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Paschal dating in Pictland: Abbot Ceolfrid's letter to King Nechtan
Julianna GriggAbstractEaster is the most important festival in the Christian calendar. As it is a moveable feast preceded by 40 days of Lent and followed by 50 days of Pentecost, the Church exercised a great deal of effort to work out a cyclical system in order to have advance notice of the date of Easter.4 Because churches were widespread and diverse and Rome could only exercise intermittent authority, a wide range of methods of calculation arose.5 As many of these calculations used a variety of lunar criteria and cycle lengths, the results soon began to provide differing dates for the festival of Easter. Cummian, for instance, in a letter to Ségéne and Beccán, in 634, detailed ten different paschal cycles used in Ireland, including a range of 19-year cycles carried over from Alexandrian systems and those of Victorius, that were also in use throughout the Continent.6 The Pseudo-Anatolian tables, also listed by Cummian, were the 84-year cycles used by the Britons and the Columban Irish at the beginning of the eighth century.7 These 84-year Easter tables, with their criteria of 14-20 lunae, were fervently opposed by the Roman party at the Synod of Whitby in 664.8 Simply put, the Roman party argued that in order to maintain orthodox unity with Rome and the catholic church it was necessary to follow a 19-year paschal table that used the criteria of 15-21 lunae.9 The Synod of Whitby mirrored the centuries of general confusion and entrenched traditions as to the correct calculation of Easter. A range of dense and sometimes specious argumenta were written to assert the case for an orthodox date, leading Charles Plummer, one of the first to negotiate the quagmire of these arguments, to gloss his excursus on the subject as the 'tediousness of the paschal controversy'.10
The letter from Abbot Ceolfrid of Wearmouth-Jarrow to Nechtan mac Der-Ilei, King of the Picts1 (Naiton rex Pictorum), is included in one of the longest chapters of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum.2 Bede completed the Historia around 731 and Abbot Ceolfrid's retirement and subsequent death in 716 therefore provides a terminus ante quem for Ceolfrid's letter to Nechtan.3 Bede's inclusion of this letter provides one of the few direct contemporary references to a Pictish king from which we can gain an understanding of the cultural interactions between the northern kingdoms of Britain. The letter deals with the fundamental issues of paschal dating and tonsure in an immediate and particular discourse that highlights the growing desire for communal celebration in the churches of northern Britain. My aim in this paper is to analyse the content of Ceolfrid's letter and the context in which it was written and received.
Tradition Cycle Vernal Equinox Lunar Criteria Columban 'Celtic' 84-year 25 March xiv - xx Victorius 19-year (532) 21 March xvi - xxii Dionysius 19-year 21 March xv - xxi
Table 1: Easter dating criteria 11
The letter from Abbot Ceolfrid of Wearmouth-Jarrow to King Nechtan indicates that various methods for calculating Easter were still in circulation in Pictland in the early eighth century and the need continued for ascertaining an orthodox date. Bede provides an introductory paragraph to the letter explaining that King Nechtan, after assiduous study of ecclesiastical writings, wished to lead all his people in keeping the correct Easter date.12 To enable him to successfully realign his country to the orthodox date, Nechtan asked Abbot Ceolfrid to supply him with arguments to support Roman paschal dating and the correct manner of tonsure, and with stone-masons. Bede provides no date for this letter, simply beginning the chapter with an ambiguous Eo tempore (at that time). As the previous chapter covers around 12 years, this is hardly informative and Plummer, although hesitant to assign a date to the letter, suggested 710.13 The dating of the letter may have ramifications for succeeding events in Pictland, such as the expulsion of the Columban familia from Pictland in 717.14 Duncan has suggested the date of composition as 714-715, to support his own theory that the Northumbrian cleric Egbert was acting as go-between from Nechtan's court.15 Duncan has also pointed out that the different paschal dating methods only diverged in 712 and 716 of that decade, and suggested that this discrepancy had inspired Nechtan's request.16 As Ceolfrid retired from office at the beginning of June 716 in order to travel to Rome,17 and the Columban Irish church fully adopted the Roman calculation of Easter in the same year, this provides us with possible limits of between 712 and early 716. Bede was apparently informed of Nechtan's reception of the letter, as the final paragraph of the chapter describes Nechtan receiving it with delight and immediately acting upon its advice. The implication is of continuing cultural contact between Pictland and Northumbria with envoys, and no doubt stone-masons, travelling between Nechtan's court and Monkwearmouth-Jarrow over a period of time.
The exact date at which the letter was composed was obviously not significant to Bede, as elsewhere in his history he assiduously applies Anno Domini dates. The lack of temporal certainty exhibited for this chapter is unlikely due to bad record keeping, but more likely reflects the theological transcendence of the subject. This is the same way he introduces chapters 7 and 22 of book III, which deal with the conversion of a people, particularly at the instigation of a king.18 In referring to the Synod of Whitby he uses the equally ambiguous temporal term of His temporibus (in those days),19 which appears to be used by Bede as a literary device to remove the debate of Easter from the limitations of the everyday.
No letter from Nechtan to Ceolfrid is extant. We would not necessarily expect one if Nechtan's envoys delivered an oral request; nor do we know if Nechtan was asking advice of a variety of clergy from Ireland as well as England or if Ceolfrid was the only cleric petitioned. Nevertheless, as Veitch points out, Abbot Ceolfrid does not press home the advantage and push for Northumbrian primatial status over the Pictish churches as may have been likely if a Bishop such as Wilfrid had received the request.20 Recent research has speculated that Bede deliberately downplayed the role of Ceolfrid in developing Wearmouth-Jarrow as a prestigious ecclesiastical centre, possibly for political reasons such as the opposition of King Coenred of Northumbria to King Ecgfrith's foundations.21 Wearmouth-Jarrow appears to have had close associations with successive Northumbrian kings, from Wearmouth's initial grant of 70 hides by King Ecgfrith in 674 onwards.22 As a result, according to The anonymous History of Abbot Ceolfrid, upon Ceolfrid's retirement in 716 the joint foundation of Wearmouth-Jarrow had accumulated land of nearly 150 hides with the monasteries housing some 600 'soldiers of Christ'.23
Ceolfrid was also instrumental in developing an impressive library, as Bede, in Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, describes Ceolfrid doubling 'the number of books in the libraries of both monasteries', with particular mention of the acquisition of an Old Latin bible.24 The scriptoria of Wearmouth-Jarrow were producing impressive and beautiful manuscripts, including three pandects, one of which survives as the earliest Vulgate version, the Codex Amiatinus. Analysis of this volume displays an impressive scale of operation, with sections being produced by at least seven scribes in a highly developed uncial script on vellum from an estimated 1500 animals.25 The compilation of pandects was not a simple copying process as the Old Testament, in particular, was usually circulated either as individual books or as incomplete gatherings in a variety of translations.26
Wearmouth-Jarrow was (no doubt justly) famous as a centre of great learning and wealth backed by Northumbrian royal favour during Ceolfrid's tenure.27 This fame may have been the reason for the visit from the abbot of Iona, Adomnán, upon which Ceolfrid remarks in the letter to Nechtan.28 However, Ceolfrid also had strong connections with Bishop Wilfrid, by whom he had been ordained priest at Ripon in 669.29 It appears that soon after the Synod of Whitby, Ceolfrid moved from Gilling to Ripon where, while he may not have been present at the Synod of Whitby, he would have heard about the debate from witnesses or protagonists to the event.30 There is no direct evidence that Ceolfrid was particularly involved in teaching Easter computus, but the anonymous history describes him as 'a man of keen mind, energetic action, burning with zeal for justice ... and assiduous in keeping and teaching the rules of monastic life'.31 Computistical sources, of Irish provenance, were already available to Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury, around the same period as Wearmouth was founded and it is possible that Ceolfrid studied Dionysiac Easter tables under Wilfrid.32 As one of the longest serving abbots in a prestigious monastery close to Pictland, ordained by Wilfrid, who had triumphed over the Columban church by converting the Northumbrian king to Roman paschal dating,33 it may have been inevitable that Ceolfrid was chosen as the recipient of Nechtan's enquiry. Nechtan's desire for a stone church in the Roman manner, which was to be dedicated to St Peter, was also prefigured at Wearmouth. According to chapter 5 of Bede's Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, Benedict Biscop brought back stone-masons from France to build his church in the Roman style, which was then dedicated to St Peter.34
Ceolfrid's letter addresses King Nechtan in respectful tones and contains courtly quotes including a most flattering reference to Nechtan as a philosopher king, which was derived from Plato, possibly through Boethius.35 The discourse is learned, with detailed biblical references, and his approach is balanced and reflective, if somewhat pedantic, rather than didactic. He avoids all reference to the methods of achieving the reconciliation of the solar Julian calendar to the lunar calendar and the minutiae of adjustments and astronomical calculations that are required to achieve a regular cycle. Instead, his explanation of the way to achieve the correct date of Easter is based on 'theological truth' rather than observational reality.36 At only one point does Ceolfrid, rather glibly, advise Nechtan that he can easily verify that the correct date of the vernal equinox falls on 21 March by reference to a sundial.37 This, as Stevens has pointed out, is very difficult to do in Britain, due to weather conditions.38 During the period under discussion the vernal equinox occurred around 16 to 17 March.39 It is difficult to know whether Ceolfrid was ignorant of this discrepancy, as Bede dates the equinox in the same manner; but reference to a sundial would have been sufficient to disprove that the equinox fell on 25 March, which was asserted by those who upheld the 84-year cycle.40
Both Bede's introduction and the letter itself clearly inform us that Nechtan already possessed 19-year Easter cycles.41 However, he was obviously facing internal disputes regarding their acceptance and needed an irrefutable argument in order to institute the correctio.42 The most likely disputants were the Columban clergy from Iona and their supporters, who clung to their 84-year paschal cycles and criteria of 14-20 lunae. Bede asserts at the end of the chapter that it was the 84-year cycles that were abandoned by Nechtan.43 That Iona clergy were in a position in Pictland to prevent the correctio may be indicated elsewhere by Bede, who informs us, in the past tense, that Iona was the principal monastery of the Picts, exercising a widespread authority.44 Isabel Henderson suggested that Iona may have held a 'monopoly' on Christianity in Pictland, and James Fraser has recently proposed that Nechtan's purpose in instituting the correctio was to reduce this Columban ascendency.45 It is also noteworthy that Adomnán, abbot of Iona, is the only church leader referred to in the letter, initially in appreciative and honorific tones.46 Ceolfrid would have been aware of Nechtan's connections with Adomnán47 and he describes in the letter a rather one-sided dialogue between himself and Adomnán in which Ceolfrid appears to successfully challenge the abbot of Iona on his paschal stance.48 Adomnán, according to Ceolfrid, subsequently convinced large numbers of Irish to the 'catholic observance of Easter'.49 This may have provided a reminder to those Columban clergy in Nechtan's court that their esteemed abbot had already approved the correctio.50 Ceolfrid continued, with a note of admonition, to observe that Adomnán was unable to correct the monks on Iona to the 19-year cycles, or the Petrine tonsure, as he had insufficient influence over his own monks.51 As Ceolfrid is described in his anonymous history as 'severe in correcting wrongdoers', it is unlikely that he suffered from a lack of influence over his charges,52 and this may be a direct hint to Nechtan that he would need to exercise his own authority.53 Ceolfrid openly confronts Adomnán with regard to his form of tonsure. Having earlier indicated that diverse methods of tonsure are not 'hurtful to those whose faith in God is untainted', his criticism of the tonsure of Simon Magus, as allegedly worn by Adomnán and the Columban clergy, is nevertheless vehement.54
It is unlikely that Wearmouth-Jarrow had provided Nechtan with his 19-year cycles, as Ceolfrid would no doubt have mentioned this,55 particularly since Bede became the pre-eminent teacher of computus, publishing a rather compact manuscript on methods of calendrical calculation with his De Temporibus by 703.56 Jones has successfully shown that the Northumbrian schools were indebted to the Irish for their methods and skill in computus, and the Irish, in turn, were influenced by Spanish and African materials.57 Bede appears to have drawn on the Irish cleric Cummian's De Ratione Computandi for his own essay on the subject.58 A compilation of Irish computistical tracts and argumenta of various provenances, known as the Sirmond group of manuscripts, also appears to have been used by Bede.59 Ceolfrid asserts that there were many mathematicians able to compute the 19-year cycles, with several able to commit the ancient rules to memory.60 This last statement calls to mind the mnemonic poem, bound with an eighth-century Irish text, which was connected by Jones to Mo-Sinnu Moccu Min, abbot of Bangor, who died in 610.61 This poem consists of 19 lines of verse from which to calculate the date of Easter based on the 19-year recurring cycle.62
From the beginning, Ceolfrid describes the arguments put forth in his letter to Nechtan as three scriptural rules for the correct dating of Easter.63 Many of the bible citations used by Ceolfrid to legitimise his position are also found in the initial argument provided by Cummian in his De Controversia Paschali.64 There is no evidence that Ceolfrid had access to this letter, and the citations may have been drawn from a common argument.65 However, the only surviving copy of Cummian's letter was bound with a copy of Bede's letter to Plegwin. They are both in the same hand, in MS Cotton Vitellius A.xii, folio 79r-83r, of the British Library.66 This suggests that Cummian's letter may indeed have been known to Ceolfrid. Bede also cited an early letter to the Irish from Pope Honorius I, as well as quoting from a letter written in 640 by Pope John IV to the Irish, both letters demanding the adoption of correct paschal dating and the latter ordering the cessation of Pelagian practices.67 John IV's letter names, amongst others, Ségéne, who was one of the addressees of Cummian's letter of 634. Bede's knowledge of Pope John IV's response to the Irish suggests that Bede also knew it was initiated by Cummian's earlier attempt to gain unity. It is possible that all of these documents may have been available to Ceolfrid.68 Pope John IV's admonition against Pelagianism and Ceolfrid's own allusion to this practice in his letter69 have, to my mind, been successfully explained by Ó Cróinín as arising from the erroneous application of Victorius's confusing Easter tables. According to Ó Cróinín, Victorius's tables indicated that in 641 Easter Sunday was to have fallen on 1 April, or luna XIIII (inaccurately given as luna XV by Victorius who had no wish to follow either Pelagius or the quartodecimans). Not only was Sunday 1 April 641 the Jewish pesach, hence the accusation of quartodecimanism, but as this day falls before that of the resurrection (rather, this day is calculated as the date of the crucifixion) those who celebrated on this day were assumed to be following Pelagius in discounting the importance of the resurrection for mankind's eternal salvation.70 The letter from Pope John IV to the Irish appears to have been written in response to the Irish query regarding the accuracy of celebrating Easter on 1 April in 641. Confusion appears to have arisen from Bede's inclusion of the partial response by Pope John IV that omits the discussion of Easter dating, so that accusations of the Irish being supporters of Pelagius and quartodecimans continued erroneously.71
Ceolfrid provides a brief history of the authors of the 19-year cycle from Eusebius onwards, appearing to discern that the Dionysiac tables were extensions of those made by Cyril, but there is a notable absence of any reference to Victorius.72 Victorius's problematic tables were the main reason for the Irish initially having such great difficulty in accepting these revised 19-year cycles over their various tried and tested 84-year cycles and, potentially, earlier versions of 19-year cycles. Ó Cróinín has noted that Bede's De Temporum Ratione was written in order to counter the Easter tables of Victorius, and chapters 42 and 51 of that work name and shame Victorius for his inept calculation.73
The main differences between the various tables stemmed from the application of the lunar criteria. Ceolfrid determined the correct dates as being 15-21 lunae, spending considerable ink reiterating their lawful veracity as 'divinely laid down in the law of Moses'.74 These criteria had been established at an early stage in Alexandria and reasserted by Dionysius. The Columban Church had been dating Easter from 14-20 lunae which, Ceolfrid cautioned, inappropriately anticipated the true date of commemoration.75 He follows this observation with a warning to those using Victorius's criteria of 16-22 lunae that they also err from correct observances.76 Then, with a touch of wry humour, he uses a Homeric reference, suggesting that by following Victorius's criteria was to 'avoid shipwreck on Scylla, only to fall into the whirlpool of Charybdis and be drowned'.77 I would suggest that Ceolfrid used this reference to allude to some clerics present in Pictland, most likely from Irish foundations, who had given up the 14-20 lunae criteria only to be misled by applying Victorius's criteria of 16-22 lunae. It is likely that Nechtan's clerics had access to the tables of Victorius as well as the 84-year cycles and this warning may have been to pre-empt either cycle being used, as well as a gentle caution against false claims by clerics that they practised orthodox Easter dating. There is also the possibility that Ceolfrid was basing his information regarding the orthodoxy of Irish Easter tables on old information provided by the Synod of Whitby and the letters of Popes Honorius I and John IV cited above: Jones assures us that Dionysiac tables were circulating in Ireland in this period, 'probably as a corrective document'.78 It is important to note that despite the differences in calculation, and their applications to cycles of differing lengths, Easter was usually celebrated at the same time.79 Ceolfrid, therefore, had to amass an array of argument that reinforced the legitimacy of his cycle and provided subtle refutation of other practices.80 His aim was not only to refute the 84-year cycles and, as I have suggested, those of Victorius, but to endorse the doctrinal orthodoxy and superiority of Rome and St Peter by which proper communion can be observed by the catholic, and therefore orthodox, community.
Ceolfrid spends a great deal of the letter citing the passover in Exodus as prefiguring Easter. By applying the Jewish criteria for determining the commemorative date of passover, Ceolfrid asserts that two of the three rules for determining Easter were to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures; that is from the 14th moon of Nisan, which was calculated as the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Nisan being the first month of the Jewish year, passover was celebrated in the third week of the first month after the vernal equinox, and thus Easter was determined 'in the same way as the law decrees'.81 However, rather than lingering on the prefigurement of the salvation of Israel by the blood placed over their thresholds, he places the emphasis on the following day, when they fled Egypt, linking this with the resurrection, which was judged to have occurred on the 15th day of Nisan:82So at last we duly celebrate our Easter feast to show that we are not with the ancients, celebrating the throwing off of the yoke of Egyptian bondage but, with devout faith and love, venerating the redemption of the whole world, which, being prefigured by the liberation of the ancient people of God, is completed in the resurrection of Christ.83It is notable that Ceolfrid takes care to emphasise the resurrection over the passion and does not refer to the earliest prefigurement of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac or the historical chronology of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection. Instead he conflates the historical passion and resurrection to one night, symbolised as Christ's passing over 'from the world to his Father'.84 This brevity is not found in Cummian's letter, which indicates that some in the Irish church regarded the passion and the last supper as equal in importance to the resurrection.85 Cummian confirms his own method of determining Easter by assigning 14 lunae to the last supper and passion with the resurrection occurring on 16 lunae, liberally citing Christian scriptural references for legitimacy.86 Ceolfrid seems to deliberately avoid reference to the last supper, despite its process of transubstantiation, representing the new covenant of salvation, being a cornerstone in Christian doctrine.87 Ceolfrid only mentions the taking of communion, representing 'the body and blood of the spotless Lamb' on the Saturday evening before Easter day, after 'the appropriate solemn Easter rite of lessons and prayers and paschal ceremonies'.88 Once again, he relates this to the passover, with the lamb being sacrificed in the evening, and does not mention the last supper.89 In this respect, it is interesting that the Columban church, like Ceolfrid, viewed the resurrection as the most important aspect of Easter. Their translation of pascha accorded with Ceolfrid's as being the feast of the resurrection,90 whereas Cummian, and by extension the Irish who followed the tables of Victorius, translated pascha as the passion.91
Ceolfrid's letter also makes clear that there was some dispute as to when to date the equinox.92 As the vernal equinox provides a beginning point from which Easter is calculated, it was also considered as representing the birth of the world, which was said to take place at the equinox with a full moon.93 According to Wallis, this is based on an old allegory that the passion and resurrection represented the week of creation in which man is reborn.94 Ceolfrid makes a point of the necessity to firstly observe the equinoctial sun followed by the rising of the moon, in the created order, and he does this by quoting both the Vulgate and the more explicit Old Latin versions of Genesis 1.16.95 He also identifies the rising of the full moon as symbolising Christ's triumph over the darkness of death, and the Church is represented as a full moon reflecting the light of God and Christ's resurrection.96 Bede in his computistical writings made the point that, like the sun, Christ must 'precede the Church which cannot shine save through him'.97 For emphasis, Ceolfrid provides the Old Latin verse of Habakuk 3.11, well known for its use in Friday matins, 'the Sun was exalted and the Moon stood in her order'.98 The waxing and waning of the moon is therefore an eternal reminder that Christ died and rose again.99 Ceolfrid combines these mystical observances with his assertion of the third principle for dating Easter, that of Christ's resurrection on a Sunday. This is given as the third dispensation of the world, that of grace, by which all men are freed from the 'laws of sin and death'.100 This final rule, to celebrate the resurrection on the Sunday, had been confirmed as early as the Council of Nicaea in 325.101 According to Ceolfrid, as Christ by his resurrection redeemed the whole world on a Sunday, so the day of judgement will fall on a Sunday.102
Bede concludes the chapter in which he has included Ceolfrid's letter by relating how King Nechtan received the letter with delight and proclaimed the correctio to his assembled leaders.103 He then 'enforced his word by royal authority', that the 19-year Easter cycle was to be followed and all clerics in his kingdom were to receive the Petrine tonsure.104 Fraser has argued that by this decree of conformity to Roman practice, Nechtan gained the power to elect his church leaders and reduce the authority of those who favoured a different Easter cycle, the Columbans.105 Nechtan appears to have been promoting a very visible change by giving his allegiance to the Roman paschal cycles. He ordered his clergy tonsured in the Roman manner and in imitation of Rome requested a stone church to be built and dedicated to St Peter. It was surely no accident that St Peter was commemorated by the first church in Pictland to be built of stone; Peter was the rock upon which Jesus proclaimed that his church was to be built. Peter was also the first apostle of Rome, from whom the Popes claimed succession and by whose authority the Popes claimed temporal headship of the church. The consecration of a church was not merely a rite bestowed on a material structure: it was also a dedication and consecration of the people. Eusebius, amongst other patristic authors, viewed the members of the church as living stones and the true recipients of this rite of consecration.106
Ceolfrid, as has been mentioned, makes no suggestion of Northumbrian episcopal primacy over Pictland and his letter may have provided Nechtan with the power to gainsay attempts by Irish clerics, particularly of the Columban familia, to assert authority over churches in Pictland. The implication appears to be that Pictish churches became directly answerable to Rome rather than subject to the authority of the Irish or Northumbrian church. Answering to the remote authority of Rome and St Peter would surely be more advantageous to the Picts in securing ecclesiastical and political autonomy and equal status with their neighbours. Bede himself states that the Pictish nation placed itself under St Peter's protection, and in 721 Nechtan may have sent one of his own bishops, Fergus the Pict, to Rome in order to establish the credentials of his church.107 Ceolfrid's response may also have instituted changes in ritual practice to do with Easter observance and regular commemoration in line with Roman practice. This may be why, unlike Ireland, there are no representations of the crucifixion on Pictish sculptured crosses.108
The frequency with which Ceolfrid asserts the criteria of 15-21 lunae, I would suggest, indicates that he was aware of at least two forms of paschal dating that Nechtan needed to refute, those of the 84-year cycles and the erroneous tables of Victorius. His concentration on the exodus of the Israelites as prefiguring Christ's resurrection, to the exclusion of other apt references, appears to have deliberately emphasised the division between Northumbrian practice and the Irish practice outlined by Cummian. His comment, some six pages into the letter, that he has provided a 'succinct' explanation of the three scriptural laws of dating Easter,109 may draw some raised eyebrows, but it is accurate in that he does not diverge from his main point. He makes little use of New Testament references, quotes very few patristic authors and avoids all entanglement with the details of computistical reckoning. While his letter does not provide a complete discourse on Roman orthodox Easter practice, it obviously gave Nechtan sufficient ammunition with which to mount a challenge against his dissenting clerics and their supporters. It also provided Bede with an upbeat ending to his history, the final hurrah of the virtue of Northumbrian Christian practice being completed in the next chapter with Iona coming into full communion via the agency of a Northumbrian cleric.110
I wish to thank the members of the Medieval Latin reading group at the University of Melbourne for their painstaking assistance in translating Ceolfrid's letter. I also wish to thank the National Institute of Social Sciences and Law at the Australian National University for providing me with a bursary in order to present this paper at the AEMA Annual Conference in Canberra in 2005.
Julianna Grigg, Department of History, University of Melbourne
1 I am using the orthography in the title of T O Clancy, 'Philosopher-King: Nechtan Mac Der-Ilei', The Scottish Historical Review 83 (October 2004) 125-149.
2 Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum ed and trans B Colgrave and R A B Mynors, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford, 1969) (hereafter HE) III.21, 532-553. For a more literal translation see Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum trans L Sherley-Price and D H Farmer, Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Harmondsworth, 1990) 308-321.
3 Bede, Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow ed D H Farmer trans J F Webb, 'Bede: Lives of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow' 187-210 in D H Farmer and J F Webb, The Age of Bede (London, 1983; repr 1998) at p 204.
4 W M Stevens, 'Cycles of time: calendrical and astronomical reckonings in early science' 27-51 in W M Stevens, Cycles of Time and Scientific Learning in Medieval Europe (Aldershot, 1995) at p 34.
5 W M Stevens, 'Bede's Scientific Achievement' 1-58 in Stevens, Cycles of Time, at p 43, notes that Rome was singularly inept in developing an authorised set of paschal tables and it was not until the widespread distribution of Bede's tables, without canonical approval, that the Dionysiac system became the approved method. T Morrison, 'Computus digitorum for the calculation of Easter', Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association 1 (2005) 85-98, outlines the history of paschal dating in the early church.
6 M Walsh and D Ó Cróinín, Cummian's Letter De Controversia Paschali: Together with a Related Irish Computistical Tract, De Ratione Conputandi (Toronto, 1988) 84-89; K Harrison, 'A letter from Rome to the Irish clergy, AD 640', Peritia 3 (1984) 222-229, at p 223.
7 Walsh and Ó Cróinín, Cummian's Letter, 84-87. This table, at one time, appears to have had the criteria of 14-20 lunae (the rising of the 14th moon to the rising of the 20th moon) computed over a 19-year cycle: see F Wallis, Bede: The Reckoning of Time (Liverpool, 1999) lvi-lviii. For a discussion on the 84-year cycles, see D McCarthy, 'The origin of the Latercus paschal cycle of the insular Celtic churches' Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 28 (1994) 25-49.
8 HE III.25.
9 For a discussion on the myriad versions of the 19-year Paschal cycles present in Britain and Ireland, see W M Stevens, 'Scientific instruction in early insular schools' 83-111 in Stevens, Cycles of Time; C W Jones, Bedae: Opera De Temporibus (Cambridge Mass, 1943) 3-122.
10 C Plummer, Venerabilis Baedae: Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum, Historiam Abbatum, Epistolam Ad Ecgberctum Una Cum Historia Abbatum Auctore Anonymo (London, 1896; repr 1956) vol II p 348.
11 After Harrison, 222.
12 'Eo tempore Naiton rex Pictorum ... admonitus ecclesiasticarum frequenti meditatione scripturarum abrenuntiauit errori, quoeatenus in obseruatione paschae cum sua gente tenebatur.' HE p 532-533.
13 Plummer, vol II p 331.
14 S Mac Airt and G Mac Niocaill (eds & trans), The Annals of Ulster to A.D. 1131 (Dublin, 1983) AU 717.4. I have discussed some of the issues regarding the expulsion of the familia Iae in a previous paper, J Grigg: 'Expulsion of the Familia Iae over the Spine of Britain by King Nechtán' 31-42 in P O'Neill (ed), Exile and Homecoming: Papers from the Fifth Australian Conference of Celtic Studies (Sydney, 2005).
15 A A M Duncan, 'Bede, Iona, and the Picts' 1-42 in R H C Davis and J M Wallace-Hadrill (ed), The Writing of History in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1981) at p 35.
16 Duncan, 26-27.
17 Farmer and Webb, 'Bede: Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow', 204.
18 HE III.7, III.22, 232, 280.
19 HE III.25, 294-295. Sherley-Price and Farmer translate this as 'About this time' at p 186.
20 K Veitch, 'The Columban church in northern Britain, 664-717: a reassessment', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 127 (1997) 627-647, at p 637. Bede reported that Wilfrid, in the past, had taken a rather proprietorial stance on Pictland, England and Ireland, HE V.19.
21 W Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800) (Princeton, 1988) 279. Coenred assumed power in the same year of Ceolfrid's abdication. I Wood, The Most Holy Abbot Ceolfrid (Jarrow, 1995) 1, 18, noted that the dedication stone of Jarrow describes Celofrid as sole founder of that foundation. The need to protect the monastery from the machinations of the royal court appears to be the implication behind Ceolfrid's, and Bendict's before him, petition for protective privileges from the Pope described in chapter 15 of Farmer and Webb, 'Bede: lives of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow', 203, and chapter 20 of Farmer and Webb, 'The anonymous history of Abbot Ceolfrith', 220.
22 Farmer and Webb, 'Bede: lives of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow', 191. In chapter 15, Ceolfrid is shown negotiating the sale and purchase of more land: ibid, 203; also Wood, 3.
23 Farmer and Webb, 'The anonymous history of Abbot Ceolfrith', 225.
24 Farmer and Webb, 'Bede: lives of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow', 203. This Old Latin bible is most likely that of Cassiodorus, the Codex Grandior: see R Marsden, The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, 1995) 6.
25 Marsden, 100-101.
26 Ibid, 44-45.
27 D P Kirby, 'Bede and the Pictish Church', The Innes Review 24 (1973) 6-25, at p 13; Wood, 5.
28 HE V.21, 550.
29 Farmer and Webb, 'The anonymous history of Abbot Ceolfrith', 214.
30 R Abels, 'The Council of Whitby: a study in early Anglo-Saxon politics', The Journal of British Studies 23/1 (1983) 1-25, at p 9.
31 Farmer and Webb, 'The anonymous history of Abbot Ceolfrith', 219.
32 D Ó Cróinín, 'The Irish provenance of Bede's computus', Peritia 2 (1983) 229-247, at p 242, 246; D McCarthy, 'The lunar and paschal tables of De Ratione Paschali attributed to Anatolius of Laodicea', Archive for History of Exact Sciences 49/4 (1996) 285-320 at p 310-311.
33 HE III.25; Eddius Stephanus, Life of Wilfrid ed D H Farmer trans J F Webb, 'Eddius Stephanus: Life of Wilfrid' 107-184 in Farmer and Webb, The Age of Bede, 116-118.
34 Farmer and Webb, 'Bede: lives of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow', 191.
35 Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy trans V Watts, Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy (London, 1999) at p xix-xx: 'quia felicissimo mundus statu ageretur si uel reges philosopharentur uel regnarent philosophi' (that the world would be in a happy state if kings were philosophers and philosophers were kings). Bede also introduces Nechtan as convinced by assiduous study of ecclesiastical writings: HE, 533-534. M Grimmer, 'Memories of the Celts in Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum' 22-32 in P O'Neill (ed), Between Intrusions: Britain and Ireland between the Romans and the Normans (Sydney, 2004) at p 29, sees the tone of this letter as respectful.
36 Wallis, 351-352, draws similarities between this letter and chapter 64 of Bede's De Temporum Ratione.
37 'ut etiam ipsi horologica inspectione probamus' (as we can also prove by inspecting a sundial): HE, 542.
38 Stevens, 'Bede's Scientific Achievement', 35. Correct calculation relies on readings being taken over a number of days pre- and post-equinox.
39 Harrison, 224.
40 For a discussion, see Wallis, 315-317.
41 HE, 532, 546.
42 According to Bede, Nechtan required letters 'quibus potentius confutare posset eos, qui pascha non suo tempore obseruare praesumerent' (to enable him to confute more convincingly those who presumed to celebrate Easter at the wrong time): HE, 532f. The term correctio is most aptly used by J E Fraser, 'Ministry, Mission and Myth in Early Christian Fortriu' (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2003) 209-213.
43 'oblitteratis per omnia erroneis LXXX et quatuor annorum circulis': HE, 552.
44 HE III.4.
45 I Henderson, The Picts (London, 1967) 79; Fraser, 'Ministry, mission and myth', 209-213.
46 'miramque in moribus ac ueris prudentiam humiliatem religionem ostenderet' (he showed wonderful prudence, humility, and devotion, in word and deed): HE, 550.
47 Bridei, Nechtan's predecessor as king, was Nechtan's brother and a signatory to Cáin Adomnáin. This legislation was promulgated by Adomnán primarily in Ireland, but Bridei also acted as guarantor for its promulgation in Pictland: see J Grigg, 'Aspects of the Cáin: Adomnán's Lex Innocentium', Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association 1 (2005) 41-50.
48 HE, 550.
49 'cum reuersus ad Scottiam multas postea gentis eiusdem turbas ad catholicam temporis paschalis obseruantiam sua praedicatione correxit' (when he had returned to Ireland, he led large numbers of that race to the catholic observance of Easter by his preaching): HE, 550.
50 Columban clergy in Pictland may have been converted to the 19-year cycles during the previous reign of Bridei. This Pictish king had close relations with Adomnán (see note 47) by whom he may have received information on Easter dating: see Grigg, 'Expulsion of the Familia Iae'.
51 'Tonsuram quoque, si tantum sibi auctoritatis subesset, emendare meminisset' (If his influence had been sufficient, he would have made it his business to correct their tonsure also): HE, 550.
52 Farmer and Webb, 'The anonymous history of Abbot Ceolfrith', 219-220.
53 Ceolfrith labours this point in the opening lines of his letter: 'Scimus namque caelitus sanctae ecclesiae donatum, quoties ipsi rerum domini discendae docendae, custodiendae ueritati operam indendunt' (For we know that whenever rulers themselves take trouble to learn and teach and watch over the truth, it is a heaven-sent gift to God's holy Church): HE, 534f.
54 'nullam magis abominandam detestandamque merito cunctis fidelibus crediderim ea, quam habetat ille, cui gratiam Spiritus Sancti conparare uolenti' (nor do I consider any tonsure to be rightly judged more abominable and detestable than that worn by the man who whished to buy the grace of the Holy Spirit): HE, 548.
55 Ceolfrid clearly writes that 'Ideo autem circulos eosdem temporum instantium uobis mittere supersedimus, quia de ratione tantum temporis paschalis instrui quaerentes, ipsos uobis circulos paschae catholicos abundare probastis' (So we forbear to send you these cycles of times to come because you only asked to be instructed abut the reason for the Paschal dating, making it clear that you were provided with catholic Easter tables): HE, 546.
56 Jones, Bedae: Opera De Temporibus, 293-303.
57 Ibid, 111; Ó Cróinín, 'The Irish Provenance of Bede's Computus', 230.
58 D Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland: 400-1200 (New York, 1995) 201.
59 C W Jones, 'The 'lost' Sirmond Manuscript of Bede's Computus' 204-213 in W M Stevens (ed), Bede, the Schools and the Computus (Aldershot, 1994). Ó Cróinín believes that Bede developed his own computus based on this group of manuscripts, and dates them on internal evidence to 658: Ó Cróinín, 'The Irish provenance of Bede's computus', 233, 238. C W Jones, 'The Victorian and Dionysiac Paschal Tables in the West' 408-421 in Stevens (ed), Bede, the Schools and the Computus, 415, speculated that Bede may have received the Dionysiac tables through Cassiodorus, no doubt in the same way that Ceolfrid acquired the Codex Grandior.
60 HE, 546.
61 D Ó Cróinín, 'Mo-Sinnu Moccu Min and the computus of Bangor', Peritia 1 (1982) 281-295, at p 283; Jones, Bedae: Opera De Temporibus, 81-82; C W Jones, 'A Legend of St Pachomius' 57-210 in Stevens (ed), Bede, the Schools and the Computus, 203.
62 Ó Cróinín provides the full version of the poem, but disputes its connection with Bangor c 610: Ó Cróinín, 'Mo-Sinnu Moccu Min', 287.
63 'Tres sunt ergo regulae sacris inditae litteris, quibus / paschae celebrandi tempus nobis praefinitum' (Now there are three rules given in holy Scripture by which the time for keeping Easter has been laid down for us): HE, 534.
64 Walsh and Ó Cróinín, Cummian's Letter, 58-65.
65 Wallis, lix. Jerome intimately relates Exodus to the Easter vigil in his Homily 91, although he then takes quite another tangent, which, thankfully, Ceolfrid does not follow. M L Ewald, The Homilies of Saint Jerome (2 vols; Washington, 1966) vol 2 (homilies 60-96) 239-242.
66 Walsh and Ó Cróinín, Cummian's Letter, 51.
67 HE II.19; see D Ó Cróinín, '"New heresy for old": Pelagianism in Ireland and the papal letter of 640', Speculum 60/3 (July 1985) 505-516, at p 506.
68 Jones, 'The Victorian and Dionysiac Paschal Tables in the West', 417, links this sequence of letters to the same disputes.
69 HE, 544.
70 Ó Cróinín, '"New heresy for old"', in particular a similar letter of Bishop Eutropius who likewise queried the dating of Easter for 641, at p 512.
71 Ibid, 515.
72 Jones, 'The Victorian and Dionysiac paschal tables in the west', 415; HE, 546.
73 Ó Cróinín, 'The Irish provenance of Bede's computus', 231-232; Jones, 'The Victorian and Dionysiac paschal tables in the west', 420; Jones, Bedae: Opera De Temporibus, 255-257, 270-273; Wallis, 113-115, 132-135.
74 HE, 535.
75 McCarthy, 'The origin of the Latercus paschal cycle', 34; HE, 540. These dates were also contested at the Synod of Whitby: see W M Stevens, 'Sideral time in Anglo-Saxon England' 125-152 in Stevens, Cycles of Time and Scientific Learning in Medieval Europe, 126.
76 Harrison, 222.
77 'et ueluti naufragia Scyllae fugientes in Charybdi uoraginem submergendi decidunt': HE, 540-541.
78 Jones, 'The Victorian and Dionysiac paschal tables in the west', 418.
79 Wallis, Bede: The Reckoning of Time, lxii; Duncan, 'Bede, Iona, and the Picts' 26-27.
80 He makes a point that 14-20 and 16-22 lunae are not mentioned in the law of the Hebrew Scriptures: HE, 540.
81 'Quin potius statuit, ut expectaretur iuxta praeceptum legis idem primus anni mensis, expectaretur quarta decima dies illius, expectaretur uespera eiusdem. And: in ipsa quam lex statuit' (It ordains instead that according to the precept of the law we must wait for the first month of the year, the fourteenth day of that month and the evening of that day): HE, 538.
82 HE, 536.
83 HE, 544f: 'et sic demum uotiu paschae nostri festa celebramus, ut indicemus nos non cum antiques excussum Aegyptiae seruitutis iugum uenerari sed redemtionem totius mundi, quae in antiqui Dei populi liberatione praefigurata, in Christ autem resurrectione conpleta est.'
84 'Id est transitum de hoc mundo ad Patrem': HE, 544.
85 Walsh and Ó Cróinín, Cummian's Letter, 25.
86 Ibid, 26-27, 66-69.
87 The doctrine of transubstantiation was promulgated by Pope Innocent III in the thirteenth century: G W S Barrow, Kingship and Unity: Scotland 1000-1306 (Toronto, 1981), 63. However, the early eastern church had previously developed an intricate doctrine linking the last supper and the final covenant, as shown in the third century 'teaching songs' of Ephraem the Syrian: see S H Griffith, '"Spirit in the bread; fire in the wine": The eucharist as "living medicine" in the thought of Ephraem the Syrian' 113-134 in S Beckwith (ed), Catholicism and Catholicity: Eucharistic Communities in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Oxford, 1999).
88 'et cum haec dies in sabbatum forte incideret, tolleret unusquisque agnum per familias et domus suas, et immolaret eum ad uesperam; id est, praepararent omnes ecclesiae per orbem, quae unam catholicam faciunt, panem et uinum in mysterium carnis et sanguinis agni inmaculati, qui abstulit peccata mundi, et preacedente congrua lectionum, orationum, caerimoniarum paschalium sollemnitate offerrent haec Domino in spem futurae suae redemtionis' (And when that day should happen to fall on a Saturday, every man must take a lamb according to their families and their houses and sacrifice it at evening, that is, that all churches throughout the world, composing the one catholic Church, should provide bread and wine for the mystery of the body and blood of the spotless "Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world"; after the appropriate solemn Easter rite of lessons and prayers and Paschal ceremonies, they should offer it to the Lord in the hope of redemption to come): HE, 538f.
89 HE 538-539.
90 'et in ea nos annuatim paschalia eiusdem resurrectionis uoluit festa celebrare' (and desired the Paschal feast of His Resurection to be celebrated each year on the same day): HE, 544.
91 Walsh and Ó Cróinín, Cummian's Letter, 26-27.
92 The 84-year cycle specified 25 March, which may have been derived from Pliny: see Harrison, 222, 224.
93 Bede describes this in some detail in his De Temporum Ratione, chapter 6: see Jones, Bedae: Opera De Temporibus, 190-193; for a translation see Wallis, 24-28. It is likely that the annunciation, falling on 25 March, the old Roman date of the equinox, ties in with the theme of the (re)birth of the world through the incarnation: see E Ó Carragáin 'The necessary distance: Imitatio Romae and the Ruthwell Cross' 191-203 in J Hawkes and S Mills (ed), Northumbria's Golden Age (Stroud, 1999) 202.
94 Wallis, 273.
95 HE, 542.
96 HE, 544; Jones, Bedae: Opera De Temporibus, 190-193; Wallis, 24-28.
97 Wallis, 25-26; Jones, Bedae: Opera De Temporibus, 191.
98 HE, 544; Plummer, vol II, 334.
99 HE, 544.
100 'quia ante legem et sub lege promissus, tertio tempore saeculi cum gratia uenit ipse' ([Christ himself] who had been promised before the law and under the law came with grace in the third dispensation of the world): HE, 542; see note 2 at p 543 where Colgrave notes that Augustine and Gregory also refer to the same division and dispensations.
101 Stevens, 'Cycles of time', 34-35.
102 'Utque resurrectionis etiam nostrae, quam eadem die dominica futuram credimus, spe nos certissima gaudere signemus' (we also signify that we rejoice in the sure and certain hope of our own resurrection, which we believe will also take place on a Sunday): HE, 545.
103 HE, 552-553: 'Unde palam profiteor ubobisque qui adsidetis praesentibus protestor, quia hoc obseruare tempus paschae cum uniuersa mea gente perpetuo uolo' (So I publicly declare and proclaim in the presence of you all, that I will for ever observe this time of Easter, together with all my people).
104 HE, 553: 'Nec mora, quae dixerat regia auctoriate perfectit.'
105 Fraser, 'Ministry, mission and myth', 212.
106 B Repsher, The Rite of Church Dedication in the Early Medieval Era (New York, 1998) 28, 33.
107 HE, 552; 'Fergustus, Episcopus Scotiae Pictus': A W Haddan and W Stubbs (ed), Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland vol II (Oxford, 1869-1871) 116; Henderson, 85; Kirby, 20.
108 One carved stone fragment of a crucifixion scene survives from Abernethy, although George and Isabel Henderson suggest it is not stylistically Pictish. G Henderson and I Henderson, The Art of the Picts: Sculpture and Metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland (London, 2004) 146-147. Recently Alcock has queried whether the lack of crucifixion imagery in Pictland is related to Emperor Leo's ban on icons from 726, which would indicate advanced systems for Pictish contact with the east for which we have no evidence: L Alcock, Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain AD550-850 (Edinburgh, 2003) 383-384.
109 'Verum his de pascha succincte ... strictimque commemoratis': HE, 546.
110 HE V.22.