Celtic Christianity and the Sabbath

Celtic Christians in Cornwall and Britain

When researching the Celtic Church, Dr W D Simpson found that the primary sources indicated that Columba and his companions kept the seventh day as the Sabbath; this was endorsed by Revd F W Fawcett who said that the Celts had a married priesthood and observed the seventh day as the Sabbath.

After Simpson and Fawcett’s views were printed in 1963, Dr Leslie Hardinge decided to examine every primary source to see if this was valid and after many years of research published a PhD dissertation for the University of London. In 1972 his findings in a simplified form were published by SPCK, The Celtic Church in Britain. His work confirmed that the Celtic Church had observed the seventh day Sabbath. In his twenty years of research, Hardinge found that fundamentally there was a deep love and veneration of the Scriptures. In the writings of Patrick and Columba there was a belief in the literal return of Jesus. The Celtic Christians believed in living by the 10 commandments but saw salvation coming from God by grace alone; law keeping was the fruit of salvation. They also believed in baptism by immersion.

Saint Patrick observed the seventh day Sabbath, his observance of the seventh day was an important part of his missionary creed in Ireland. The only manuscripts that link Patrick to Sunday sacredness come over 500 years after his death.

In the earliest manuscripts of the rule of Columcille (Columba), item 5 says the seventh day was observed as the Sabbath. There is also evidence that David, the Welsh patron saint observed the Sabbath from Friday sunset. Later copyists of the rule of Columba rearranged the distinctives and either omitted item five or replaced it with another calling for the observance of the Lord’s day. A O and M O Anderson's “Adoman’s Life of Columba” (Nelson Thomas, 1961) found that there was a gradual adjustment of the manuscripts in an attempt to give the impression that the Celts held Sunday sacred.

After the sixth century the Celtic Church moved towards Sunday keeping because of pressure from Rome. An apocryphal letter from Rome called the“Letter of Jesus” or “Letter of Lord’s day” was produced, alleged to have been found on the altar of Peter in Rome and brought to Ireland in about AD 886 to establish Sunday as the Sabbath. Upon this basis penalties were imposed for those who violated Sunday. Gradually the Celtic church moved from Sabbath to Sunday observance. However, this change did not reach all parts of Britain. In Scotland the observance of the Sabbath continued much longer. Queen Margaret of Scotland noted in the 11th century that the Scots observe the seventh day as the Sabbath and do not reverence the Lord’s day, working on it as an ordinary day. She set out to persuade the clergy to adopt the Roman practices. There is evidence that Sabbath keeping prevailed universally in Wales until AD 1115 when the first Roman bishop was seated at St Davids.

The Celtic Christians were characterised by the following beliefs and practices:

1. A deep love and reverence for the Scriptures

2. Salvation by grace

3. Observance of the Ten Commandments and the seventh day Sabbath

4. Baptism by immersion

5. A belief in a literal return of Jesus

6. A married priesthood


David Marshall, The Celtic Connection (Grantham, Lincolnshire: The Stanborough Press Ltd, 1994), note: this booklet contains references to other authoritative works and primary source material relating to Celtic Christianity and the observance of the Sabbath.

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