The Isle of Saints: Ireland and Early Christianity
A Presentation by the Ward Irish Music Archives
On the continent and in England from the first to the third century AD, the Roman Empire slowly accepted Christianity up until Constantine the Great became the first Roman Emperor to claim his conversion to Christianity. He ruled from 306-337 AD.
Yet Ireland never was part of the Roman Empire, and therefore Ireland’s conversion to Christianity came about a century later. By the fifth century Christian Missionaries were entering Ireland, among them St. Patrick, known as the “Apostle of Ireland.” Today he is the primary patron saint of Ireland, along with saints Brigit of Kildare and Columba.
Ireland became Christian by the time of Patrick’s death. Within a few decades, the Irish missionaries built the great monastic schools in Ireland. The excellence and isolation of these monasteries in Ireland preserved culture, learning, art and language at a time when the continent was struggling through the Dark Ages.
The Irish monks from these monastic settlements in Ireland spread throughout Europe in the fifth and eighth centuries. They set up monasteries and learning centers in Medieval Europe, which they transformed culturally and spiritually. Britain, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Slovakia, Russia, Iceland, Greenland, America are in many ways linked to these Irish monks.
This exhibit explores the early Irish saints and the monastic system for which they are so well known for. This is not just a story about religion but about language, art, education and a story of their cultural and spiritual contribution to the world.
Monasterboice Scripture Cross, Co. Meath
The Beheading of Saint Dymphna by Godfried Maes
St Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, St. Brendan’s Church, Birr