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When we speak of Celtic Christianity, often large oversized crosses, mystic spirituality, and colorful characters like St. Patrick come to mind. In my study of the Celts—particularly the missionary monks who left Ireland to evangelize the rest of Europe—I’m struck by their ability to connect with local cultures, communicate the gospel, and disciple new believers using visual strategies. This was especially true in their work among the Pictish people of Scotland beginning in the late sixth century.
[In 565], there came from Ireland to Britain a priest and abbot named Columba, a true monk in life no less than habit; he came to Britain to preach the word of God to the kingdoms of the northern Picts. . . . Columba came to Britain when Bridius [Brute] . . . a most powerful king, had been ruling over them for over eight years. Columba turned them to the faith of Christ by his words and example and so received the island of Iona from them in order to establish a monastery there (Bede, Ecclesiastical History 3.4, trans. Collins and McClure).
Columba - Ministry - Favor - King - Brute
Columba began his ministry by seeking the favor of King Brute, who was apparently converted to the gospel. He gave Columba the small island of Iona on which to build a monastery. Brute also granted Columba freedom to evangelize his subjects—the Pictish people—throughout the Scottish highlands. From their monastic mission base at Iona, the Celtic monks ventured into Scotland and eventually the rest of Europe to proclaim the good news.
Art historians have long been intrigued with Pictish art, including stone art, metal works, and also book art. While the Picts had traditionally constructed stone monuments to commemorate military victories and other important events in their history, once the gospel took root among them, the primary focus of their stone art became public...
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