There are few ways you can wind me up, but one of them is by lecturing me on how the “spirituality of nature” was the key to Celtic Christianity. People send me information about the wonders of the Celtic contribution to Christianity which, judging by the websites, is all about smelly candles and CDs with plinky plonky music.
A shaft of light on real Celtic Christianity is now on view for the first time in the National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin – because somebody has unearthed a piece of it.
That “somebody” was Eddie Fogarty. On a warm Thursday afternoon Eddie was going about his normal business – extracting turf with a mechanical digger in the middle of a bog in Co Tipperary. Out of the corner of Eddie’s eye he suddenly saw what appeared to be “some sort of book” contrasted with the orange coloured backhoe attached to the digger. Oops, it fell back again 6 feet into the turf trench.
But the quick-thinking Eddie sensed that it was something very out of the ordinary. He and the landowners knew what to do and got the book covered with wet peat to preserve it. They phoned Pat Wallace, Director of the National Museum, who was having a nice day off in his back garden. He and his colleagues hot-footed it to Faddan More, the bog in question. What they found there was described the BBC as “The Irish Dead Sea Scrolls”. The book that Eddie had turned up was a copy of the Book of Psalms which had first entered that bog well over a thousand years ago in the Celtic Christianity heyday.
They have spent the time since getting it ready for us to see. Not only is it on view for free, we (the Irish nation) own it, inasmuch as anybody does. Now we can see the meticulous handiwork of scrupulously careful monks who loved the Bible so much as to bestow the utmost care on copying it. The “Celtic” side of Christianity was Bible-based to an extraordinary extent. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Guess which page of the Book of Psalms flashed open as Eddie retrieved the book? Psalm 84 (83 in Vulgate numbering):
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
my King and my God.
So it turns out that one of the most eloquent voices in Kildare St is in the one next door to Leinster house – in the National Museum. And by the way, if it’s candles and CDs you’re after, the museum will supply them. But only in the gift shop. For tourists.