Monastic Communities in (St) Columba's Europe

Article excerpt

THE CELTIC MONASTERIES established by St. Columba helped to not only establish Christianity in North Europe, but were also instrumental in ensuring that education and written language gained a foothold in the culture. These early missionaries accomplished this by honoring ancient customs as they introduced new and adapted old ones.

Reflecting an ancient tribal sense of community, every Celtic monastery was called a muinntir (people), and each of its members was counseled by an anamchara (soul friend). This was a spiritual mentorship system, taken from desert communities, which dispersed authority among a network of support people. Bishops respected their communities in a manner foreign in concept to `ruling a diocese'. Even those who lived hermit existences in remote cells were considered community members; when one died, another took his place.

For the larger population, monasteries met a huge variety of social needs. They served as schools, hospitals, dispensaries, and even as places of refuge during times of invasion.

The concept of community also extended to departed souls, whose burial places were sacred meeting points between heaven and earth. In these places, the prayers of the dead could assist the living. The Druid-led religion had promoted belief in an afterlife among the Celts, who regularly commemorated the dead, especially on Samhain Eve. This was replaced by the Christian observance of All Saints Day. …