Keith Hunt - Celtic Church in Britain - Page Seven   Restitution of All Things

  Home Previous Page Next Page

The Celtic Church in Britain #7

Divine Services


by Leslie Hardinge (1972)


     From the beginning of Christianity its ministry has
conducted religious services to meet the needs of its members. In
the old Hebrew economy rituals were connected with birth and
death, mourning and rejoicing, and at set seasons of the year.
The New Testament Church carried over some of these ceremonies
modified to fit in with the changed conditions.
     At his initiation into the Church the catechumen died to his
past and was born to a new life, through baptism. Connected with
baptism was the act of laying on of hands. When infant baptism
eventually became the regular practice of the Church this rite of
confirmation took on a different connotation. In some areas
Christian worship also included a little baptism or foot-washing.
Initially occasionally, then weekly, finally daily, "the Lord's
supper" was celebrated, for the living and for the dying.


     In the New Testament baptism was carried out by immersion,
and was so practised by Christians for centuries. As performed by
the Celtic Church baptism was also by immersion. The glossator
saw in it a symbolic fulfilment of Christ's burial. "When we
[pass under] baptism," he said, "it is the likeness of his burial
and death to us."
     There would seem to be little doubt from the sources that
triple immersion was the mode practised in the section of Celtic
Christianity represented by the Old-Irish glossator. On St Paul's
teaching that there was "one baptism" he carefully noted, "though
the immersion is triple". By the Apostle's observation to the
Colossians that Christians should be "buried with him", the Irish
theologian understood that "three waves pass over us in baptism,
because he was three days in the sepulchre".  This was the reason
generally assigned by the Greek writers for triple immersion,
while Augustine and the fathers of the West felt that this
threefold act symbolized the Trinity.
     The question whether there should be one or three immersions
was a subject of controversy in the Western Church even as late
as the seventh century, particularly in Spain. Single immersion
apparently was practised in Brittany even after the seventh
century. A. W. Haddan conjectured that single immersion was a
Scottish or British practice. It would appear from the glosses,
however, that single immersion was not in use by the Celtic
Church in Ireland.

(Yes it is an historic fact that even the Roman Catholic church
for centuries practiced baptism by immersion. This can be found
on any deep study into the subject of baptism. The triple
immersion is purely man made invention and tradition, that just
about nobody practices today, as it cannot be found in Scripture.
If the Celtic church in Britain [other than Ireland] practiced
single immersion, they were correct - Keith Hunt)


     Since instruction was invariably given before baptism, it
would seem that adults alone were required to comply with this
rite during the early period of the Celtic Church. This would be
the only way possible in a missionary movement dealing with
pagans. The glossator explained that St Paul's use of the term
"prophesying" indicated "preaching; the stirring up of every one
to belief, that he may be ready for baptism". Another comment
pointing to adult baptism is found in this sentence: "As
catechumens are at first taught by a priest, and are baptized,
and as they are then anointed by a bishop, so then John had begun
to teach men and to baptize them at first, and they have been
anointed by Christ, i.e. the work which John had begun has been
perfected by Christ and has been completed."
     The earlier penitentials corroborated this practice of
careful instruction. A canon of the Synod of Patrick discussed
another method of "preparation for baptism" in these terms "If
anyone of the brothers wishes to receive the grace of God [i.e.
baptism] he shall not be baptized until he has done [penance for)
a period of forty days." Even then instruction was to be
continued for the baptized catechumen, since the glossator
observed: "Teaching every one after baptism".
     Following careful indoctrination the proselyte's belief in
God was deemed necessary before his acceptance for membership.
This is suggested in Patrick's contact with Sescnech, who, after
hearing the saint preach, believe in God and was baptized.
Cairthenn, simply "believed in the Lord. And Patrick baptized him
in Saingil." Dichu, on the other hand, showed contrition. When he
was about to kill Patrick, the priest prayed for him, "and grief
of heart seized Dichu, and he believed, and Patrick baptized him
after that". Findchua was called "a perfect child" at the time of
his baptism." That this "belief" was considered necessary by
Patrick is underlined by the anecdote of Cathboth's seven sons
who "went to him [Patrick]; he preached to them, and they
believed and were baptized".
     Instruction, belief in God, repentance, grief of heart, and
penance, were prerequisites of baptism. On the Apostle's
declaration, "by grace are ye saved and that through faith", the
commentator noted an allusion to "the faith which they confessed
in baptism". This faith springs from the preaching of "baptism of
repentance for remission of sins", and further brings "men into
faith, the forgiveness of their sins to them through baptism".
     The instructor's role is that of "the bridesman, i.e. John.
He had prepared the nuptials, i.e. he had wooed the Church for
Christ." The catechumen was united in fellowship with the
believers through his baptism. The Old-Irish theologian summed up
his understanding of the significance of this ceremony in the
comment: "Though Christ be in you through confession of faith in
baptism, and the soul is alive thereby, yet the body is dead
through the old sins, and, though it has been cleansed through
baptism, it is unable to do good works until the Holy Spirit
awakes it." The ministry of the Spirit's awakening was signified
by the anointing with oil or chrism before actual baptism in
water. The candidate was also required to declare his acceptance
of the faith "through the creed which was recited at baptism".
     A legend is preserved of the encounter of Patrick with the
two princesses, Ethene the Fair and Feidelem the Rosy, daughters
of the high king Loegaire. A dialogue ensued which might be
arranged in the form of a catechism something like this. The
girls (G) questioned the saint (P) regarding the faith, and he
answered them:

G Whence hast thou come, and where is thy home?
P It were better for you to believe in the true God whom we
worship than to ask questions about our race.
G Who is God? Of whom is he God? 
P Our God is the God of all men.
G Where is God? Where is God's dwelling?
P He has his dwelling around heaven and earth and sea and all
that in them is. He inspired all, he quickens all, he dominates
all, he supports all. He lights the light of the sun. He
furnishes the light of the night. He has made springs in the dry
land. He has set stars to minister to the greater lights.
G Is he fair? Has he sons and daughters, thy God, and has he gold
and silver?
P He has a Son coeternal with himself, and like unto himself. 
G Is he immortal?
P The Son is not younger than the Father, nor the Father older
than the Son.
G Has the Son been fostered by many?
P The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not divided.
G Is he in heaven or in earth? In the sea, in the rivers, in the
hill places, in the valleys?
P He is the God of heaven and earth, of sea and rivers, of sun
and moon and stars, of the lofty mountain and the lowly valley,
the God above heaven and in heaven and under heaven. 
G Tell us how we may know him, in what wise he will appear? 
P I wish to unite you with the heavenly King, as ye are daughters
of an earthly king.
G How is he discovered? Is he found in youth or in old age? 
P Believe!
G Tell us with all diligence how we may believe in the heavenly
King that we may see him face to face.
P Believe !
G How may we be prepared to meet him?
P Do you believe that by baptism you can cast away the sin of
your father and mother?
G We believe!
P Do you believe in life after death? 
G We believe
P Do you believe in the resurrection in the day of judgement? 
G We believe!
P Will you be baptized?
G We will do as thou sayest.

And Patrick baptized them and placed a white veil on their heads.

G How may we behold the face of Christ?
P You cannot see the face of Christ until you shall taste of
G How may we taste of death?
P You taste of death when you receive the sacrifice.
G Give us the sacrifice that we may see the Son, our bridegroom.

     And they received the Eucharist, and fell asleep in death.**
This credal catechism was probably based on an early formula used
at services of baptism, and later incorporated into an
interesting story.

(The truth of God the Father and His Son Christ was well
understood by Patrick, and the basic rules for baptism. Note **
the comment below on "fell asleep inj death" - Keith Hunt)

     The use of a white veil on the candidates after baptism is
also found in the narrative of the captives of Coroticus.
Following the immersion, Communion was administered to the
catechumens. This ritual is preserved in the baptismal service of
the Stowe Missal. In this rite the feet of the neophites were
washed after the baptism and before the Communion was received.
Through baptism the candidate was "born again in Christ", Sinners
were thus brought into one family, "massed into one body by
baptism", and thus "united in Christ". Only after their baptism
were they allowed to join in religious exercises among Celtic
Christians. Considering the Pauline teaching on "benefit or
grace" the glossator asked: "What is the first grace? The answer
is not difficult. The grace of forgiveness of sins through
baptism. The second grace is the forgiveness of sins through
repentance." Applying the allegorical significance of Christ's
baptism, the commentator observed that the sinner should be
"baptized, i.e. after the likeness of his death in the mortal
body, from which he parted in his passion. He does not return to
that body, but is now in a spiritual resurrection body, without
expectation of death or decay. Let us therefore not return to the
mortal body of sins." Another belief, voiced by Finnian,
regarding the effect of this ceremony was that "the sins of all
are indeed remitted in baptism".

(**This statement is often interpreted to mean that the young
women were martyred. The truth probably lies nearer to an
allegorical interpretation of the case. They died to sin and to
the world and were baptized by Patrick in the symbol of burial.
The original story is published in Analecta Bollandiana 11. 49,
and is translated by J. B. Bury, Life of St Patrick, 138-40.)

(The practice of the Eucharist after baptism was a move in the
wrong direction by the Celtic church by Patricks day. There is
nothing in the Bible to show or teach that having some
"eucharist" or "Lord's supper" - bread and fruit of the vine -
was required after baptism; indeed the NT is fully silent on that
matter, and in fact in the passages on baptism would prove that
tradition wrong and was an invention of men - Keith Hunt)
     F. E. Warren noted that the baptismal formula invoking the
names of the Persons of the Trinity has been left out of the
service found in the Stowe Missal. He pointed out the similarity
between this and the Gelasian Sacramentary. F. C. Conybeare
argued that it was this omission which rendered baptism by Celtic
clerics invalid in the eyes of the Western Church. Pope Gregory
11 replied to Boniface in 726 to the effect that:

     You have informed me that certain persons have been baptized
     by adulterous and unworthy priests without their having been
     interrogated about the symbol or creed. In such cases you
     shall adhere to the ancient custom of the church, which is
     that one who has been baptized in the name of the Father,
     and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, must on no account be
     rebaptized, for the gift of grace is not received in the
     name of the baptizer, but in the name of the Trinity.

(Jesus' instructions in Matthew are clear that the person is to
be baptized in the "name of the Father and the Son and the Holy
Spirit" - and in "Jesus' name" as other passages would teach,
would mean by the authority of Jesus, hence I baptize people by
saying..."By the authority of Jesus Christ I baptize you into
(Greek "en" can mean "into") the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit " - Keith Hunt)

     The expression "adulterous priests" probably referred to
married Celtic clergy, who were regarded as being even more
unworthy because they had not been consecrated by bishops duly
authorized by the Roman Church. Notwithstanding these
considerations, Gregory recommended that should any Christian
have been baptized in the name of the Trinity his baptism was
valid. But, in spite of the arguments which Conybeare summoned,
it would seem to be still true that "the precise defect intended
[by Bede] is left to conjecture. Single immersion seems most
probable." But this can hardly be the case in view of the
references to triune immersion in the glosses. The criticism
might have arisen in connection with the pedilavium which
followed baptism in the Celtic ritual.
     Later Celtic Christian writers recorded other ceremonies
connected with baptism. The Stowe Missal noted that the breast
and shoulders of the candidate should be chrismated before
baptism. Here is an example from the life of Brigit: There
appeared "clerics in shining garments, who poured oil on the
girl's head; and they completed the order of baptism in the usual
manner. Those were three angels."
     It seems that baptism was believed, on occasion, to have
been performed in milk:

     But on the morrow, when the bondmaid went at sunrise with a
     vessel full of milk in her hand, and when she put one of her
     two footsteps over the threshold of the house, the other
     foot being inside, then she brought forth the daughter, even
     St Brigit. The maidservants washed St Brigit with the milk
     that was still in her mother's hand.

(We are now seeing how man made customs and traditions had crept
into the Celtic church over time. It is the way the true body of
Christ goes over a time space of centuries - solid truth becomes
corrupted and distorted and the ways of man, the ideas of man,
come into the true church and corruption and false teachings come
to pass. This is very evident by reading the 7 churches of
Revelation chapters 2 and 3 - Keith Hunt)


     While the earlier Celtic clerics accepted no fees from those
for whom they performed this service, in later centuries it
became quite normal for payments to be made to them. When
Findchua was baptized, his parents presented "a scruple, that is
seven pennies of gold, ... to [Ailbe of Imlech Ibair] for
baptizing the child". On the occasion of the baptism of Ciaran of
Clonmacnoise "a vessel of choice honey was given to deacon Justus
as his fee for baptizing Ciaran". And Bishop Eirc received "three
purple wethers ... out of the well as the fees for baptizing
     Not only were fees presented for baptism, but, when Ciaran
was receiving his last Communion, he also gave "the scruple of
his communion" to Coimgen the priest. There seems to be some
connection between baptizing for fees and the ruling of a canon
of the penitential of Finnian: "Monks, however, are not to
baptize, nor to receive alms; if, then, they do receive alms, why
shall they not baptize?"


     Since baptism was carried out by immersion, it obviously
required a substantial quantity of water. In Celtic lands the
rite was often performed in a well. It was recorded that on one
of Patrick's trips "the site of his tent is in the green of the
fort, ... and to the north of the fort is his well wherein he
baptized Dunling's two sons". Findian "was baptized out of the
well named Bal, as was meet for his merits". Another anecdote
suggested a ceremony which Patrick was believed to have used in
this service:

     Thereafter Patrick went in his chariot, so that every one
     might see him, and that they might hear from him his voice,
     and the preaching of God's word by him. And then they
     believed in God and in Patrick. So Patrick repeats the order
     of baptism to them on the river, which was near them, and
     all the hosts are baptized therein.

     Here the baptismal service was conducted in a river, after
"the order of baptism", whatever that might have been, had been
recited. Apparently any place with sufficient water for immersion
was considered satisfactory.


     Adult baptism appears to have been the practice of early
Celtic Christians. It is not known when infant baptism was
introduced among them. The penitential of Cummean proves that it
was already in existence in the ruling that "one who instead of
baptism blesses a little infant shall do penance for a year". It
added the warning that "if the infant dies having had such a
blessing only, that homicide shall do penance according to the
judgement of a council". This is very interesting as it indicates
that blessing a little infant was an early Celtic Christian rite
which was no longer to be tolerated. It is well within the realms
of possibility that the original practice of the Celts had been
the simple blessing of infants in following the example of our
Lord. Patrick was believed to have baptized pregnant women and
their unborn infants, but this is very likely a comminatory story
to authorize an innovation of the author's time. But that infant
baptism finally became the regular practice among Celtic
Christians there is no doubt, as is witnessed by this story in
the life of Columba: "At that time when Saint Columba passed some
days in the province of the Picts, a certain layman with his
whole household heard and believed the word of life, through an
interpreter, at the preaching of the holy man; and believing, was
baptized, the husband, with his wife and children, and his
servants." But the age of these children is not specified. The
penitential of Finnian ruled that "If a cleric does not receive a
child [to baptism], if it is a child of the same parish, he shall
do penance for a year on bread and water."


     It was a custom for a white veil or white napkin to be
placed on the catechumen's head during the baptismal service.
Patrick put a veil upon the heads of the daughters of Leoghaire.
When the saint baptized the infant daughters of Maine, he draped
"a veil on their heads"." The Old-Irish glosses mention the veil
or mantle used during the service of baptism. The placing of this
veil followed the anointing of the candidate with oil or chrism.
When Patrick upbraided Coroticus for his inhuman massacre of
Irish Christians, he recalled that this oil was still seen
shining upon the brows of the newly baptized persons on whom the
white veils had just been placed.

(Again a man-made tradition - Keith Hunt)


     So, immediately following the baptism, it appears that the
head of the candidate was anointed. The Old-Irish commentator
remarked that after Christians have been baptized "they are then
anointed by a bishop". Other references to this custom have been
noted above. The drawing on page 101 above illustrates this
pouring oil from a spoon on his head while the candidate remains
standing  in the water.  

(Again a man-made tradition - Keith Hunt)

     From the Stowe Missal it is possible to reconstruct what was 
probably the sequence of the ritual of baptism among the Irish
Christians of the ninth century. Here is a summary: the service
opened with a prayer followed by a special petition that God
would exorcize the devil from each organ of the body and reign
within the candidate. This detailed enumeration points to the
fact that the expected catechumen would be an adult and most
likely a pagan. The consecration of the salt, the exorcism of the
water, and a prayer then follow.
     The candidate was then asked to renounce the devil and his
works, and the confession of the Creed began. The administrator
breathed upon him, a symbol of the infilling of the Holy Spirit,
and proceeded to anoint his breast and shoulders with oil and
chrism in the name of the Trinity, finally asking him a second
time whether he wished to renounce the devil and his works. After
a response in the affirmative, a prayer followed. Salt was then
placed in the mouth of the catechumen and a benediction spoken.
The neophite was once more anointed and sections of the Psalms
were recited and prayers said. After the font had been blessed by
means of a sign of the cross made of chrism placed on the water,
those present were sprinkled with the consecrated water and a
deacon interrogated them on their belief in God, after which the
candidate entered the font and was baptized. While he remained
standing in the water, oil was poured upon his head in the name
of the Trinity and a deacon placed a white veil upon him as the
priest prayed for the forgiveness of the penitent's sins and
invoked the blessings of God.

(Much man-made traditions had entered the basic simple practice
of baptism by immersion - Keith Hunt)

     The candidate was clothed in a white robe by the deacon
while he was being asked whether he would accept the robe of
Christ's righteousness in preparation for his final judgement
before the tribunal of God. Oil was then put on the catechumen's
right hand with a prayer that his activities might be dedicated
unto life eternal. Next, there followed the washing of the
candidate's feet while appropriate passages were read from the
Psalms, such as "Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light unto
my path", and the reading of St John's account of Christ's
washing the apostles' feet. This part of the ceremony ended with
the directive that, as the Lord had washed the disciples' feet,
"You, clad in splendid white linen, must also wash".
     The concluding rite of the baptismal service, immediately
following the pedilavium, was the first Communion of the newly
baptized. Possibly because of this, an altar, at which the
Communion was to be celebrated, was often erected close to the
baptistery, as is suggested by the account of Patrick: "A church,
moreover, was founded on that well in which Patrick was baptized,
and there stands the well by the altar." Another comment is that
Patrick's "well is in front of the church". Was this the position
of the altar too? Both the bread and wine were received and the
service ended with prayers, thanksgiving, and petitions for
cleansing and dedication on behalf of the candidate.

(This shows by the time of Patrick much false ideas and
traditions had entered the Celtic church concerning the rite of
baptism - Keith Hunt)

     But the Stowe Missal baptismal service is not pure Celtic,
it contains an admixture of Western Christian usages, introduced
after the process of Romanizing the Celts had begun. The sources
which are available are so meagre that the reconstruction of a
genuine early Celtic service is impossible. T. Thompson summed up
his analysis:

     The Irish rite appears to have borne a strong resemblance to
     the Gallican, as for instance in the matter of the washing
     of the feet of the neophites. The effeta and the unction
     just before baptism, to judge from Bobbio and the fragments
     of the Stowe, had some peculiarities ... The Gallican books
     were superseded by Roman books. ... nor did the Irish books
     succeed any better in maintaining their position against the
     aggression of the dominant Roman influence.


     It seems impossible to say when the service of confirmation
was introduced as a regular part of the Celtic ritual. There is a
hint that it was held to be theologically necessary in the
Old-Irish comment: "Though Christ be in you through confession of
faith in baptism, and the soul is alive thereby, yet the body is
dead through the old sins, and, though it has been cleansed
through baptism, it is unable to do good works until the Holy
Spirit awakes it." The glossator evidently felt that the rite of
baptism alone was not completely efficacious for the convert
until the Holy Spirit had empowered him to live as a Christian,
This dynamic was believed to be imparted to him by the ceremony
of the laying on of hands.


     The "Rule of Patrick", a late composition, also stipulated
that "the perfection of the Holy Spirit comes not, however
fervently a person is baptized, unless he 'goes under the hand'
of a bishop after baptism". Cuthbert likewise laid his hands on
those who "had been lately baptized ... when his hands and feet
had been washed in accordance with the custom ..." But this kind
of "confirmation" had nothing to do with endorsing infant
baptism. It was a service performed immediately after the baptism
of adults, at which time the impartation of the Holy Spirit was
believed to occur. The later Lives contain several references to
confirmation of a different sort. Patrick was described as
confirming, consecrating, or blessing. Cormac's Glossary defined
caplait or Maundy Thursday as "a name for the chief day of
Easter, i.e. 'head washing', i.e. since every one is tonsured
then, and his head is washed, in preparation for his confirmation
on the Easter Sunday".

     After the practice of infant baptism had been established,
confirmation took on added meaning. The faith of the child, which
had been affirmed by his godparents, needed to be certified by
the child himself, grown to the use of reason. Theodore evidently
had this Celtic rite in mind when he ruled: "We believe no one is
complete in baptism without the confirmation of a bishop; yet we
do not despair." And he further remarked: "Chrism was established
in the Nicene Synod. It is not a breach of order if the chrismal
napkin is laid again upon another who is baptized." So this
ancient British custom was a recognized part of the ritual of the
Christians in these islands whom Theodore was seeking to absorb
into his own organization.


     The history of feet washing as a ceremony of the Christian
Church is tantalizingly elusive. That pedilavium was practised by
the first Christians in response to our Lord's directive, "This
do as I have done unto you", is most probable. There are passing
references to this rite in the first centuries. Continued for
many years by the Eastern Church, feet washing eventually fell
from favour in the West. But it was carried out long enough to be
introduced among the earliest Celtic Christian. The practice of
washing the feet of those newly baptized was noted by Augustine,
but he denied the pedilavium was vital to their baptism.
Augustine remarked:

     Now, regarding feet washing: this was commanded by the Lord
     as a form of humility, which he came to teach and
     appropriately demonstrated himself, electing the best time
     to inculcate a religious truth. But many, lest it appear to
     be tied to the sacrament of baptism, do not admit feet
     washing into their ritual. Some deny its usefulness
     altogether. Still others celebrate it at some appointed
     sacred time, perhaps on the third of the octave, carefully
     distinguishing it from the sacrament of baptism.

     Sir Edwyn Hoskyns, in his excursus on "The Liturgical use of
the Pedilavium" rightly explained the implications:

     There are indications in the ancient liturgies of the Church
     that the pedilavium once formed an integral part of the
     baptismal office. Saint Ambrose reminds the newly baptized
     of the Gospel lesson which had been read at the washing of
     their feet, when they had "gone up from the font." The
     author of the closely related treatise De Sacramentis adds
     that "the high priest was girt up (for though the presbyters
     also carried it out, yet the ministry is begun by the high
     priest) and washed thy feet." He also states that the Church
     in Rome did not have this custom, and suggests that this was
     "on account of the numbers". Presumably the ceremony took
     too much time.

     The rite seems to have persisted in certain areas in spite
of the ruling of the Synod of Elvira (306), which forbade priests
and clerics to wash the feet of those who had just been baptized,
and is found in the Gallic and Gothic services. The Missale
Gothicum, as its seventh item, included the rite: Dum pedes ejus
lavas, dicis, "Ego tibi lavo pedes; sicut Dominus noster Jesus
Christus fecit discipulis suis, to facias hospitibus et
peregrinis, tit habeas vitam aeternam." There were similar
rubrics in the Gallic service book, and also in the Bobbio
     That interest in pedilavium continued in the Spanish Church
is borne out by the ruling of the Council of Toledo (694) that it
should be performed only on Maundy Thursday. While its use
continued in the East, in Rome feet washing lapsed, but was for
some time practised by the congregation at Milan. But in Spain,
Gaul, and Germany and the various Celtic lands, feet washing long
persisted, as is abundantly attested by the sources.
     F. E. Warren suggested that the Italian Augustine's demand
that the Celtic ecclesiastics should conform to the Roman method
of administering baptism was, in fact, a demand that they abolish
pedilavium. But in spite of this, feet washing was carried out in
several other connections in Celtic lands.

(Feet washing at baptism is nowhere taught in the Bible - it is
therefore a man-made tradition - Keith Hunt)


     As a gesture of hospitality pedilavium was used to make
guests comfortable. From his isolated retreat at Lindisfarne
Cuthbert used often to go forth to meet the brethren who came to
visit him for counsel, and, "when he had devoutly washed their
feet in warm water, he was sometimes compelled by them to take
off his shoes and to allow them to wash his feet". Even earlier
in Ireland, Brigit was reputed to have been accustomed to wash
the feet of her guests: "For she used to say that Christ was in
the person of every faithful guest ... The wizard and his wife,
... went to the dairy ... Brigit made them welcome, and washed
their feet, and gave them food". The same practice was followed
by the brethren on Iona, On one occasion Columba had a
presentiment that pilgrims were about to land on the island.
Calling one of the brothers he said, "Prepare the guesthouse
quickly, and draw water for washing the feet of guests."

(And in those days of sandle type footwear and dusty roads such a
custom was accept, no religious meaning was meant by it, except
as good Christian service - Keith Hunt)


     Feet washing was held to produce miraculous results. The
length to which this belief was carried by later hagiographers is
shown by this anecdote:  
     When Brigit's fame had sounded through Teffia, there was a
     certain devout virgin in Fir Tethbai, even Brig, daughter of
     Coimloch, who sent a message that Brigit should come and
     commune with her. So Brigit went, and Brig herself rose up
     to wash her [Brigit's] feet. At that time a devout woman lay
     in sickness. When they were washing Brigit's feet, she sent
     for the sick person who was in the girl's house, to bring
     her out of the tub some of the water which was put over
     Brigit's feet. It was brought to her accordingly, and she
     put it on her face, and straightway she was every whit
     whole, and after having been in sickness for a year she was
     on that night one of the attendants.

     On another occasion Brigit "washed the feet of the nuns of
Cuil Fobair, and at that washing healed four nuns, to wit, a lame
one, and a blind, and a leper, and an insane". Cairan of Saigir
was also a believer in feet washing. When Crichid of Cluain,
Ciaran's farmer, went to Saigir to see his master, wolves killed
him. Ciaran went to the place where he lay and washed his feet.
As a result of this ceremony Crichid was restored to life. It may
well be that these comminatory stories were used to support a
practice which was falling into disuse? In the following stories
the miraculous is introduced to add authority to the waning
practice of pedilavium.

     Sometimes Cuthbert acted as guest-master in his own
establishment. On one occasion this saint, "having received him
[a guest] kindly in accordance with his wont, still thinking him
to be a man and not an angel, he washed his hands and feet and
wiped them with towels, and having in his humility rubbed his
guest's feet with his own hands to warm them on account of the
cold" was miraculously given spiritual insight to discern that he
was a visitor from heaven. Iona and its monks, too, witnessed
miracles in connection with pedilavium. A well had been cursed by
magicians, so Columba "first raising his holy hand in invocation
of the name of Christ, washed his hands and feet; and after that,
with those that accompanied him, drank of the same water, which
he had blessed. And from that day, the demons withdrew from that

(Doing a humble service as hand and foot washing could be honored
by the Father with miracles. God can perform miracles when and
how and to whom He pleases - a humble attitude of service the
Almighty can respect with miracles if He so chooses - Keith Hunt)

     Another use for pedilavium was the fostering of humility and
penitence. This is illustrated by a story concerning Patrick, who

     went into the district of Mag Luirg, and his horses were
     forcibly taken by the tribe of the Sons of Erc, and he
     cursed the people of that country. But bishop Maine of the
     Hui-Ailella besought Pattrick to forgive his brethren, and
     Patrick weakened the malediction. And Maine washed Patrick's
     feet with his hair and with his tears, and he drove the
     horses into a meadow and cleansed their hoofs in honour of

     Even the "feet" of horses were washed as a gesture of
humility and repentance. Brigit demonstrated her devotion and
meekness by washing the feet even of lepers:

     Once upon a time two lepers came to Brigit to be healed of
     the leprosy. Brigit bade one of the two lepers to wash the
     other. He did so. "Do thou", said Brigit to the other leper,
     "tend and wash thy comrade even as he hath ministered unto
     thee." "Save the time that we have seen," saith he, "we will
     not see one another. What, O nun, dost thou deem it just
     that I, a healthy man, with my fresh limbs and my fresh
     raiment, should wash that loathsome leper there, with his
     livid limbs falling from him? A custom like that is not fit
     for me." So Brigit washed the lowly miserable leper.

     Evidently the initial washing had healed the first leper,
who then did not wish to recontaminate himself with his leprous
companion. The saint showed her humility by washing his feet.
"Great indeed was the humility of Colum Cille, for it was he
himself that used to take their shoes off his monks, and that
used to wash their feet for them." Other stories might be added,
but one more will suffice. "In the miraculous legend of St
Brendon (+ 578) it is related that he sailed with his monks to
the island of Sheep [Faeroe], and on sherethursdays, after
souper, he wesshe theyr feet and hyssed them tyke as our Lorde
dyd to his dyscuples." As this story portrays, it was on Maundy
Thursdays that this ceremony was popularly practised among Celtic
Christians. It was carried out by Brigit, following the example
of Christ and the disciples in the upper room:

     Brigit went to a certain church in the land of Teffia to
     celebrate Easter. The prioress of the church said to her
     maidens that on Maundy Thursday one of them should minister
     unto the old men and to the weak and feeble persons who were
     biding in the church. Not one of them was found for
     ministering. Said Brigit: "I to-day will minister unto
     them." [There were] four of the sick persons who were biding
     in the church, even a consumptive man, and a lunatic, and a
     blind man, and a leper. And Brigit did service to these
     four, and they were healed from every disease that lay upon

     Apparently no impropriety attached to a woman's washing the
saints' feet, as in New Testament times. Other details of the
story, the unwillingness of anyone to perfonn the act and the
uncleanness of some who were present hark back to the initial
narrative of the institution of this Christian custom by our
Lord." Bede noted that Cuthbert sometimes would not remove his
shoes of animal skin from one Easter to the next; and, the
historian added, "then only for the washing of the feet which
takes place on Maundy Thursday".

(By this time we also note that the false Easter had taken root
and hence Thursday was considered the evening before the Friday
crucifixion of Christ - Keith Hunt)

     As may readily be concluded, Maundy Thursday was specially
devoted to the caring for the needs of the body in preparation
for Easter among later Celtic Christians. The hair of the monks
was then shorn. The brethren also washed their heads in honour of
the season. In the north of England Maundy Thursday was called
Skyre Thursday, probably from Old Norse, shira, to purify. In the
south of England it was known as Shere Thursday, and so
mistakenly its etymology has been traced to the cutting of hair
on that day.
     On one occasion Brendan reached the island of Procurator,
who prepared a bath for the voyager and his disciples, for it was
the day of the Lord's Supper, on another Kentigern is reported to
have washed the feet of lepers on the Saturday before Palm

(And so the Celtic church had been corrupted by the church of
Rome with Easter and the rest of the corrupt traditions of the
Easter season - Keith Hunt)

     As has already been mentioned in connection with the
ceremonies carried out in the ritual of baptism, pedilavium
followed the immersion and preceded Communion in the Celtic rite.
It is said of Cuthbert, that he laid "his hand on those who had
been lately baptized ... when his hands and feet had been washed
in accordance with the custom of hospitality ..." The import of
this appears to be that the catechumen, after being immersed, was
blessed by the laying on of the cleric's hand. Then his own hands
and feet were washed as he was accepted into full fellowship with
his brethren. Feet washing following immersion is also found in
the Gothic, Gallic, Bobbio, and Stowe orders of service for

(Again a custom of men - the traditions of men - Keith Hunt)

     Pedilavium seems to have been employed in connection with
the Communion service. In the Stowe Missal it preceded the first
Communion which the recently baptized celebrated. In the
penitential of Columbanus it was ruled that "he who unwashed
receives the Holy Bread, [should receive] twelve strokes". It has
been suggested that this "holy bread" referred to the "Eulogia,"
a loaf of ordinary bread, which was cut up into small pieces and
distributed to the poor after the celebration of Communion. It is
possible, however, that this regulation, influenced by Celtic
Christians in Ireland, actually had reference to the washing of
hands and feet before the Communion service, as is illustrated by
the usage in the Stowe Missal. The Celt's adherence to a literal
interpretation of the Scriptures seems to have led him to follow
the procedure of the upper room exactly. For in that service
Christ washed the feet of his disciples before he distributed the
bread and wine to his followers.

(Not so, when the true chronology of that evening is understood,
but the main point, the foot washing should be on the evening of
the Passover night - once a year - see my many studies on the
Passover - Keith Hunt)

     In a narrative recorded to show the power of Columba over
wind and storm an incident is embedded which throws light on one
use of feet washing at Iona. By God's protection, Adamnan wrote,
"we arrived at the harbour of the island of Io, after the third
hour of the day; and later, after the washing of hands and feet,
we entered the church with the brothers, and at the sixth hour we
celebrated with them the holy ceremonies of the mass." This, too,
suggests that at Iona a recognized preparation for the
celebration of Communion was the washing of hands and feet. L.
Gougaud inquired, "Was it a ritual ablution?"  The travellers
arrived by boat, and hence would not be so footsore and dirty. If
it be granted that this was a ritual washing of feet, and like
the pedilavium, preceded the Communion, an interesting feature of
the Celtic service emerges. In the ninth century and later the
Irish and Scottish Christian reformers, the Culdees, continued
pedilavium: "At the washing of feet the Beati is recited as long
as the washing lasts. After that comes the sermon on the

     In the penitential of Theodore is a ruling that "washing the
feet of laymen is also within the liberty of the monastery". In
spite of the indifference of the fathers and the proscriptions of
the councils Theodore evidently decided, when he framed his
penitentials, that pedilavium was too deeply rooted in Britain to
eradicate at the sweep of the pen. He therefore left each
ecclesiastical community free to decide whether it should be
carried out.

(The foot-washing was obviously felt connected to some Christian
rite - baptism or the so-called "Lord's supper" service. It
became confused by many as to when it should be done by the
saints of God. Some no doubt still held to the correct time to
observe it - Passover evening on the 14th of the first month in
God's calendar - Keith Hunt)


     The most important and frequently repeated service of the
Christian Church has been the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
Through the centuries it has been given many names, each
suggestive of some aspect of its significance. That there ever
was a peculiarly Celtic liturgy has been doubted by H. Leclercq.
The later Celtic Christians travelled widely, he felt, and
incorporated into their celebration a variety of rites and
ceremonies. The result was a conspicuous difference between
Celtic and Roman usages. Gildas (+ 570) asserted that a variation
existed between the British and Roman liturgies: "The Britons are
at variance with the whole world, and are opposed to Roman
customs, not only in the Mass, but also in their tonsure." The
Council of Clovesho (747), in its thirteenth canon, ordered the
adoption of the Roman sacramental usages throughout England,
stressing particularly "in Baptismi officio, in Missarum
celebrations". These differences were also noted by Bede. The
"Catalogue of the Saints of Ireland" likewise recorded that the
Christians of that island differed in their usages. While the
first order "observed one mass, one celebration", the second
"celebrated different masses, and had different rules", and the
third still "different rules and masses". This statement reflects
the various parties among Celtic Christians. Some evidently were
slower at accepting the changes the Romanizing party used.
     When Queen Margaret came to Scotland, one of the first
points she noted, according to her biographer, was that there
were some of the remnants of the early Celtic Christians "in
certain districts of the Scots, who were wont to celebrate mass
contrary to the custom of the whole church; with I know not what
barbarous rite. This the queen, fired with the zeal for God, so
sought to destroy and uproot, that henceforth none appeared in
the whole Scottish nation who dared do such a thing." Could this
"barbarous rite" be pedilavium?

     The available evidence has been sifted by F. E. Warren, A.
A. King, H. Leclercq, L. Gougaud, and others. A detailed study of
the liturgy is outside the scope of this chapter, and only
essential differences between the Celtic usages and other forms
must suffice for this sketch.
     Warren called attention to "a peculiar feature of the Celtic
Liturgy, at least in its Irish form". It was "a multiplicity of
collects", the Lord's Prayer, and Scripture lections. There was
seemingly no use made of incense. A unique ceremony is
illustrated by a practice at the island of Iona:

     At another time, there came to the saint from the province
     of the men of Mumu a stranger who humbly kept himself out of
     sight, as much as he could, so that none knew that he was a
     bishop. But yet that could not remain hidden from the saint.
     For on the next Lord's day, when he was bidden by the saint
     to prepare, according to custom, the body of Christ, he
     called the saint to assist; him, so that they should as two
     presbyters together break the Lord's bread. Thereupon the
     saint, going to the altar, suddenly looked upon his face,
     and thus addressed him: "Christ bless you, brother; break
     this bread alone, according to the episcopal rite."

     Evidently it was the custom for two priests or one bishop to
celebrate at the same time. There have survived no Celtic
consecration prayers, but that they were probably said audibly is
witnessed by an incident in which Columba "heard a certain priest
consecrating the sacred elements of the Eucharist".

     Communion consisted of both kinds. In one of his addresses
Columbanus recommended: "If you thirst, drink the Fountain of
life; if hunger, eat the Bread of life. Blessed are they who
hunger for this Bread and thirst for this Fountain; for ever
eating and drinking they still long to eat and drink." But
stronger than this evidence, which might be interpreted
metaphorically, is the warning Columbanus gave to any who injured
the chalice with his teeth! In Secundus' Hymn eulogizing Patrick,
that saint is described as one "who draws heavenly wine in
heavenly cups, and gives drink to the people of God from a
spiritual chalice". The two daughters of Loegaire asked how they
might see Christ face to face. Patrick replied, "Ye cannot see
Christ unless ye first taste of death, and unless ye receive
Christ's Body and his Blood." This was also the practice at the
time the Antiphonary of Bangor was compiled. A hymn preserved in
it, sung while the people were communicating began, "Come, ye
saints, take the body of Christ, drinking his holy blood, by
which you were redeemed." Moiling of Luachair once administered
the chalice to a person who was a leper. The Wfrtzburg glossator,
in his exposition of the Christian concept of salvation through
Christ, recorded that eternal life came "through the material
blood which poured from his side when he was on the cross, and
through the spiritual blood which is offered every clay upon the
altar." There is no evidence in the sources that the actual
Presence at Communion was believed by Celtic Christians.

     The custom of the primitive Church was to mix water with the
wine of the eucharistic cup. Twice Columba is reputed to have
changed water into wine miraculously. A later comminatory story
informs us that on one occasion Patrick baptized an unborn
infant, and the commentator remarked, "aqua baptismi filii, ipsa
est aqua communionis mulieris." Stokes suggested that this phrase
indicates that the water which had been used for the baptism of
the infant provided water for administering Communion to the
dying mother. A rubric in the Stowe directed, "Wine then on water
into the chalice",  and an old poem read:

     When a shower of gore had speckled 
     The breast of Diamait's steed
     The water wherewith Grip (the horse's name] is washed 
     Is not clear for the Sacrifice.

     Some form of service was performed, whenever possible, to
provide Communion for the dying. For instance, "When Patrick had
completed his victorious career in the present world, ... he
received from bishop Tassach communion and sacrifice." Stories to
the same effect are preserved of Brendan. For example, he
resurrected a mermaid, and "after the girl had received the Body
of Christ and his Blood she died without anxiety"; and another:
"The old man pointed out to them the land of which they were in
search, i.e. the Land of Promise, and having received the Body of
Christ and his Blood he went to heaven." Cuthbert sent a priest
to the dying queen of King Egfrid of Northumberland to administer
"the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord". On his own
deathbed Cuthbert received the Blessed Sacrament in both kinds
from the hands of Herefrith, abbot of Lindisfame. The Annals
record that Maelseachlainn More, the "pillar of the dignity and
nobility of the west of the world died ... after intense penance
for his sins and transgressions, after receiving the body of
Christ and his blood, after being anointed by the hands of
Amhalghaidh, successor of Patrick".

(And so we see once more how true practices of the Passover -
bread and fruit of the vine, foot-washing, had got all mixed up
by various parts of the Celtic church as the centuries moved on
and as the Roman church entered Britain, bringing with it the
false teachings of Easter and all the other man-made trappings of
the Easter season as taught and practiced by Rome - Keith Hunt)


     That a service of healing, similar to the injunction of St
James, was carried out among Celtic Christians is suggested by
this narrative in the life of Samson:

     And it came to pass when he had entered within the palace,
     God as we may suppose, exercising power on his behalf, he
     found a certain great chief harassed by suffering at the
     hands of a demon; and, when he was aware of this, St Samson
     came to him and, having taken oil, blessed it and fully
     anointed him on the head, face and breast while many watched
     him; and, with God's help, he who had been sick was made
     perfectly whole. 

     An office of visiting the sick of later date has survived 
but no service books of the time of Patrick or Columba are to be
found in their original form. But J. F. Kenney has well noted:

     Of the importance of the Antiphonary of Bangor there is no
     question. It may be the oldest extant Irish manuscript: it
     is the oldest to which precise dates can - with probability
     - be assigned. Apart from some fragments it is the only
     record surviving of the old Irish church services unaffected
     by the Romanizing movement of the seventh and eighth
     centuries, and is one of the very few western liturgical
     books of the seventh century which we possess ... Through
     its pages the general student can receive the voice of the
     daily worship of God carried across twelve centuries from
     those famous, but shadowy, monasteries of ancient Ireland.

     With the help of this book, the Bible, and a book of
whatever hymns might have been composed by the day of the
Antiphonary, "the abbot would be in a position to direct all the
offices and devotions, habitual or special, of the monastery."
Included in it were suggestions for conducting the Divine Office
during Easter and on Easter day; on Sabbaths and Sunday in
Easter-tide; on Sabbaths and Sundays through the year; and on the
Feasts of the Martyrs.

     The general picture emerges, from a study of the sources
available, which portrays Celtic Christian services tending to
resemble earliest Christian practice, and as having an
individuality of their own, and characteristics which marked them
out as singular. Each differed from other Celtic rites. This
complete lack of uniformity, this apparent improvisation of order
and content, of prayers and blessings, probably contributed to
the weakening of the position of the Celtic Church and eased its
absorption into the flood tide of general Western Christianity.


To be continued with "Ministry"



Keith Hunt

  Home Previous Page Top of Page Next Page

Navigation List:

Word Search: