What can the church of today learn from Celtic Christianity?

Sharing the Christian faith

It seems that the Roman understanding of mission was ‘invade and impose’ whereas the Celtic way was ‘infiltrate and osmose’. The Celtic Christians practised inculturation before the word was invented. Rather than imposing an alien religion they affirmed what was of God the Holy Trinity within the diversity of their society. Ian Bradley (2000) emphasizes the relevance of this approach today. See also Finney, J. (1996).


The ‘Celtic past’ has facilitated ecumenical endeavours by underlining a common past before the divisions resulting from the Reformation.

Examples of this are Cytûn, the Irish School of Ecumenics and Scottish Churches House in Dunblane.


Under the category of ‘Celtic’, groups have experimented with aspects of church life outside their own particular norm.

Various forms of liturgy have been used in:


There is a new interest in pilgrimage to centres associated with the Celtic saints. Llŷn Pilgrims’ Trail has been designed to mark the ancient pilgrims’ routes to Bardsey Island and Saints and Stones has caught on in Pembrokeshire. Each diocese has its own special places and many groups have travelled to visit them.

All our cathedrals attract large numbers of visitors and many pilgrims sense a close link with our Celtic roots in ancient parish churches, set within round churchyards with inscribed stones from the earliest period.

Bangor diocese has produced a Directory of Open Churches, (2003), Bangor Diocesan Office.

See also John, T. and Rees, N. (2002), and  Jones, A. (2002) in the relevant publications list.


From his wide experience of European medieval literature Oliver Davies (1996) notes ‘nowhere, as far as I am aware, do we find Western monks in this early period writing for other monks in the vernacular language. During the early medieval period Latin was the universal language of the Church’. No wonder that he regards ‘the existence of these Welsh religious poems as a phenomenon in itself’ (p.64).

This ancient and venerable tradition can give confidence to the Church in Wales as it seeks to promote its bilingual policy in liturgy, debate and administration.

Church organization

With the parochial system under strain and the scarcity of human resources and finances no longer allowing one priest in one parish it is helpful to be reminded of other possibilities. Before the Norman invasion and the reorganization of church and society ‘community life seems to have been the norm, whether or not the community was composed of professed monks, for we hear nothing of the isolated cleric’ (Davies,W. 1982, p.149).

It was experiencing local holy communities that led the Celtic lands to embrace the Christian faith in God the Holy Trinity.

Anglican dioceses in many parts of the world are exploring a ‘minster’ model today with teams of clergy and authorized lay persons operating over a wide area from a central church. The community movement is also proving to be effective e.g. Iona, Corrymeela, Taizé.