A New Ethic of Holiness

Celtic Saints and Their Kinship with Animals

Authored by: Edward C. Sellner

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138592728
eBook ISBN: 9780429489846
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



The ancient Celts’ daily life was lived in close proximity to nature, and their spirituality reflected what the Welsh call hud: a sense of wonder and awe at the divine residing in everything. Their pagan ancestors, like other indigenous peoples, had a deep respect for nature, regarding the earth as a mother, the source of all fertility. Their spiritual leaders believed that the supernatural pervaded every aspect of life, and that spirits were everywhere: in ancient trees and sacred groves, mountaintops and rock formations, rivers, streams, and holy wells. Influenced by that ancient spiritual heritage, Celtic Christians found it natural to address God as “Lord of the Elements,” and to experience communion with God in their natural surroundings. In the stories of the saints, they are often found establishing their monasteries and oratories in places where the druids and druidesses had once taught and worshipped: in the midst of oak groves or near sacred springs, on the shores of secluded lakes, or on misty islands far out at sea. This attitude of deep respect for the environment was also manifest in their quiet care for all living things. In this lecture, the stories of the Celtic saints of Ireland, England, Wales, Brittany, and the Isle of Man will be examined as they express the saints’ special affinity with animals in relationships that were reciprocated. Animals are portrayed as fellow creatures of the earth, and, once befriended, they become helpers to the saints. This is one of the most common themes that appears in the hagiographies of many of the early Celtic saints, male and female, is how intimate they are with animals and birds. I will examine certain hagiographies that demonstrate how animals are portrayed as fellow creatures of the earth who, when once befriended, become helpers to the saints, sometimes even assisting them in building their monasteries or acting as spiritual guides. I will also discuss the implications of these stories for ethical considerations today as they relate to animals.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.