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.