What’s the Book of Kells got to do with Christian Unity? 4 Corners Festival Continues Tonight in Belfast

kellsAs the flags controversy in Belfast shows no signs of abating, the first-ever 4 Corners Festival continues tonight with a lecture on the Book of Kells by Dr Angela Griffiths of Trinity College Dublin.

This event begins at 7 pm with tea and coffee in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road. Car Parking is available at St Mary’s University College, 191 Falls Road until 9:30pm and Culturlann Cafe Feirste is open for a bite to eat before the event.

Though I am now based for a few weeks in the Southwest Institute on Religion and Civil Society at the University of New Mexico, I have watched the buzz about 4 Corners build on social media (if you haven’t ‘liked’ us on Facebook yet, now’s your chance!).

(My research trip to New Mexico was planned before I became involved in the 4 Corners Festival, and I hope to blog more about what I’m doing here in the coming weeks.)

But I’m disappointed to miss tonight’s lecture, and saddened that the East-West architectural tour of Skainos in East Belfast and Church of the Nativity in West Belfast, set for Saturday, has been postponed due to the unrest. Though one of the aims of the festival is to encourage people to cross boundaries and to get out into other parts of the city, we don’t want to put people at risk.

The Book of Kells lecture was included in the festival at the instigation of Carol Rossborough, who was interviewed during the week on Steve Stockman’s blog. It’s the first in several events about the Book of Kells which will take place over the next few months. Rossborough explained her interest in the Book of Kells this way:

For me this book is symbolic of much more than just unparalleled art and creativity, it also symbolises an era for Ireland that sees a nation riddled with war and poverty transformed into a nation of peace and prosperity. It speaks of a people filled with hope and new vision for the future. It represents new beginnings and transformation, unity in the roots of the faith of our nation and the foundation and importance of creativity in our heritage.

There has been something of a movement (cynics might say fad) in recent years to see the era of Celtic Christianity as an inspiration for contemporary Christian unity among the so called Christian ‘tribes’ on this island.

I think it’s important to resist romanticizing Celtic Christianity. The fact that tonight’s talk is by an established academic should go some way towards ensuring that discussion of any shared spiritual heritage or resources for reconciliation is tempered with accurate historical and artistic perspectives.

(Roy Searle’s recent lecture at a Contemporary Christianity conference in Ballynahinch was also excellent on how to avoid romanticising Celtic Christianity.)

And what impresses me most about Rossborough’s programme around the Book of Kells is that she plans to set up a seminar group for discussion and reflection, as she told Stockman:

I hope that people can use this as a time to engage with the idea of Celtic heritage belonging to both communities in Belfast and how that could change their view of our city.

The first meeting of this group will be 24 January in Common Grounds Café in Belfast.

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