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Paschal dating in Pictland: Abbot Ceolfrid’s letter to King Nechtan

Paschal dating in Pictland: Abbot Ceolfrid’s letter to King Nechtan

By Julianna Grigg

Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association, Vol. 2 (2006)

Abstract: The letter from Abbot Ceolfrid of Wearmouth-Jarrow to Nechtan mac Der-Ilei, King of the Picts (Naiton rex Pictorum), is included in one of the longest chapters of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Bede completed the Historia around 731 and Abbot Ceolfrid’s retirement and subsequent death in 716 therefore provides a terminus ante quem for Ceolfrid’s letter to Nechtan. Bede’s inclusion of this letter provides one of the few direct contemporary references to a Pictish king from which we can gain an understanding of the cultural interactions between the northern kingdoms of Britain. The letter deals with the fundamental issues of paschal dating and tonsure in an immediate and particular discourse that highlights the growing desire for communal celebration in the churches of northern Britain. My aim in this paper is to analyse the content of Ceolfrid’s letter and the context in which it was written and received.

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