hope however that I did what I should have done; but I have no trust in this self of mine so long as I am in the body. For he is powerful who endeavours every day to turn me from the faith and from the pure teachings of true religion which I hold even to the end of my life for the Lord Christ. But through the flesh the enemy is always dragging me towards death, that is towards what is enticing but unlawful; and I know in part, why I have not led a perfect life like other believers. But I admit it to my Lord, and am not ashamed before him, because I do not lie. Indeed since I learned to know him in my youth, the love and fear of God have grown in me, and up to now, with the Lord's help, I have kept the faith. Let who will laugh and scoff. I will not be silent, nor will I conceal the signs and wonders which the Lord has shown to me many years before they happened, he who knows all happenings since before the begging of time.
That is why I should give thanks to God without ceasing, because he has often been lenient with my foolishness and my carelessness. And because on more than one occasion he has not been wrathful with me, who was given to him as a helper but who did not quickly accept the task which was made clear to me nor do as the spirit prompted. And the Lord took pity on me countless times, because he saw that I was ready but that I did not know how to organise myself for these matters. For there were many who hindered this mission. They even talked amoung themselves behind my back saying: "who is this fellow going into danger amoung enemies who do not know God?"
This was not from malice, but because they didn't like the look of it, I bear witness to that myself, and you may take it that it was because of my naivete, and I was not aware of the grace that was within me. Now I know that I should have understood this earlier.
Now, then: I have given a simple explanation to those of my brothers and fellow servants who have believed in me because of what I preached, and continue to preach, for the strengthening and confirming of your faith. If only you too could be persuaded to do better! This will be my renoen; for "it is the son's wisdom that gives honour to the father"
- Patrick's Declaration to his fellow WorkersYou know, and so does God, how I have been among you since my youth in truth of faith and in sincerity of heart. I have kept and will keep faith even with the heathen among whom I live. God knows I have deceived none of them, nor even thought of doing so, lest I stir up and attak on God for fear of raising persecution against them and all of us and for fear that through me the name of the Lord be blasphemed for it is written: Woe to the man through whom the name of Lord be blasphemed.
For although I lack skill in anything, yet I have tried to do whatever I could to safeguard myself in my dealings, even the Christian brethren and with virgins of Christ and with religious women, who would spontaneously offer me gifts or throw some of their personal ornaments on the altar. These I repeatedly gave back to them, and they were offended with me, not knowing why I did so. But I did it from the hope of eternity, because of which I aimed at being careful of my integrity in all dealings, so that the unbelievers should not catch me out in any detail, and so that I would not in the smallest matter give a pretext to them to disparage or denigrate the ministry of my service.
Perhaps when I baptized so many thousands of people I was hoping for as much as a ha'penny from any of them? Tell me and I will return it to them. Or when the Lord, through my very ordinary person, ordained clergy everywhere and I assigned his ministry to each of the free of charge - if I asked any of them for so much as the price of my shoe, speak out against me and I will return it to you.
On the contrary, I spent money on your behalf, so that they would receive me. And I journeyed among you, and everywhere, for your sake, often in danger, even to the outermost parts beyond which there is nothing, places where no one had ever arrived to baptize or to ordain clergy or to confirm the people. By the Lord's grace, I achieved all these results conscientiously and gladly for your salvation.
At times I gave presents to chiefs, apart from the stipend I paid their sons who travelled with me. Nevertheless, once, they seized me with my companions, and on that occasion they were most eager to kill me. But the time had not come. They stole everything they found in our possession, and they put me in chains. On the fourteenth day the Lord freed me from their power, of firm friends whom we had had the foresight to acquire. However, you have seen for yourselves how much I have paid to the administrators of justice in all the districts I was in the habit of visiting regulary. I reckon to have distributed to them no less than the price of fifteen men, so that you could continue to enjoy me, and I you, in God. I have no regret, nor have I done with it: I still spend, and will spend more. The Lord has power to grant me that I may continue in the future to spend my very self for the sake of your souls.
- Patrick Sums up his TestamentLook: I call God into my soul as a witness, that I am not lying. Nor would I wish to write to you ingratiate myself or to gain anything from you, nor beacaue I look for respect from any of you. If my integrity is not clear to you, it is enough for me that I am sure of it in my heart. Moreover, He Who made His promise to the faithful, He never lies.
But I see that already, in the present, I am lifted up beyond measure by the Lord, and I was not worthy of that, nor of the way He has provided for me; since I know for certain that I am better fitted for poverty and misfortune than for wealth and luxury. But the Lord Christ too was poor for our sake. I am indigent and unfortunate, and even if I wanted wealth, I do not have it. But that is not how I estimate myself; because I expect daily to be killed, betrayed, or brought back into slavery, or something of the kind. But, because of the promise of heaven, I fear none of these things. For I have thrown myself into the hands of Almighty God, who reigns everywhere; as the prophet says: 'Cast your cares upon God and He will sustain you.'
See: I now commend my soul to my most trustworthy God, Whose ambassador I am, in spite of my obscurity. He accepts no person, but He chose me for this task, to be one of the least of His servants.
Because of this I will repay Him for all He has bestowed on me. But what shall I say, what shall I promise my Lord, since I have no power over anything unless He gives it to me? But let Him look into my innermost being: I greatly desire and am prepared for Him to grant me that I might drink from His chalice, as He permitted to others who loved him.
Therefore, let God never permit me to lose the people that He has won in the ends of the earth. I pray God to give me perseverance and to design to allow me to give faithful testimony of Him until my death.
And, if I have ever succeeded in following any good for the sake of God, Whom I love, I pray him that, with others of His converts and captives in His name, I may shed my blood, even though I might go without burial, or my miserable corpse might be torn limb form limb by dogs or wild beasts, or the birds of the air might devour it. I know for certain that this should happen to me I should gain my soul along with my body, because, without any doubt, on that day we will be moulded to His image, and we will then reign from Him and through Him and in Him.
For the sun is that which we see rising daily at his command, but it will never reign, nor will its splendour last forever. And all those who worship it will be subject to grievous punishment. We, however, worship the true sun, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will those who do his bidding, but they will continue forever just as Christ will continue forever, he who reigns with God the father almighty and with the holy spirit before time and now and in eternity. Amen.
See: again and again, I would reiterate what I wish to express in my declaration. I testify, in truth and in joy of heart, before God and his angles that I never had any reason beyond the gospel and its promises, ever to return to that people from whom I had formerly barely escaped. But I implore those God fearing believers who agree to read or accept this document which unlettered sinner I, Patrick composed in Ireland, that none of them will attribute to an ignorant person like me any little thing I may have done, or any guidance I may have given according to God's will. Consider, and let it be truly believed, that it may have been rather the gift of God. And that is what I have to say before I die.
- Saint Patrick's Confession.
- Pagan Celtic IrelandThe Celts seem to have first been recorded by the Greeks as Keltoi deriving from a native word perhaps meaning 'hidden people'. This may have been a reference to the their lack of written history - some say writing was banned by the druid class - apart from gravestones and pottery until the 6th century AD. The Celtic culture seems to have originated in central Europe around the Danube basin, the Alps and parts of France and Germany around 1200 BC, as farming communities who became expert iron-workers. By 600 BC they were thought to have spread into Spain and Portugal and, following this, Britain, Ireland, Greece and the Balkans, although as a tribal political structure never formed an empire. In the first century AD the European Celts were largely defeated by the Romans and Germanic tribes and following the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, the subsequent Roman Occupation and the arrival of continental tribes most notably the Angles and Saxons in the 5th century, the Celtic cultural was pushed to the edges of Britain. It is regarded as having survived most energetically in Ireland.
Most references to the Celts are from later centuries made by writers who lacked records and were keen to project their religious and political circumstances on the past. Such accounts need to be cautiously treated and mixed with what little contemporary archaeological evidence is available. On a broader basis, evidence detailing other parts of the Celtic a linguistic rather than archaeological term world - Britain and particularly Gaul give some idea of what life was like when Patrick was in Ireland.
Some of the main points are:
- There were no urban areas - the major port sites in Ireland like Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway have Viking and medieval origins - others have monastic and ecclesiastical origins.
- Significant natural barriers including bogs, undrained lowland river valleys and dense forests which covered most of the island prevented easy internal movement.
- Certain favoured areas housed small communities who were involved in some agricultural activity and pastoral farming. Oats, barley, wheat and flax were grown and sheep were an important commodity, although cattle were the main economic trading unit and status element. The importance of cattle was also shown in later sagas - most particularly the Donn Cuailgne, the great brown bull of Ulster at the centre of the Tain Bo Cuailgne legend regarding the war between Connaught and Ulster. Hunting of deer and other game was prevalent.
- Almost all seem to have spoken Celtic, which had replaced earlier tongues and reflected a unity of culture although the island was politically and socially fragmented.
- Contact with other parts of the world was probably fairly widespread - pelts, furs and hunting hounds seem to have been the most likely exports - probably to the continent for the southern most parts of Ireland and to Britain and modern day Scotland.
- Hilltop sites were part of an ancient system of living and many were considered sacred. Most of the people lived in small communal villages, some of which were rath-like.
- In general the Celts were a warlike rural people and their religion reflected this - gods named or unnamed were associated with war, nature and fertility - the earth itself, the sun, trees or groves, streams, marshes, animals and birds. Art forms far from being crude were abstract in conception and execution. The Romans outlined massive differences between their own religious rites and those of the Celts. Strabo (4.4.5) describes the practise of displaying as trophies the heads of victims in war. The head had great significance in the Celtic world; Caesar (De bello Gallico 6.16) tells of sacrifice including that of humans, presided over by Druids; and Pliny (Naturalis Historia, 30.13) even refers to cannibalism. Much of this comment seems bias against the spiritual leaders of the Celts who were seen as a potentially dangerous resistance movement to be stamped out. The references to Druids and the Celtic religion by the Romans were made in Gaul mostly and none relate specifically to Ireland, although as part of the Celtic world it would not be inappropriate to relate the two tacitly, if mindful of the Roman bias.
- Pre-Roman Celts did not seem to relate burial with religion - although their thoughts on the afterlife are not readily ascertainable. This may have been the case in Ireland also. Again, we rely on Roman evidence - Pomponius (Mela De chronographia 3.2.19) writes of Celts of whom notions of an afterlife was fostered to make them fearless in war, whilst Caesar (De bello Gallico 6.14) implies that a belief of transmigration of the soul was taught by the Druids for the same purpose. Regional burial practices went on - immediately prior to the Roman occupation an identifiable Celtic burial in Britain has been found in a rough grave, the occupant in crouched or foetal position, aligned north-south, with one or two pots of food and drink, and maybe a weapon (sometimes deliberately destroyed), some jewellery or even parts of an animal.
Few written sources are reliable.
Distinguishing myths and legend from fact and finding historical core is very difficult.
By the period it is recorded in the 8th century it is politically tainted.
Little is available archaeologically for the 1st- 4th centuries AD although a lot is available for the few centuries up to the time of Christ.
The role of druids in Ireland is vague and relies on us reading back from early Irish sagas. References of Druids in Gaul reflect a Roman Perspective and their social/political/economic relationship between the two.
Liam de Paor (1993) suggests two main development phases occurred during the 5th century -
1. In order to consider the forces necessary to plunder Britain on any scale given the tribal groupings in Ireland, as in the rest of the Celtic world, he suggests that there were late 4th and early 5th century tribal alliances made to pillage the Roman provinces in Britain. This brought booty - Roman silver (which was largely cut up and reused) and luxury supplies as well as new ideas regarding ornamentation and design technique - gap-ring bronze pins to fasten cloaks which became pen annular brooches for the upper classes to wear may have come from the Romans or Germans in the Roman armies, he suggests. Heavy belt buckles, straps and harnesses which came to be imitated in Irish crafts may also have been part of this plunder. Migrants from turbulent northern Gaul moving to Ireland as the last repose of the Celtic tradition in the late 5th century may also have brought numerous design ideas. As well as booty, many hundreds if not thousands of slaves like Patrick were brought to areas like east Ulster and with them came new cultural, religious and husbandry ideas, which must have made an informal impact on the people of Ireland.
2. During the mid to late 5th century these effective groupings had less of an outlay in the declining Roman parts of Britain and so decided to continue their plundering within Ireland itself creating dynastic kingdoms out of tribal territories.
- The Celtic World First Hand - Points made by the Romans
- Diodorus Siculus (Late 1st Century BC)They say that Britain is inhabited by tribes that are aboriginal, and in their lifestyle preserve the old ways; for they make use of chariots in their wars, just as tradition tells us the ancient Greek heroes did in the Trojan war, and their houses are simple, built for the most part of reeds or logs. They harvest their grain crops by cutting off only the ears of corn and store them in covered barns. Each day they pick out the ripe ears, grind them, and in this way get their food. They are simple in their habits and far removed from the cunning and vice of modern man. Their way of life is frugal and far different from the luxury engendered by wealth. The island also has a large population, and the climate is very cold, since it actually lies under the Great Bear. It contains many kings and chieftains, who for the most part live in peace with one another.
- Strabo (1st Century BC - 1st Century AD)As regards Thule our information is even more uncertain than it is for Ireland on account of its distance; for people locate it as the most northerly of lands to which a name is given. However, the fact that what Pythons says about it and about the other pieces in those parts is false, is clear from what he tells us of the districts we do know about. For in very many cases he has told falsehoods, as was stated earlier, so that it is clear he has been even less truthful as regards remote regions. And yet from the point of view of astronomy and mathematical theory he would seem to have made reasonable use of his data in asserting that those who live close to the frozen zone have a total lack of some cultivated crops and domesticated animals and a shortage of others, and that they live on millet and vegetables, fruit and roots. Those who have grain and honey, he says, also make a drink from them. The grain itself they thresh in large barns to which they bring the ears for storage, since they do not have clear sunshine. For threshing floors are useless owing to the lack of sun.
- Caesar (Gallic War V, 12)The interior of Britain is inhabited by people who claim on the strength of their own tradition to be indigenous to the island; the coastal districts by immigrants from Belgic territory who came after plunder and to make war - nearly all of them are called after the tribes from which they originated. Following their invasion they settled down there and began to till the fields. The population is very large, their homesteads thick on the ground and very much like those in Gaul, and the cattle numerous. As money they use either bronze or gold coins or iron bars with a fixed standard of weight. Tin is found inland, iron on the coast, but in small quantities; the bronze they use is imported. There is every type of timber as in Gaul, with the exception of beech and pine. They have a taboo against eating hare, chicken, and goose, but they rear them for amusement and pleasure. The climate is more temperate than in Gaul, the cold spells being less severe.
- Caesar, Gallic War V, 14Of all the Britons by far the most civilised are the inhabitants of Cantium [Kentl, a purely maritime region, whose way of life is little different from that of the Gauls. Most of those inhabiting the interior do not grow corn, but live instead on milk and meat and clothe themselves in skins. All the Britons dye themselves with wood, which produces a blue colour, and as a result their appearance in battle is all the more daunting.' They wear their hair long, and shave all their bodies with the exception of their heads and upper lip. Wives are shared between groups of ten to twelve men, especially between brothers and between fathers and sons. The offspring on the other hand are considered the children of the man with whom the woman first lived.
Later still, following the Claudian invasion, the whole of Britain became subject to detailed exploration and expedition by both the Roman army and the influx of merchants and speculators. Even the furthest reaches of Caledonia were to come under scrutiny as a result of Agricola's campaigns, recorded by his son-in-law:
- Tacitus (late 2nd cent. AD)The position and inhabitants of Britain have been recorded by many writers, but it is not with a view to challenging their accuracy or ability that I bring these topics up again; rather because it was then under Agricola, that the conquest of Britain was completed. For this reason, while earlier writers embroidered with their eloquence things that had yet to be fully investigated, I shall set down the truth of the situation. Britain is the largest of the islands known to the Romans, and in terms of its extent and situation faces Germany in the east and Spain in the west. To the south it actually lies within sight of Gaul, while its northern parts, with no land opposite them, are beaten by a vast open sea. The overall shape of Britain has been compared by Livy and Fablus Rusticus, the most eloquent of ancient and modern writers respectively, to an elongated shoulder blade [i.e. rhombus or an axehead]. This is indeed its shape as far as Caledonia, and the idea has been extended to the whole. However, once you have crossed into Caledonia there is a vast irregular tract of land stretching out from what was considered the furthermost shore and tapering to a kind of wedge. It was then for the first time that a Roman fleet circumnavigated the coast of this remotest sea and established the fact that Britain was an island. At the same time it discovered and conquered hitherto unknown islands caned Orcaces [Orkneys].' Thule [Shetland] too was sighted but no landing made since their orders went no further and winter was approaching. They did, however, report that the sea was sluggish and heavy to the oars, and was not set in motion as much as other seas even by the winds. The reason for this I suppose is that the land and mountains which are the source and cause of storms, are further span, while the deep mass of the open sea is set in motion more slowly. Investigation of the nature and tides of Ocean is not, however, the purpose of this work, and besides many have already dealt with them. I would add just one thing: nowhere does the sea hold wider sway. This way and that its tidal currents flow, nor does it ebb and flow only up to the coast, but penetrates and winds its way deep inland, insinuating itself amidst the ridges and mountains as if in its own domain.
However, who the first inhabitants of Britain were, whether they were indigenous or immigrants, has not been sufficiently ascertained, as one might expect where barbarians are concerned. The physical types vary and from these variations come a number of theories. The red hair and large limbs of those who inhabit Caledonia affirm their German origin. The swarthy faces of the Silures and their generally curly hair, plus the fact that Spain lies opposite, leads one to believe that in ancient times Iberians crossed over and occupied this region. Those who live closest to the Gauls are like them, either because the influence of their mutual origin persists, or because the countries approach each other from north and south and as a result the similarity of climate has produced a similar physical appearance. Looking at the question overall, however, it seems likely that the Gauls occupied the nearby island. You would find in Britain the rites and religious beliefs of the Gauls. There is not much difference between them in language, the same boldness in courting danger and, when danger looms, the same panic in avoiding it. The Britons, however, display greater ferocity since they have not yet been enervated by a long period of peace. The Gauls too, we learn, were experts in warfare, but in recent times indolence and a life of ease have made their appearance, with the resultant loss of velour and, at the same time, freedom. This has also happened to those of the Britons who were conquered at the outset [i.e. in the Claudian invasion]; the rest remain what the Gauls once were.
Their strength is in their infantry; some tribes also fight in chariots. The nobleman is the driver; his retainers do the fighting. At one time they owed obedience to kings; now they are split into partisan factions under rival chieftains. Nothing indeed is more to our advantage against these very powerful tribes than the fact that they do not plan joint operations. It is rare for two or three tribes to come together in order to repel a common danger. So, they fight individually and are collectively defeated. The climate with its frequent rains and mist is wretched; yet extreme cold is absent. The length of the summer days is greater than that in our world; the nights are light and in the points of Britain furthest north short, so that you can hardly distinguish dusk from daybreak. If clouds do not get in the way, they say the sun's glow can be seen right through the night, and it does not set and rise but rather passes along the horizon. Evidently the flat edge of the world with its low shadow does not project the darkness much.
- Epitome of Dio Cassius LXXVIThere are among the Britons two very large tribes, the Caledonians and the Maeatae. The names of the others have been merged as it were into these. The Maeatae for their part live near the wall which divides the island into two [Hadrianís Wall], and the Caledonians beyond them. Both tribes inhabit wild and waterless mountains and desolate marshy plains, and possess neither walls nor cities nor farms. Instead they live on their flocks, on game and on certain fruits, and though there are vast and limitless stocks of fish they do not eat them. They live in tents without clothes or shoes; they share their womenfolk and rear all their offspring in common. Their form of government is for the most part democratic, and they have a great liking for plunder. For this reason they choose their boldest men to be their leaders. They go into battle both in chariots with small swift horses, and on foot. They are in addition very fast runners and very resolute when they stand their ground. Their weapons consist of a shield and a short spear with a bronze 'apple' at the end of the shaft which is designed to make a loud noise when shaken and thus terrify the enemy. They also have daggers. They are able to endure cold, hunger and all kinds of hardship; for they plunge into the marshes and stay there for many days with only their heads above water; in the forests they live on bark and roots, and in case of emergency they prepare a type of food, a piece of which, the size of a bean, when eaten, stops them feeling hunger or thirst. Such is the island of Britain and such are the inhabitants, at least in the hostile part.
- Herodian 3rd Century AD III, 14, 68Most of northern Britain is marshy since it is constantly washed by the ocean tides. The barbarians are accustomed to swim in these marshes or to run through them with the water up to their waists. For the most part they are naked and think nothing of getting mud on themselves. Also, being unfamiliar with the use of clothing, they adorn their waists and necks with iron, considering this sun ornament and a sign of wealth, just as other barbarians do gold. They tattoo their bodies with various designs and pictures of all kinds of animals. This is the reason they do not wear clothes: so as not to cover up the designs on their bodies. They are extremely warlike and bloodthirsty, though their armament consists simply of a narrow shield, a spear, and a sword that hangs beside their naked bodies. They me unfamiliar with the use of breastplates or helmets, considering them a hindrance in crossing the marshes. From these thick mists rise and cause the atmosphere in that region always to have a gloomy appearance.
- Diodorus Siculus (Late 1st Century BC)
- The Nature of the Druids
- GeneralThe following details of druidic activity were recorded by the Romans in Gaul, a part of Northern France, which shared much of its linguistic and material culture with Britain and Ireland. Although contemporary, many of these reports were at the very least dismissive and ethnocentric and seem similar to the sensational reporting of African explorers during the 19th century. More importantly, such writings may also have reflected political agendas, which underlined the druids as a dangerous ruling class who needed to be removed for effective government in these provinces.
Despite references to Druidism in Britain by Caesar (Gallic War Vl, 13), and Pliny the Elder (Natural History XXX, 13), the first record of contact between Roman and Druid in Britain occurs in Tacitus' description of Paulinus' attack on Anglesey (Annals XIV, 30), and it is on this that claims for a druidic role in British resistance to Rome largely depend.
Of the actual gods of Britain few real details survive beyond the name, location and sometimes the sphere of influence. In many cases it is even uncertain whether the god was native to Britain or an import from other Celtic parts of the empire after the conquest.
The earliest surviving account of Celtic beliefs in the north-western part of Europe was by Caesar in the middle of the first century BC.
- Gallic War, 5, 13 - 18Throughout Gaul there are two classes of men who are of some account and are had is esteem. The common people are considered virtually as slaves, never daring to do anything on their own account and never consulted on any matter. Most of them, overwhelmed with debt or heavy taxation or oppressed by the injustices of those more powerful, surrender themselves to the power of the nobles, who have the same rights over them as masters do over slaves.
Of the two classes mentioned one consists of Druids, the other of Knights. The former officiate at religious ceremonies, supervise public and private sacrifices, and expound on religious questions. Large numbers of young men flock to them for instruction, and regard them with great respect. In fact they hand down decisions on almost all public and private disputes, and if any crime is committed or crime done, or there is some dispute over inheritance or boundaries, it is they who decide the issue and determine the compensation or penalty. If any individual tribe does not abide by their decision they are banned from sacrifices this is regarded by them as the heaviest possible penalty, and those under such a ban are reckoned to be impious criminals: everyone shuns them, avoids going near them or speaking to them, in case they come to some harm through contact with them.
Over all the Druids, however there is one who presides and has supreme authority. On his death if there is anyone of surpassing merit among those remaining, he succeeds; but if a number of them are of equal standing, the matter is put to the vote among the druids, and on occasion they even fight over the leadership with force of arms. At a fixed time of the year the druids hold session at a consecrated spot in the territory of the carnutes, which is considered the centre of all Gaul. To this place come all those who have disputes, and they accept their decrees and decisions. It is thought that the druidic system was invented in Britain and then imported into Gaul. There it is those wishing to make a more detailed study of it generally go to learn.
The druids do not normally take part in war and are not subject to taxation like the rest; they enjoy exemption from military service and immunity to all liabilities. With the attraction of such privileges many come to learn of their own volition, or are sent by their parents or relatives. The students reportedly learn a great number of verses by heart, and for this reason they remain under instruction for twenty years. They regard it as contrary to their religious beliefs to commit their teachings to writing, though in almost all other matters such as public and private accounts they use the Greek alphabet. This rule I think was introduced for two reasons: they did not want the teachings to be disseminated among the masses, nor did they want their student s to repay upon the written word and thus pay less attention to the development of their memories.
A belief that they particularly wish to inculcate is that the soul does not perish but after death passes on from one person to another. This they think is the greatest incentive to bravery, if fear of death is thereby minimised.
They also engage in much discussion about the stars and their motion, the size of the universe and the earth, the composition of the world, and the strength and power of the immortal gods, all of which they hand on to the young men.
The other class consists of the Knights. When war breaks out they are needed - before Caesar's arrival it was almost a yearly occurrence for the Gauls to be engaged in making raids or repelling them - they all engage in it, and each has a band of vassals or retainers about him in accordance with his birth and wealth.
The Gallic nation as a whole is very much devoted to religion. For this reason those affected by more serious diseases or engaged in the dangers of battle either offer or promise to offer human sacrifice and they employ druids to act for them in this. They believe in fact that unless one life is given for another, the power of the immortal gods cannot be appeased, and they also have offered organised sacrifices of the same kind on behalf of the state. Others use enormous figures, the limbs of which, woven out of pliant twigs, they fill with living men. They are then set alight and the men perish, engulfed in the flames. The execution of those caught in the act of theft or brigandage or some other crime is considered more pleasing to the immoral gods, but when there is a shortage of people of this type they resort to executing even those guilty of no offence.
They worship Mercury most of an and have very many images of him regarding him as the inventor of all crafts, their guide on all journeys, and they consider him to be especially important for the acquisition of money in trade. After him they Hip Apollo, Mare, Jupiter, and Minerva,' about whom they hold much the same idols as do other rack: that Apollo dispels depose, that Minerva teaches the principle of arts and crafts, that Jupiter reigns in heaven, that Mare is Lord of warfare, and it is to him, when they have decided to fight a battle, that they generally promise the booty they look forward to talked. When they are victorious, they sacrifice the captured animals and assemble their other booty in one spot. One can see large pike of such material at consecrated places in many tribal areas, and it rarely happens that anyone dares, in defiance of religion, either to hide booty in his house or to remove anything once placed in position on the pile . For such an act is assigned the severest of penalties accompanied by torture.
The Gauls declare that they are all descended from Father Dis, and they claim that this is the tradition of the Druids. For this reason they measure all periods of time not by the number of days but of nights.
- Pomponius Mela 1st Century AD - De Chorographia III, 2, 18 - 19The tribes of Gaul are arrogant, superstitious and even at times inhuman, so much so that they believe a human victim is the most effective and one of the most acceptable to the gods. Vestiges of their savage ways remain, even if the practices have been abolished... However, they have their own brand of eloquence and in the Druids teachers of wisdom.. these latter claim to know the size and shape of the world, the motion of the stars and heavens, and the will of the gods.
- Hippolytus 3rd Century AD - Philosophumena or Omnium Haeresium Refutatio, 1, 25Among the Celts the Druids delved deeply into the Pythagorean philosophy , inspired to this pursuit by Zamolxis, a Thracian slave of Pythagoras. Following Pythagoras' death he went there and initiated this philosophy among them. The Celts consider them as prophets and able to read the future because they predict certain events as a result of computations and hellions using Pythagorean techniques. I shall not pass over in silence the methods of this same technique since some people have even presumed to introduce heresies from these people. The Druids also makes use of magic.
- Cicero Mid 1st Century - De Divinatione I, 90Not even among barbarians is the practice of divination neglected, since there are Druids in Gaul, one of whom I knew myself, your guest and eulogist Diviciacus the Aeduan. He claimed to have that knowledge of nature which Greeks call 'physiologia', and be used to foretell the future partly by means of augury and partly by Conjecture.
- Pliny the Elder - Natural History Em, 13Magic undoubtedly had a hold on Gaul, even down to living memory; for it was in the reign of Tiberius Caesar that Druids and that type of soothsayer and healer were abolished. But why mention this about a practice diet has crossed Ocean and penetrated to the empty vastnesses of nature? Britain today is mesmerised by it and practices it with so much ceremony that one might think it was she who gave it to the Persians: so unanimous is the world in its acceptance of it, even though its practitioners are quite different from one another, or even ignorant of one another's existence. Nor can one adequately reckon the debt owed to Rome in having put an end to those evil rites in which the greatest act of pistil was to murder a man, and to eat his flesh most conducive to good health.
For all their civilising influence in those parts of Britain directly controlled by Rome, this seems not to have extended far beyond the northern frontier, eventually established for good along Hadrian's wall. The following describes the tribes north of the frontier in the early years of the third century AD, the reign of Severus.
- Nature of Celtic Magic
- Natural History, 249 - 251While on this topic we must not omit the respect paid to mistletoe by the Gauls. The Druids - this is what they call their magicians - hold nothing more sacred than mistletoe and the tree on which it is growing, so long as this is oak. They even choose groves of oak: simply for that fact alone, and perform no rites without its foliage. As a result it would seem that they are even called Druids from the Greek word for oak druids. In particular they consider that anything growing on oaks has been sent by heaven and is a sign that the tree as been chosen by the god himself.
Mistletoe growing on an oak, however, is a rare find, and when it is found it is gathered with great reverence, above all on the 6th day of the moon it is the moon that marks out for them the beginning of months and years and cycles of thirty years because this day is already exercising great influence even though the moon is not halfway through its course. They can it' in their language 'all healing'. Having prepared a sacrifice and banquet beneath the tree with all due ceremony, they bring up two buns whose horns have been bound for the first time on that occasion.
The priest, dressed in a white robe, climbs the tree, reaps the mistletoe with a golden sickle, and it is gathered up in a white blanket. They then sacrifice the victims praying that the god makes this gift of theirs propitious those to whom he has given it. They believe that when taken in liquid form mistletoe imparts fertility to any sterile animal and is an antidote for all poisons. Such is the reverence felt by very many tribes for such worthless matters.
- Natural History XXIV, 103 - 104Similar to this plant called Sabina is one called Selago. It is gathered without the use of any iron implement, but using the right hand protruding from the left armhole of the tunic as if the person involved were committing an act of theft. This person should be clad in white, his bare feet washed clean, and an offering of bread and wine made before gathering. It should be carried in a fresh white cloth. The Druids of Gaul teach that its possession wards off all harm and that the smoke of it is good for all eye troubles.
The same people mention a plant called Samolus which grows in damp areas. This should be gathered with the left hand by those fasting and be used against diseases of pigs and cattle. The person gathering it should not look at it alt. look behind him nor put it down anywhere except in the drinking trough where it is crushed for the animals to drink
- Pliny the Elder, Natural HistoryMagic undoubtedly had a hold on Gaul, even down to living memory; for it was in the reign of Tiberius Caesar that their Druids and that type of soothsayer and healer were abolished. But why mention this about a practice diet has crossed Ocean and penetrated to the empty vastnesses of nature? Britain today is mesmerised by it and practices it with so much ceremony that one might think it was she who gave it to the Persians: so unanimous is the world in its acceptance of it, even though its practitioners are quite different from one another, or even ignorant of one another's existence. Nor can one adequately reckon the debt owed to Rome in having put an end to those evil rites in which the greatest act of pistil was to murder a man, and to eat his flesh most conducive to good health.
- Suetonius 2nd Century ADClaudius totally abolished the dreadful and savage religion of the Druids in Gaul. Under the Emperor Augustus it had merely been forbidden to Roman citizens.
- Natural History, 249 - 251
- Celtic DeitiesUnlike the Romans and Greeks the Celts had no hierarchical cosmology with a group or family of gods living on a mountain top like Olympus - they accepted the spirit world as living with them without separation. Their dwellings were the natural features of the landscape - particularly the lakes, rivers and springs but also the woods and hills. Each tribal community seems to have had its own collection of unseen spirits who were evoked and placated by offering gifts and sacrifices. All of the spirits came together at certain times as on the eve of the great feast of Samain which became All Hallows Eve and interaction between the two worlds was only possible through a tribal hero.
Taranis the Celtic Sky God equated with Jupiter an altar at Chester and shard from Corbridge (both in England) show him holding lightening flash and solar wheel.
Cernunnos the Horned One very ancient symbol of authority usually in Buddha stance best visual from Rheims where he is flanked by Apollo and Mercury in subservient positions - he holds a large bag from which streams money. Nearby are an ox and stag - domesticated and wild animals over which he is said to have had sway.
Rosmerta - Celtic provider with male equivalent Smertrios - appears in Britain with Mercury.
Deae Matres - the mother goddess - most popular type - swollen breasts and abdomen type of primitive societies and very ancient.
The genii cucullati - small male figures wearing the cucullus large hooded cape covering the shoulders or a cloak over the whole body down to the knees - a word used later as cowl, usually in groups of three -the Celtic way of increasing the power of the deities. These may have been deities of death - possibly there were different deities for each life event.
Epona - the Celtic horse goddess. Depicted riding side-saddle on a small horse. Very popular in Gaul. Horses were, of course, essential and much prized in the Celtic world bringing status and underlining rank in this highly stratified society. She often held a platter of fruit and seems to have symbolised fecundity and plenty - therefore she was especially popular with the more common classes, as can be seen by the clay pipe figurines to her.
The River Deities -
Rivers like most other natural features had their own spirits, power and personality. They were difficult to cross and many travellers seem to have cast a votive gift into the waters for thanksgiving or placation
Irish-British Celtic Mythology and European Connections
The numerous links between Irish and British Celtic Mythology show that there were considerable links between the two islands.
Welsh Celtic Mythology the warrior god Lleu Llaw Gyffes seems to have had an association with the Irish god Lugh who was an important deity responsible for light and the sun as well as arts and crafts. He seems also to be the Gaulish god Lugus. Lughnasadh was the harvest festival held for this god on 1st August - later the Christian festival of Lammas.
Other overlapping figures include - Mannannan mac Lir, son of Lir the sea god who lived on the Isle of Man also known as Manawydan fab Lyr in Welsh.
Welsh mythology relates that brothers Llefelys and Lludd ruled Gaul and Britain respectively, whilst the Welsh God Llyr and the Irish God Lir (sea god) seem to have been one and the same.
Matholwch, in Welsh Celtic mythlogy was a king of Ireland who married Branwen in an attempt to promote good relations between the two neighbouring places but this alliance traditionally ended disastrously. Matholwch went from Ireland to Wales to seek the hand of Branwen in marriage and brought 100 horses with him. This union reflects the trading relations between the two Kingdoms.
The Irish Celts were renowned for their medical skills - Dian Cecht was the god of medicine.
The Leabhar Gabhala Eireann is a book dealing with mystical invasions of Ireland from the pre-Flood journey of Cesair - also known as the Book of Invasions surviving principally in the Book of Leinster. The Fir Bholg were supposedly one invading force who were traditionally slaves from Thrace. They were accompanied by the Gailioin or Laighin who were from Greece.
- Roman CeltsThe Roman occupation had a considerable impact on the outward appearance of Celtic cults but probably less on religious thought and ritual - particular because Romano-Britain mainly lived in the rural area where the influence of Roman practices would have been superficial at best. The druids seem certainly to have been removed and there was cross-religious acceptance in both Roman and Celtic cultures. Roman soldiers made dedications to Celtic gods and rural dwellers often to Roman gods. A number of religions were introduced to Britain - including the so-called 'oriental cults' of Isis, Serapis, Cybele and Atys, and Mithras - although this group has been found mostly in military areas such as York, Gloucester, London and Hadrian's Wall - and its impact is overrated. One such eastern Mediterranean religion to come to Britain was Christianity - although this has been considered a Roman religion distinct from Judaism by the its arrival in any major fashion towards the close of the second century rather than an Oriental one.
After the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and this religion became the Official Roman Religion. In AD 391 the Roman Emperor Theodosius closed all temples in the Empire and banned all pagan cults endorsing Christianity as the official religion of the empire. This command would have eventually been acted upon in Britain - one of the remotest parts of the empire although Roman for over three centuries at that time.
Christianity was widespread, although perhaps not numerically strong - Tertullian wrote of its presence in the remoter parts of Britain beyond Roman settlement, whilst at a later date Origen described Christianity as a unifying force in Britain. Most commentators accept a Christian presence in Britain by the last quarter of the 2nd century. Generally Christianity potentially was more widespread and its appeal broader than previously thought - archaeologically it is strongest in Romanised urban areas. A Pagan revival did seem to occur in the 360s however.
Christianity had been well established in Gaul by the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180) with congregations of considerable size from all strata of society according to Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastic 5.1) which related to the persecution of 177 Christians in Lyon. The Christian religion was carried to the Celts in their own language by bishops like Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon. Only three early martyrs in Britain are named at this time - Alban, Aaron and Julius. Dates for their martyrdom are lacking - but it is generally assumed to have been in the third century - the last two in 'Legionum urbis cives' - widely translated as citizens of the 'city of Legions'. Some have added to this the name Agulus or Augulus who is listed in the Martyrologium as a 'bishop and martyr' who had been martyred in 'Brittaniis at civitate Augusta' - the name attributed to London by the later 4th century. A further candidate is Mellonus ( a Celtic name) - first Bishop of Rouen who seems to have been born in Great Britain (as opposed to Brittany) 'of no mean parents, a citizen of the town of Cardiola' which is otherwise unknown. He supposedly went to Rome to pay taxes in the reign of Valerian (253 AD - 260 AD), was baptised by Stephanus, the bishop himself martyred (c.257 AD) and went to Rouen.
In 314 three British bishops with a priest and deacon attended the Council of Arles summoned by Constantine to discuss the Donatist schism, suggesting a regional basis of organisation by the early fourth century. Even by the mid-century the British Church seems to have been relatively poor materially according to the evidence from Sulpicius (Severus Chronicon 2.42). Further literary references to Romano-British Christianity are virtually non-existent until the Roman forces withdraw from 410 AD. Archaeological evidence suggests that Christianity was a religion of the poor as well as the rich. The British Bishops attending the Council of Arles in 314 were: Eboracum, a (Celtic name perhaps derived from that of his church); Restitutus, Bishop of London (a Latin name favoured in the Celtic provinces) and Adelphius (Greek name thought to be from Lincoln). The priest and deacon Sacerdos and Arminius - both Latin but possibly concealing Celtic names- have been suggested to have been from Cirencester, the chief town of the fourth British Province.
The British church assented to the decisions of the Council of Nicaea, at which the Nicen Creed was formulated in 325 and at the Rimini Council in 359 British bishops were probably present in force.
- The Roman Emperor in Patrick's Time
- Honorius (395 - 423 AD)Honorius' Early LifeFlavius Honorius was born in the east in 384, the younger son of the emperor Theodosius I (379-395) and Aelia Flavia Flaccilla. In his youth he was named Most Noble Child (nobilissimus puer), and in 386 he held the consulate. He was summoned by his father to Rome when he was five, but in 391 he returned with him to Constantinople, where in 393 he was proclaimed emperor. In 394, he was called to Milan, and in 395, when Theodosius died, Honorius and his brother Arcadius jointly succeeded to the throne, with Arcadius ruling the east and Honorius the west. This year marked the beginning of the true de facto division of the empire into eastern and western halves, each under the rule of its own emperor even though, in theory, the empire remained a single entity. Both boys spent their reigns under the influence of powerful advisers. The first such power behind the throne in the west was the Vandal general Stilicho, both of whose daughters Honorius married -- Maria circa 398 and Thermantia in 408.Honorius' ReignAfter the Visigothic invasion of Italy in 402, Honorius and the imperial court retired from Milan to the inaccessible and heavily defended city of Ravenna. Only rarely did later emperors reside for any length of time elsewhere. Meanwhile, palace intrigues resulted in Stilicho's assassination in 408, and Honorius was left to deal with Alaric and the Visigoths. The indecisive emperor, influenced first by one adviser and then by another, vacillated between resistance and conciliation. The end result was the sack of Rome in 410.
Nor were the Visigoths the only barbarian invaders of the western empire during Honorius' reign. In 405, the barbarian adventurer Radagaisus assembled a huge army in the Danubian region, invaded Italy, and ruined many Italian cities. Not until August of 406 were he and his army destroyed by Stilicho. On the last day of the same year, hordes of Burgundians, Alans, Suevi, and Vandals crossed the frozen Rhine into Gaul and slowly made their way south. In 409 all but the Burgundians crossed into Spain. In northeastern Gaul, the Franks extended their influence, and in 418 the Visigoths were granted a treaty which assigned to them much of southwestern Gaul. Gradually, therefore, more and more of the western empire was slipping from Roman hands.
Honorius' reign also was afflicted by several revolts and usurpations. In 397, the Master of Soldiers Gildo revolted in North Africa, only to be suppressed in 398. In Britain, a succession of rebellions by the discontented and isolated soldiery included those of Marcus (406-407), Gratian (407), and Constantine III (407-411). In 407, Constantine crossed to Gaul, and successfully advanced all the way to Arles. Meanwhile, in 409, the senator Priscus Attalus was proclaimed emperor, although he was deposed when Alaric and Honorius made a short-lived peace in the next year. At the same time, Constantine's general Gerontius rebelled in Spain, and in 409 elevated a certain Maximus to the purple. Honorius, for his part, sent his general Constantius to deal with the situation in Gaul in 411. The resultant falls of Constantine and Maximus, however, were followed by a revolt in northern Gaul by Jovinus, which was not suppressed until 413. The powerful general Constantius then married Honorius' sister Galla Placidia in 417, and was promoted to co-emperor with Honorius in 421, only to die of illness later in the year. Meanwhile, in 420, the "tyrant" Maximus -- perhaps the same man -- seized power in Spain, and he was not subdued until 422.Honorius' DeathAs for the feckless and timid Honorius, he generally took little part in public affairs. He was generally passive in nature, except when he was motivated to act by fear. He left military operations to his generals, but he did become involved in a controversy over the choice of a bishop of Rome in 418. He eventually died of "dropsy" -- perhaps edema of the lungs -- in 423. He left no issue, which resulted in the proclamation of Johannes, the Chief Secretary, after his death. Not until 425 did his nephew Valentinian III, the son of Galla Placidia and Constantius, restore the legitimate dynasty. Even though the unity of the western empire was shakily maintained during Honorius' reign -- only Britain was lost for good (Honorius wrote to the Britons advising them to defend themselves) -- he left a legacy of fragmentation and feeble, lackluster leadership which eventually would result in the dissolution of the western empire.BibliographyEditions:For legislation issued by Honorius, see the relevant entries in the Codex Theodosianus and Codex Justinianus; for Honorius' extant correspondence, see Otto Guenther ed., Epistulae imperatorum pontificum aliorum inde ab a. CCCLXVII usque ad a. DLIII datae avellana quae dicitur collectio, C.S.E.L. vol 35 pt.1 (Vienna, 1895) nos.14-38 pp.59-88.Critical Studies:Cameron, Alan. Claudian: Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius. Oxford, 1970.
Cristo, S., "Some Notes on the Bonifacian-Eulalian Schism." Aevum 51(1979): 163-167.
Demougeot, Émilienne. "Une lettre de l'empereur Honorius sur l'hospitium des soldats." Revue historique de droit français et etranger 34(1956): 25-49.
Martelli, Fabio. "Onorio, Ravenna e la presa di Roma del 410." Rivista Storica dell'Antichita 11(1981): 215-219.
Wes, Marinus A. Das Ende des Kaisertums im westen des römischen Reichs. The Hague, 1967.
- ValentinianValentinian's Early YearsPlacidus Valentinianus, later the emperor Valentinian III, was born in 419, the son of the emperor Honorius' sister Galla Placidia and the patrician, later emperor, Constantius. He was the brother of Justa Grata Honoria. In the early 420s he was proclaimed Most Noble (Nobilissimus) by his uncle Honorius, but neither this title nor his father's emperorship were initially recognized in the east. After his mother's falling out with Honorius, the young Valentinian accompanied her and his sister to exile at the court of his cousin Theodosius II (402-450) at Constantinople. The eastern attitude toward Valentinian changed in 423, when the usurper Johannes seized power in the west. Valentinian was first reaffirmed as Nobilissimus in 423/424, and then was named Caesar (junior emperor) in 424. In the same year he was betrothed to his cousin Licinia Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodosius II. In 425 he was proclaimed Augustus at Rome after the defeat of Johannes, and in 437 he returned to Constantinople for his marriage. A partially extant poem in honor of the nuptials was written by the poet Merobaudes.Valentinian's ReignIn the early years of his reign, Valentinian was overshadowed by his mother. After his marriage in 437, moreover, much of the real authority lay in the hands of the Patrician and Master of Soldiers Aetius. Nor does Valentinian seem to have had much of an aptitude for rule. He is described as spoiled, pleasure-loving, and influenced by sorcerers and astrologers. He divided his time primarily between Rome and Ravenna. Like his mother, Valentinian was devoted to religion. He contributed to churches of St. Laurence in both Rome and Ravenna. He also oversaw the accumulation of ecclesiastical authority in the hands of the bishop of Rome as he granted ever greater authority and prestige to pope Leo the Great (440-461) in particular.Valentinian's DeathValentinian's reign saw the continued dissolution of the western empire. By 439, nearly all of North Africa was effectively lost to the Vandals; Valentinian did attempt to neutralize that threat by betrothing his sister Placidia to the Vandal prince Huneric. In Spain, the Suevi controlled the northwest, and much of Gaul was to all intents and purposes controlled by groups of Visigoths, Burgundians, Franks, and Alans. In 454, Valentinian murdered his supreme general Aetius, presumably in an attempt to rule in his own right. But in the next year, he himself was murdered by two members of his bodyguard, ex-partisans of Aetius.
Although Valentinian was ineffectual as a ruler, his legitimate status and connection to the old ruling dynasty provided a last vestige of unity for the increasingly fragmented Roman empire. After his death, the decay of the west accelerated. The different regions of the west went their own way, and the last several western emperors, the so-called "Shadow" or "Puppet" Emperors, not only were usually overshadowed by one barbarian general or other, but also were limited primarily to Italy.Bibliography:Editions:Primary sources: For legislation issued by Valentinian, see the Constitutiones sirmondinianae and the Novella Valentiniani published in the Codex Theodosianus, see also the Codex Justinianus.Critical Studies:Barnes, Timothy D. "Patricii Under Valentinian III." Phoenix 29(1975): 155-170
Ensslin, Wilhelm "Valentinians III. Novellen XVII und VIII von 445." Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Römanistische Abteilung 57(1937): 367-378
Musumeci, Anna Maria, "La politica ecclesiastica di Valentiniano III." Siculorum gymnasium 30 ns(1977): 431-481.
Selb, Walter, "Episcopalis audientia von der Zeit Konstantins bis zur Nov. XXXV Valentinians III." Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Römanistische Abteilung 84(1967): 162-217.
- Honorius (395 - 423 AD)
- Controversy in the Early ChurchThe Pelagain controversy suggests that substantial numbers of Christians lived into the post-roman period - in the east from Lincoln southwards and in the west, particularly around the Severn estuary and Somerset. One personal attack on Pelagius 'a monk of the British race' by Jerome in c.410 referred to him as 'thoroughly solid, weighed down by Irish porridge' - Scottorum pultibus. This is a reference to the diet of the Britains' neighbours in a fashion to blacken Pelaguis as a barbarian. Jerome also called him an Alpine hound, tortoise and monstrous Goliath with a bulging forehead and thick neck amongst other things.
Controversy continued within the British Christian church as it developed in later 4th century - the Bishop of Rouen, Victricius (some have suggested a Briton like his predecessor Mellonus), for example, is recorded as having been sent to Briton at the request of the Britons as a disciple of St Martin's reforms in order to stamp out paganism and introduce monasticism. This had faced much opposition in rural Gaul. Britain enjoyed comparative peace in the early 5th century but from the period of at least 460 onwards experienced extreme danger and assault due to the Saxon or Anglo-Saxon invasion.
- Parick's Abduction
- Ammianus Marcellinus (late 4th C. AD) XXVI, 4, 5*Note that Scots are the Irish and Picts lived in modern day Scotland.
At this time, with trumpets sounding for war as if through all the Roman world, the most savage tribes rose up and poured across the nearest frontiers. At one and the same time the Alamanni were plundering Gaul and Raetia, the Sarmatae and Quadri Pannonia; the Picts, Saxons, Scots and Attacotti harassed the Britons with continual calamaties.
- Claudian (late 4th C. AD) Panegyric on the Third Consulship of Honorius 51-6And so as to inflame you all the more with a love of battle, he would recount the deeds of your grandfather the elder Theodosius), before whom trembled the shores of sunscorched Libya and Thule, beyond the reach of ships. He it was vanquished the nimble Moors and aptnamed Picts; he pursued the Scots with his far-ranging sword; he cleft Hyperborean waves with his courageous oars.
- Claudian (late 4th C. AD) Panegyric on the Third Consulship of Honorius 24-33From here Spain, came forth your grandfather the Elder Theodosius, for whom, exultant after his northern battles, Africa wove laurels won from the Massyli. He it was pitched camp amid the frosts of Caledonia, in armour bore the summer heat of Libya, a source of terror to the Moor, conqueror of the British shore, laying waste to North and South alike. What profit to the Britons the eternal harshness and cold of their climate, or the uncharted seas? The Orkneys were drenched with slaughter of the Saxons; Thule was warm with Pictish blood and icy Ireland wept for the heaps of Scottish dead.
- Pacatus (late 4th C. AD), Panegyric on Theodosius 5, 2Shall I relate how Britain was brought to her knees by battles on land? If' that case the Saxon, exhausted by naval engagements, springs to mind. Shall I speak of the Scots driven back to their own marshes?
By the 420s Britain was outside the empire and easy prey to barbarian invasions and raids - defence systems crumbled and the administrative system weakened. Local usurpers of power called tyranni emerged internally.
- De Excidio Britanniae [On the Destruction of Britain]And so, as the Romans returned home, the loathsome hordes of Scots and Picts eagerly emerged from the coracles that carried them across the gulf of the sea, like dark swarms of worms that emerge from the narrow crevices of their holes when the sun is high and the weather grows warm. In custom they differed slightly one from another, yet in their single desire for shedding blood they were of one accord, preferring to cover their villainous faces with hair, rather than their private pans and surrounding areas with clothes. Once they learned of the Romans' departure and their refusal to return, more confident than ever, they seized from its inhabitants the whole northern part of the country as far as the wall. To resist them an army was posted on the top of the fortification, an army reluctant to fight, incapable of flight, feckless through the timorousness of their hearts, an army that day and night languished in senseless idleness.
Therefore the shameless Irish robbers returned home, though I intending to return shortly, while the Picts in the furthest part of the island then for the first time and for some time thereafter remained inactive, though they occasionally engaged in forays and plundering raids
The Romans were dispatching attacks in the late 4th and early 5th centuries:
- Chronicle of 452, (AD 382)Maximus promptly overcame the Picts and Scots who were engaged in making attack.
- Claude, On the Consulship of Stilicho (delivered early 400) IINext spoke Britannia, dressed in the skin of some Caledonian beast, her cheeks tattooed, her sea-blue mantle sweeping over her footsteps like the surge of Ocean: 'I too, when on the point of death at the hand of neighbouring tribes, found in Stilicho protection, when the Scots roused all Ireland and the sea foamed beneath hostile oars. His care ensured I need not fear the missiles of the Scots, nor tremble at the Picts, nor watch on all my shores for Saxons to arrive with every shifting wind.'
- Claudian, Gothic War 416-418There also came the legion set to guard the furthest Britons, the legion that curbs the savage Scot and scans the lifeless patterns tattooed on dying Picts
The Irish would have had to slip into coastal areas whilst avoiding the following scout vessels which were designed to protect the shores:
- Epitoma Rei Militaris [Abridgement of Military Affairs] IV, 37As for size, the smallest galleys have a single bank of oars . . . Associated with the larger galleys are scouting skiffs, which have around twenty oars on each side, and which the Britons can Picati tardaubed. These are intended to locate and at times intercept the passage of enemy ships and to discover by observation their arrival or plans. However, to prevent these scout vessels being easily visible through the brightness of their appearance, their sails and rigging are dyed seagreen, and even the pitch with which ships are ordinarily daubed is made that colour. The sailors and marines wear seagreen clothing so that as they go about their scouting they may escape detection the more easily not only by night but also by day.
- Ammianus Marcellinus (late 4th C. AD) XXVI, 4, 5
- Day Tours in Saint Patricks CountryAll of our tours begin at the Saint Patrick Centre, Downpatrick, which is the only permanent exhibition in the world about Ireland's Patron Saint. Our award winning exhibition details the life of Patrick form his boyhood in Roman Britain through his time as a slave, becoming a Bishop and his return to Ireland as a missionary.Guided Site Tour OptionsThe Saint Patrick Centre offers groups a full tour of the Saint Patrick Exhibition and IMAX experience with the option of one of the following guided site visits. The Centre is also pleased to offer tailor made tours on request if appropriate and booked in advance to the following locations in Saint Patrick CountryDown CathedralStruell WellsInch AbbeySlieve PatrickSaul Church