Ireland’s golden age of Christianity had both its strengths and its weaknesses. It had strong men, and it had women of passion, of faith, and of courage. The rules governing over monasteries were rather sketchy, so much influence came from the personal power of the leaders.
During most of the silver age of Irish Christianity, monasteries were the center of worship. Dioceses and parishes did not take root until shortly before the twelfth century. Abuses crept in regarding power, property, and possessions. There was less regard to personal integrity and the ability to lead when positions of leadership and power began to be passed on to the offspring of abbots and abbesses. An increase in tribal warfare took place. Churches were burned and abbots and bishops were murdered. In eighth century Ireland, monks called the “Culdees,” or Célí Dé, translated as “servants of God,” began a reform movement.
The leader of the Célí Dé was Maelruain from northern Tipperary. Maelruain founded the monastery of Tallaght, south of Dublin in 774 (Joyce 67). Maelruain’s reform demanded an increased piety, learning, and a return to a more severe asceticism. Because of this reform, many monks chose to live only a short time in solitude as hermits, rather than their entire lives. There was an increased emphasis on the daily praying of the psalter. The need of a soul friend, or anamchara, was emphasized greatly. Characterized during this period of reform was a passionate commitment to the search for God and an intense religious longing expressed in prayer and discipline.
The Sunday observance was also treated with a new strictness with private prayer, solitude, long liturgies, and abstinence from work. Celibacy became a more central concern to eliminate hereditary succession of a monastery or of a position of power. The practice of male-female monasteries was alive in the ninth and tenth centuries, but died out by the twelfth century. There were dual monasteries on the continent and changes there affected the Celts. The breakdown of order in the Dark Ages, the emergence of feudalism, and the paternalistic desires to protect women led to a greater separation of men and women, and also led to a stricter cloister for women (Joyce 68).
Last updated on 28th November 2000.