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The Dark Ages. (500 to 800) AD

During this period generally called the Dark Ages in Europe religion and scholarship almost disappeared in some other countries. But during this time, Ireland became a great enter of education and scholarship. Many students came from Britain and Europe to Ireland to study in its famous monastic schools.

At least two kings from overseas were educated in Ireland: Dagobert II, King of the Western Franks, who's citadel of Rennes le Chateau, central in the mystery of the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar and Mary Magdalene, popularised in the thriller by Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code, and Aldfrid of Northumbria was another. Scripture and theology were the chief subjects of study at these schools.


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 fervour 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 [The Ardare Chalice.] of this period was specially made for them. Examples of such metalwork are the Ardagh Chalice, the Innisfallen Crosier, 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)