Bishop Coetti of Iona

This past week I read Barbara Yorke’s contribution to Adomnan of Iona: Theologian, Lawmaker, Peacemaker. She mentions almost in an off-hand way that some believe that Bishop Coetti of Iona was English with a name along the lines of Cedd (Cedda) and Chad (Caedda). I’m not a linguist so I can’t really evaluate the likelihood that this is true or not but it did get me thinking. We do know that the second recorded bishop of Iona, Ecgbert, was certainly English. We also know that they both seemed to function over both Dalriada and Pictland. Placenames associated with Coetti are found in Pictland and Ecgbert’s warnings to King Ecgfrith not to campaign in Pictland may come from travels in Pictland to preform sacramental duties. As a bishop functioning in Pictland, it is likely that Ecgberht did indeed have direct contact with King Ecgfrith who was dominant over at least part of Pictland.

It is interesting that Iona doesn’t seem to have a bishop before Adomnan’s time. Given what we know of Iona’s abbots they may not have liked the competition for authority. Perhaps its just that bishops were always closely associated with the king and the goal of a monastery was to separate itself from regular life.

By Adomnan’s time though Iona may have been having a hard time finding a bishop who would see to their sacramental needs (confirmation and ordination) because of the Easter/Rome controversy. Or at least it was much easier to find a bishop to see to these needs without a diplomatic ordeal every time. This would be where the English trained in Ireland come in. We know that there were at least two groups, Ecgbert’s group at Rathmelsigi and the Mayo of the Saxons. If Coetti was a Saxon, then we have two Saxon bishops at the Synod of Birr in 697. These English wandering bishops, without known diocesan boundaries, may have been important intermediaries between Iona and the Hiberno-Romans. Although we can’t assume that Bishop Coetti was a Romanist, and it would make more sense if he wasn’t. The English seem to have become enmeshed in Iona’s extensive network before and after the Synod of Whitby in 664. Its all food for thought and I haven’t really thought out all the possible implications.

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5 comments on “Bishop Coetti of Iona

  1. Bene says:

    part of the explanation for the lack of a Bishop, is linguistic – there was no word for Bishop.

    • They wrote in Latin and there is a word for bishop. There were plenty of bishops in Ireland.

      • Bene says:

        Not until the mid-5th century was the letter ‘p’ adopted: so there is no early, Irish word for Bishop. NB Patrick refers to ‘monasteries’ not a See – hence my comment that it may explain the “lack” of 5thC Bishops: arguably linguistic – not factual.

  2. I wonder instead about the timing. Could it be that it was only with the development of Iona’s missionary province, and its getting more closely tied in to Scottish Dalriada, that there was enough of a diocese population in Iona’s ambit that a permanently-established bishop became necessary?

    The Dalriada thing must have complicated matters too. Those cenela weren’t always best pals with Columba’s kindred back home. I wonder how that might play into such matters; they might have preferred to employ bishops from Ireland at times, or indeed have been claimed as part of the diocese of the Irish Dalriada for a while.

    • It could be a matter of cooperation with local bishops. I think Iona’s bishop would be mostly concerned with seeing to Iona’s missionary efforts and sacramental duties within Iona’s monasteries rather than having a set territory. I do wonder what the effect of the English establishing a diocese at Abercorn would be.

      I also wonder about the role of visiting bishop’s covering Iona’s sacramental needs. Afterall, Aidan was such a visiting bishop who was then recruited for the mission to Northumbria. As the Roman controversy dragged on, fewer bishops might have been willing to visit or be recruited for special projects.

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