The claims of Armagh



During the seventh century there was a flurry of activity to promote the claims of the Church of Armagh to archiepiscopal authority over all the 'free churches and monasteries of Ireland.' One reason for this was probably the rise of monastic paruchiae.

Kildare was making claims for itself, through the Life of Brigit by Cogitosus, to a huge monastic paruchaie, "that extends through the whole island of Ireland." Kildare and Glendalough both enjoyed patronage from the royal house fof Lenister. Clonmacnoise enjoyed prestige because of its advantageous postition on the borders of Meath and Connacht. "Armagh entered the field very late for the race for ecclesiastical precedence."

None of the sources from the sixth century mention Patrick or Armagh; it does not appear in the writings of Columbanus, Adomnan, Bede etc. It spurred on the Armagh church and its lawyers to clarify its postition.

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The claims made

The claims made are to be found in the Book of the Angel. It is a 'pseudo-Patrician' piece of literature of hagiographical character that "provides a statement of Armagh's claims and rights, put together by the Armagh lawyers from information collected there in the late seventh and early eighth century."

In the book of the Angel, an angel appears to Patrick and granted privileges to him and to his church at Armagh.

The total privileges granted by the Angel were: that Armagh was the most important church/see in Ireland. It had authority over all the free churches amd monasteries in Ireland. It had the right to tax these churches. Lastly, it was the highest court of ecclesiastical appeal in Ireland, second only to Rome.

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How armagh promoted her right to archiepiscopal

In the 5th century, Armagh lay in the territory of the Ulaid. The Ulaid has now been displaced and was now considerably reduced in size. Armagh no longer lay within their territory. Armagh has lost importance during the conbtraction of the Ulaid. The Uí Néill dynasty was now the dominant power in Ireland and Armagh lay within its territory. Armagh needed the support of the most prominent political power and if possible the support of Rome.

Armagh employed lawyers and hagiographiers to supply the 'evidence' and propaganda for her claims. Tirechan's brief account was useful. Muirchu's Life of Patrick also served to promote the claims of Armagh. The grant of Armagh by Daire, and even the story of the death and burial of Patrick, all serve his purpose in illustrating the primacy of Armagh.

The Uí Néill was the kin of colmcille, but his paruchiae was losing prestige because of the strife and division caused by their position in the Paschal Controversy. Therefore the Uí Néill may have been happy to associate with a rising church.

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How armagh promoted her right to archiepiscopal

The Romani (Roman party) saw Patrick as their own. Some scholars argue that by adopting Roman usages in the Paschal controversy, Armagh could ensure that all churches in her paruchiae did likewise. The influence of the church of Armagh was helpful to Rome and may in turn have gained Armagh the advantage of being recognised by Rome as a church of prominence.

Just as the monasteries were forming confederations and paruchiae of houses which all owed allegiance to one founder, so the Church of Armagh employed a similiar tactic. She began to build up for herself a paruchiae of subject churches, which were not confined to the tuath in which Armagh was located.

Just as over-kings in secular society claimed tribute from subordinate kings, so the coarb of Patrick had a right to tribute from the churches and monasteries in the paruchiae of Armagh. Brehon law also gives a bishop a higher honour price than a king. If a bishop visited another church on church business, he had the right to ask for hospitiality for himself and a retinue of twelve men. We can agree with Doherty that "the Armagh clergy were astute politicans."

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The strength of the claims of Armagh

Tirechan seems to imply that Armagh did not always get the recognition she claimed. He laments that there were some "who have taken away from Patrick what is his." In one instance Tirechan specifies that the paruchiae Colmcille and the church of Ardstraw were in competitive opposition to Armagh. By the eighth century, the ecclesiasticqal authority of Armagh was quite widely recognised.

In the additions to Tirechan's brief account, we see Aéd of Sletty accepting Ségéne of Armagh as his over-lord. In the view of Hughes, "here at the end of the seventh century, there seems to have bveen a formal acknowledgement of over-lordship. The fifth century entries recorded in the Annals of Ulster refer to the bishops of Armagh listed there as the 'heirs' of Patrick. Carney and O'Rahilly both reject these as later interpolations.

The Hymn of Secundius, refer to the "Noster Papa Patricus"- Our father Patrick, in the view of O fiaich, suggest a kind of pre-eminence. The appeal of Cummean in 632 to Noster Papa Patricius as the authority in support of Roman views. O Croinin takes Noster Papa Patricus to mean 'Our primate Patricus'.

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The strength of the claims of Armagh

The Letter written by Pope John IV, concerning the Paschal Controversy in 640, places the name of Tommene, Bishop of Armagh, at the top of a list of eleven ecclesiastics. Sharpe argues that the list merely reflects the order of signatories on the Letter, on which the "bishop of Armagh placed his own signature at the head of the list."

Early canon law refers to the "bishop of bishops" and that matters of authority should be referred to "Rome or Patrick". No explicit mention of Armagh is made. Armagh did possess the relics of Peter, Paul, Stephen and Laurence. However, did not have the body of Patrick. At the assembly of Birr, Flann, the abbot of Armagh is placed at the top of the ecclesiastics there. The Hymn of Fiacc, written around 800, speaks of Patrick's love for Armagh: "When Patrick was in sickness he desired to go to Armagh". O Fiaich concludes "that by the early seventh century, certainly by AD640, Armagh's pre-eminence was already recoginised".

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The strength of the claims of Armagh

Sharpe believes that the sources are only really indicative of the status of Armagh at the time in which they were written, that is from the seventh to the ninth century. they do not tell us anything of her position from the fifth and sixth century.

O Fiaich explains the pre-eminent position of Armagh was taken for granted by all. There is no secular law tract that lends credence to the idea that Armagh was the highest court of ecclesiastical appeal. The name of Patrick appears after that of Auxilius and the name of Benignus is with the name of Patrick, despite the fact that Patrick is several decades his senior.

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Patrick and Armagh

The Annals of Ulster tell us that Patrick founded his church at Armagh in AD444. Patrick in his writings does not associate himself with any place in Ireland. The only place he names in Ireland is Silva Focluti. Archaeological work done in the Sotch street area of the city has uncovered evidence which might well support the refereneces made in Muirchu to the Graveyard of the Martyrs.

Many scholars believe that "the evidence points to Downpatrick as the main focus of Patrick's activities." Downpatrick possessed the body of the saint. O'Rahilly argues that "we may dismiss the idea that Patrick was ever bishop of Armagh"

A central arguement in support of the tradtion that Patrick founded Armagh is the proximity of Armagh to Emhain Macha. This was the capital of te kingdom of the Ulaid, among whom Patrick worked in the fifth century. Emhain Macha was still an important political centre at the time of Patrick. Others argue that Armagh was not important for poltical reaons, but for religious ones. Stancliffe believes Patrick's choice might have been a delibrate one in order to tackle paganism. O Fiaich argues that the large number of place namesw in locality to armagh itself were such as Moneypatrick, Ardpatrick and Kilpatrick.

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