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IRELAND AND THE TWELFTH-CENTURY RENAISSANCE' CHARLES W. DUNN STUDENTS of Western civilization will always remain indebted to Charles Homer Haskins for his remarkable study, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, not merely because it reached conclusions about the development of European culture that were new when the book was published in 1927 but also beCause it raised fresh questions that still remain unanswered today. One particularly significant question, briefly stated, is this. Haskins showed that there was a widespread revival of interest in classical culture, especially that portion of it available through Latin. What happened, however, to the native traditions and the vernacular literatures of the West in the twelfth century? For France or Germany scholars have supplied material ample to provide a detailed and intelligible answer; but for the British Isles or- to use a more inclusive and less misleading medieval name-the Western Comer, much important work still remains to be done. From this period have been preserved the literary remains of no less than seven different ethnic cultures--Welsh, Cornish, Gaelic, English , Anglo-Norman, Jewish, and Norse. Each group perpetuated its own traditions and produced its own literature either in the native language or in Latin. Can any or all of these be said to have shared in a renaissance? To this question, it would still be premature to reply. First, we require an adequate inventory and appraisal of the literature produced by each, and then a comparative investigation of their individual sources and of their mutual affiliations. What I can offer here will certainly not provide an answer, for I merely present a tentative survey of the literary activity of the Irish in the twelfth century. I In the twelfth century Ireland was popularly known both at home and abroad as the "Island of Saints," in part because of the great reputation of her early missionaries such as St. Columba of lona or St. Columbanus of Bobbio, in part because of the marvels with which her IPart of this paper was read before the Mediaeval Society of the University of Toronto on February 18, 1954, and the whole was revised in 'the light of ·the useful comments made by members. The paper was read as a public lecture at the University of Chicago on March 3, 1954. I have here condensed bibliographical references as far as possible and have not given any proof of the dating or authorship of the documents mentioned, since I intend to expand the material into a book. The references to Irish originals in all cases also lead to translations; the wording of the .translated passages quoted here, however, is my own. I am particularly indebted to Mr. Padraig a Broin for his helpful advice. 70 Vol. XXIV, no. I, Oct., 1954 IRELAND & THE 12TH CENTURY RENAISSANCE 71 hagiographers had endowed the lives of her early saints such as Adamnan or Brendan, both of whom were widely known throughout Europe in the twelfth century as the heroes of otherworld journeys. But the Irish and their critics from abroad were conscious that the ecclesiasts of the twelfth century were no longer like the famous saints to whom the island had given birth before the disastrous Norse invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries. In a vigorously puritanic poem a contemporary Irish cleric shows his awareness of a decline and does not seem to see any hope for improvement: Those venerable who did God's will At time's onset, Needy, naked, sore, and filthy, Not fat of belly they. Men of learning keen, They served the King of the Sun.... Hereafter there will come The venerable of the latter world, With plunder, cattle, mitres, With rings, and chessboards, With silk, sarsanet, satin, On soft couches after drinking, With contempt for dear God's wisdom, Held fast by the Devil? And there were others, especially Malachy of Armagh, who, though less pessimistic in their criticism, insisted upon the necessity of reforming the idiosyncratic structure of the church in Ireland so that the independent monastic communities ruled by hereditary non-celibate abbots would become subordinate to bishops and archbishops as elsewhere in the Christian world. The Irish monastic church, prior to Malachy's reformation, may...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 70-86
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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