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What is a green or white martyr?

In the book How the Irish Saved Civilization (Doubleday), Thomas Cahill talks about both green and white martyrdom. According to Cahill, Ireland was unique in that Christianity was introduced there without bloodshed (red martyrdom).

Cahill states that this lack of martyrdom disturbed the Irish, so they conceived first of a green martyrdom. Green martyrs left behind the comforts and pleasures of ordinary human society to live hermits' lives on mountaintops or lonely islands.

Against this background Cahill introduces Columcille ("Dove of God")—also called Columba or Crimthaann. Born in 521, a prince with a title to kingship, he chose to become a monk. Columba, with 12 relatives, founded a monastery on Iona off the coast of Scotland that became famous throughout Europe.

Monks from Iona in turn set out for what they called a white martyrdom: "[H]enceforth all who followed Columcille's lead were called to the white martyrdom, they who sailed into the white sky of morning, into the unknown, never to return."

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013
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