9 June 2021

S Columba: all is revealed (2) (With a fine thread from more than a decade ago)

There isn't really any mystery about why S Columba did not enter the church until after the Gospel of the Mass. For the answer, you only need to go to the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry - that's the bulge sticking out into the Atlantic just South of the not always edifying tourist honey-trap of the Dingle. (Avoid the Dingle; go to the Waterville and Valentia Island area.) If you are a bookish sort of person, take the admirable Archaeological Survey of the Iveragh published by UCC. And, before you go, read my own paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Volume 102C, Number 1, 2002. (You could do worse than to read the even older treatment in by Francoise Henry: Volume 58C, 45-166.) And let yourself be lured into crawling around the innumerable early Christian sites. 

The Skellig Island (to which, as I recently observed, G B Shaw once had himself rowed from Sneem) is uniquely dramatic and - provided you are not easily seasick - a must, but you may be a little diasappointed by being made to wait before climbing to the top so that the previous lot of tourists can come down, chattering away into their mobile phones to their boyfriends in Barcelona. Go as well or instead for peace and quiet and visit Killabuonia and trace the buildings among the brambles on the hillside; and get a boatman to row you the few yards from Port Magee to Illaunloghan,  excavated and spectacularly written up by Jenny Marshall White (for sale in the shops at Port Magee ... Magee was a pirate ...). Or during the spring low tides you can walk through the straights across to Illaunloghan, watching the scallops snapping shut as you wade past them.

What you will discover is that the stone oratories which survive in such abundance, often with 'Founder's Shrines' and standing crosses beside them, were very very small. And archaeology has revealed that the wood and peat oratories which preceded the stone edifices were even smaller. And yet, apparently, these chapels served large 'monastic' communities and very large lay districts. It is clear that entire congregations could have not got into these little buildings. 

What obviously happened was that the bulk of the congregation was outside, and that even the clergy were outside, from the litany which started the Mass until after the Gospel. Then the clergy, probably not more than half a dozen individuals, went inside for the Holy Sacrifice.

Ergo ...


Pastor in Monte said...

I have long puzzled over the very small oratories of the Irish monasteries. It almost suggests that what we now call low Mass was the norm. But I don't find it very satisfactory to suggest that the Epistle and Gospel were read outside. I don't imagine that in the time of St Colmcille Ireland was any less wet than it is nowadays. Could Mass have been celebrated only in clement weather?
I suspect that we haven't yet understood how this operated. Were the stone oratories 'holy houses' within a larger wooden church?

Fr John Hunwicke said...

There were no such provisions made, as far as we know, when, in the penal period, Mass stones were used. My assumption is that, on that period occasions, some sort of shack was erected to shelter the celebrant and everybody else got wet. I deoubt if they were any less hardy a thousand years earlier.

On most of the sites I know best, you couldn't manoeuvre a wooden shelter over the site. And there is no evidence in the Archaeological record of post holes.

Cantor Exiguus said...

Father, I stumbled across your blog only recently and have been enjoying looking at some older entries. This question of the practice in tiny churches is illuminating, and it makes me wonder (inter alia) whether the adoption of Roman forms of liturgy (I'm thinking especially of choral recitation of the Divine Office, which seems not to have been such a big thing in early Irish monasticism but which came to England with Augustine at the latest) was one of the drivers of early medieval developments in Insular church architecture. Your earlier meditation on St Chad's humility in submitting to re-ordination reminds me of a paper given by Thomas Charles-Edwards last month at the St Wilfrid anniversary conference in York. He notes that before the arrival of Archbishop Theodore, Wilfrid will have regarded the Celtic bishops as validly ordained but heretical (because of the Easter controversy) and therefore to be shunned. Theodore held that the Celts' heresy rendered their orders invalid. Both opinions, Charles-Edwards argued, can be found in the two layers of the "Penitential of Theodore" (one emphasizing reconciliation, the other penitence). And he notes that re-ordinations of Celtic clergy seem to have ceased within about twenty years, showing that concerns about their orthodoxy waned. This, of course, takes nothing away from your suggestion of Chad's humble submission to authority as a model for Anglicans praying for reunion!

Nebuly said...

'(I'm thinking especially of choral recitation of the Divine Office, which seems not to have been such a big thing in early Irish monasticism but which came to England with Augustine at the latest)'

I recall reading that Saint Malachy "introduced ( liturgical ) in Ireland. Grasttan sees that as Gregorian Chant -

'It is more than probable that the Ambrosian chant--introduced by St. Patrick--and the Irish modification of the Gregorian chant continued to be sung in most of the Irish churches till the year 1125.

St. Malachy, Legate of the Holy See, got the Roman chant adopted throughout the archdiocese of Armagh in 1148; and, a few years later, Donogh O'Carroll, Prince of Uriel, got a complete set of liturgical books--Antiphonaries as well as Missals--copied by an Irish scribe'

Cus said...

In the 11th century, King St Stephan of Hungary ordered that TEN villages build one church - for a few hundred inhabitants? The newly baptised Hungarians were severely punished when not going to church - but these buildings were of a size of approx. 4x4 meters! I guess it took some centuries until lay people could attend Mass within the church... Poor souls! In cold winter!

kedwardrobinson said...

This reminds me of current practice in the surprisingly unchanged Ethiopian Orthodox Church, where even larger buildings are small by western standards. The very tiny Holy of holies, where the Holy Sacrifice is offered, is permanently out of view, and even today huge numbers of priests and laity of necessity gather outside where much of the Liturgy takes place-but of course the climate is very different, and the colourful umbrellas shield from the sun rather than the rain.

But may we be looking at a universal primitive practice? It's not at all that buildings are unimportant; just that they seem to be conceived on some different premisses from ours.

Oliver Nicholson said...

I recall going to an Armenian Church in Teheran for Armenian Easter in the days of the Shah. The fane was the size of one of our parish churches but modern and built of concrete. The car park was packed with men of middling height with dark hair. I made my way through the crowd walking (like Agag) delicately, and thinking that if it was this crowded outside it must be standing room only indoors. When I got through the door there was plenty of space - just the clergy and a few older ladies. I seem to recall this pattern of attendance being described elsewhere in Armenia in H.F.B. Lynch's Armenia (1901).

E sapelion said...

Random thoughts:
In many religions, temples have an inner sanctum where only the priests enter.

Vikings made long journeys, of many days, in open boats. 'Celts' were probably just as hardy.

Tents don't leave mush hard evidence.

the Egyptian said...

Just a thought, if they used bells at consecration it would make sense. After all they knew what was going on in there, not much different than a rood screen in practice.