Celtic Christianity

Celtic Christianity (Cornish: Kristoneth; Welsh: Cristnogaeth; Scottish Gaelic: Crìosdaidheachd; Manx: Credjue Creestee/Creestiaght; Irish: Críostaíocht/Críostúlacht; Breton: Kristeniezh) is a form of Christianity that was common, or held to be common, across the Celtic-speaking world during the Early Middle Ages.[1] Some writers have described a distinct Celtic Church uniting the Celtic peoples and distinguishing them from adherents of the Roman Church, while others classify Celtic Christianity as a set of distinctive practices occurring in those areas.[2] Varying scholars reject the former notion, but note that there were certain traditions and practices present in both the Irish and British churches that were not seen in the wider Christian world.[3]

A Celtic Cross in Knock, Ireland

Such practices include: a distinctive system for determining the dating of Easter, a style of monastic tonsure, a unique system of penance, and the popularity of going into "exile for Christ".[3] Additionally, there were other practices that developed in certain parts of Britain and Ireland that were not known to have spread beyond particular regions. The term typically denotes the regional practices among the insular churches and their associates rather than actual theological differences.

The term Celtic Church is deprecated by many historians as it implies a unified and identifiable entity entirely separate from that of mainstream Western Christendom.[4] For this reason, many prefer the term Insular Christianity.[5] As Patrick Wormald explained, "One of the common misconceptions is that there was a Roman Church to which the Celtic Church was nationally opposed."[6]

Popularized by German historian Lutz von Padberg, the term "Iroschottisch" is used to describe this supposed dichotomy between Irish-Scottish and Roman Christianity.[7] As a whole, Celtic-speaking areas were part of Latin Christendom at a time when there was significant regional variation of liturgy and structure. But a general collective veneration of the Papacy was no less intense in Celtic-speaking areas.[8]

Nonetheless, distinctive traditions developed and spread to both Ireland and Great Britain, especially in the 6th and 7th centuries. Some elements may have been introduced to Ireland by the Romano-British Saint Patrick, and later, others from Ireland to Great Britain through the Irish mission system of Saint Columba. However, the histories of the Irish, Welsh, Scots, Breton, Cornish, and Manx Churches diverge significantly after the 8th century.[9] Interest in the subject has led to a series of Celtic Christian Revival movements, which have shaped popular perceptions of the Celts and their Christian religious practices.