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- Notes on the Life of Saint Brendan
Thursday, 3 June 2021
Wednesday, 26 May 2021
May 26 is the commemoration of Saint Colman Steallan, a saint of the monastery of Terryglass, County Tipperary. This foundation produced a number of notable holy men including Saint Colum, one of the '12 Apostles of Ireland' and Maeldithruib the anchorite. The manner in which the name of today's saint has been recorded in the calendars has given rise to some confusion, not helped by the fact that Colman, Colum, Columb, Colm, Columba are all different ways of transliterating the same name. In the case of today's saint, some of the later calendars talk of the feast of Steallan, as if we are dealing with two separate people. The latest authoritative guide to the saints of Ireland, Pádraig Ó Riain's A Dictionary of Irish Saints (2011), accepts Colmán Stiallán as one individual and suggests that the epithet Stiallán attached
to the name of this particular Colman may perhaps be translated as 'the
little strip'. Canon O'Hanlon records this of the little strip of
Terryglass, in Volume V of his Lives of the Irish Saints:
St. Colman Steallan, of Terryglass, County of Tipperary [Sixth and Seventh Centuries.]
At the 26th of May, we find inserted, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, the name of Colman Stellain, Tirdoghlass, now Terryglass, as having been venerated. The Bollandists also follow this statement, and have some references to Colgan's work, where allusions are made to our saint. The present holy man is placed in order of succession, after the Abbot Natchoemius or Mochoeminus—said to have been brother to St. Coemgenus, and who died, A.D. 584. The festival in honour of Steallan—as simply entered—of Tir-dá-glas, was celebrated on this day, as we read in the Martyrology of Donegal. In the table, postfixed to this work, we find his name Latinized Stellanus. It would seem, that this record, as published, distinguishes a St. Colman from the present St. Stellan, for there appears a separate entry of both these names. Marianus O'Gorman follows the Martyrology of Tallagh, in uniting both names, apparently for one person, who was venerated on this day, at Terryglass, on the eastern border of Lough Dearg. Other writers—such as Archbishop Ussher and our annalists—call him by the name of Colmanus Stellanus. However, there can hardly be any doubt, that this latter must be the proper entry, for in the "Annals of the Four Masters," we read, that St. Colman Stellan of Tir-da-ghlas, died on the 26th of May, A.D. 624. With this agrees, likewise, the entry of his departure, in the "Chronicum Scotorum." Other accounts place his death at 625; while Archbishop Ussher has it so late as 634. The festival of Stellan was observed on the 25th of May, as we find it in the "Feilire" of St. Aengus; and, appended to this notice is an Irish comment, in that copy, contained in the "Leabhar Breac," which is followed by a Latin one, giving the series of Abbots, for Tir-da-glas and Cluain eidnech. It seems doubtful, notwithstanding, whether Colman should be separated from Stellan; but, many writers regard them as one and the same person.
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Thursday, 20 May 2021
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Sunday, 16 May 2021
May 16 is the feast of one of the most famous of the Irish saints, Brendan the Navigator. The account of his voyaging was one of the most popular works of the Middle Ages and survives in over one hundred and twenty manuscripts written in a variety of European languages. In the 1905 account below we see why the Navigatio Brendani appealed so powerfully to the medieval imagination. Here Saint Brendan is portrayed as 'an Odysseus of the Irish Church' who, like the Classical hero, visits a number of island locations and encounters all manner of strange natural phenomena and bizarre creatures. As a Christian hero, however, there are distinctly Christian themes to be found in the Brendan voyage - paradise and hell, Judas and of course the great fish which recalls the biblical story of Jonah and the whale:
An Odysseus of the Irish Church
It must always remain a matter of surprise that the Brendan legend, with its picturesque details, has not taken a more definite place in English literature. For it has about it the same flavour of romance and daring adventure upon the high seas which lends so deep a fascination to the stories of Elizabeth's great captains. Wrapped in grey wings of mystery, the figure of the Saint broods amongst the ocean mists of the long past, where, seen momently through rifts, his stature seems more than that of mortal man, and his hardy deeds crowned with a charm of blessings. There are many versions of his wanderings, in part sprung from the germs of truth, in part, no doubt, overlaid by the imaginations of the monks, who, poring over Holy Writ and Homeric enterprise, clothed "melodious Brendan" with borrowed attributes, dreamed him into Ionian perils, failed his sails with adventurous winds, such as would bear him into the wonders of the world's morning. That the monastic mind dwelt upon his history and delighted in it seems to be proved, for there is an ancient French legend of his doings which runs to two thousand verses, and a German poem has seventeen hundred and fifty-two. Little can be given of the life of this strenuous Saint in a short contribution like the present, but those who feel inclined to learn more of him will find a good guide in the "Brendaniana" of the Rev. D. O'Donoghue (Dublin: Browne and Nolan).
St. Brendan was born in Altraighe, Tralee. He was of Royal lineage. Miracles attended his birth, before which event his mother dreamed that her bosom was full of gold and her breasts white like snow. She told her vision to Bishop Erc (the earliest Bishop of Kerry, the "sweet-spoken Brehon" of St. Patrick), and he answered her: "There shall be born of thee a child of power, who will be full of the grace of the Holy Ghost." When a year old the child was carried by Bishop Erc to his foster-mother, St. Ita. Of this time it is quaintly written:
"Angels in the guise of fair virgins
Were fostering Brendan,
From one hand to another,
Without much hurt to the babe."
Over and over again Brendan's character —strong, impetuous, and passionate — led him to acts that issued in heavy penances. The first recorded of these savours of a very human boy. When about ten he went driving with the Bishop, who, going away to preach, left Brendan reading psalms in the carriage. "Then a young maiden, gentle, modest, of a princely family, drew nigh to the carriage: and she looked at him and saw his face was beautiful and bright." Taken with his beauty, she wished to play with him, and made "a sportive bound" into the carriage. Brendan resented her advances, and tried to drive her away with angry words. "Go away home," he cried, "and have illwill to whoever left you here!" Thereupon he seized the reins and lashed her soundly, until she ran away crying and complaining to the King and Queen, her father and mother. For this piece of boyish intolerance he was condemned to do penance by remaining alone in a cave. In his devotions he sings:
"The sound of the voice of melodious Brendan
In the cave near Fenit,
A thousand paces on every hand,
His high fine voice was heard."
Perhaps this early solitude turned his heart to the love of remote and solitary places, where he recurrently secluded himself in later years. As he attained to manhood, we find him wandering, preaching, founding abbeys, travelling on foot, rowing over wild seas to outlying islands, fasting on Inishglora or another of his beloved "deserts of the sea," singing masses to the accompaniment of storm-music; and all the while we feel that the heart of the born rover, the pioneer, the wanderer, beat under his monk's habit of rough woven stuff. Finally, his stern eyes turned to the unsailed ocean of the West: he could no longer restrain himself from going forth upon those long voyagings whither his intrepid fancy had preceded him. Two reasons are given for his taking ship on this perilous quest — one, his desire to save souls; another, that he was driven to go as a punishment. For Brendan, having read a book — presumably of travels — very strange and incredible, waxed indignant at such extravagances, and threw the book into the fire, Therefore God, to punish him for his incredulity, commanded him to forsake his country and parents, and traverse the wide ocean for seven years, that he might see "with his own eyes those wonders, and greater than those wonders, he deemed so unworthy of his belief."
Thus began the wanderings of the Irish Odysseus, the earliest of all those brave spirits who fell under the spell of "the magic of the sea," whose longings drew them through innumerable hardships to tempt the flood that lips the setting sun. Brendan and his disciple made light vessels with wicker sides and ribs, covered with cowhide, much like the curraghs in use to this day upon the islands off the West Coast of Ireland ; and in these frail craft adventured out upon the vast of waters, knowing of no shore to steer for, no port of refuge within the breathless distances of the horizons: —
"Then," to quote from a translation of the Latin version, "Brendan, son of Finlugh, sailed over the loud-voiced waves of the rough-crested sea, and over the billows of the greenish tide, and over the abysses of the wonderful, relentless ocean, where they paw in the depths the red-mouthed monsters of the sea and many great whales. They were thus for the space of five years upon the ocean, so wonderful, so strange, and utterly unknown to them; and during all that time no man chanced to meet them, and not one of all the crews suffered any want, nor did any injury befall either body or soul of' any one. And this was a wonder indeed, for Brendan had not allowed them to bring any provisions with them, but he told them that God would provide food for them wherever they might be, just as He fed the five thousand with the five loaves and fishes."
It is obviously impossible to do more than touch upon the fringe of the web of miracles, incidents, and dangers that has woven itself round these voyagings. There is a chord in almost every heart that vibrates when the keynote of romance is struck. It is then small wonder that the deeds of Brendan, the greatly daring, the man of unquailing faith, should echo and re-echo, amplified and glorified, through the centuries. Early in their wanderings, he with his companions came, "by the purveyance of God," to a full, fair island, filled with green pasture, wherein were the whitest and greatest sheep that ever they saw, for every sheep was as great as an ox. "There they took comfort for a short time, and were told to sail again until they reached a place, like Paradise, where they should keep their Eastertide." This prophecy being fulfilled, they landed upon the island, "weening to" them they had been safe, and made thereon a fire for to dress their dinner, but St. Brendan abode still in the ship. And when the fire was right hot and the meat nigh soden, then this island began to move; whereon the monks were afraid, and fled anon to the ship, and left the fire and meat behind them, and marvelled sore at the moving. And St. Brendan comforted them, and said it was a great fish named Jasconye, which laboureth day and night to put his tail in his mouth, but for greatness he may not."
Thus they kept not only that Eastertide, but subsequent ones, on the back of the "whale," as the fish is elsewhere called, this miracle recurring every Easter for the keeping of tho feast. That familiarity taught its usual lesson to tho monks may be gathered from some words of the Saint uttered at a later date. They had come to a region where the sea was calm and pellucid, and through the clear water they could behold terrific sea-monsters gambolling far below in the depths. The brethren grew afraid at the sight, but Brendan reminded them of their safety on the back of the whale, where they not only lighted fires, but even cut off pieces of the creature's flesh, which they dressed and ate. Thereupon the Saint sang Mass in a loud and strong voice, and the charmed monsters swam up to hear and circled round the boat, but at a distance. The next discovery was the Island of Birds — "their number was so great and they sang so merrily that it was an heavenly noise to hear." Upon the prayer of the Saint to know what these birds meant one of them is permitted to speak: "Sometime we were angels in heaven, but when our master, Lucifer, fell down into hell we fell with him for our offences, some hither, some lower, after the quality of their trespass: and because our trespass was but little, therefore our Lord has set us here out of all pain ... to serve Him in the best manner that we can." Other islands they touched at, each having its own marvel. One was a home of demons where a monk landing was for some old sin snatched away and cried woefully that he could by no means return. Another is described as black and treeless, smoky and covered with smiths' forges. We may surely read in a volcanic island here, and an iceberg as the underlying fact of a mighty column of clear crystal reaching into the sky, with a canopy about it of gold and silver. On a certain Sabbath they descried upon a low rock a man so cruelly drenched and buffeted by the waves that Brendan cried out in pity of him. But the man answered that he was Judas, who by the mercy of God was allowed on Sabbath days and during the period of certain feasts of the Church to sit upon that rock as an assuagement of the pangs which he endured in hell. But the island St. Brendan called after his own name is perhaps the most interesting of all. It was mountainous and lapped by seas of changeless summer. In maps of the time of Columbus it is found two hundred leagues west of the Canaries. But none have ever landed on St. Brendan's Isle since his own day. It has been seen, so tradition has it, in serene and clear weather, a mirage upon the horizon, but it has ever remained unapproachable and unattainable. Those who ventured near its shores were driven by furious tempests far from it. An old Spanish chronicle graphically says of it, "which cannot be found when sought for.'' From time to time many expeditions were fitted out to search for it, one so late as in the year 1721.
Brendan passed in safety through his Odyssey of wanderings. He lived, alas! to lay his curse on Royal Tara. The old annals of Clonmacnoise tell the tale. The last King Diarmait had long been a friend of the Saint, but having seized a certain chieftain for the crime of slaying a Royal herald, he refused, in spite of the entreaties of St. Brendan and the Church, to give up his prisoner, who suffered the death-penalty. Whereupon Brendan prayed that "no King or Queen could or would ever dwell in Tara, that it should be waste for ever without Court or Palace, and so it fell out accordingly." Like the glories of Tara, the Saint and his voyagings are dipped within the haze of time; we catch but glimpses of the truth. It is better so, better that the accurate end of Brendan's long sea-pilgrimages be lost, for as in a picture which inspires us with yearnings to know all that lies just beyond the last touches of the artist's brush — what dream-country that, winding road leads to: how look the folk who tread the streets of that now-gone white-turreted city: what unimaginable happenings lie waiting for us could we but pass into the green gloom of that woodland— so it should be with these old-world voyagings. It is fitter we should never know the name of the ultimate beaches that welcomed the Saint's weary rovers from the sea.—
Hesketh Prichard, in the Spectator.
Permanent link to this itemhttps://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19030919.2.94
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Friday, 30 April 2021
Today marks the bi-centenary of the birth of John, Canon O'Hanlon whose monumental Lives of the Irish Saints provided the original inspiration for this blog. Over the years I have developed not only a profound respect for his work but also a deep affection for the man himself. I marvel at how he was able to undertake such detailed research into the Irish saints while exercising the duties of a parish priest and producing volumes of history and poetry as well. The tribute below, published in the Irish Monthly shortly after O'Hanlon's death in May 1905, pays a handsome tribute to his literary output. I can only concur though with the writer's observation that he would have sacrificed the re-publication of the Irish Amercian History in order to secure the publication of the remaining volumes of the Lives of the Irish Saints. For sadly, the Lives for the last three months of the year were still in manuscript form at their author's death and there they have remained. But on the occasion of the bi-centenary of his birth I salute Canon O'Hanlon for all that he achieved and hope he enjoys eternal rest among the saints of Ireland whose memories he did so much to recover and preserve.
Canon O'Hanlon deserves pre-eminently the title which Dr Russell of Maynooth gave to Dr Matthew Kelly, calling him (in the inscription on certain statues of Irish Saints, presented by him to the College) sanctorum indigetum cliens devotissimus. He was born at Stradbally, in Queen's County, in 1821...When seventeen years of age, he emigrated to America. In his twenty-sixth year he was ordained priest by the Archbishop of St Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick. After doing priestly duty at St Louis for seven years, his health failed, and he was obliged to return to his native country. Cardinal Cullen appointed him to a curacy in the parish of SS. Michael and John's, Dublin; and there he remained till he was made parish priest of Irishtown - now after his death divided into two parishes, Ringsend and Sandymount.
It is on record that Dr Walsh, the present Archbishop of Dublin, often served Father C.P. Meehan's Mass as a boy, and no doubt he did the same of Father Meehan's fellow-curate. One of Dr Walsh's first acts as Archbishop was to name Father O'Hanlon to a canonry in the Cathedral Chapter. Canon O'Hanlon spent the rest of his life beside his beautiful church of St Mary Star of the Sea. We remember how pleased he was when we told him that the author of the favourite hymn, "Hail, Queen of Heaven", in which that title is given to our Blessed Lady, was Dr Lingard the great historian. As a priest and as a man, he was full of zeal and kindness; and he was indefatigable in the discharge of all his priestly duties.
But he was indefatigable also in the one department of literature to which he was wise enough to devote himself almost exclusively. He had indeed tried his prentice hand on other subjects at the beginning of his career, publishing in 1849 at Boston, An Abridgment of the History of Ireland through Patrick Donahoe, founder of the Pilot and Donahoe's Magazine, both of them carried on still on a finer scale and with greater success than in the time of the founder. In 1851 he published The Irish Emigrant's Guide to the United States. Would that more of those emigrants would imitate his example and return to do good work in their native land.
His real work, however, as a writer began after his return to Ireland. In 1855 he published the life of St Laurence O'Toole, which was followed by Lives of St Malachy O'Morgair, St Dymphna and St Aengus the Culdee. These were the preliminaries to his colossal enterprise, The Lives of the Irish Saints, for which he had been collecting materials for twenty years before he issued his prospectus. This work was issued in parts containing sixty-four pages, illustrated with pictures of ancient Irish Churches, etc; and these were gathered into very fine royal octavo volumes of between 600 and 1000 pages each. In spite of great difficulties he persevered to the end, issuing the November volume last year; and it is understood that the materials for the December volume are ready for the press. It is a pity that the good Canon had not realised even more fully that reward of the faithful confessor complevit labores illius, by issuing the concluding volume of his opus magnum. To secure that completion we could have spared his excellent Irish American History of the United States, which at the age of seventy-seven he had the courage to write out again after it had been burned in the fire that destroyed the printing works of Messrs. Sealy, Byers and Walker, in 1898. It was published two years ago.
The holy and amiable old man died peacefully and happily on May 15th, 1905, Feast of St. Dympna, one of 3,500 Irish saints of whom he was the historian. May he rest in peace.
The Irish Monthly Vol. 33, No. 385 (Jul., 1905), pp. 361-363.
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Saturday, 10 April 2021
April 10 is the feast of Saint Paternus of Paderborn, one of many Irish or reputedly Irish holy men who left this country for continental Europe. I say reputedly as many of the claims of Irish links for saints such as Rupert and Arbogast cannot be substantiated although with Columbanus, Fiacre, Virgil etc. we are on firmer ground. Their legacy was a source of pride to Irish writers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and below is an extract from an article on this theme by Magdalen Rock, syndicated from the Catholic Herald by the New Zealand press in 1923. Magdalen Rock was a pseudonym of County Tyrone schoolteacher Ellen Beck (1858-1924). She was a prolific contributor to the religious press of her day and I am pleased to preserve both her own memory and her legacy of writings on the Irish saints here at the blog.
Faithful Irish Exiles
Pioneers of the Faith in Many Lands
(By Magdalen Rock, in the Catholic Herald.)
Saint Patrick came to Ireland in 432, and in the next century Columba, led by remorse or by the missionary spirit that to the present seems characteristic of the Irish race, left his own loved land to found the famous monastery of Iona, from which Scotland and Northern England were brought and re-converted to the knowledge of the true God. Irish bishops governed the See of Lindisfarne; an Irish monk founded old Melrose; Adamnan, the biographer of Columba, is among the best Latin writers of the Middle Ages.
Towards the close of the same century, Columbanus departed from Bangor, with twelve companions, to found Luxeuil and Bobbio; the memory of Saint Gall survives in Switzerland, where a canton bears the name of one of the most earnest of Columbanus’s disciples. Saint Frigidan was Bishop of Lucca for twenty-eight years of work and miracles; Livinus died a martyr in Flanders in 633; Saint Fiacre, who flourished about the same time, founded a monastery near Meaux, in France; Saint Fursey, whose visions gave Dante inspiration, died venerated by all in 648, after founding a monastery in East Anglia, and a more enduring one at Lagny, near which Saints Folian, Gobban, and Dicuil died in the odor of sanctity.
Irish Saints and Scholars.
Saint Arbogast was Bishop of Strasburg in 646, and another Irish saint, Cathaldus, ruled in far-distant Taranto; Fridolin the Traveller founded monasteries in France and in the islands of the Rhine; Saint Virgilius, whose scientific opinions startled the world, was Bishop of Saltzburg in 785, and another, Dicuil the Geographer—flourished about the same period, and is said to have visited Iceland.
Saints Donatus and Andrew are the pride of Fiesole, as Saint Rupert and Marianus Scotus are of Ratisbon; Clemens and Albinus delighted the scholars of the court of the great Charlemagne, while the wonderful learning and eccentric genius of John Scotus Erigena, who combined scholastic and mystical theology, drew on him praise and blame.
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Saturday, 27 March 2021
March 27 is the feast of an important saint from the Germanic world, Rupert of Salzburg. He is one of the saints referenced below in a paper from 1900 on 'Erin's Saints and Monks in Germany'. I reprint this with the caveat that one has to be careful in claiming Irish antecedents for continental European saints. Although there are many Irish saints whose careers in Europe are well-documented, Columbanus, Gall and Virgil, to use some examples from this text, there was also a fashion among European monasteries in the middle ages to claim Irish founders. Seventeenth-century martyrologists working in exile on the continent were only too keen to talk up Ireland's European links and nineteenth-century Irish writers only too happy to accept such claims at face value. The ever-sceptical Father John Lanigan (d.1825), however dismissed claims that Saint Rupert and his relatives should be numbered among the Irish saints, a verdict which modern historians would uphold. That said, this paper is still an enjoyable read, particularly the address made to Daniel O'Connell in 1844 from the heads of the German Universities, acknowledging their country's debt to Ireland:
By M.R. Taylor.
“Let us now praise men of renown and our fathers in their generation."— Eccl xliv: i.
"From the Queen Island of the West,
As from a source of light,
Went forth the Gospel messengers
That chased the old world's night.
Nay, God's good Providence decreed
That o'er the world's wide face.
Her exiles still should sow Faith's seed,
An apostolic race."
IN April, 1844, the immortal Daniel O'Connell received from the distinguished heads of German Universities an address of sympathy, in which Germany's debt to ancient Ireland is acknowledged in the following graceful language: "We entertain towards the ill-treated people of your beloved isle the deepest and sincerest sympathy. A land sighing under the yoke of bondage, a land red with the blood of martyred patriots, necessarily enlists the pity of men not yet dead to human instincts. Indifference to misfortune of this sort would argue total loss of nature's finer feelings. Want of sympathy in the present crisis would besides render us guilty of another and a deeper crime — that of the blackest ingratitude. We can never forget that your fond country is our mother in the Faith. From the remotest period of the Christian era she commiserated our people. To rescue our pagan ancestors from idolatry and secure to them the blessings of the true Faith she generously sent forth her heroic sons, sacrificing her own wealth and her children's blood. Along with a rich store of merit for the people of Ireland, Catholicity in Germany is the result of their labors, and we can never, but by the basest kind of indifference, lose memory of the fact. When we behold the native land of these faithful apostles delivered over to undeserved misfortune, the fact rises all the more vividly to our mind.”
This affectionate expression of gratitude to Erin, voiced by the learned men of Germany, must make every true Irish heart throb with new emotions of pleasure. Faith and civilization are of a truth God's highest gifts to man. Hence the propriety of forever holding sacred the memory of such holy missionaries as heralded the advent of these heavenly blessings among a people. The Church has already raised the greater number of them to her altars, to receive, as saints, the homage and veneration due their heroic lives of virtue, self-sacrifice and Godlike love.
When St. Patrick preached to her roving inhabitants the truths of salvation, imparting to them belief in the Triune God, Erin saw the dawn of her golden age, and for centuries after she was great and glorious among the nations of the world. Schools and monasteries arose, towns and cities were built. Universities attracted the flower of Europe's youth, who, like St Fulgentius,
“Exemplo patrum, commotus amore legendi
Ivit ad Hibernos, sophia mirabile claros"
"What way in search of lore his fathers went,
To Erin, wisdom's shrine, his steps he bent."
That was a period of peace and prosperity, when liberty stamped the golden harp upon the emerald banner, an age of fervent simplicity, alive in the one true Faith upon which the happiness of heart and mind centred.
In this golden age Ireland stretched a merciful hand across the wide waters, sent her sons to distant lands to lavish upon others the abundant blessings she enjoyed, to bring to tribes submerged in barbarism the light of salvation, true religion allied with civilization.
Strange, too, that in those portions of Germany where Irish saints planted the tree of Christianity it has neither withered nor died, while in other parts it has bent, broken and fallen, and only scattered fragments suggest its early existence. There are indeed few lands as thoroughly Catholic as little Bavaria, once St. Rupert's spiritual field; as Tyrol, in whose towering mountains a St. Virgil (Feargal) scattered the seed of religion; as Southern Baden, or beyond the lake in northern Switzerland, where a St. Fintan, a St. Gall, a St. Fridolin, brought heaven's grace to the Teutonic tribe inhabiting the region.
St Columban is rightly termed "The Father of Ireland's Foreign Missions." Born in 539, he was reared a monk, and learning the science of true asceticism became the lawgiver of a host of spiritual disciples.
He set out in 589 for the continent, selecting for himself twelve companions. The fact that Irish apostles invariably chose that number of disciples is another proof, that in every particular they followed the example of the God-Man, who with twelve followers began the world's christianization.
Northern Europe was then sitting in the "shadow of death;" in Italy and France, from the Alps to the Baltic, paganism reigned supreme.
Landing in France, they founded the monasteries at Aurgray and Luxeuil, piously aided by Sigebert, King of Austrasia and Burgundy. But their stay here was of short duration. Theodoric, Sigebert' s successor, ordered their expulsion from his dominions. They travelled to Germany and settled in a place called Tucconia, near Lake Turicin, now known as Zurich, in Switzerland.
The great apostle was not alone in his misfortune. Devoted followers shared his exile, and foremost among them was the zealous St. Gall. He was the son of parents possessing a goodly store of blessings spiritual and temporal, and as conspicuous for piety and charity as for riches. To God, the giver of all good things, who had manifested so many unmistakable signs of favor towards them, they offered Gall in the days of his infancy and sent him at an early age to the monastery of Bangor to be educated under the tutelage of the holy Abbots Comgal and Columban. Within this hallowed abode sacred learning flourished, and Gall made rapid progress in the study of Holy Scripture, the liberal arts and in the observance of regular discipline.
Abandoning his native land, he shared St. Columban's apostolic labors and trials.
Together they reached Tucconia, where St. Gall set fire to a pagan temple and caused the offerings to be thrown into a neighboring lake. The idolaters, exasperated at this conduct, resolved to put the missionary to death, but he had the good fortune to escape from their hands with St. Columban. Reaching the castle of Arbona, situated on a river of that name which flows into Lake Constance, both were hospitably detained seven days by a holy priest, Willimar. During this time plans were discussed for a place of retreat in the interior.
They learned from their host of an old building called Bregantium in Rhaetia, later known as Bregent in the country of the Grisons, and thither they journeyed.
St. Gall preached the Gospel to the inhabitants of the canton, converting many. Those who remained obdurate persecuted the monks and slew two of their number. Gunzo, governor of the country, declared himself their enemy and Theodoric, by the death of Theodebert, becoming master of Austrasia, St. Columban was forced to abandon his undertakings in this territory and seek refuge in Italy.
Gall determined to go with him, but a serious fever prevented his departure and forced a separation. St. Columban left for Italy and Gall returned to Willimar, with whom he remained until his complete recovery. The desire of leading a solitary life induced him to return to the desert. Here he built cells which were the foundation of the famous abbey bearing his name. Becoming acquainted with the language of the natives, St. Gall made so many converts among the idolaters that he may he justly regarded the “Apostle of the Alemanni”. A beautiful daughter of Gunzo, the governor, possessed by a devil, was delivered by the saint and acting on his advice, consecrated her virginity to God, in the monastery of St. Peter at Metz.
At the time of this miracle the Bishopric of Constance was vacant. Constance bears the distinction of being one of the most ancient cities of Germany, and its splendid cathedral is a model of medieval architecture. In 1417 a council assembled in this venerable town to settle a dispute as to the lawful successor of St. Peter.
Gunzo wrote to our hermit begging his assistance at a synod, held for the purpose of electing a prelate for the aforesaid Bishopric. The duke, bishops, clergy and people, earnestly desired to put the saint in this exalted position. He repaired thither at their urgent request, attended by a deacon named John, who for three years had been his disciple. St. Gall refused the honor and desired the clergy and people to make John, his companion and a descendant of a royal family of Ireland, their bishop, and his election followed. At the consecration St. Gall delivered the sermon, considered a model of ancient Irish oratory. On October 16, 646, St. Gall departed this life at the age of ninety-five.
The abbey known by his name changed the rule of St. Columban for that of St. Benedict in the eighth century. It was enriched by the liberality of Charles Martel, Louis Debonnaire and Louis the Large. The estates and civil jurisdiction possessed by the monastery became so considerable that Henry I. raised it to a principality of the empire. Its domain was curtailed during the civil wars, waged by the Calvinists. The town of St. Gall, by embracing the religion of the insurgents, deprived the abbot of what rights he before enjoyed. These were the rank of prince, the right of suffrage in the general Diet, an extensive jurisdiction and an annual income of one hundred thousand ducats. He had, besides, a mint, and when the Helvetic Diet required auxiliaries, could raise an army of twelve thousand men.
St. Gall's Abbey, one of the most striking of the primitive foundations, is famous for the galaxy of learned men it produced, and for its library, which abounded in valuable manuscripts and printed books. A great number of these, however, were stolen and lost in the civil wars.
Of the writings of St. Gall extant we have the sermon before mentioned; a discourse upon Church Government, and a Psalter, of which Joachim Vadiamus speaks in his treatise on colleges and monasteries. To-day this abbey is almost a ruin. Like Ireland, the holy house had its age of blessings and prosperity when its influence was felt from sea to sea.
The monasteries founded by the monks of St. Gall's were numerous and distinguished, notably Richeman, on a little island in Lake Constance, which like the first institution, was one of the most influential abbeys of the Empire. It, too, has fallen into decay. A portion of the abbey is reserved for the residence of the Bishop, who administers the affairs of the still flourishing see of St. Gall's.
As the apostle of Bavaria and German Austria, the Church venerates St. Rupert, also called Rudbert or Robert. Irish historians declare him their countryman, though the French deny this claim. However, the deepest research rather favors the former.
Son of the Hy-king of Hibernia, he was born in the year 537 and baptized by a nephew of St. Patrick. Early in life he dedicated himself to the service of religion, making a compact with his brother Trudbertus and sister Erentrude to forsake home and labor for souls in a pagan land. They reached Rome by way of the Alps. While in the Eternal City, Rupert was enlightened by the Holy Spirit to make that portion of Europe later known as Germany the scene of his labors. Trudbertus separated from his companions, proceeding to the territory of the Rauraci. Rupert with Erentrude finally arrived at Worms, celebrated in the civil and ecclesiastical vicissitudes of central Europe.
Childebert, son of Sigebert, was king of Austrasia, one of the three divisions of "Greater Gaul." He bade Rupert welcome, and he straightway set to work. Numbers, hearing of his miracles and teachings, came to receive instruction and baptism at his hands.
So filled with admiration for the saint were princes and people that Rupert was, shortly after his arrival, elevated to the dignity of Bishop of Worms. The rebukes of the prelate provoking the hatred of a tyrant, named Borcharius, a deputy governor of the province, he was assailed by the vilest calumnies and ultimately driven from his Bishopric in 580.
Worms, in the Middle Ages, was glorious as a residence of Charlemagne, who called Irish monks to construct its venerable cathedral, as well as that of Aix la-Chapelle. The famous round towers awaken pleasant recollections of similar architectural adornment in Ireland. " Salvete Turres " we may say today; but alas! Catholic voices and prayers have ceased within. Worms expelled the Irish saint, her faith fell a victim to the Reformation and the city is now Protestant.
For many months the meek and holy Rupert lingered near the confines of Austrasia, hoping his persecutors would relent, but in vain. Then the prelate returned to Rome. Again he was admonished to select Germany as the field of his endeavors, and obedient to the Heaven-sent command, departed in 582 for Bavaria.
At this time Theodore the Elder was duke of that district. Although a pagan, through the influence of his wife Regintrude, a fervent Christian, his heart was favorably disposed to receive the counsels of the zealous Rupert, and he summoned him to Ratisbon. The saint was welcomed with all possible marks of honor, and invited to preach the truths of the Gospel to the people. The old Roman city of Reginium, now called Ratisbon, was then the capital, and thither the Bishop journeyed to appear before the ducal court. Theodore and his courtiers acted as escort and the saint's entry was a signal triumph.
The inhabitants of Bavaria had previously received the tenets of Christianity from St. Severin ; but had entirely fallen away from his teachings. The work of evangelizing had therefore to be begun anew. Rupert turned his first attention to the ruling classes. Within a brief period his eloquence, learning and versatile genius so captivated the hearts of the nobles, that they straightway determined to embrace the religion taught by the wonderful Irish missionary.
The baptism of Duke Theodore and his court was attended with the greatest impressiveness and splendor. He became the prelate's most enthusiastic co- operator, accompanying him on his visits to the villages, town and castles of the nobles, and, at the solicitation of the prince, Rupert traversed the whole extent of his dominions, paganism fleeing at his approach.
Ratisbon claims St. Rupert as its first bishop. There he commenced his apostolic labors in Southern Germany, and for nearly forty years his work was an uninterrupted success. This city, retaining much of its medieval character, is pleasantly situated on the right bank of the Danube, while the first hill of the Bohemian forest almost touches its gate. German Emperors, in the Middle Ages, made it their residence and it became a centre of learning and religion, as well as of political and commercial influence. The magnificent cathedral, a counterpart of Cologne's famous cathedral, was begun in the thirteenth century, the present illustrious Bishop accomplishing the work of its completion. It is dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles, but a beautiful Gothic altar is consecrated to St. Rupert, and his statue surmounts the smaller tower. No city of the continent is richer than Ratisbon in monuments of the Irish saints and monks. One of the parish churches contains the tomb and relics of St. Mercherdach, who came from Erin in 1040, with twelve companions. Blessed Marianus founded a renowned monastery, under the Rule of St. Benedict, exclusively tor Irish monks. To-day its life is extinguished, though the buildings and handsome church remain. This abbey is usually known among the natives as the Scots' church. That it was an Irish institution, as were other grand establishments at Vienna, Wurzburg, etc. , no historian doubts. The ancient Irish were called Scots. Witness the following couplet:
"Phoenio Phoenius adbhearta brighgan dochta.
Gavidhel o Gavidhal-glas ganta, Scuit o Scota”
'Beyond question we are called Phaenians from Phaenius,
Gadelians from Gadelglas, and Scots from Scota. '
In the British Museum there is an ancient German manuscript, dating probably from the eleventh century, which describes in a quaint way, the ecclesiastical foundation in Ratisbon, by pious men from Hibernia:
“Darnach ze Kurtzer zeit geschach,
Daz man trolich chomen sach,
Manich schar guter manne vil,
Als ich evch beshaiden wil.
Sie furen von yberina
In pilgreins weise dort und da,
Ze Rome wollten sie gahen
Und gutlichen da empfahen
Von gots genad pabstlichen segen."
“Soon afterwards it happened that many a band of good men came, joyful and glad, as I wish to relate. They came from Hibernia in pilgrims' garb on their way to Rome. They desired then to receive God's grace and the Pope's blessing." These were heartily welcomed in St. Rupert's city, and in 1120 the monastery and church of St. James were built. At this time Prince Connor, of Ireland, spared neither money nor labor to render the abbey worthy of his countrymen. Old chronicles say, “The erection of so spacious a cloister, of such remarkable workmanship, abounding in stately turrets, walls, pillars and vaults, so expeditiously constructed, must be wholly attributed to the immense sums of money appropriated for that pious purpose by the King of Ireland and by other nobles of the realm.”
St. James’ is still a stately monument of medieval Irish architecture. The massive interior columns are surmounted with capitals, carved to represent angels, birds, oak leaves, vines, and figures innumerable. The windows bear images of the principal Irish saints, Patrick, Columban, Bridget and Gertrude. The grand entrance has a cornice ornamented with the shamrock, or, as a German sculptor expresses it, "St. Patrick's leaf”. Letters of the Irish alphabet are chiseled in many stones of the edifice, on some also the cross. The same workmanship is displayed on the Irish church at Gocking, Bavaria; and the portal of St. Emerari's Abbey, in Ratisbon, dating from this period, reminds one of Cormac's Chapel, in Ireland.
Let us now return to St. Rupert and his labors.
A splendidly equipped vessel was placed at his disposal by Duke Theodore, and he with his missionary companions sailed down the Danube, preaching at every port. On this auspicious voyage
lower Pannonia was reached, and a wonderful harvest of souls reaped.
Later he founded a mission at Lauricum, now called Lorch, and the Alpine region of Carinthia was also blessed with the presence of the saint It was on this journey St. Rupert established the famous shrine of Our Blessed Lady at Alt Ottingen. It is to Southern Bavaria what Loretto is to Italy and Lourdes to France. Venerable with age, the chapel, once a pagan temple, contains the image which tradition says he brought with him. Perhaps it was the sacred Palladium conveyed from Ireland. Ireland's love for Mary is part of history, and many of her most beautiful titles, such as Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, Queen of Angels, had their origin in the loyal hearts of Erin. Even to the present Alt Ottingen has preserved its ancient glory. Thousands of pilgrims visit annually St. Rupert's Madonna, black yet beautiful," “Nigra sed formosa”.
The Duke desiring the Bishop to found a monastery in his kingdom, he again set out and passing the lake shore of the Waller-zee, entered Juvavia. A rude cross was planted on one of the slopes called Monchsberg, and a church was erected. The church in due time was consecrated under the invocation of St. Peter. On its completion the prelate sailed for the country of his birth. He visited Ireland's great centres of learning and from them chose twelve able scholars who returned with him to Germany. The monastery was built for them with all possible haste, and received its name from the rushing torrent of the Salz. Before many months a city began to grow about those hallowed walls, and Salzburg, under the administration of its first Bishop, St. Rupert, became populous and renowned. It is the present capital of Upper Austria, and is said to have the most beautiful situation in Europe. In grandeur or environment it stands unrivaled, and abounds in interesting recollections.
The holy Bishop built his sister Erentrude a convent at Nunberg, of which she became abbess. She died in the odor of sanctity and is venerated throughout Bavaria as a saint. Duke Theodore enriched the monastic church of Salzburg with donations of royal munificence, and it was through his intervention with the Holy See that Rupert was named its Bishop.
Our saint was miraculously warned of his approaching end and with prophetic lips foretold the day of his death. Clergy, religious and people heard the announcement with unfeigned sorrow. He appointed Vitalis his successor, and on the morning of Easter day asked for the Holy Viaticum. Recommending his monks to be faithful to their vows, bequeathing the welfare of his flock to God's Providence, his pure soul took its flight to the realm of eternity, March 27, 623, in his eighty-sixth year. He lived to see the entire Bavarian nation converted to the Faith, and ruled the Sees of Salzburg and Ratisbon for forty years.
The remains of St. Rupert were interred in the Abbey Church of St. Peter, where his tomb may still be seen. In the adjoining cemetery his rock-hewn cell is shown, enclosed within a little chapel. Monks of the Benedictine Order now occupy the abbey founded by St. Rupert. It is rich in manuscripts and literary treasures, its library comprising one hundred thousand volumes.
St. Rupert was more than a spiritual benefactor to Southern Germany. On the mountain sides, near Ratisbon, he planted vines, brought from the province of the Rhine, reopened the salt springs at Reichenhall, organized commerce on the Danube, commenced the working of gold and silver mines in the south, encouraged agriculture in the lowlands and on the Alps, and laid out the public highway at Noreja and the famous Kaernter road.
One of the most celebrated successors of St. Rupert was Virgil, a native of Ireland and a man distinguished for learning and virtue. His true name is Feargall. Adamnanus of the race of Conall Gulban, and house of O' Donnell, elected in 679 abbot of Hay, was his kinsman.
Animated with a desire of visiting the Holy Land and seeing the places described by his august relative, Virgil travelled in company with seven bishops to France. The need of reform and the abject state of Christianity in the kingdom induced him to remain among the Gauls, for a brief period at least. Childeric III. was titular king, with Pepin, the Short, major domo for the entire kingdom, at the advent of St. Virgil in Gaul. All writers are loud in their praise of Pepin's princely virtues. His zeal for religion and love of the Church were equalled only by his consummate wisdom and valor. This prince accorded to Virgil a most courteous reception, making him the recipient of his confidence and bestowing upon him the post of confessor. At the expiration of two years Virgil was sent by Pepin on a mission to Bavaria, bearing letters of recommendation to Duke Odilo, a friend and brother-in-law. Here he labored with unremitting zeal for the conversion of souls.
In this short sketch, I shall pass over the controversy between St. Boniface and St. Virgil. Able historians have freed the apostle of Germany from wicked imputations cast upon his character by Protestants and other enemies of the Church. Virgil certainly possessed a more thorough acquaintance with science. We ascribe to him the theory that "the earth is spherical, instead of flat, and we have our antipodes," a marvelous doctrine in that early age. It was nevertheless taught by this distinguished scholar, the fearless exponent of secular and religious tenets, and a living proof that Irish universities of the Middle Ages deserved their widespread reputation for learning.
On Pepin's recommendation, Virgil was named for the vacant See of Salzburg. Reluctant to accept the appointment, he for two years commissioned Dobba, a bishop whom he had brought from Ireland, to perform the episcopal functions, reserving for himself the office of preaching and instructing, until compelled by his colleagues to receive the episcopal consecration in 766.
Childeric the Third, surnamed the Stupid, after enjoying an empty title for nine years was deposed and consigned to St. Bertin's Abbey, where he became a monk in 752. Dying in 755, he ended the Merovingian line of kings. Pepin in 751 was unanimously chosen sovereign and crowned at Soissons by St. Boniface. This is the first instance of the use of royal anointing in France, and the practice was suggested by St. Virgil.
The Metropolitan rebuilt on a scale of magnificence the monastery of St. Peter, at Salzburg, and translated thither the body of St. Rupert. On his return from an apostolic journey to Carinthia he was seized with a slow fever, and, after a fervent preparation, cheerfully departed this life on November 27, 784. Many and great saints have governed the diocese of Salzburg, but none to whom the Church is so deeply indebted as to St. Virgil.
The city of Wurzburg, on the Main, one of the most distinctively ecclesiastical towns of medieval Europe, was for more than a thousand years the capital of an ecclesiastical principality, ruled over by eighty-two bishops who were princes of the empire, and exercised great influence in the affairs of Germany.
Its cathedral in the Domstrasse was erected on the spot where St. Kilian suffered martyrdom. He was the city's first bishop and an Irish missionary, apostle and patron of Franconia.
The annalists tell us little of the early life of Kilian. He was of noble descent, and, after years of study in a famous school, received Holy Orders. Entering the monastery of Iona, he subsequently sailed for France.
We next find him in the Irish monastery of Florentius, on the banks of the Moselle and later in Rome. Kilian made known to the Holy Father his desire to preach the Gospel in Germany.
The Sovereign Pontiff, joyfully acceding to his request, invested him with the episcopal dignity. He at the same time conferred full power for the prosecution of his work and commissioned him to proceed to Wurzburg in Franconia. From the outset his efforts were successful.
Gosbert, a learned prince, ducal throne of Wurzburg. Inviting Kilian to visit him, he became a docile candidate for baptism and the saint's devoted friend. Prior to his conversion he married Geliana, the wife of a deceased brother, and learning that the union was llicit, he determined to break down the barrier to eternal happiness.
From the moment Geliana learned of Gosbert's resolution, she sought a way to be revenged upon his holy preceptor. The Duke was suddenly summoned to war. Geliana decided to rid herself in her lord's absence of the interfering Bishop and his two companions. For this purpose she bribed two wretches to carry out the heinous project. But the vile conspiracy was made known to Kilian. It is related that in his sleep a venerable form appeared to him saying :
"Beloved Kilian, a little longer shalt thou labor, to then be victor with me."
Immediately the saint arose and calling his brethren addressed them:
“Let us watch and pray. In a little while the Lord will knock at the gate, Let us take heed lest we be found sleeping."
Before many hours, the assassins broke into the place, where the Bishop and his companions were kneeling, wrapt in prayer's ecstatic joys,
“Friends," he said, turning, to the miscreants, "what do you want? And yet you are only obeying commands, and must accomplish your work." These were his last words. With drawn swords the murderers rushed on their victims and soon had them weltering in their blood. A grave was hastily dug and the corpses, together with books and sacred vestments, cast in. The perpetrators of the horrible deed vainly imagined that the crime would remain forever hidden. They deceived themselves. The unholy deed was revealed to a pious virgin, inhabiting a cell near by, and she was often seen near the martyrs' graves. Geliana, fearing detection, had the remains of her victims removed and buried in a stable.
Gosbert returned, and seeking the Bishop made inquiries of her as to his whereabouts. She professed innocent ignorance. Soon, however, one of the assassins was seized with madness and made away with himself. The woman also became a raving maniac, dying in horrible agony.
Fifty years after the death of St. Kilian, in 689, Burchard, Bishop of Wurzburg, removed the relics of the murdered prelate and his two companions to the beautiful church he erected for their reception, and here their tombs may now be seen. The monastery of Wurzburg long continued to preserve its connection with Ireland.
Few shrines on the Continent have undergone so little change as that of St. Kilian. Save for the deepening shadows time has thrown around the old church, it remains as it was when the martyr was
laid in the Neue Minster, twelve hundred years ago.
* * *
St. Arbogast was a native of Ireland, according to the chronicles of that country, and was the son of a noble family. Traveling into Alsace, in 630, he led an anchorite's life in the Sacred Forest, the interpretation of the Teutonic name Heiligesforst. Charity sometimes induced him to leave his retreat, to instruct the. people in knowledge and fear of God. His conduct attracted the attention of King Dagobert II., who frequently invited the pious hermit to his court and secured his succession to St. Amand in the See of Strasburg, 646.
After Arbogast' s elevation to the episcopacy, he raised to life Dagobert' s son, killed by falling from a horse. Assisted by the liberality of his royal friend, the Bishop enriched the church of Strasburg with several large estates and Dagobert, filled with affection for the humble Metropolitan, bestowed upon his See the manor and town of Rufach, with an extensive domain situated on the River Alse or Elle, in conjunction with the royal palace of Isenburg.
St. Arbogast endowed several monasteries, the principal being Surburg and Shutterau. Having occupied the episcopal See for twelve years he died, according to Bosch, the Bollandist, in 678. In his will he ordered his body to be interred in the place of public execution, called Mount Michael, in imitation of his great model, Jesus Christ, who suffered outside the walls of Jerusalem. His wishes were respected and subsequently a monastery was founded over the spot and dedicated to his memory. The magnificent church of Strasburg was erected at no great distance. To St. Arbogast are ascribed a book of homilies and learned commentaries on the epistles of St. Paul.
Of St. Findan, another of those noble missionaries, we know only a few facts from his life, published in 795 by Melchior Goldastus. He was son to a Prince of Leinster, and when the Danes invaded Ireland, was made prisoner. Escaping in a miraculous manner, he went to Rome. From Rome he traveled to Germany, remaining in that country twenty-seven years. For years he lived as a hermit. Later on he became abbot of the monastery of Richnaw, erected by himself on a peninsula in the Rhine, where he died 827.
In the calendar of saints, a fact, remarkable in these latter days, may have been noted, viz. : the prominent part the sons of kings and scions of noble families played in the Christianization of Europe.
That Ireland furnished her quota to the service of Heaven's Sovereign is obvious. Another prince of blood royal, who labored in Germany, was St. Fridolin, sometimes known as “The Traveler." His father was one of the rulers of Ireland, but the glamor of the court failed to attract the youth and he dedicated his life to Christ in the solitude of the cloister.
Advancing years brought him the preferment of abbot. He resigned the honor and abandoned his native land to found monasteries in various portions of Burgundy, Austrasia and Helvetia. The Abbey of Sekingen, located on an isle in the Rhine, afterwards one of the four forest towns belonging to the house of Austria, was the culmination of his heroic achievements. Here he died venerable in God's service.
Fridolin flourished at the close of the seventh and commencement of the eighth century, and his memory has been preserved with veneration in many parts of the Continent. He was the titular patronof the Swiss canton of Glavis, whose inhabitants carried his picture on their coat of arms. He is clad in the Benedictine habit, though he was not of that order.
Albuin, an Irish monk, filled with zeal for the propagation of the faith, left his country in 742 and went to Thuringia, a portion of Upper Saxony, where the mildness of his preaching and persuasive eloquence, converted numbers of Gentiles to Catholicity. The Pope nominated him Bishop of Fritzlar, or rather Buraburgh. He is appropriately named the Apostle of the Thuringians.
When considering the lives of the founders of German monasteries, we observe that houses following the Rule of St. Columba gradually adopted that of the Father of Western Monasticism, St. Benedict. This supplantation may be accounted for by the fact, that the Rule of the Irish saint was rigid, allowing no concessions, no mitigations, while St. Benedict's was milder.
For centuries, and in many ways, Ireland has been glorious, but more resplendently does she shine by the reflected light of sanctity, which emblazons the names of numbers of her sons, upon the pages where are perpetuated the lives of Erin's saints. These, then, are some of the renowned men whom the Church and the world may well praise.
“Their bodies are buried in peace and their names liveth unto generation and generation." — Eccl. xliv: 14.
Messenger of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Volume 35, (1900), 604-618.
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