Christian Ireland 5th - 8th Centuries

Christianity was brought to Ireland by St. Patrick in the 5th century. The Christian Celtic period can be divided in to two phases: Early Christian Ireland (5th and 6th centuries) and High Christian Ireland (7th and 8th centuries). A variety of monasteries, manuscripts and metal relics exist from this era.



Monasteries were built in order to house the monks and to hold mass. These settlements were small in size and simple in structure, built using wood, earth or stone with huts and small chapel or oratories within. The roofs of these huts were built using the corbelling technique, which had been used over 2,000 years earlier at Newgrange. 

Example: Skellig Michael, Kerry Coast


It is believed that St. Patrick brought illuminated manuscripts from Eastern Europe with him on his mission to Ireland. These were Latin texts of the gospels and psalms. These hand written and decorated books influenced the 'insular' style which developed in Ireland. The 'insular' style is highly dense, intricate and imaginative. It is sometimes known as the “Ultimate La Tène”, combining spirals, triskeles, circles and other geometric motifs.

Book of Durrow

This is a 7th century illuminated 'insular' gospel book, which can be viewed at Trinity College, Dublin. Each gospel begins with an evangelist’s symbol (a man for Matthew, an eagle for Mark, a calf for Luke, and a lion for John). The evangelist symbol is followed by a carpet page (a page of geometric ornamentation, often with interlace) and then the initial page. The first letter of the text is enlarged and decorated.

St John, symbol page
Carpet page from the beginning of St John’s Gospel
Opening words of St John’s Gospel


Many new designs and techniques were introduced to Ireland through trade with Europe. Irish metalwork from the 7th and 8th centuries is perhaps the most technically advanced work of any country in Europe from the Middle Ages.

The Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch are two examples highlighting the advancements in metalwork techniques during this period. 

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