Conesion

The initial conversion of the Irish Celts to Christianity required the dominance of missionaries over druids. The victors may write history, and this struggle is recorded only in Christian annals, which provide a fascinating, if one-sided, insight into a tumultuous event in Celtie civilization. The importance of missionary work and conversion to the Celtic Church is demonstrated hy the sanctification of many of these early Celtic missionaries.

Olhe Christian missionary Patrick converted

_| the Irish to Christianity in the years following his arrival in Ireland in 432. The druids, closely linked to the royal houses as advisers, seers, and spiritual leaders, quickly recognized the threat Patrick posed to their power base and became his implacable oponents.

The life of St. I^atrick was chronicled by two clerics, including Muirchu Mocciu Machtheni. 1 le was born c.390 in northern Britannia, but was captured as a boy by Irish raiders. Somehow he reappeared in Roman Britain as a free man in his mid-20s, then he traveled to Gaul to study-under the deacon of Auxerre.

In 432 St. Germanius of Auxerre (set- page 123) consecrated Patrick as a bishop and dispatched him to Ireland to convert the pagans. He commenced work in Leinster, using the island now called Inis Padraig as his base. He then moved north to Ulster. Muirchu records how Patrick appeared at the court of King Loeghaire of Ulster, and was forced to counter the opposition of the king's two druids, Matha and Lochru. His annalists claim he countered them using prayer. When the druid Lucat Mael tried to poison him, Patrick removed the poison from his cup. The druid then challenged Patrick to a contest where, we are told, the druid burned to death in an ordeal from which the saint-to-be emerged unscathed.

Clearly, these Christian chroniclers based their tales on mythical-biblical events, but the antipathy between the druids and the emergent missionaries is aptly demonstrated. During his conversion

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Facing: St. John's Crucifixion Plaque from Athlone is one of the earliest known works of Irish art with a Christian theme. Christ is portrayed nailed to the cross, attended by two angels above and two Roman soldiers, one carrying a sponge, the other a spear.

work, Patrick was constantly encountering the hostility of the old religious order.

In the seventh-century Life of St. Berach the eponymous missionary engaged in a lengthy struggle against the druidic order. The conflict culminated when the king's military retinue, who had answered the druids' appeal for help, were rendered incapable of fighting by the power of the missionary's prayers. This miracle prompted the king to convert to Christianity, but according to the Christian annalist, the druids remained full of malice.

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