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Monastic Life in Ireland.

History of Ireland.

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The Irish monks believed that the greatest sacrifice they could make was to go into exile "for the love of Christ." St. Columba of Derry was one of the first missionaries to leave Ireland, although it could be said there were extenuating circumstance. In 563, he founded a monastery on Iona, a small island off the coast of Scotland. From there, he and his successors taught the Christian religion throughout much of Scotland and northern England. Other missionaries went to the mainland of Europe. Columbanus went to France and Italy; Gall, to Switzerland; Kilian, to Germany; and Livinius, to the Netherlands. They founded monasteries in many of the places that they visited. The monasteries of Bobbio, Iona, Lindisfarne, and Luxeuil were among the most famous of them.

In time, a decline in the religious fervor of the monks set in. Some monasteries passed into the control of lay people, and many kinds of abuses resulted. In the 700's, a reform movement began, led by men called Celi De (servants of God), who preached a return to the former strictness of monastic life. But, before they could achieve much, bands of warriors from Scandinavia, called Vikings, began to raid the country.

Long before the coming of the Vikings Irish kings and chieftains had become notorious for their depredations of ecclesiastical properties. The greatest of the Irish raiders was Feidlimid mac Crimthainn, king of Munster, who is reputed to have burned the monasteries of Kildare, Clonfert, Durrow, and Clonmacnoise among others. Feidlimid was himself in holy orders, probably of Episcopal rank As such sympathies lay with the Celi De, and justified his raids as a crusade to stamp out corruption in the church. Although his victims were probably chosen because of their affiliation with the Ui Neill kings of the north.

The Arts.

The arts owed much to the monasteries. Some of the finest metalwork of this period was specially made for them. Examples of such metalwork are the Ardagh Chalice, the Innisfallen Crozier, and book shrines called Cumdachs. The supreme artistic achievements of the period were the illuminated manuscripts written by the scribes in the monasteries. Among the best known are the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow, and the Book of Armagh. (See the Annals of Ireland)

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