A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Faddan More Psalter: More Evidence of the Coptic Links to Early Irish Christianity

Okay, we've been stuck in the last couple of centuries most of the week, so let's talk a bit about the eighth century AD, shall we?

Every Saint Patrick's day, I repeat a post I wrote in 2009 on the connections between the early Coptic Church and the early Christian church in Ireland. There are many tantalizing links, from the use of the "wheel cross" in both churches to Egyptian monks buried in Ireland, and Saint Patrick himself may have studied with Egyptian monks at Lerins off the coast of France. Now (hat tip to the Coptic Literature and Manuscripts page), we find in this report on "The Faddan More Psalter" from County Tipperary, dated to the 8th century, and referring to the book itself and its materials:
It was carried in a larger leather book cover, stiffened with papyrus, that had been manufactured for some other book, and this object itself evokes the humid heat of the Nile Delta, where warble flies buzzed around the ears of Coptic cattle. Emphasising the extraordinary character of the book’s very survival is the fact that in many cases, it was the inky letters themselves on the pages that preserved the vellum, whereas the rest of the pages were destroyed. Finally, the book and its cover were thrust down into a bog pool, together with a pig-skin bag and covered with a piece of white-haired calf hide.
Leaving aside how archaeologists determined what religion the "Coptic cattle" were, the key element here seems to be that this Irish psalter has a leather book cover stiffened with papyrus. Papyrus is not, of course, growing on the banks of the Shannon or the Liffey, to the best of my knowledge.

So it's one more piece of circumstantial evidence of the links between the two churches. Actually I think this the same artifact referred to in this 2010 post,  but it's now on public display. There may be many ways to explain the papyrus, but there's sufficient other evidence of links between the two countries, probably much earlier than the 8th century.

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