The Influence of Chmstianity

At the start of the fifth century, the Irish and Welsh Celts came into contact with Christianity. For the next six centuries the religion influenced Celtic artists, and the Church was the main beneficiary of the exquisite metalwork produced during this period. Secular leaders supported the Church through grants of land, services, and presents of religious objects, creating a wealth of artwork on religious and spiritual themes.

here is little information available | concerning the early spread of Christianity in Ireland, apart from the account of St. Patrick, and there is little hard evidence to support popular theories concerning how the religion arrived from the mainland of Europe. After the conversion of the Irish kings and chieftains, the secular leadership in the island supported the efforts of the Church and its missionaries. While before, only the kings and aristocrats provided patronage for skilled metalworkers and stonecarvers, from the sixth century onward the Church became the leading patron of the Celtic arts.

Even pieces commissioned by secular rulers often had a religious significance because they were designed either to gift the Church or to demonstrate the piety of their owners. This royal patronage was vital to the survival and prosperity of the Celtic Church, and their donations and the loan of skilled court artisans allowed for the production of some of the finest Christian manuscripts and religious pieces of metalwork.

Archaeologists have traced some of the leading centers for the production of high quality metalwork to the royal courts of Ireland rather than to the monasteries or Church workshops. The excavation of royal workshops at Lagore, Clogher, and Ciarranes in Ireland, and similar sites on the mainland of Britain indicate a high level of production, based on

Right: A reliquary is a casket for housing the relics of a saint. As such, they were invariably beautifully gilded and decorated. Many reliquaries were thought to possess miraculous powers devolved from the saint's relics. The Monymusk reliquary, shown here, was carried at the battle of Bannockburn (1314) to protect the Scottish warriors.

Left: Missionaries to Ireland carried a bell, usually a very humble and simply made object. St. Conall Cael's Bell from Inishkeel, County Donegal, c.600-700, is typical in that it was later embellished with ornate decoration and then housed inside an even more elaborate "shrine" dating from the 10-llth centuries.

the remains of scrap metal and broken molds in these centers.

As the Irish And Scottish economies blossomed between the seventh and ninth centuries, the kings and leading aristocrats of the region had more disposable wealth to spend on patronage of the arts, and on donations of these artistic objects to the Church.

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