Fifth Century–Saved by the Monks

Two loaves of molassas bread

Two loaves of no-knead sour, plus spent barley

Gave one to the Brunners and the other to a grieving family

During this month of January I’ve been reading through this well presented book on Irish history written by Thomas Cahill. The man must be Irish himself–the book is filled with the lively humor and playfulness so typical of the Irish. I’ve enjoyed every page, and though I am familiar with much of the story, it was passages like this one, about the early monks of Ireland, that kept me reading:

…And this lack of martyrdom troubled the Irish, to whom a glorious death by violence presented such an exciting finale. If all Ireland had received Christianity without a fight, the Irish would just have to think up some new form of martyrdom…

Cahill brilliantly distills the important forces of history, focusing on the people who have made an important contribution to their cultures and times, and tells their stories. In this book we travel from Ausonius, to Augustine, to Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. We find Saint Brigid entering the story on page 172 and she stays with us until the end. There are other characters who pop in to visit: Cicero, Medb, Cuchulainn and Noisiu–so many of them impossible to pronounce, which is why I thumbed to the the pronunciation guide at the end more than once. (Thank you, Mr. Cahill!)

There weren’t any explanations of how bread was baked in the fifth century. I’ll have to write the author a personal letter about that, even though I’m not entirely sure that Irish bread baking helped save civilization in any way at all, but perhaps he has some notes he could share with me. He presented so clearly his thesis of the simultaneous breakdown of the Roman world with the intellectual and literary build up of the Irish one, that I didn’t much mind. In short–it was Saint Patrick who paved the way for hundreds of peaceful monasteries to be built around and about that grassy, green land. The monasteries housed eager Irish monks who not only enjoyed their work of creatively copying out texts, but who also savored the ancient classical texts, spending their days, and nights copying and illuminating, learning, discussing, and writing little verses of their own in the margins and on scraps of vellum. While most of the lands under Roman rule were deep into the middle ages, losing their educations by way of poverty and serfdom and the burning of libraries… the Irish were enjoying a time of peace–a time of light and discovery–and they gave these treasures back to the Western world, once the dark ages began to wane.

If you don’t know the basic story of Saint Patrick–please go get yourself a copy of Zachary Lynch’s The Life of Saint Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish. Though it’s just a children’s picture book, the story comes with all the dramatic and important details that highlight his story; it is taken straight from St. Patrick’s own Confessions.

I’ve been gushing about Mr Cahill’s writing all month. No wonder it sat on the bestseller list for almost two years in the mid 1990’s. If you’re at all interested in learning more about Saint Patrick and his influence on Western civilization, or if you’re just looking for a an inspiring read that dips you back in history, have fun with this one.

And now, back to my oven. There’s bread in there, and I need to figure out who to give it to!

Any takers?

(…And, if you’re out there, Mr. Cahill, the bread is hot, and you’ve done your share of inspiring me to deserve a loaf–or three…)


Disclosure of Material Connection: Believe me, I have not received any compensation for writing this post. Wouldn’t that be nice if I had? 🙂 I have no material connection to Mr. Cahill, and though I do know Mr. Lynch, he doesn’t know that I’m mentioning his book here… nor will I get any sous, or Euros, or even a cracker for pointing you to either of the two books above. I know these disclosures are supremely silly, and take away from the sweet nature of this blog post, but I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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