Monasticism

The monastic movement gained strength in the Celtic world during the sixth century. Initiated by Celtic missionaries (many of whom were made saints), the movement began in Ireland, then spread to Britain. By the end of the century monasteries dominated the Celtic church, and this helped drive another wedge between it and the developing Church in Rome.

The monastery of Iona was founded by St. Columba about ad 563,and subsequently became a thriving base for Celtic missionary expeditions into Scotland, Pictiand, and Northern Anglo-Saxon England.

rom the sixth century onward, the ecclesiastical administration in the Celtic world seemed to break down, and leadership of the Church was taken over by the monastic movement. The concept of monasticism was an Egyptian one, although it also had conceptual links to the older druidic bangor (colleges of learning). As there were relatively few towns in Celtic Britain and Ireland, ecclesiastical churches had to tie themselves closely to the seats of royal power. Monasteries, on the other hand, were founded wherever there seemed a need, although they almost exclusively enjoyed the approval and patronage of the local secular authority.

Free from administrative duties, the monks and abbots in these centers could concentrate on intellectual, artistic, and spiritual development, and on ensuring the economic independence of their own monastic site. The abbot of a monastery had far more real power than a Celtic bishop, who was little more than a spiritual adviser to a Celtic king.

Monasticism thrived in Ireland, and during the sixth century the island became a center for the dissemination and protection of the Celtic civilization. This was achieved through the recording of Celtic literature and myth, the encouragement of artistic enterprise, and the role these centers took in the spiritual well-being of the Celtic people. Monasticism was also completely alien to the episcopal Christianity that flourished in Gaul, and this inevitably led to conflict between the Celtic Church and the Church in Europe, which followed the Roman practice.

Monastic centers became linked to the production of masterpieces of Celtic art, from

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religious metalwork to stone-carved high-crosses, to the masterpieces of Celtic illuminated manuscript. As centers of cultural and spiritual excellence, they have come to represent the zenith of late Celtic civilization. This success and prosperity also made them a prime target for the Norse raiders who descended on Ireland and Britain during the early eighth century.

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