Christianity in Scotland

“In the 656th year after the Incarnation of the Lord […] came from Ireland a priest and Abbot named Columba to Britain to proclaim the word of God in the countries of the northern Picts […]. For the Southern Picts accepted the […] belief in the truth after Bishop Ninian […] had pronounced them the word. […] Columba came to Britain, just as Brideis, son of Malcolm, as a very powerful king who ruled the Picts, […] and he converted the people by word and deed to faith in Christ.”

Excerpt from Beda the Venerable, Church History of the English People III, 4

The celtic Church

Wherever the Romans came, they brought with them early Christianity. Remnants of it remained after their departure in the year 407 back, but were displaced with the arrival of the heathen fishing, Saxons and Jüten and the establishment Germanic kingdoms. Because Pelagius preached for the freedom of the will, and was therefore regarded as a heretic, one sent about 429 AD. the missionary Germanus from Auxerre to the Anglo-Saxons. But he could do nothing against its influence.

In 431, the missionary Palladius was sent to the Skots in Ireland. Although Christianity in the British Isles had not completely disappeared, it now made its own way across Ireland. The Irish (Celtic) church developed deviant rites away from Rome in the 5th century. Most of all the Pope was bothered that they were calculating the date of Easter differently. Also, the Irish monks shook their tonsures differently and had a different organization:

The center of religious life were the monasteries, not the bishop churches. Mighty monasteries founded as offshoots a variety of daughter monasteries, so that a veritable monastic family was born. The abbot of the mother monastery had an almost episcopal power and claimed a corresponding reputation.

Then Irish Christianity came back to England, respectively first to Scotland.

The Scotti are coming…

A major role in the Christianization of Scotland played the Scotti -a Celtic tribe from Ireland, which from 500 AD built a Kingdom in the southwest and western Hebrides. After them after all, North Britain is called Scotland. Not that there were no Christians in Scotland before 500. As stones indicate with Christian inscriptions, early communities have spread in Galloway and the upper Tweed valley. While there is no evidence of an active British mission, St. Ninian as Apostle of the Picts, who is said to have built a church in Whithorn.
The situation becomes clearer around 500 n.Ch. Following the suppression of rival clans by the rising Uí Néill Dynasty, they tried their luck in Scotland and established the Kingdom of Dalriada on Argyll and the Hebrides under Fergus Mor mac Erc, which was to become a stable power in Scotland. Thus, the first Scots came to Scotland!

In 563 Columba -the 521 born as Colum Cille son of a noble family of the Uí Néill – Clan with 12 Irish Monks to Dalriada, where he got from King Conall, son of Comgall, the island of Iona. On her he built a monastery and two other daughter monasteries in Scotland and in the Hebrides. That was the “starting signal” for the Christianization with the Irish rites in the north of the country. Dalriada, the Kingdom of the Scots, expanded. Columba traveled to the neighbors, where he also visited the court of the Picts King Brideis and baptized the commander Geona on Skye. Although no mass baptism known, it is said

“The Saint baptized individual Picts and Families, but he did a successful job for his Church.”

Columba died in 597 at the Age of 76 years.


The Irishman Columba was not the only missionary in Scotland, but one knows very little about others.
In the Glasgow area, St. Kentigern. The St. Donnan of Eigg, who died as a martyr in 617, proselytized the Picts and the St. Kessog traveled through Loch Lomond, while St. Maelrubha of Bangor missioned the island of Skye and the Western Highlands and founded the Church of Apple Cross, to name a few.

The Gentiles could not escape their fate, therefore. Everywhere the gospel was preached. However, the most important religious center remained Iona. Anglo-Saxon Northumbria finally reached the Irish-Scottish mission around 634, where Lindisfarne was founded as a missionary monastery. For this, the Cleric Aidan was “requested” by the king as abbot, who later also became abbot of Nothumbria. To strengthen the Roman liturgy (order and totality of religious ceremonies and rites), Augustine was sent to Kent as archbishop in 597, as Rome saw with discomfort the successes of the Iraqi mission. In order to finish the forces and set a uniform direction, 664 n.Ch. Representatives of the Roman, as well as the Celtic Church at the Synod of Whitby together. The result was an agreement on the compulsory Roman calendar for the whole of Britain, whereby the Celtic clergy took a long time to get used to it.
Nevertheless, the Celtic church left its mark. Examples of this are e.g. You book culture, which had an impact on the Christian art, or the strict practice of penance, which found its way to the Continent through Irish and English missionaries, where she soon gave her face to the medieval Catholic Church. Meanwhile, the cultural contact between Ireland, Scotland and Nothumbria remained and the Picts were almost completely Christianized until the 8th century. Evidence of this is also the cross motifs on their picture stones, which increased since the 7th century. The most famous of these is the Picture-Stone of Aberlemno in Angus, which bears a cross with animal-style ornamentation on the front and a pictish Rider on the back.

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