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8 /26 TO BHMA The Greek Australian VEMA APRIL 2015

Insights into Celtic Christianity:

Professor Jonathan Wooding on Celtic Monks

as Maritime Travellers
It was with great anticipation that a delegation from
St Andrew’s attended the first ‘Insights’ lecture at the
University of Sydney on the 12th of March to hear Pro-
fessor Jonathan Wooding (FSA, FRHistS, FHEA, Sir War-
wick Professor of Celtic Studies at Sydney University),
speak about ‘Oceans of Becoming: the Sea and Celtic
Identity.’ Professor Wooding is a good friend of St An-
drew’s, and at the invitation of Protopresbyter Dr Doru
Costache (Senior Lecturer in Patristic Studies) visited
the College on the 24th of October last year to lecture
on ‘Ocean Fathers and Last Nations – Celtic Theologies
of the Early Christian Period.’ If the presentation at St
Andrew’s focused on the lives and experiences of the
Celtic saints such as Patrick, Brendan and Columba,
then the current presentation at Sydney University de-
lineated the broa-der geographical context, especially
the role of Celtic monks as navigators of the north-
western sea between Ireland and Iceland and beyond.
I regretfully missed the lecture at St Andrew’s, so, in-
spired by the positive remarks of Father Doru and Chris
Baghos (IT & Registry Officer at St Andrew’s; Masters in
Theology student), I attended the ‘Insights’ lecture to-
gether with Chris, my wife Victoria and Mr Andrew Mel-
las, another good friend of the College and regular con-
tributor to its journal, Phronema. What we were fortu-
nate to experience was a tour de force of interdiscipli-
nary scholarship the likes of which is rarely encoun-
tered in the academy. Professor Wooding began by re-
calling his interest in Celtic studies during his postgrad-
uate days at the University of Sydney, giving the pres- Above: Icon of the Celtic saint, Brendan the Voyager.
entation a personal touch before embarking on his deft Right: Professor Jonathan Wooding lecturing
at St Andrew’s
navigation of the various fields of study encompassed
by his own research, including maritime archaeology,
historical studies, and the literature (hagiographical and more holistic approach is necessary, one which serious-
otherwise) of the period. Taking us on a pictorial jour- ly considers - whether one sympathises/believes in
ney from Ireland to Iceland, Professor Wooding af- them or not - the wider apocalyptic narratives adhered
firmed that the tendency to look at the archaeological to by these monks, which the Professor later clarified as
evidence alone in relation to the Celtic maritime experi- influenced by the motivation to baptise the nations at
ence has yielded incomplete results; namely, that early the edge of the world. Indeed, according to Professor
medieval traders undertook these travels for utilitarian Wooding, these Celtic monks considered themselves as
purposes. But when one examines the archaeological standing vigil at the world’s end; striving to stay in a
findings in conjunction with the historical and literary state of readiness for the coming Saviour, they envi-
evidence then a more complete portrait emerges; sioned their monasteries as liminal spaces that contin-
namely of travels being undertaken by Christian monks ued the journey between this world and the next; jour-
whose teleological worldview influenced their journeys. neys which for many of them began with the serious
For these Celtic travellers, the colonisation of places consideration of the ocean as a means of ascetical re-
such as Iceland was equivalent to evangelisation in an newal, as a place of becoming.
apocalyptic environment marked by the perception of Needless to say, we walked away edified and re- For video snippets from Professor Wooding’s lecture
the ocean as a ‘realm of becoming,’ a truly ascetical ex- freshed; enthused to explore the realm of the Celtic at St Andrew’s on ‘Ocean Fathers and Last Nations –
perience. saints. Celtic Theologies of the Early Christian Period,’ see the
To drive this point home, Professor Wooding demon- For more on Professor Wooding’s extremely impor- following link:
strated the difficulty in plotting the movements of both tant research, see his profile page at the University of
ancient and modern evangelical travellers by merely ac- Sydney website:
counting for the ‘dots on the map;’ the archaeological,
or cartographical, evidence interpreted entirely on its Mario Baghos
own can yield many contradictory results. Instead, a wooding.php St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

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