Saturday, January 23, 2010

Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland

It was a long wait for me before I could buy and read Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland. It was published in the UK a year before the United States release, and I saw a copy back in 2008 when I first met the author, Cindy Thomson. Finally, I was able to sit down to really enjoy this precious gem this past week. Well, the wait was long, but I feel like it was worth it.

Celtic Wisdom  wasn't exactly what I expected. For some reason I had it in my mind that this was a collection of quotes and sayings. There are many quotes, sayings, and traditional blessings scattered throughout the book, but those are just a small portion of it. And they are an important part, as are the wonderful photographs of Ireland that appear on nearly every other page. More properly, though, this is a brief history of Early Christianity in Ireland, a history that I was far more ignorant about than I realized. It begins with the three most important figures in Irish Christianity: Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille (also known as Columba). I thought I knew a fair amount about Patrick, but I was astounded at how much more is actually known about him. Brigid and Columcille were only names to me up until now, and it's a little embarrassing that someone who proudly tells people she has Irish ancestors would know so little about these heroes of Irish faith. After covering the top three, Cindy introduces us to several other people who were notable in the early Irish church. She also gives great insight to the culture of the time, a culture which seemed to be ready to accept true Christianity at a time when the Roman world was being overrun by pagan ideas  in that wave that plunged Europe into the Dark Ages.

What did I learn from this brief, 95 page package stuffed full of treasures? Plenty. I didn't realize the role Ireland played in preserving scripture and true Christianity during the Dark Ages; it was further isolated from the rest of Europe, even England, than I had considered. I learned that the monastic life in Ireland was a far cry from anywhere else, and that the Roman rules didn't apply. Did you know that there were married priests in Ireland? And women clergy? Neither did I. Many of us knew that Patrick was a missionary from England, but maybe others are as ignorant as I was of how Ireland then returned the favor, sending out missionaries to other countries to  re-introduce the fundamentals and truths of the Bible. Patrick's Confession  was a far larger and more important document than I knew before, and after reading the translated excerpts in Celtic Wisdom, I am determined to seek a translated copy of the whole thing. The whole culture of the early Irish Christians appears to be much closer to the New Testament church than I ever imagined. It was reassuring to know, yet it left a feeling of sadness as I wondered at the changes over time. But this can be said of the state of the church everywhere today.

Celtic Wisdom  is a rather scholarly work, complete with bibliography (as it should be). Since much of what is known of that time is based on oral tradition and legends, those are included. Often Cindy Thomson recounts  traditional stories and legends without any comment as to their veracity, leaving it to the reader to decide what to accept and what to take with a grain of salt. On occasion she offers plausible alternatives, as in the true origin of the legend that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. She also provides insight into the shamrock legend and the importance of Three in Old Ireland (I noted to myself that three has great significance throughout the Bible as well). Some of the legends I found amusing, but all of them lead to a better understanding to that early group of Christians.

I wish my printer was working so I could give you an idea of the pictures that grace this book. The publisher or editor chose them, not Cindy, but they do add significantly to the value (and, I suppose, to the price). For some reason, the publisher didn't write any information directly under the photos, so you have to look in the back of he book if you want to know what you're looking at. A minor flaw, and one that has no bearing on Mrs. Thomson's marvelous work.

Make Celtic Wisdom a part of your library, but leave it on the coffee table for others to pick up and enjoy as well. Only 95 pages--small, but that actually makes it more accessible for those of us who are always too hurried to sit down to a longer scholarly work. Well researched and enlightening, Celtic Wisdom  is a real treasure.

You can learn more about Cindy Thomson and her writings at her website, Cindy's Writing and her blog, Celtic Voices. She also has a page on Shoutlife and Facebook.

Celtic Wisdom should be available through most bookstores, Christian emphasis or otherwise. Online, you may order it through Christianbook (best price I found at $7.99), Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland by Cindy Thomson
Publisher: Lion Hudson ( (2008 UK printing; Sept., 2009 USA)
ISBN-10: 0745953255
ISBN-13: 978-0745953250

This review was completely unsolicited with no compensation given to me. I actually bought the book myself!

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