In 1982, archeologist Robert Pyle examined a rock carving in West Virginia, which he estimated, was made between 500 and 600 AD. He gave the story to a local magazine, and a reader sent a copy of the magazine to Ida Jane Gallagher, a native Virginian working as a historian in Connecticut. She contacted the editor, seeking more information, and was invited to visit the carving.
In November 1982, Dr. Pyle led her to a rock ledge, where she had her first look at a 10-foot inscription carved on a recessed cliff face beneath a natural rock overhang. Convinced that it was a major find, she contacted Harvard Professor Barry Fell, an expert on ancient inscriptions, who immediately recognized it as the Celtic script, Ogham. He translated the Ogham into Old Irish, from Old Irish into modern Irish, and then into English. The message thus deciphered read, “A ray will graze the notch on the left side, at the time of sunrise on Christmas Day, the first season of the year, the season of the blessed advent of the savior Lord Christ, be-hold he is born of Mary, a woman.” Many scoffed at the translation, but Dr Fell noted the accuracy of the translation could be easily verified.
Knowing that the ancient Celts were remarkable astronomers who often used the winter solstice as a calendar mark, and since the Christmas season was nearing, a small group met at the cliff on the night of December 21, 1982. As the dawn sun broke and climbed behind them, it spilled its rays over the mountains toward the cliff face be-fore them. They watched in amazement as the first shaft of sunlight funneled through a previously unnoticed notch in the cliff overhang, and like a flashlight beam, struck the dead center of a sun symbol on the left side of the panel. Since the sun rises in a different spot each morning, its rays hit that symbol only at that time of the year – it is the winter solstice. Trans-fixed, they watched as the rising sun pushed the shadow from left to right, bathing the entire message in sunlight, like a pre-historic neon sign announcing yet another Christmas as it had done for centuries. They had just received a Christmas message across the ages.
Dr. Pyle soon learned of a larger carving nearby which Dr Fell called, “a sensational find”. He believed it to be the world’s longest Ogham message. He dates it between the 6th and 8th century, and it translated to read, “A happy season is Christmas, a time of joy and goodwill to all people. A virgin was with child; God ordained her to conceive and be fruitful. Behold a miracle. She gave birth to a son in a cave. The name of the cave was the Cave of Bethlehem. His foster father gave him the name Jesus, the Christ, Alpha and Omega. Festive season of prayer.” By 1995, 14 more petroglyphs, both large and small, had been discovered between West Virginia and the Ohio River on either side of a natural ancient trail called Indian Ridge. All have been identified as Ogham, and are now under investigation. Celtic scholars who have visited the sites have declared the West Virginia petroglyphs are as important to Celtic history as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We may never know who carved these messages, but their existence provides important proof of an old claim. It was long believed that in the sixth century, Irish monks sailed to distant lands to spread the gospel, and a monk named Brendan wrote of his travels to North America in a book entitled ‘Navagatio Brendini’. But the lack of hard evidence allowed skeptics to call his story legend. In 1977, author Timothy Severin duplicated St Brendan’s voyage in a leather-covered curragh built to Brendan’s own specifications just to prove that it could be done. Yet, skeptics still argued that possibility and probability are not proof.
Today, the West Virginia petroglyphs stand as irrefutable evidence for all to see – religious messages, left on America’s shores between 500 and 800 AD. The dates coincide with the dates that Irish missionary monks traveled the world spreading the Christian message, the messages match those which were spread through the zeal of those missionaries, and the Irish were the only ones using Ogham at that time. The inescapable conclusion is that the messages were left by Irish Christian missionaries. And each year, on the winter solstice, the rising sun places a fresh stamp of authenticity on America’s first Christmas Cards.
Happy Christmas to all and until next time, remember: History is not just a thing of the past; together we can Keep the Tradition Alive!