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Columban Christian influence in Northumbria, before and after Whitby

 Martin Grimmer

Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association, Vol.4 (2008)

The Synod of Whitby of 664 has traditionally been regarded as the great ‘set-piece’ debate between the so-called ‘Celtic’ and Roman churches in Britain, and as the turning-point for Irish – and more specifically Columban – ecclesiastical domination in Northumbria. In his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, the principle source for the Synod, Bede declared that after Whitby, ‘all present … gave up their imperfect rules’. But to what extent could Columban influence be completely eradicated in seventh-century Northumbria? This paper examines the role that Columban clergy from Iona played during the formative period of the Christian church in Northumbria, and then considers the Synod of Whitby. It is shown that Northumbria and the Irish Christian world, including Columban Iona, were not cut off from one another after 664. Irish and Columban influences continued to reach Northumbria in the late seventh and eighth centuries, if less directly, and Northumbrian literate culture was still characterised by its substantial Columban/Irish flavour developed prior to the events at Whitby.

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