Monday, October 15, 2012

Celtic Corner - October 2012

Aisle of Saints and Scholars

Only in Ireland, never reached by the Roman legions, would the Celtic culture remain intact through the centuries-long after the Roman Empire had decayed and fallen to the Germans.

The first phase of Celtic art began from about 700 B.C. with the Hallstatt period dating from a place of the same name in Austria. Its finest expression dates from about 500 B.C. with the beginning of the fantastic art of LaTene period, named after an archaeologically rich site discovered in Switzerland. It continued in continental Europe and in Celtic Britain, but declined with the advent of Roman conquest in the first century B.C. Today hundreds of objects in museums all over Europe attest to a brilliant and unique art that lasted for centuries, a legacy proudly shared by every country in which the ancient Celts lived.

Again only in Ireland would the centuries old traditions of Celtic art remain intact and survive the fall of the Roman Empire itself. Indeed the creative urge of the Celtic spirit would expand beyond the boundaries of three dimensional art to nourish the writing of seventh and eight century A.D. illuminated(elaborately decorated) manuscripts from Irish monasteries. What such Celtic scholars produced in illuminated manuscripts has never since been surpassed in world art.

Some precious and famous art objects of the ancient Irish Celts survive, such as the exquisite eighth century Tara Brooch, the priceless ninth century illuminated Book of Kells, and the noble, tenth century Irish high crosses sculptured in stone.

While early Christian missionaries from Rome encountered only rudimentary elements of law and learning among the Germanic peoples in the fifth century A.D, they found that Irish society included organized schools which had for centuries produced learned and respected specialists in religion, calendrical skills, law, genealogy, poetry and oral literature. When Ireland replaced paganism with Christianity, the Celtic high regard for knowledge and learning not only remained, but flourished more than ever with the added dimension of writing.

With the adoption of Christianity, ancient Celtic Ireland emerged from its Age of Heroes and entered its Age of Saints, becoming known to the rest of Europe as the Island of Saints.(At that time a holy man could be given the title of “Saint” without in fact being a saint canonized by Rome.)

From the sixth century the Irish became internationally known for their devotion to learning and scholarly activities and for actively spreading their knowledge and civilization abroad. The Celts, despite an alleged fondness for war, had been fascinated with organized learning and knowledge for centuries. That was what their druids and bards were all about. The early Christian monasteries in Ireland were the natural successors to the druid and bardic schools.

From the sixth to the ninth centuries A.D., Irish native excellence, representing the “purest” Celtic culture remaining in Europe, burst forth unrestrained in the literary and creative civilization. This included Ireland’s Golden Age of Saints and Scholars, an extraordinary period which spread learning and Christianity throughout much of Europe like a guiding light in the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome. During these centuries, Ireland’s monasteries are considered to have been the most brilliant centers of learning in all Europe.

It was said of these ancient Celts:

Their Wealth was not judged by what they had

but what they gave


May the good saints protect you
and bless you today


Your Correspondence Secretary                                      President
Frank Darcy                                                                    Ken Egan