Hiberno-Scottish mission: Wikis


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The Hiberno-Scottish mission was a mission led by Irish and Scottish monks which spread Christianity and established monasteries in Great Britain and continental Europe during the Middle Ages. The mission originated in 563 with the foundation of Iona by the Irish monk Saint Columba, and was initially concerned with ministering to the Gaels of Dál Riata and converting the Picts. Over the next centuries the mission grew in power and influence and spread through Anglo-Saxon England and the Frankish Empire. The early mission is often associated with the Christian practice known as Celtic Christianity, which was distinguished by its organizations around monasteries rather than dioceses and certain ideosyncratic traditions, but the later mission was more continental in character.

The Latin term Scotti refers to the Gaelic-speaking people of Ireland and the Irish who settled in western Scotland. In early medieval times Ireland was known, not only as Éire, but also as Scotia, a name that the Romans used to refer to Ireland. The Romans also gave Ireland the name "Hibernia". Thus, the "Scots" missionaries who were so influential in the early Church history of Germany included men from both Ireland and Scotland in the modern sense, but were predominantly Irish.

Schottenklöster (meaning Scottish monasteries in German, singular: Schottenkloster) is the name applied to the monastic foundations of Irish and Scottish missionaries in Continental Europe, particularly to the Scottish Benedictine monasteries in Germany, which in the beginning of the 13th century were combined into one congregation whose abbot-general was the Abbot of the Scots monastery at Regensburg.

In the sixth century migrations into what is now Scotland were Ulster clans such as the Airgíalla and the Uí Néill. Among them was Columba of Gartan who, with twelve companions, founded Iona in the early 6th century. Adomnán of Donegal wrote his biography in the early 8th century. As late as the 11th and early 12th century the name Scot or Scotus identified the missionary or traveller as a Gael and thus monks of Irish as well as Scottish origin were commonly both referred to under the same, at the time shared, nomenclature. Marianus Scotus together with is companions was the founder of St. Peter at Regensburg in 1072.


Columba to Columbanus (563-615)

St Columbanus

After Saint Ninian, Christianity first spread to Scotland again in 563 with the foundation of Iona by Columba. Following the foundation of Lindisfarne in 635 by Saint Aidan, Hiberno-Scottish missionaries converted most of Anglo-Saxon England during the following decades; the last pagan Anglo-Saxon king, Arwald of the Isle of Wight, was slain in battle in 686.

Columbanus from 590 was active in the Frankish Empire, establishing monasteries throughout what is now France and Switzerland until his death at Bobbio in 615. Other Hiberno-Scottish missionaries active at the time, predominantly in Swabia, were Wendelin, Kilian, Arbogast, Landelin, Trudpert, Fridolin, Pirmin (founded Reichenau abbey), Gallus (Abbey of St. Gall), Korbinian, Emmeram and Rupert.

Examples of Hiberno-Scottish monasteries on the continent include the Scots monasteries in Regensburg, Vienna, Erfurt and Würzburg. In Italy, there are the establishments of Columbanus, founder of Luxeuil and Bobbio, and Saints Donatus and Andrew of Tuscany, of Fiesole.

The first Schottenkloster of which we have any knowledge was Säckingen in Baden, founded by the Irish missionary, St. Fridolin, towards the end of the 5th century. The same missionary is said to have founded a Schottenkloster at Konstanz. A century later St. Columbanus arrived on the continent with twelve companions and founded Annegray, Luxeuil, and Fontaines in France, Bobbio in Italy. During the seventh century the disciples of Columbanus and other Irish and Scottish missionaries founded a long list of monasteries in what is now France, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland. The best known are: St. Gall in Switzerland, Disibodenberg in the Rhine Palatinate, St. Paul's at Besançon, Lure and Cusance in the Diocese of Besançon, Beze in the Diocese of Langres, Remiremont Abbey and Moyenmoutier Abbey in the Diocese of Toul, Fosses-la-Ville in the Diocese of Liège, Mont-St-Michel at Peronne, Ebersmunster in Lower Alsace, St. Martin at Cologne.

After Columbanus (8th to 11th c.)

Hiberno-Scottish activity in Europe declined after the death of Columbanus. Celtic Christianity was united with Roman Catholicism after the Synod of Whitby in 664, and from 698 until the reign of Charlemagne in the 770s, the Hiberno-Scottish efforts in the Frankish Empire were continued by the Anglo-Saxon mission. See: Germanic Christianity.

The rule of St. Columbanus, which was originally followed in most of these monasteries, was soon superseded by that of St. Benedict. Later Gaelic missionaries, founded Honau in Baden (about 721), Murbach in Upper Alsace (about 727), Altomünster in Upper Bavaria (about 749), while other Gaelic monks restored St. Michel in Thiérache (940), Walsort near Namur (945), and, at Cologne, the Monasteries of St. Clement (about 953), St. Martin (about 980), St. Symphorian (about 990), and St. Pantaléon (1042).

High Middle Ages (11th to 12th c.)

Schottenportal at the Scottish Monastery, Ratisbon

Irish monks known as Papar are said to have been present in Iceland before its settlement by the Norse in the 9th century. Among the Irish monks who were active in Central Europe were two particularly important theologians, Marianus Scotus and Johannes Scotus Eriugena. Legends surrounding Iro-Scottish foundations are recorded in a Middle High German text known as Charlemagne and the Scottish Saints (BL Harley 3971).

Towards the end of the eleventh and in the twelfth century, a number of Schottenklöster, intended for Scottish and Irish monks exclusively, sprang up in Germany. About 1072, three Scottish monks, Marianus, Iohannus, and Candidus, took up their abode at the little Church of Weih-St-Peter at Ratisbon. Their number soon increased and a larger monastery was built for them (about 1090) by Burgrave Otto of Ratisbon and his brother Henry. This became the famous Scottish Monastery of St. Jacob at Ratisbon, the mother-house of a series of other Schottenklöster. It founded the Abbeys of St. Jacob at Würzburg (about 1134), St. Aegidius at Nuremberg (1140), St. Jacob at Constance (1142), Our Blessed Lady at Vienna (1158), St. Nicolas at Memmingen (1168), Holy Cross at Eichstätt (1194), and the Priory of Kelheim (1231). These, together with the Abbey of St. Jacob at Erfurt (1036), and the Priory of Weih-St-Peter at Ratisbon formed the famous congregation of the German Schottenklöster which was erected by Innocent III in 1215, with the Abbot of St. Jacob at Ratisbon as abbot-general.

14th century onwards

In the 14th and 15th centuries most of these monasteries were on the decline, partly for want of Scottish or Irish monks, and partly on account of great laxity of discipline and financial difficulties. In consequence, the abbeys of Nuremberg and Vienna were withdrawn from the Scottish congregation and repeopled by German monks in 1418. The Abbey of St. Jacob, Würzburg was left without any monks after the death of Abbot Philip in 1497. It was then re-peopled by German monks and in 1506 joined the congregation of Bursfeld. In 1595, however, it was restored to the Scottish congregation and continued to be occupied by Scottish monks until its suppression in 1803. The abbey of Constance began to decline in the first half of the 15th century and was suppressed in 1530. That of Memmingen also disappeared during the early period of the Protestant Reformation. The Abbey of Holy Cross at Eichstatt seems to have ceased early in the fourteenth century. In consequence of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland many Scottish Benedictines left their country and took refuge in the Schottenklöster of Germany during the 16th century. The Scottish monasteries in Ratisbon, Erfurt, and Würzburg again began to flourish temporarily, but all endeavors to regain the monasteries of Nuremberg, Vienna, and Constance for monks of Scottish nationality were useless.

In 1692 Abbot Placidus Flemming of Ratisbon reorganized the Scottish congregation which now comprised the monasteries of Ratisbon, Erfurt, and Würzburg, the only remaining Schottenklöster in Germany. He also erected a seminary in connection with the monastery at Ratisbon. But the forced secularization of monasteries in 1803 put an end to the Scottish abbeys of Erfurt and Würzburg, leaving St. Jacob's at Ratisbon as the only surviving Schottenkloster in Germany. Though since 1827 this monastery was again permitted to accept novices, the number of its monks dwindled down to two capitulars in 1862. There being no hope of any increase, Pope Pius IX suppressed this last Schottenkloster in his brief of 2 September, 1862. Its revenues were distributed between the diocesan seminary of Ratisbon and the Scotch College at Rome.


  • Bowen, E. G. (1977) Saints, Seaways and Settlements in the Celtic Lands. Cardiff: University of Wales Press ISBN 0 900768 30 4
  • Shaw, Frank (ed.) (1981) Karl der Große und die Schottischen Heiligen. Nach der Handschrift Harley 3971 der Britischen Bibliothek London, (Deutsche Texte des Mittelalters; LXXI). Berlin (DDR)

See also

External links

This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.



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