Céli dé

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Céli dé

The Céli dé (clients of God) , better known as the culdee's are a home grown form of monetarism bordering towards later practice known as anchorite's. The origin of the Céli dé has been suggested to be the work of St. Columbia and an associated bishop in Ireland. The practice in itself suggested an adaptation of native traditions combined with the ideas supported by the desert fathers from Egypt and North Africa. Overall the historical evidence associates the Céli dé to the 8th Century, with the monastery of Tallaght, within modern day terms, this is now within the district of Swords, in Dublin.

The order is a reform group associated with Maèlruain and St. Carthach the Younger, it too has been advocated as the last ruminants or bastions of native pre Irish Christian tradition. Connections with the 6th century has been advocated in respect to the ermatic/hermetic activities of Mochuda (St. Cartach the Elder). Tradition associates Mochuda with a cell or hermitage at Rachen (Rauthen), who becomes evicted from there through the order from the King of Tara in c.590, which is carried out by Diarmuild son of Aodh Slaine. Mochuda is often referred to as a swinehead, a term, which some consider relates to describing Druid's. However St. Carthach the younger who followed the teachings of the Elder originally a swinehead hermit was also evicted from his hermitage or cell located at Kiltulagh. Once evicted from his solitude, he went to Bangor and served under St. Comgall the bishop.

St. Carthach the younger is credited with rule of the Céli dé and in some cases the founder of the Tallaght monastery. However the rule is also evident in the Leabhar Breac. These "rules" concerned the moral codes practiced in there endeavor to serve there divinity with piety, these might appear to vary from monastery to monastery; although one might get the impression the rule effected all concerned. Such as the absence from meat, except on Easter, when it was allowed assisting to guard against hunger for the remaining year. Although this particular rule is associated with the monastery at Tir da Glas, and might not of been followed elsewhere. Otherwise it was a matter of being sustained on bread and milk as well as drink during one devotion. However the reading of the Penitentials' at meal times appear to be common throughout the houses associated with the Céli dé. Having instruction within the order structure is of interest, as each participant was given a 'soul friend' to assist in either there studies or contemplation queries.

The Rule of St. Carthach and the Céli dé appear to have survived well into the 11th and 12th century. The monastic institutions where it was followed in Ireland gave way to the Augustine Cannons, as did Bardsey in North Wales who are credited with having culdee's resident by Gerald of Wales in 1188. Indeed elsewhere in Wales the heremit tradition is seem to be present, with accounts located in the Burt y Tywysigion (MS 20) which indicate Culdee parallels. Women too were also involved in the movement. Culdees' appear also to have been present in Scotland, as a passing reference is mentioned in the 'Life of Margaret'.

© Astrocelt 2003

Last updated April 14, 2005


Edwards, C., Early Christianity in Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 2000

Elder, I,H., Celt Druids and Culdee, London 1938

Gwynn, E.J., and W.J. Purton, 'Monastery of Tallaght in Proceeding of the Royal Irish Acadamy RIA 29, (c) 1911 p. 115-178

0'Dwyer O. Carm, P., 'The Céli Dé Reform', in Herausgegeben Von Próiséas Ni Chatháin und Michael Richter (eds), Ireland and Europe, The Early Church, Strattgart, Germany 1984 pp. 83-88

Power, P.,. Rev. MA, Life of St.Declan of Ardmore & Life of St. Mochuda, of Lismore, Irish Text Society, London 1914

Zaczek, I., Ireland land of the Celts, London, Colin and Brawn 2000