Did Christianity Exist in Ireland Prior to the Coming of Our Holy Father

ANCIENT ORIGINS:

Our Blessed Lord clearly stated. “ Thy Word is Truth.” So we must turn to the Word of God for revelation of the Irish. One of the seven tribes was the Tribe of Dan. As the Assyrians advanced into Israel the Southern Danites moved South and North.

A study of Irish Chronicles sheds light on the movement of the Southern Danites, identified in the ancient annals as the “Tuatha de Danaan” meaning ‘Tribe of Dan’.

We are further told that the landing of the Danaan in Ireland was opposed by the people already there, a battle followed in which the Dannaan were victorious. They discovered that their opponents spoke a similar language and peace was made, by which it was agreed that the Danaan should occupy the Northern part of the Island, called Uladh (Ulster), where it was dominant for centuries.

Ancient Jewish Rabbinical Writings show that these people who opposed the Danites were of the Tribe of Ephraim, who left Egypt prior to the Exodus and went via Iberia to Ireland.

It is thought that the Celtic or Scottish Plaid emanated from these descendants of Joseph reflecting his Coat of Many Colours.

“All the ancient Irish traditions,names, and monuments corroborate each other and appear to indicate that Ireland’s earliest settlers, the Fororians, were men of Ephraim.”

In 569BC the annals tell us of the arrival of a Venerable white haired Patriarch on the shores of the Emerald Isle. His entourage included Tea-Tephi the daughter of King Zedekiah and her Husband who was of the Irish Royal House, who was in Jerusalem at the time of the Seige and they were married just after the Fall in 585BC.

So, we see that Jeremiah was inspired by God to journey from Palestine, with Princess Tea-Tephi and his faithful secretary Baruch.

At Cathair Crofin the Royal residence, Jeremiah established a School, known in Irish History as the Mur-Ollmain or ‘School of Wisdom’ and the name Cathair Crofin was changed to Tara. Symbolic of the word ‘Torah’ meaning Law.

Jeremiah is known in ancient traditions of Ireland as Ollamh Fodhla orOllamFola. The ancient Laws of Ireland, name Breitheamh are the oldest surviving law system in Europe and stem back to the Law given by God to Moses.

In the Monastery of St.Brigid at Kildare the Monks and Nuns were versed in the Brehon Law System and many qualified as Dalaighs (advocates) of the Ancient Law Courts of Ireland.

Irish Historians are unanimous about the fact that among the items that Jeremiah bought was a Harp (King David’s) and a wonderful stone-The Stone of Destiny-the Lia Phail. This stone was where the ancient Kings of Israel were crowned upon, then it went to Scotland to a place called Scone and was used at the Coronations of the Kings of Alba, then it was pinched by the English who took it to Westminster where it sat under the Coronation Throne until it was removed again and taken to Wales and a substitute was put in its place.

More on this later.

 

The Harp has been a National Symbol of Ireland for over 2000 years. The Sacred Harp of King David was kept at Tara.

Tradition tells us that Princess Tea-Tephi and Jeremiah were buried on Tara’s Hill. For many centuries the Burial Mound on this site has been regarded as Sacred by the Irish People. The Ollam Fola of Ireland (Jeremiah) declared:-

“For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are Scottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.”

Another interesting factor of cross fertilisation between Egypt and Ireland is that in 274BC there were Celtic Irish serving in the Army of Ptolemy II the Pharoah of Egypt. When they were not required they lived in Fayoum an oasis 40-50 miles away from Cairo. When they were not fighting for Ptolemy they fought among themselves. Irish Celtic Shields were found in the Necropoli of Alexandria.

 

THE CHRISTIAN ERA:

Many assume that Christianity came to Ireland via St.Patrick, but this is not the case as he had found traces of Christian Worship and Old Chapels which still had Chalices in them. We will trace these steps back. Eastern Pilgrims visited Ireland and Seven Egyptian Monks lie buried at DISERT ULIDH, which is in the ‘the Felire of Oengus.’

Let us look at these Monks in Greater Detail:

THE TRAIL OF THE SEVEN MONKS

Disert Ulidh is Disert Uilaigh now Dundesert (Crumlin Abbey) Co.Antrim near Belfast International Airport (Aldergrove). There is recorded in The Litany which Oengus the Culdee wrote in 799AD: “The Romans in Achudh-Galma (Aghagallon), in Hy-Echach (Iveagh), I invoke to my aid, through Jesus Christ.” “Seven Egyptian Monks in Disert-Uilaigh, I invoke unto my aid, through Jesus Christ.”

Reference to the Seven Monks appears in the Book of Leinster P.373.

 

It is presumed that these Monks came to Ireland at the time of the Chalcedoniaz conflict, rather than stay to adhere to the Ruling of the Council of Chalcedon. This was prior to the arrival of St.Patrick. They were Monks of the Coptic Church of Alexandria the Children of St.Mark. The Church of Egypt was not Monophisite but that is another story.

During this period, there were not many Christians in Ireland, but the Faith did exist there. Origen and Hippolytus of the Third Century wrote that among those who attended the First Oecumenical Council in Nicea were Hierarchs from the British Isles, definately before our Holy Father St.Phaidraig.

There were many Coptic Monks on the Isle of Lerins which is where St.Patrick came into contact with them as he was sent there for his education. The early Irish Christians were not Roman Catholics as they Practised Communion in both kinds which would not be tolerated by Rome in that day and age. The early Irish Church was thoroughly Monastic. Its Monasticism came down via the Coptic Monks of Egypt who had come to Ireland and also Patrick would have learnt something of their ways from Lerins.

While St.Patrick lived with the Monks on Lerin he learnt a lot about the Church of Alexandria and its customs. Dr.David Marshall suggests that the Celtic Church owes something to the Copts. St.Patrick’s presence on the Island of Lerins accounted for his Independence from Rome. St.Patrick liked to follow True Orthodoxy.

He followed the Church of Jerusalem and not Rome. Jerusalem was the Mother Church of Christianity. Patrick was never a Roman Catholic, he was a Celt and predated Roman Catholicism as we know it.

 

FURTHER EVIDENCE

It is certain that the Irish first heard of Christianity from Egyptian or Jewish Sources. Certainly St. Patrick was not the first with the Gospel. Back in the Third Century, Origen writing in Alexandria, had claimed that parts of Britain inaccessible to Rome had been subjected to Christ. He was referring to Ireland and North West of Scotland, where the Legions never penetrated.

The Cult of St.Michael ‘The Great Watcher’ entered the Celtic Church through the Coptic Liturgical Texts of the 4th.Century. The Apocryphal Book of Enoch tells of God giving him the great Captain Michael. Many places are dedicated to St.Michael in Britain, like Skellig Michael off the Irish Coast and St.Michael’s Mount near Cornwall.

It is said in Wales that there were Two Ancient Orders dedicated to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The Michaelines were a Military Order and the Gabrielites a Healing Order.

Caves are frequently found in the vacinity of Irish Churches and Crosses and other Religious Emblems have been found in both Ireland and Scotland, from which we infer that they were frequently the abodes of Anchorites.

Umgall (near Mallusk,Belfast) the Anchorite was no doubt a foreigner. The foreigners, in the early days of the Irish Church flocked to places in the Vacinity of Umgall as to another “Thebais” .

Another pointer to the Copts having been in Ireland is the appearance of Irish Decoration with use of dots, usually red, either over or around letters or patterns (Book of Kells a Classic example) The use of Dots has often been studied. It is of Coptic origin and is found in Art Work of the Monasteries in the Egyptian Desert.

Desert hermits often lived in small communities made up of separate Bee Hive in shape around a common Water Supply. The first such Cluster of Cells were settled at Scete in the Nile Delta and it was a pattern to be followed by many early Christian Communities in Ireland.

In Irish and Celtic Blessings and Prayers, we find a constant echo of the Essene advocacy of constant worship fomulated by the Egyptian Therapeutae, who affirmed ‘At the beginning of each of my daily tasks, when I leave or enter the house, when I rise,when I stretch out on my couch, Him do I wish to Celebrate.’

Like the Jews the Irish Celts stood to pray, elbows close to their sides and Palms uplifted and in such a manner did their Daily Recital of the Psalter. This was also the Coptic Custom.

A quatrain in the poem on the Rule of Bangor, which was copied towards the middle of the Seventh Century into the Antiphonary of Bangor, points in the same direction: House full of Delight Built on the Rock And indeed True Vine Transplanted from Egypt

When we look at Psalm 79 verse 9“A Vine hast Thou brought out of Egypt, Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it.”

This hearks back to the Ephraimites mentioned earlier who settled Hibernia at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.

Fr.Professor Stokes tells us about the Irish Monk Dicuil, who wrote his ‘Liber de Mensura orbes Terrae.’ in 825 describing the Pyramids as well as an ancient precursor of the Suez Canal. Stokes mentions the ‘Saltair Na Rann’, an anthology of biblical poems attributed to Oengus the Culdee, but containing the ‘Book of Adam and Eve,’ composed in Egypt in the 5th or 6th Century and known only in Ireland.

Mr.Bobbie Burns, a local historian living in Crumlin published an article ‘Unique one Famous Ulster Church:Neglected Crumlin Ruins.’ It showed the ruins of a Medieval Church built on the site of an earlier Shrine. The Local Historical Group hope to get a grant to restore the ruins and are excited about its Ancient Coptic Connections. We hope to make further discoveries about the last resting place of the Seven Monks of Egypt.

The Irish Church looked to Leviticus 21 v 10 for the understanding of Priestly unction.( the annointing of Head and Hands for Ministry) as Donnahadh O’Corrain pointed out.

There was it seems a ‘Tribe of the Church’ with differing Orders and Grades.

 

HOW THE LORD ESTABLISHED THE SEVEN GRADES OF THE CHURCH:

1. LECTOR - was made when He opened the Book of Isaiah and He said the Spirit of the Lord came upon Him.

 

2.EXORCIST- was made when He cast seven demons out of Mary.

 

3.SUBDEACON- was made when He made wine from water in Galilee.

 

4.DEACON - was made when He washed the feet of the Disciples.

 

5.PRESBYTER (PRIEST)- was made when he took the Bread,Blessed and Broke it and similarly blessed the Chalice.

 

6.OSTIARY - was made when He said ‘Lift up your Gates, O ye Princes and be ye lifted up, O Eternal Gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in.

 

7.BISHOP - was made when He raised His hand over the heads of His Disciples and blessed them.

 

Careful comparison of Irish Law with Scripture shows that where the Pentateuch provided detailed rules of the law, these were adapted to the letter laying down the rules governing the Priesthood, the Irish Canonists followed the Rules of the Pentateuch very closely.

 

Refering back to the earlier point about the ‘Lia Phail’ this was used by St.David as an Altar. A Celtic Prophecy unearthed by the Normans predating the oldest of the Grail/Arthurian literature about this stone is yet to be fulfilled.

The Prophecy reveals that as the Heathen invaded Britain, the last heir of St.David fled to the East with the ‘Lia Phail’ and died there. It is foretold that he (St.David or heir?) shall return with the stone, expel the ungodly and reinstate the Celtic Rite upon the Altar of St.David.

In 1866 The Syrian Patriarch of Antioch sought to re-establish a Jurisdiction in Iona because of the Close Association of the Celtic Church with the Syrian Church. But the established Churches in Britain kicked up a turmoil. So it was re-established at Dol.

The Monastery of the Holy Presence in Saint Dolay Bretagne, is the home of the Celtic Orthodox Church under the guidance of His Eminence Metropolitan Mael 8th. Metropolitan of Dol. The Monastery is situated in the grounds of the Great Abbey of St.Samson, First Metropolitan of Dol.

Most of the Metropolitans, Archbishops and Bishops on the continent in the first millenium have mainly come from Ireland as the Irish was the guiding force for evangelism on the continent and also in Scotland.

More significantly, in Irish Lore there was a people believed to have come to Ireland called the Tuath de Dannan (Tribe of Dan), arriving from mysterious land ‘beyond the ninth wave.’ In the Celtic Lebor Gabala, a book of origins, they are said to have come from Egypt, and to have seen Ireland from a Tall Tower which they built in Spain.This is important to remember when we consider the Coptic influence on Celtic Christianity.

Both Celts and Jews reckoned their time from sunset to sunset and firmly believed in Angels as Messengers of God. All these links between Judaism and the Celtic Church reminds us that Celtic Christianity had a direct connection with the first minims of the Early Church, the first Christians still attended the Synagogue. This influence reached Ireland from Alexandria. It was different from that found in Britain. That is why we find that the Christian Settlements in Ireland,Scotland,Wales and later in Cornwall and Brittany had more in common with the Coptic Church of Egypt.

The Seven monks were certainly not the first Christians to venture out of Egypt into Celtic Lands, bringing with them their own traditions of Egyptian Monasticism and Desert Hermitages. This was a form of Religious Life that was to be followed by many Celtic Saints and was to have an influence on the Irish

 

Church as early as 313 AD.

The example of Anthony of Egypt, the first Christian Hermit, who in the late 3rd.Century lived alone for twenty years. The pressures of Monastic Life, especially for those in authority was so great, that from time to time the Abbots and Priors would follow the Egyptian Model and withdraw into isolation.

 

CELTIC IRELAND & COPTIC EGYPT

 

The Copts before the Moslem conquest of Egypt were great travellers, and we find traces of their presence in Celtic Ireland. The kind of asceticism associated with the Desert Fathers was especially congenial to the Irish and Dom Henri Leclercq mentions the unsubstantiated hypothesis that Celtic Monasticism was directly derived from Egypt.

Certainly the grouping together of several small Churches within a Cashel or fortified enclosure seems to support this view. One of the commonest names for townlands or Parishes is Disert or ‘Desert’: a solitary place in which Anchorites were established.

Monasteries, particularly those in Connor and Down, frequently had some such solitude connected with them. We have the Seven Coptic Monks buried at Disert Ulidh (Crumlin Abbey) in Ulster, and we find their names invoked in a Litany to be found in the Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee: Morfessor do manchaib Egipt in Disiurt Uilaig. ( Seven Monks of Egypt in Disert Uilaig).

An Oghan inscription on a stone near St.Olan’s Well in the Parish of Aghabullage (Co.Cork), has been interpreted by Scholars to read: ‘Pray for Olan the Egyptian.’

A number of Similarities in the Coptic & Irish Churches have been recorded:-

1. Glass Chalices, such as monks used in Egypt, have been found in Co.Waterford.

 

2. Both Copts and Irish employed a Metal Case for the Book of the Gospels.

 

3. The 5th.Century Bell of St.Patrick is a direct imitation of those used in Egypt.

 

4. A similarity in the two Churches, in respect to Feasts of Our Lady the Theotokos.

 

We must look to Egypt and the way of life exemplified by Anthony,Paul & Jerome. Many scholars have found a close affinity between the Celtic Monasteries and that founded by St.Anthony in Pisper in the 3rd.Century and by St.John Cassian at Apt north of Marseilles at about 420.

The Connection between the Celtic Saints and the Eastern Christian tradition has continued for a long time; it is remarkable how the early Saints of Britain, largely forgotten in their own country, are revered by members of the Orthodox Church.

The Celts were the original ‘Peregrini Christi,’ they were inveterate travellers and very serious about Preaching the Gospel into far away places.

From the Jewish inheritance comes the obvious dedication of the Scribes who undertook the work of Transcription, whose life and work were set apart for God. For like the Biblical Scribes the monks in the Scriptoria of the Celtic Church worked with a patient devotion. Finally the Coptic Church contributed to the Eastern and Byzantine influence apparent in so much Celtic Design. An even more delicate legacy of Coptic Art can be detected in the Motif of ornamental red dots.

Our word ‘Hermit’ comes from the Greek eremetes - dwellers in the desert - and it is from the Egyptian Desert that the Celtic Fathers inherited the practice of living Solitary lives in remote places, where isolation was increased by inaccessibility. An example of this is the Monastery on Skellig Michael a rocky outcrop off the coast of Ireland.

The idea of Celtic Monastic Community came from Egypt bearing out the influence of the Seven Monks who came from Egypt to Ireland. The first Christian Monastic Community in which several hundred men and women came together to live apart from the Secular world was set up in Tabernesse in Southern Egypt in 318. It was founded by St.Pachomius. The information on Tabernessi comes from Palladius who found a Greek Translation of a Coptic document concerning it in Nitria.

CHALICES:

There is evidence of the use of Glass Chalices in the pre-Celtic Church. In the Tripartite Life we have the oft repeated story tells how St.Patrick informed Ailbe “of a Stone Altar in Sleab-Hua-n-Ailella, under the ground with four Glass Chalices at the four angles of the Altar.”

This story occurs in the Book of Armagh. It mentions that St.Patrick showed Ailbe the Altar in the mountain of the Ui Oiliolle (Dr.Todd considers the existence of such an altar as proof that Christianity existed in this remote area before the coming of St.Patrick. In the Rule of the Culdees it is said that when you make your Communion you are coming to the Chalice.

 

BY THE RIGHT REV.CHEVALIER DMITRI ROSS Th.D.KGCTm. KC.ST.I. OSB(Obl). COR. MA. TH.L. EM.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Holy Scripture including Septuagint.

 

Tracing Our Ancestors by F.Haberman

 

Ancient Celts by Barry Cunliffe

 

Colgan Acts SS Hib.

 

McLavertys History of the Diocese of Down and Connor.

 

Celtic Alternative by Shirley Toulson

 

Beginnings of Christian Art by Francoise Henry

 

Celtic Year by Shirley Toulson

 

Ireland & The Celtic Church by G.T.Stokes.

 

Glastonbury Bulletin (Nov.1995)

 

Liturgy & Ritual of the Celtic Church by Warren

 

Home Page of Bp.+Maelruain Abbot of Celi Di.

 

Hidden Church of the Holy Graal by A.E.Waite

 

Liturgies of the Past by Archdale King.

 

Celtic Journeys by Shirley Toulson

 

Chalice in the Church by C.Webster

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