If we don’t have our history, we are orphans. I don’t know where I heard that phrase, or something similar, but it struck me as being a very profound statement.
The idea came to the fore this evening as I watched a replay of a documentary on the Fadden More Psalter. This psalter was discovered in a bog in Tipperrary, Ireland. It dates from the 8th century and is an incredibly important find.
It has always been recognised that Irish Christianity in the Middle Ages was different from the European or Roman Christianity: it was based on a monastic model as opposed to the hierarchical Roman model of Pope, Bishops, Priests and lay people.
This monastic model was, in fact, more akin to the Coptic Church and the Desert Father’s who sought isolation in the deserts in order to get closer to God. The similarity to the Coptic Church was not based on any hard evidence or concrete connection.
However, after painstaking restoration work, a remarkable discovery was made which points to a very tangible connection to the Coptic Church. On the inside of the leather cover of the psalter, the restorer found a pattern, the weave of which reminded him of ancient papyrus. Papyrus was not a material that had ever been cited in ancient Irish studies, nor was it a material that one would ever expect to see in Irish latitudes. After tests, however, the page on the inner part of the leather cover was confirmed as being papyrus: a material widely used in early Coptic manuscripts.
The connection between the Irish and Coptic Christianity is now even more intriguing. How did the papyrus get to Ireland? How and why did it end up in a bog.
These are the fascinating questions raised by the discovery of the Fadden More Psalter. With regards to how it ended up in a bog, one theory is that it was hidden in the bog by a monk to save it from being destroyed by Viking raiders and that the monk himself did not survive to reclaim it. This seems like a plausible explanation.
Whatever the real story is, science and future treasures from the bogs will help us piece together the remarkable lives of our ancestors and their great love for the written word which has always been a notable feature of the Irish culture, right up to the present day.
The video about the Fadden More Psalter is at http://xrl.us/bmyn2p