Monasterboice High Cross & Round Tower (Image: Author)
Contrary to the impression often given by modern religious zealots who advocate a return to ‘traditional Irish values’ in matters of sexual and moral behavior, early Irish society was unequivocal in it’s recognition of, and support for, multiple marriage and divorce.
(Ó Cróinín, 1995, 127)
In the longest established of the western churches outside the Roman Empire and in a society in which Christian Latin culture flourished in a remarkable way, the norms of Christian marriage were not, paradoxically, accepted in society generally (we shall see later that there were exceptions) throughout the middle ages…
…it is surely interesting that the Christian Irish lawyers, most of whom were clerics, should appear to consider marriage within a theoretical framework different from that of the contemporary church and should frame their practical rulings accordingly.
Early Medieval Irish society was complex, fluid, dynamic and messy. We can see this in its archaeology and literature. We see it in the fragmentary extracts of early Irish law texts whose codification and survival is largely a result of early ecclesiastical interest and effort. In a highly stratified, unequal and patriarchal society, Early Irish Laws provide us not only with some of the socio-economic concerns that necessitated and demanded legal definition, but also the cognitive terms underpinning such subjects.
It’s use and choice of language provide us with glimpses in how they conceived and understood certain concepts, parameters, and classifications. Idealized legal notions of how things should work (Canon Law) alongside more realistic expectations and provisions (Vernacular Law) of how things actually did.
If Patrick indeed managed to establish himself in such a manner – as a publicly recognized high status figure (and related Christian ‘kindred’) within insular Irish society – then he could have opened up an entirely different revenue stream quite apart from the previously mentioned gifts, offerings and even perhaps, any potential seed funding or external support from British Christian supporters.
As we have seen, in the later law tracts, a noble was entitled to receive his rightful portion of his clients shares and profits. As a Christian leader/Bishop Patrick would have likely expected occasional offerings from his more wealthy converts. As a ‘lord’ over ‘base clients’ however, he would have possibly been in a position to act as an initial seed funder himself – lending funds/goods/agricultural stock (on a favorable basis) to fledgling Christian clients in return for future shares/dividends/surplus. This in turn could have provided a regular ‘revenue stream’ to fund the expense of his larger missionary efforts.
Quid pro quo – the more converts/clients brought in, the more revenue increases; the higher the increase in revenue, the higher the amounts he had to spend; the more he spent, the more converts/clients he could bring in. Its essentially business marketing/localization 101 – early medieval Irish style. A self sustaining system, reliant on the flow of ‘funds’ from one level to the next.
So what could have the historical Patrick meant when he said that he paid out ‘the price of fifteen men/persons’? And what could that potentially tell us about early Irish Christian communities in fifth century Ireland?
“You yourselves however, are not lacking in how much I expended/paid out to those who judge in all of the regions I visited often. I reckon/assess that I truly distributed a minimum worth/price/value of fifteen men…in order that you enjoy/have the benefit from me and that I always enjoy/have the benefit from you in God. I am not sorry, nor am I satiated, moreover I will still spend and spend more besides, as long as I am able. God is powerful and may yet grant/let me spend myself for your souls.”
March 17th is almost upon us – and so time enough to indulge in another exploration of the historical (St) Patrick’s own words in honour of the man himself. In keeping with recently established blog tradition, this year I thought that I would take a forensic look at one particular portion of his text where he discusses issues involving payments, protections and expenditure – on his part – towards that of native authorities. In particular, at his famous referencing of his own ‘price’ of ‘fifteen men/persons’ (Confessio 53).
By doing so, I hope not only to illustrate how his mission may have come under suspicion from fifth century British Christians, but also highlight implications which may point towards his possible modi operandi within insular Irish society. If correct, these same aspects may also provide a fragmentary insight into the economic and social organisation/makeup of some of the earliest Christian communities in Late Iron Age/Early Medieval Ireland.
A Long Tail – Image: Rafael Peñaloza/Flickr Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Last night I was reminded, via the Twitter Machine, of a great two-parter written by Christiaan Corlett – this time last year – entitled ‘Lughnasa at St Marcan’s Lough, Clew Bay, Co. Mayo’ (See Part 1 here and Part 2 here). St. Marcan’s Lough is the location of a medieval ecclesiastical site, now almost gone, on the shores of Clew Bay, Co. Mayo. Remains of possibly two churches and a leacht recorded in the 19th & 20th centuries, no longer survive. An altar and holy well (Tober Marcan) show some sign of partial preservation and a cairn/pilgrim station located on the loughs foreshore is still exposed at low tide. A Childrens Burial Ground is depicted in the vicinity along with a crannóg/platform within the Lough itself.
There is considerable Lughnasadh type folklore and traditions associated with the site, with a particular emphasis on cattle being driven in the waters of the lough, originally a freshwater lake (during the first week of August – as a curative or preventative protection/charm) in and around the cairn/monument and holy well. Corletts articles goes into great detail on this and he draws parallels with other similar traditions and accounts of horse/cattle rituals at other suspected Lughnasadh sites in the country.
No horses allowed! (Image: wallygrom / flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)
This last week has seen much media attention and online mirth concerning the discovery of horse meat in certain high street beef products on sale throughout Ireland and the UK. For a good round-up of the initial reports, see Slugger O’Toole’s post here which contains the following quote from the Chief Executive of FSAI:
“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger…”
The concept of a deep-seated cultural and/or religious abhorrence of horse meat within modern Ireland and Britain struck me as extremely interesting. The disgust expressed in some quarters over the thought of inadvertently ingesting the same reminded me of certain historical and archaeological parallels within our shared cultural legacy.
As far back as the early medieval period, there are indications that both insular and European ecclesiastical authorities not only disapproved of the practice, but actively engaged in efforts to dissuade others from partaking of the same. So apparently successful was this early Christian disparagement, that todays cultural condemnation could perhaps be argued as not only being derived from an early medieval repugnance towards horseflesh consumption; but perhaps even, an underlying revulsion to what it may have represented to early Christian mindsets. Continue reading →