What word or godly characteristic would you use to describe yourself? Celtic Christians often summarised their saints in this way to remember the individual, learn from them and promote aspects of the Christian faith to which all should aspire. Remember, a Celtic Christian ‘saint’ was simply a wise or inspiring individual from whom all can learn, not necessarily as consecrated by Rome. 

In describing yourself in a short phrase or word, you will necessarily exclude so much of your personality. If I highlight my humour then what about my relational side? My leadership abilities? (What, unfortunately, about my selfish streak and ego? But then the object is highlighting godly characteristics, not fallen ones.) The Celtic Christians handed down stories orally, setting out the historicity as well as the spiritual side of their hagiography.

In the next few articles, we will examine the lives and characteristics of some Celtic Christian saints to see if we can still learn from and be inspired by them in how we conduct our lives today. Some may be familiar and favourite; many must sadly be excluded or only glimpsed from afar as we cover the passing years.

David (500-589) (Heart) was a teacher and preacher who founded many monasteries and churches. He did not just move on, but remained at the heart of what he did. Whilst his influence spread, he remained pretty much where he was in Menevia (now called St David’s), closely involved with his beloved St David’s Cathedral which he founded). He had a heart for others, inspiring many monks to evangelise across Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany. He taught that we should all be “doing the little things in God’s presence with conscientiousness and devotion.” Little things – big heart.

David’s mother Non (born c475) (Carer) raised David at Aberaeron and then founded a convent nearby, now called Llanon (Llan is ‘church,’ so ‘church of Non’). She seems to have founded a series of churches forming a pathway to care for pilgrims journeying through Wales, Devon and Cornwall and on to Brittany, where she retired, settling at Dirinon in Finistère to be near her sister.

Adomnán (624-704) (Protector) was a relative of Columba, becoming Abbot of Iona himself in 679. He sought to protect the memory of Columba, writing ‘The Life of Saint Columba.’ He sought to protect the lives of others, writing and promoting the ‘Law of Adomnán’ (also known as the ‘Law of the Innocents’) designed to guarantee the safety of non-combatants in warfare; an early Geneva Convention. He it was who finally persuaded Iona to accept the Roman timing of Easter some years after the Whitby Synod.

St. Abigail (c6th Century) (Pastoral), also known as Deborah, was born in County Clare, Ireland. She travelled extensively, settling first in the Aran Islands then further inland before spend the rest of her life in County Cork, dedicating herself to pastoral service and Christian charitable work.

Have a heart. Care for others and protect them. Display a pastoral attitude in actions as well as words. Care for others where they are, whether you travel far or stay at home, for thus we carry Christ’s love and play our part in God’s family into which we are adopted and made whole. These characteristics are godly and relevant. They are of Celtic Christians and they are for us today.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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