Apostolic authority and Celtic liturgies: From the Vita Samsonis to the Ratio de Cursus

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


Little is known for certain about how British and Irish monks understood the role
of liturgy in the early middle ages, prior to the imposition of reforms in the time of Charlemagne (768-814 ). Precious insight can be gained, however, through examining two treatises that might seem at first sight to be very different from each other. One is the Vita Samson is (VIS), remarkable for its recollection of a saint remembered as travelling initially from south Wales to Ireland and back, and then, via Cornwall, to Brittany. Dated to either the late seventh or the mid-eighth century, it presents Samson as a bishop who attached great importance to his liturgical duties in a tradition that went back to the apostles. 1 The other is the Ratio de cursus or Explanation about the Liturgies, written perhaps in the mid-eighth century to defend the apostolic authority of both Irish and Gallican lihrrgies as of equal validity alongside the liturgies of the East, of Milan, and (mentioned only briefly) of those who followed the Rule of Benedict. While Bede portrayed Irish monks as narrowly traditionalist in their way of calculating the date of Easter, the Life of Samson and the Explanation about the Liturgies identify early British and Irish liturgical practices as deriving from apostolic authority. Comparing these two texts allows us how to see how both British and Irish monks understood their traditions prior to the inlposition of Roman liturgical practice in the mid-eighth century and consolidation during the age of Charlemagne. Comparing the Life with the Ratio also enables us to assess the extent to which the Life of Samson records memories going back to the sixth century, transmitted by an unidentified nephew of Samson's cousin Enoch, and projects concerns of a later generation onto the age of Samson.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSt Samson of Dol and the Earliest History of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales
EditorsLynette Olson
Place of PublicationWoodbridge SFK UK
PublisherBoydell & Brewer
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9781783272181
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameStudies in Celtic History
PublisherBoydell Press

Cite this