In A.D. 406 during a particularly harsh winter, the river Rhine froze over. Across this temporary land bridge poured hordes of Germanic tribes led by the charismatic Aleric, King of the Visigoths. This singular event precipitated the fall of the Roman Empire. The dark ages had begun with a vengeance. With the fall, Europe descended into chaos and darkness. All scholarship ceased, books were burned and learned men were rounded up, imprisoned and executed. The blackboard was being erased.
Ireland being an insular island escaped all of this mayhem and actually blossomed intellectually during this period due in large part to the foresight, dedication and tenacity of a handful of scholar monks. Those brave men travelled far and wide across the then, known world, and collected as much of the written history that had not already been destroyed. They brought the written words back to Ireland and passed them on to their brothers, the scribes.
I can, if I close my eyes and it is very still, conjure up the vision of a monk alone in his cold, stone cell, isolated in a dark monastery, the silence shrouding him as he pored over those ancient scrolls by candlelight, his eyes bright with wonder. Then, word for word, reveal, translate and write down with a quill he fashioned from a reed, or perhaps a goose feather and ink that he himself mixed. In the deep silence you would hear the scratch of the nib as he wrote on the stiff parchment. For him, at that time, it must have been a sacred and painstaking task. It amazes me when I think of the time, patience and dedication those men had in order to ensure that future generations would come to know and marvel at their revelations.
For the most part, they were of good cheer and never lost their sense of humor. If you look closely at any of their works, you will notice, in the margins, their scribbled jokes, usually at the expense of a fellow scribe. I have often wondered where those monks got their knowledge of the Greek, Hebrew and Latin languages and the ability to translate them, this being an era when all formal education had been eradicated. I have pondered this riddle for the longest time and an odd idea kept crossing my mind.
What if that singular man from Galilee really was who he claimed to be? What if everything that has been said about him is true? Could he really have instilled in his disciples the supernatural ability to speak and understand all tongues, then send them forth to teach whomever they encountered? If so, for me that would explain those monks ability and their tireless drive. In the final analysis, to all of them we owe a huge debt. The most fitting way to repay their sacrifice is for us to follow their example and just keep on writing.
From "Don't Die with Regrets: Ireland and the Lessons my Father Taught Me."
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Also for Sale:
The Journey: A Nomad Reflects.