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who retired into the western parts of the isle, to Cornwall and Wales, amidst the severities inflicted on them, possessed what lay beyond the reach of enemies, namely, the consolations of their religion. The Cornish Britons, who were very numerous, on the whole, maintained their own rites and usages. As for those who inhabited Wales, they had their diocesan bishops, under one metropolitan, the archbishop of Caerleon; though we have no documents by which to ascertain their number and districts. The Christian religion was in a flourishing state in Ireland. According to the testimony of historians, the inhabitants of Ireland were converted to Christianity in the fifth century, by St. Patrick, who was born April 5th, A. D. 373, of a good family, at Kirk Patrick, near Dunbarton, in Scotland, but then comprehended under the general name Britain. The saints Kierdon, or Kiaran, called by the Britons Piran, Aillu, or Albeus, Declan, and Ibar, as well as Palladius, had previously attempted the conversion of the Irish to Christ; but the great office of apostle to Ireland was reserved for St. Patrick, who landed in the country of the Evolein, or at Wicklow, A. D. 441. He propagated Christianity so successfully through Ireland, that he converted the greatest part of the inhabitants; and his disciples made such rapid progress in the Christian doctrine, that, in the next age, Ireland was called the country of saints: and no men were equal to the Scotch monks in Ireland and Britain for sanctity and learning. The faith and discipline of the Scotish Churches in Ireland were the same with the British Churches, and their friendship and communion reciprocal: only there was this difference betwixt them, that the Scots in Ireland escaped the vengeance and confusion which, for a time, covered the face of the British Church; by the grace of God, they preserved their faith and their country. The venerable Bede speaks of Ireland “as a rich and happy kingdom, undisturbed by those bloody wars which harassed the rest of the world during the barbarous ages; " —as a land to which the nobility and gentry of Britain resorted for their education;—as a nation which gratuitously afforded maintenance, books, and masters, to all strangers who came thither for the sake of learning. " Camden observes, that the the English Saxons anciently flocked to Ireland, as to the mart of sacred learning; and this is frequently mentioned in the lives of eminent men among them. “ “ The excellent and learned Archbishop Usher has clearly demonstrated,” says the Rev. William Hamilton, “ that the supremacy of Rome was unknown to the ancient Irish; that the worship of saints and images was held in abhorrence, and no ceremonies used which were not strictly warranted by Scripture; that all descriptions of people were allowed, and desired to consult the sacred writers as their only rule of conduct." In short, from the evidence produced by this learned and faithful writer, we have the strongest reason to conclude, that this island enjoyed the blessings of a pure and enlightened piety, such as our Saviour himself taught, unembarrassed by any of the idle tenets of the Romish Church, and that it is to the English invaders of the twelfth century we are chiefly indebted for the establishment of a religion which has deluged the kingdom with blood, and been the great source of almost all its calamities.
* Bede Vita S. Columbi. cap. 1.
* Bede Hist. Gent. Angl. lib. iii. cap. 27.
* Brit. de Hibern. p. 730.
* Wide a curious Treatise of Archbishop Usher on the Religion of the ancient Irish.
“When we cast our eyes on King Henry the Second,” he adds, “advancing toward this devoted nation, bearing in one hand the bloody sword of war, and in the other the iniquitous bull of Pope Adrian, granting him unlimited authority to root out heresy, and to extend the empire of Rome, *—we see an irrefragible argument to prove, that this was not originally an island of Popish saints, and that the jurisdiction of Rome was not unquestionably established here.
“ In fine, many and unequivocal circumstances concur to prove, that during the barbarous ages, when the rest of Europe was involved in all the horrors of bloodshed, . ignorance,and superstition, this sequestered island enjoyed the blessings of peace, of learning, and of a pure religion, and was literally the happy country described in the following lines, by St. Donatus, Bishop of Etruria, who died in the year 840 —
“Far westward lies an isle of ancient fame,
* To Ireland also by King Henry (Le Fitz of Maude, daughter of first King Henry,) that conquered it for their great heresy.—Wide Harding's
Chrom. c. 241.
No poison there infects, no scaly snake
Nor were the British and Irish Churches only in a flourishing condition, at this time; but the piety and zeal of the Britons and Irish Scots had contributed greatly towards restoring Christianity to this land. “Look,” says the translator of Gildas, “into Wales and Cornwall, and see how many towns bear the name of Irish saints, who resided there, not, as before, to punish the Britons with death, but to draw them to the rewards of eternal life. They were excellent and successful instruments in promoting the everlasting salvation of those men, whose fathers had massacred their ancestors, and laid waste their country.”
The southern Picts, who inhabited that part of Scotland next to the Britons, were converted to Christianity about the year 412, while Britain was under the government of the Romans, by Ninian, a British bishop, who, residing in that country, which is now called Galloway, had frequent intercourse with them. At last, by the blessing of God on his labours, he effected a general conversion of that people, ordained ministers among them, and divided their country into districts or parishes, for the more orderly exercise of the pastoral care, and salutary enforcement of Christian discipline. And having thus formed and settled their church or churches, he returned to his own residence at Whittern, where he died about eighteen years after the conversion of these Picts to the faith of Christ. "
* Hamilton's Letters, &c. p. 38–43. * Bishop Lloyd's Historical Account, &c. p. 83.
The Picts, retaining their faith, were zealously affected in propagating it. The translator of Gildas again remarks, “Peruse the histories of the countries beyond the Humber, and you shall read how the Picts, inhabitants of Scotland, who sometimes broke down the northern fortifications, and invaded the land, did afterwards beat down the bulwark of hell, delivered the souls which sin had held in bondage, and made them the blessed captives of Christ;-men undoubtedly of rare holiness, and unspotted conversation.”
St. Columba, instigated by pious zeal, was a very successful promoter of the Christian religion. Of royal extraction, he was born at Gartan, in the county of Tyrconnel, in Ireland, in the year 521. After receiving a liberal education, he entered the sacred office in the year 546, in which he soon became distinguished for his piety and learning. His usefulness in his own country was extensive; the Irish Annals say, that, next to St. Patrick, he was the chief instrument of establishing the gospel in almost all Ireland. Nother asserts, that he was “Primate of all the Irish churches,” which he was made at the Council of Drimceat.
At length, he turned his attention to the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, inhabited by those northern Picts, who were separated by high mountains from the Picts in the southern countries; who were enveloped in moral darkness, and covered with gross superstition. “In the year 563, or 565,” his historian says, “he set out in a wicker boat, covered with hides, accompanied by twelve of his friends and followers, and landed in the isle of Hi, or Iona, near the confines of the Scottish and Pictish territories.” Iona, or Icolmkill, is included in one of the parishes of Mull, an island of the Hebrides; and which Conall, King of the Scots, gave to Columba.