Several good surveys of the complex history of the Celtic Christian tradition are available. The liveliest and best is probably Thomas Cahill's unashamedly partisan How The Irish Saved Civilization (Double day, 1995). Another good general introduction is Ian C. Bradley's The Celtic Way (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1993; for books by U.K. publishers such as Darton, visit various Web sites, including,, and

An essential guide to all such popular histories, which tend to be uncritically enthusiastic, is Ian Bradley's more recent Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams (St. Martin's, 1999). Another particularly insightful work is Philip Sheldrake's Living Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality (Cowley, 1995). Sheldrake does not so much retell the historical story as use it to explore the paradoxical Celtic passion both for pilgrimage (perigrinatio, a kind of holy wandering) and an attachment to a local place.

Many collections of prayers draw heavily on Carmina Gadelica, edited by Alexander Carmichael (Floris Books, 1994; also Lindisfarne Books, 1992). This unique compendium of oral tradition, collected in the nineteenth century and originally published in five volumes, includes both pagan and Christian material, and a great wealth of accompanying cultural notes. Most anthologies of Celtic Christian spirituality either borrow from or imitate this material, so it is good to know as a source.

An excellent, briefer—but much broader—anthology from the whole range of material is Celtic Christian Spirituality: An Anthology of Medieval and Modern Sources by Oliver Davies and Fiona Bowie (Continuum, 1995). This important collection draws not only on Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica but also on The Religious Songs of Connaught, a similar compendium of traditional Irish material by Douglas Hyde. Davies and Bowie include many prayers and hymns from medieval Wales, and much material from contemporary Welsh, Irish, and Scottish Christian poets. All of this is placed in an appreciative scholarly context, and prefaced by one of the best brief historical surveys available.

Among the many books that use and adapt these older sources, the works of Esther De Waal are perhaps the wisest and most profound. De Waal, who has also written on the spiritual wealth in the Benedictine tradition, published an early selection of prayers from (the then unavailable) Carmina Gadelica. She has written two more recent works that explore, with considerable wisdom and insight, aspects of contemporary life in the light of the Celtic Christian tradition. The first, Celtic Light: A Tradition Rediscovered (HarperCollins, 1997; originally published under the title A World Made Whole), unfolds the historical material under the topics of "The Dedicated Life," "The Celebration of Creation" and "The Light and the Dark." (In the last category she deals thoughtfully with the often neglected importance of the Celtic tradition's sense of sin and the need for repentance). The second, The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination (Doubleday, 1997), specifically explores the nature of prayer as a sense of a continual self-conscious relationship to God. Both works are richly illustrated with older Celtic Christian material.

Article continues below

Another writer who has mined the Celtic material—and used it liberally as a model for contemporary prayers in the same tradition—is David Adam, current vicar of the parish church at Lindisfarne. He has published several small (and very popular) books of prayers for daily life that combine new and old in the light of contemporary needs: The Open Gate: Celtic Prayers for Growing Spirituality (Morehouse, 1995); Tides and Seasons: Modern Prayers in the Celtic Tradition (SPCK, 1989); Power Lines: Celtic Prayers About Work (Morehouse, 2000), and The Rhythm of Life: Celtic Daily Prayer (More house, 1997). Adam has also written a book-length meditation on the hymn "Be Thou My Vision" (The Eye of the Eagle, SPCK, 1990), and another on "St. Patrick's Breast plate" (The Cry of the Deer, More house, 1987). These volumes are all good, but the best are gathered into a larger anthology, Borderlands: The Best of David Adam (Sheed & Ward, 1999).

Two more volumes by Adam are The Edge of Glory: Prayer in the Celtic Tradition (Morehouse, 1986); and The Wisdom of the Celts (Eerdmans, 1996).

Several good books have come out of communities of Christians who, in one way or another, are appropriating the Celtic material. Michael Mitton has written Restoring the Woven Cord: Strands of Celtic Christianity for the Church Today (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1993). Mitton, director of Anglican Renewal Ministries, has presented the Celtic Christian story in a format accessible for groups of Christians who want to study it (complete with accompanying Scripture texts and study questions). Ray Simpson—one of the founders of the Community of Aidan and Hilda, a Lindisfarne-related "dispersed community"--has written Exploring Celtic Spirituality: Historic Roots for Our Culture (Hodder & Stoughton, 1995), a broad survey of the tradition's relevance for contemporary Christian life. (Neither of these is particularly critical about historical sources. Both are perhaps subject to some of the critiques Bradley raises in Making Myths and Chasing Dreams.)

Article continues below

Perhaps the best of these community-based publications are the two collections of liturgies for the church year published by the Northumbrian Community, another "dispersed community" associated with Lindisfarne and its early Christian pioneers.

Celtic Daily Prayer (Harper San Francisco, 1994) and Celtic Night Prayer (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996) provide liturgies for daily prayer, as well as for communal occasions such as weddings, births, and deaths. Though they draw heavily on Celtic material, they include prayers from many regions and the whole history of the church. The Celtic in the title is mainly a publisher's ploy.

Related Elsewhere

See today's related story, "Saving Celtic Christianity | Despite the mythmaking, there's a wealth of Christian truth and devotion worth recovering," also by Loren Wilkinson.

Several of these books, including How the Irish Saved Civilization,Living Between Worlds,Celtic Christian Spirituality,The Celtic Way of Prayer,The Open Gate,The Rhythm of Life,The Cry of the Deer,The Edge of Glory, and The Wisdom of the Celts can be purchased at the Christianity Online Bookstore.

For more books, see the "Recommended Resources" of Christian History magazine's issue on Celtic Christianity.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.