The Holy Celtic Church exists to assist people in the spiritual life, following the commendation of the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’, and is therefore committed to developing the interior and spiritual life of the soul, with the principal emphasis being upon the interior work of prayer and meditation.
The Holy Celtic Church is one of several small churches established in the post Second World War period of the last century. The emergence of this independent Church was in part due to public dissatisfaction with the changing role and attitudes of the major churches, but mainly it was inspired by the spiritual idealism of the primitive British Church. More commonly known today as the Celtic Church, the ancient British Church was established in Roman Britain long before Augustine’s mission in 597AD, although opinions differ concerning when this actually took place.
Some historians argue that the establishment of the Church took place in the second or third century, while others believe the Church was first planted in Britain in the middle of the First Century. Whatever the truth might be concerning this question, and in all probability we will never know for certain, it is reasonably clear from archaeological evidence that Christianity was established in Roman Britain for a very long time before Augustine arrived.
The Ancient British Church consisted of Christian communities sharing the same beliefs and rites, yet working autonomously under the jurisdiction of independent bishops. However, following the Fourth Century reforms of Constantine and his successors, fundamental differences arose between the Celtic Church and the increasingly powerful Church of Rome. As the political influence and power of the Roman Church grew so the influence of the British Church declined, a long and slow decline that involved several factors, one of which was a long period of civil conflict.
Gildas, a Briton and a monastic who lived in the first half of the sixth century, relates in his work De Excidio Brittaniae (The oldest surviving record of post-Roman Britain), that following the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the late fourth century, Britain was left without appropriate military defences, and became subject to frequent predatory attacks and raids from the Picts in the North, who raided on land across the northern border and by sea along the East Coast. Britain was also frequently attacked by Irish raiders in the West. At the same time internal civil conflicts that frequently turned into civil war, tore apart the fabric of Romano-British society, resulting in a state of social anarchy which prevailed throughout the fifth and sixth centuries.
This situation was further exacerbated by Anglo-Saxon invaders who from the mid-fifth century onwards accelerated their territorial expansion, and whose depredations upon the population destabilized the British Church to such an extent that the Church and many of its clergy were driven from eastern and central Britain into the West of Britain, the Highlands of both Scotland and Wales and across the sea to Ireland. Many fled to the region of Gaul we now know as Brittany.
Monasticism reached Britain in the fifth century. Monastic settlements, such as Bardsey Island and Llangadfan, which were established by St. Cadfan in the mid fifth century, were often located in isolated areas of western and northern Britain. However, Ireland, being generally free from the turmoil of the mainland, proved to be a more conducive environment for monastic communities. Around such settlements the ancient Church rallied, consolidated its resources and began to rebuild itself. Indeed, it is likely that St Patrick’s mission in Ireland started from such communities. In 597AD, Augustine began his mission of persuading the much reduced British Church to accept the authority of Rome, and converting the Anglo-Saxons to Roman Christianity. At first the British Church resisted Augustine’s overtures, but eventually, at the Synod of Whitby 664 AD, many of the Bishops were persuaded to accept Roman authority, thus the ancient British and new Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions were fused into one. Over the course of time most of the ancient Church was slowly absorbed into the Church of Rome.
During the Reformation, and after the accession of Elizabeth I, Roman Catholicism, including whatever remained of the ancient British Church, was proscribed and persecuted by law, which effectively brought about the extinction of the ancient Church. And so it remained until the mid-nineteenth century, when a Celtic renaissance took place and a considerable number of committed Christians were inspired to pursue the ideal of the simple and pure spirituality that they perceived in the primitive British Church.
Their vision was initially realised when an independent canonical jurisdiction was established in Britain by Jules Ferrette, who had been consecrated by Ignatius Peter III, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and the East. He commissioned Mar Julius as Patriarchal Legate for Western Europe with the power to erect there an indigenous and autocephalous patriarchate. The hierarchy was thus restored in the person of Julius of Iona. The succession continued with the Richard Williams Morgan, who was consecrated by Mar Julius in 1874. However, British autocephalous churches were not consolidated until bishops of the Old Catholic Church – which rejected Papal supremacy – were established in Britain with the consecration in 1908 of the Reverend Arnold Harris Mathew.
The lines of succession transmitted by Ferrette and Mathew were eventually conferred, in 1944, upon the person of the Rev. H.G. de Willmott Newman who, as Mar Georgius, continued the work of furthering the restoration of the ancient Church, and through him a number of autocephalous bodies dedicated to this end have come into being – among them The Holy Celtic Church.
The Holy Celtic Church is a Sacramental and Trinitarian Christian Church whose beliefs are enshrined in both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. It adheres to the Glastonbury Rite 1984, (a version of Mar Georgius’ Glastonbury Rite revised by Mar Francis), and recommends the New King James Bible for general use. The mission of the Holy Celtic Church is to assist people in the spiritual life, following the commendation of the Lord, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’, and is therefore committed to developing the interior and spiritual life of the soul, with the principal emphasis being upon the interior work of prayer and meditation. To this end the clergy of the Church, all of whom live and work in the community without stipend, have dedicated their lives.
Based in the West Country the membership of the Holy Celtic Church, is few in number and spread throughout the region. It consists of small communities that function under the guidance of their local priests, meeting for worship, group devotions and community matters in private oratories and chapels. The current primate is Bishop Marcus, who succeeded Bishop Francis in 1991. The governance of the Church is administered by a Committee of Synod drawn from members of the Order of Dionysis and Paul, which is a religious order within the Holy Celtic Church.