The Pagan Influences on Christian Art in Ireland
By Caitlin Hutchinson
Meeting of Minds Journal of Undergraduate Research (2010)
Introduction: The spread of Christianity in its first centuries did not immediately reach Ireland due to the island‟s remoteness and its pagan culture. This culture had been in place for centuries, long after the Celtic presence on the continent was reduced by the invading Romans in the first centuries after Christ. By the fifth century, however, Christian missionaries gained a foothold in Ireland, with the result that over time, Christian and early pagan/Celtic traditions became fused. This fostered the creation of a unique Christian culture that reached its fullest development during the Medieval Age. The evolution of this culture as it presented itself in Irish art and the investigation of how the Celts adopted the new beliefs with modifications are the subjects of this paper.
“Celtic” was a language once spoken in Europe and became the name of the people who spoke it and shared common customs. Celts flourished in Continental Europe before they spread to the British Isles and Ireland. The centuries of Celtic dominance on the European continent ended when Rome conquered and assumed control of the area near the turn of the millennium. Roman historians viewed the early people of Ireland, the area classically known as Hibernia, as barbarians for they had “no cities and founded no empires.” However, this observation does not mean that the early Irish peoples did not have a vibrant society or complex belief system. They were cattlemen and farmers who lived in small villages. They were also fierce warriors, who made battle a large part of their culture.