Ua Conairche, Christian (Gilla-Críst) (d. 1186), Cistercian monk, bishop of Lismore, and papal legate, was born somewhere in Co. Kerry. He became a monk, perhaps in Bangor under Malachy (qv), who brought him to Rome on his first visit there in 1139/40. On his return journey, Malachy stayed for a time with Bernard, abbot of the great Cistercian monastery of Clairvaux, with whom he left some monks for training in French Cistercian observance, one of them perhaps being Christian. At any rate, Christian certainly was later appointed ‘father’ of all the Irish monks residing in continental Cistercian monasteries. When they had been professed, Christian and some Irish monks travelled home to Ireland, accompanied by a number of French monks sent by Bernard: together they constituted the seed-corn of the Irish Cistercian order. They founded their first house c.1142 at Mellifont, Co. Louth, over which Bernard informs us Christian was appointed first abbot, though precisely when and for how long is not recorded.
Christian was made bishop of Lismore c.1151. Later that year he was appointed permanent papal legate by his former confrère, the Cistercian pope Eugenius III, with whom he had spent part of his novitiate in Clairvaux. Christian accompanied Iohannes Cardinal Paparo (qv) to Ireland late in 1151, in his capacity as papal legate, and continued as permanent legate after Paparo's departure. It was Paparo's brief to convene a general synod of the Irish church and distribute the four archiepiscopal pallia to the four newly-created archdioceses of Armagh, Tuam, Cashel, and Dublin. In the surviving acts of the synod of Kells (1152), Christian is described as ‘bishop of Lismore and legate of the pope in Ireland’. He was present with other senior clergy at the consecration of the abbey church of Mellifont (1157), and presided over the synod of Brí meic Thaidc in the midlands (1158), mentioned in the Annals of Ulster, but of which nothing more is known. In 1162 he presided over ‘a synod of the clergy of Ireland’, and again in 1166 over a provincial synod at Lismore, at which twelve bishops of Munster and Leinster were present. Christian was instrumental in convening the second synod of Cashel, held in the winter of 1171/2. The first of its eight decrees relates to the prevalence of canonically incestuous marriages among the laity in Ireland, a practice that Pope Alexander II, in one of his letters, mentions that Christian had previously condemned in a letter to him.
It has been argued that Christian collaborated with King Henry II (qv) in the furtherance of the Norman conquest of Ireland. Whatever the truth of the matter, King Henry certainly visited him at his episcopal residence at Lismore in October 1171, and stayed with him two days. It is not in doubt that as ‘bishop of the pope in Ireland’ Christian, along with King Henry, summoned the synod of Cashel, at which most of the Irish lords, lay and ecclesiastical, swore fealty to Henry. Christian resigned all his offices c.1176 and retired to the monastic life at Abbeydorney, Co. Kerry. A letter from Henry Macilly (Henry Cardinal D'Albano), to Pope Alexander III, written in 1175/6, commended the bearer of the letter as the papal legate to replace Christian, who was ‘worn out by infirmity and having conceived a vow of quietude and retirement in old age’. Christian died in Abbeydorney in 1186 and was buried there.