Scandalized Women in the Writings of St. Patrick

Image: Author

Preface

A day late, but in keeping with time-honoured blog tradition, I nevertheless present my annual Patrician-themed rambling extravaganza – a deep forensic examination of lesser spotted aspects within the writings of the Historical Patrick. This year, I thought I’d take a look at one of the more neglected passages in his Confessio (Chapter 49) concerning women. Despite initial appearances and a lack of previous (male) scholarly attention over the years, Chapter 49 when fully appreciated, actually contains far more than meets the eye.

Before jumping in though, and for anyone approaching Patrick’s writings for the first time, there are a few things worth bearing in mind.

Patrick letters are a kind of open bulletin to multiple audiences and recipients. He was primarily writing for elite Christian audiences in Britain, but he sometimes changes focus within and addresses some of his Irish converts and supporters. Its helpful to be aware of whom he was addressing at any one time as certain themes or episodes would have made little sense to one or the other. His multiple audiences in Ireland and Britain, despite being under a shared umbrella of Christianity, knew little to nothing of each others daily cultural or political realities.

Patrick can be read via several layers of meaning. There are the actual words that he used; and there are the words/phrases within those words that are designed to hint or reference certain biblical passages that would resonate among an elite Christian audience. Throughout his writings, Patrick uses sub-textual references to reinforce his arguments, his sense of righteousness and sometimes, as an sub-qualifier or comment on his own text. A lot of the time, it is these biblical allusions, or expansions, which are key to understanding his underlying meaning.

With that, lets take a look at the matter at hand.

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OMG: Ogam in 3D – Exciting New Database from Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

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Ogham, Aghadoe, County Kerry.
Image: Jeremy Keith/Flickr Commons
(Used under a CC Licence)

A long-awaited and very exciting resource: the new online database ‘Ogham in 3D’ from Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies is coming shortly. Its already online with a small selection (50+) of individual stones. The site is going to offer 3D scans of Irish Ogham stones, alongside their associated historical, etymological and archaeological data; ‘bringing all of the available information together in a single searchable archive’.

In other words, a GOLDMINE for researchers. Really. You have no idea how disparate a lot of this information has previously been.

Ogham stones are crucial to understanding the development of Early Irish Christianity. Not only are the inscriptions the earliest recorded efforts at replicating the aural sounds of primitive Irish; but as formulaic monumental inscriptions involving named ancestral figures, they are quite possibly the earliest archaeological evidence for Insular Irish Christianity itself. Continue reading

A Quirky Case of Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Propaganda [Part 1]

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Clonmacnoise commemorated… Fuerty, Roscommon (Image: Author)

Introduction

A few weeks ago, a short article in the Irish Times caught my eye. Entitled ‘Historic’ ordination of deacons in Sligo, it was a brief notice concerning newly ordained permanent deacons in the modern Irish diocese of Elphin. Two comments were of particular interest to me:

Bishop of Elphin, Christopher Jones described the occasion as “truly joyous” and historic, pointing out that it was almost 1,500 years “almost back to the time of St Patrick himself” since a similar ordination had taken place in the diocese.

Newly ordained William Gacquin said the last recorded reference to a deacon in diocesan records was when one baptised St Ciaran in the parish of Fuerty, Co Roscommon, in the sixth century.

(McDonagh, M. Irish Times, December 10, 2012)
 

Such comments provide a fascinating example of the extent to which early Irish hagiography is still influencing modern ecclesiastical identity and ‘history’. Whilst no doubt wishing to stress the historical nature  of the proceedings, the referencing of the above episode in such a manner relies on an uncritical acceptance of antiquarian translations of later medieval Lives of St. Patrick. Divorced from its original setting, the episode is not only portrayed by modern-day ecclesiastics as historical fact, but also attempts to equate the modern-day concept of a permanent deacon with that of the early medieval ecclesiastical grade. In doing so, it not only fails to appreciate the original ecclesiastical milieu in which it was written; but inadvertently underplays the actual historical and archaeological importance of the original ecclesiastical site of Fuerty, Co. Roscommon. Continue reading