Books about Celtic Christianity or Spirituality
December 6, 2016 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in learning about the history of Celtic Christianity or spirituality. I am having trouble finding books that are about the history of this period, rather than being "self help" type books about lessons from that period that can be applied to today. I want a good, solid history, preferably one that is available on Kindle. Can you suggest something?

I know that Celtic Christianity is no longer the preferred term historians use, but I am not sure what search term to use for what I am looking for. I am interested in histories of Christianity in Northern England and Ireland in the early middle ages or maybe even the dark ages -- roughly the period from 300ish to 1000ish AD. I am not afraid of big, long, heavy academic tomes, but I'd prefer to find a popularization if I could. I'm specifically interested in what was unique about the Christianity of this period and location, but also about their approach to mission/evangelizing and just the general history. What should I read?
posted by OrangeDisk to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Is not entirely about Christianity, but is a great read about that time and place.
How the Irish Saved Civilization
posted by scorpia22 at 7:34 PM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Barry Cunliffe has written a number of good books that will give you a sense of the period generally. Facing The Ocean goes into the most detail on religion, connecting pre-Christian practices to the insular/monastic Christianity of the Atlantic zone.
posted by Morpeth at 9:15 PM on December 6, 2016

Some of your interests are covered in the Celtic Way of Evangelism, which I read in seminary. As I recall, it's a mixture of historical information and contemporary application, but did a pretty good job of setting out what we can tell about Celtic evangelism methods from the evidence remaining.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:45 PM on December 6, 2016

A friend who is an academic who specializes in this topic recommends translations of the Life of St. Columba by Adamnan and Bede's Ecclesiastical History.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:45 PM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Chris Wickham, in his The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (volume 2 in the newer Penguin History of Europe and very well-reviewed when it came out in 2009) recommends the following on the Church in early Christian Ireland:

T. M. Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland (Cambridge, 2000) (a "key point of reference")
"For the church, apart from Charles-Edwards, see K. Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society (London, 1966) and L. Bitel, Isle of the Saints (Ithaca, NY, 1990)."
posted by crazy with stars at 10:32 PM on December 6, 2016

The best book to start with is Donald Meek, The Quest for Celtic Christianity, which does a good job of dispelling the sentimental New Age myths about Celtic spirituality. (Meek's article 'Modern Celtic Christianity: The Contemporary 'Revival' and its Roots' (pdf) is a good sample of his work.)

After Meek, have a look at some of the writings of Thomas O'Loughlin: Celtic Theology: Humanity, World and God in Early Irish Writings for an overview, Celtic Spirituality for an anthology of source texts, Journeys on the Edges: The Celtic Tradition for a popularisation.
posted by verstegan at 12:13 AM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed "The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog", by Patricia Monaghan. She's a respected Celtic myth researcher, and her descriptions of how Celtic sprituality and Christianity joined forces was very interesting to me.
posted by dbmcd at 9:04 AM on December 7, 2016

Seconding starting with Bede and Adomnan (in translation, obviously), though with the caveat that Bede is more readable than Adomnan and both of them very definitely had Agendas. I'd also reccomend The Age of Bede which collects together some other saints' lives from the period you're interested in. More primary sources, though not specific to the church, are in The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales.

From Calendonia to Pictland covers this period in (what was to become) Scotland; comprehensive and covers the early church very well, but very dense and academic. (An anti-reccomendation - steer clear of Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland, A.D.80-1000 - though still in print it's now very outdated, and in places has a downright weird interpretation of sources)

The Groam House Museum, which is all about Scotland in the period you're interested in, makes their out-of print publications available for free download - "Curadan, Boniface and the early church of Rosemarkie" is about a specific bishop in that period, and free. Also in free reading is an article on the excavation of the early Christian monastery at Portmahomack; if that whetted your appetite, there's a full book on the monastery by the same author.
posted by Vortisaur at 3:09 PM on December 8, 2016

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