Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Saint Colum, September 2

The Martyrology of Donegal records the name of an otherwise obscure Irish holy man, Colum, Son of Blann, at September 2. Canon O'Hanlon can offer only the briefest of notices:

St. Colum, Son of Blann.

The name of Colum, son of Blann, is inserted, and he was venerated, at the 2nd of September, as recorded in the Martyrology of Donegal.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Saint Cuimmen of Drumsnat, September 1

September 1 is one of the feast days of Saint Cuimmen of Drumsnat, he seems to have a second commemoration at September 4. Canon O'Hanlon has this to say of the saint at September 1:

St. Cuimmen, Son of Cuanna, or Cuanach, probably Abbot of Druim-Snechta, now Drumsnat, County of Monaghan.

To us it seems very probable, that the present holy man was not distinct from a saint bearing the same appellation, and said to have been venerated on the 4th of this month,  at Drumsnat, County of Monaghan. The name of Cuimmen, son of Cuana, or Cuanach, occurs in the Martyrologies of Tallagh, of Marianus O'Gorman, and of Donegal, at the 1st of September. 

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Irish Bishops of Lindisfarne

As the very last day of August sees the feastday of the Irish bishop of Lindisfarne, Saint Aidan, here is an account of his life, and that of his immediate successors, by Archbishop John Healy.


ABOUT eight miles to the south of Berwick, opposite the Fenham Flats on the coast of Northumberland, is Lindisfarne or Holy Island. It was called Ynys Medcant by the native British tribes, and by our Irish Annalists the name was slightly varied to Inis-Medcoit, in which form we find it in Tighernach, and the Annals of Ulster. The island is about four miles long by two broad, and is separated from the mainland by a channel about two miles wide, which is dry at low water, and affords a passage over the sands for foot passengers and even vehicles. The soil is fertile, supporting not only sheep and cattle, but especially in the north western corner of the island, great quantities of rabbits. No trace of the primitive buildings raised by the Irish monks now remains ; but the stately arches and beautiful columns of the later Benedictine monastery still form a most interesting and picturesque group of ruins.

The island furnished an admirable site for a religious house. It was secluded, yet not inconveniently situated for holding the necessary intercourse with the mainland. Then as now, the soil and the fisheries were capable of maintaining a considerable population, if willing to labour with their own hands. The old monks, too, loved to contemplate the beauty of God in his works, and Lindisfarne can still show scenes both by land and sea of various and striking beauty. From the towers of Berwick to the cliffs of Bamborough the coast-line is crowned with fertile fields and smiling woodlands revealing many a spire and town, while seaward the eye stretches over the far-reaching ocean brightened with ships, and steamers, and fishing craft.

The monastery of Lindisfarne was an off-shoot of the great Columbian establishment of Iona, and in many respects these two institutions were strikingly alike. They were both island monasteries, both were founded by Irishmen, and mostly recruited from Ireland ; the work accomplished by both was very similar, and both were tenacious even to a fault of the discipline and traditions of their founders. As Iona was the nursery of the saints and scholars who evangelized the wild Pictish tribes of the Highlands of Scotland, so Lindisfarne was the home of those holy men who converted to Christianity the fierce Anglo-Saxon warriors of the vast kingdom of Northumbria. It is fortunate for us that Venerable Bede has left us a most interesting and authentic account of the labours of the four great Irishmen who were in succession Abbots and Bishops of Lindisfarne and Apostles of Northumbria. Mr. Skene too, in his excellent work on " Celtic Scotland," has done much to exhibit in a clear light the career of these holy and learned men, a short sketch of whose labours will, we hope, be acceptable to our readers.

The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria extended from the Forth to the Humber, thus including the Lothians in Scotland as well as the north-east of England. It consisted of two great provinces Deira, whose capital was York, and Bernicia, whose chief stronghold was the Royal Castle of Bamborough, built on a cliff overhanging the German Ocean, a few miles to the south of Lindisfarne, and directly opposite the small group known as the Fame Islands. The river Tees, rather than the Tyne, seems to have been the boundary line between these two provinces. The British kingdom of Cumbria or Strathclyde lay along the western border of Northumbria from the Clyde to the Derwent, but the boundary line varied with the valour and fortune of the rival princes on either side.

We hear of Angles first landing on the Northumbrian shores so early as the year A.D. 364, when they joined the Picts and Scots in their incursions on the Roman Province. After the final withdrawal of the Roman troops in 409 they appear to have made permanent settlements in those territories, and were of course in constant conflict with the native British tribes of the western shores and mountains. It was against these pagans of the north, rather than in Cornwall and Wales, that King Arthur fought those great battles that have been so celebrated in song and story. Ida, one of their chieftains, ruled over Bernicia in 547, and built his castle of Bamborough like an eyry over the ocean waves. His successor, Ella, added Deira to his dominions, but leaving, it seems, no children to succeed him, the kingdom passed in succession to six sons of the warlike Ida. The last of these brothers died in 594, and was succeeded by his son, the brave and ambitious Aedilfrid, or Ethelfred, as he is frequently called. He, as well as all his subjects, were still pagans, and during the twenty-four years of his reign, he was in constant warfare with the Christian Britons of Cumbria. In 603 he completely defeated Aidan, King of Dalriada, who had been crowned by St. Columba himself, and thereby extended his dominions across the country from sea to sea. He had already expelled Aeduin, or Edwin, the prince of Deira, from his dominions, thus adding that province also to his already wide domain. But the exiled Edwin was not idle during the years of Aedilfrid's victorious career. He was silently employed in gathering troops and seeking allies. When a suitable opportunity offered, in conjunction with Redwald, King of the East Angles, he attacked Aedilfrid, and completely defeated him in a pitched battle on the borders of Mercia in the year 617, depriving him at once both of his crown and his life.

This battle had other very important consequences. The sons of Aedilfrild who, like his subjects, were still pagans, fled for refuge to Scotland. The eldest, Eanfrid sought the protection of the Christian king of the Picts, and in course of time became himself a Christian. His two younger brothers Osuald and Osuin, more commonly known as Oswald and Oswy took refuge with the Scots of the kingdom of Dalriada, by whom the young princes were sent, both for security and instruction, to the great monastery of Iona. So these two boys, who were afterwards destined to become, in succession, kings of Northumbria, had the good fortune to be trained up in the Christian faith by the holy "Seniors of the Scots," as Bede says, that is by the Irish monks of Iona. Meanwhile King Edwin having taken a Christian wife from Kent became himself a Christian, and was solemnly baptised with many of his subjects by Paulinus at York, on Easter Sunday in the year 627. This important step seems to have offended his pagan neighbours. Penda, the fierce pagan king of the Mercians, entered into an alliance with the half Christian king of North Wales commonly known as Ceadwalla,and with their united armies they advanced against King Edwin. A great and bloody battle was fought on the 12th of October in the year 633, at Hatfield in Yorkshire, in which Edwin was slain and his army utterly routed. Nor were the savage victors content with this victory, they ravaged all Northumbria, slaughtering the Christians, burning their few churches to the ground, and wasting all the land with fire and sword. When this storm blew over, Osric, a cousin of the late king, took possession of Deira, and Eanfrid, the eldest son of King Aedilfrid, who had fled from the conqueror of his father, returned from his exile amongst the Picts and assumed the Government of Bernicia. Then followed what Bede calls "a hateful year before God and men." These two princes, Osric and Eanfrid, were nominal Christians, but now openly renounced the faith and once more adopted the paganism of their ancestors. Like all apostates they were the bitterest enemies of the Christian name, and strove to root it out from amongst their subjects. They had almost succeeded, when fortunately a swift vengeance overtook them. The same Ceadwalla of North Wales again appeared upon the scene and made short work of the apostate princes of Northumbria. He first captured York and slew Osric, and then advancing towards Bamborough met the terrified Eanfrid with a few soldiers and disposed of him in like manner.

When this news reached young Oswald in Dalriada he collected a small army of Picts, Scots, and Angles, and advanced to meet the foe. St. Columba appeared to him in a vision the night before the battle and told him to be of good courage, for that God would give him the victory. Thus confident in God's protection the young prince marched through the Lothians to meet the enemies of his family.

The battle was fought at a place called Heavenfield, near Hexham, in the valley of the Tyne. Oswald completely defeated his enemies and thus mounted the throne of Northumbria in the year 634, which is an era in the history of that kingdom, for it marks the foundation of Lindisfarne and the real conversion of the pagan Angles of Northumbria. Oswald's first care after ascending the throne was the conversion of his pagan subjects. He had himself been baptized and educated by the " Seniors of the Scots" at Iona. Accordingly instead of seeking Christian teachers from the newly formed churches of the south of England, he very naturally turned to these holy "Seniors of the Scots" in Iona, by whom he himself had been so carefully trained in the Christian faith, and requested that they would send him a bishop to preach to his people and administer the sacraments of the Christian faith. His pious request was readily granted by the community of Iona. At first it seems that a certain Corbanus was sent to preach to the Northumbrians. But his mission, like that of Palladius in Ireland before St. Patrick, was a failure. He found the people rude and intractable, and thereupon returned home in disgust to report his failure to the elders of the community of Iona. He told them that the Angles were untameable men of a stubborn, and barbarous disposition, unwilling to profit by his words. The elders thereupon were grieved, but one of them, Aidan by name, addressing the unsuccessful missionary said, "I am of opinion, brother, that you were more severe towards your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, in accordance with the apostolic discipline, give them the milk of more gentle doctrine, until being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they might become capable of greater perfection and able to practise God's higher precepts." The elders knowing Corban to be a man of austere disposition, felt the justice of these words, and came to the conclusion that Aidan himself was more fitting for the task, and that he ought to be made a bishop at once and sent to preach to the Northumbrians. Accordingly, as Bede informs us, Aidan was consecrated a bishop and sent from the aforesaid island, and from this college of monks to instruct the province of the Angles in Christ. It was in the end of 634 or the beginning of 635, and at that time Segine, abbot and priest, presided over the monastery of Iona, as the same authority expressly informs us. It is very likely King Oswald himself went on that occasion to Iona to urge his request.

Aidan was certainly an Irishman, for almost all the monks of Iona came from Ireland. It is very probable, too, that he came of the royal race of Conal Gulban, to which St. Columba himself and so many of the succeeding abbots belonged. Bede gives us a most interesting account of his life and character. He neither sought nor loved any worldly goods, but gave to the poor all that he received from kings and other wealthy men. He nearly always travelled on foot, both through town and country, preaching to the infidels, whenever he met them, the mysteries of the faith. He and his companions, when not actually preaching, were always engaged either in holy meditation or reading the Scriptures, or learning the psalms by heart. Even when he dined with the king he made haste after leaving the table either to read or write. He and his disciples fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays during the year, except during Paschal time, until the ninth hour, and whatever money he received he either gave to the poor or spent in ransoming the wretched slaves whom he saw groaning in oppression. The king was not unworthy of the bishop; once on Easter Sunday when Oswald and Aidan were dining together the king ordered the meat set before them on a silver dish to be given to the poor at the gate, and the dish itself to be cut up and divided amongst them. Thereupon the bishop took the king by the right hand and exclaimed, "May this hand never perish." And though the king was afterwards slain in battle, "that hand remains," says Bede, "to this day uncorrupted within a silver case in St. Peter's church in the royal city of Bamborough."

But though Aidan had a large diocese and led a very active life, he wished to have some place where he might retire for the practice of prayer and meditation, far from the world's disturbing influence. So he asked the king to give him the little island of Lindisfarne that he might establish there a monastery and make it his Episcopal See. The king readily granted his request, and so in 635 Lindisfarne was founded by St. Aidan. It was in many respects like his own beloved Iona about the same size, and almost the same distance from the shore, but more fertile and more easy of access than the rocky islet of Columba. Here he built his little church and oratory in the simplest and most primitive style, probably of wattles, and roofed it with shingles or thatch.

It is not to be wondered at that such a man succeeded where his predecessor had failed. The people joyfully flocked to hear the Word of God from his lips; churches were built in many places ; money and lands were given by the king and his nobles to build monasteries; and the "nations" over which Oswald reigned were all converted to the faith by Aidan and by the "Scottish" monks who daily came to help him in preaching the Word of God. " So the English, great and small, were by their Scottish masters instructed in the rules and observance of regular discipline." At first, ignorance of the Anglic tongue was an obstacle to Aidan's preaching, but Oswald himself during the long years of his exile in Iona had become familiar with the Irish language, and was thus enabled to become an interpreter of the sermons of the holy bishop for his people. A school too, was established at Lindisfarne, and Aidan selected twelve youths of the Anglic nation that they might be trained up,under his own guidance, to become worthy ministers of the Gospel for their countrymen. Amongst these was Wilfrid, afterwards Archbishop of York, the controversialist who thirty years later was the means of driving Bishop Colman and the Irish monks from Lindisfarne.

Aidan's prelacy lasted sixteen years and some months, during which he laboured incessantly for the kingdom of God. He died in his oratory at one of the king's country houses, not far from Bamborough in 651. The holy remains were carried to his own island of Lindisfarne. and buried in the churchyard of the brethren. Afterwards when the large Church of St. Peter was built there, his sacred relics were transferred to the right side of the high altar and there interred with becoming honour, that is, the portion of the relics which Colman left when departing from Lindisfarne. Bede narrates many miracles wrought by the holy prelate both during his life and after his death. He then adds that in what he wrote about Aidan he does not mean to approve of his method of calculating the Easter festival, but he wished to preserve for the benefit of the reader the memory of his virtues ; "of his love of peace and charity, his continence and humility, his mind superior to anger and avarice, despising pride and vain glory ; his industry in keeping and teaching God's commandments; his diligence in reading and watching; his authority becoming a priest in reproving the haughty and powerful; and at the same time his tenderness in comforting the afflicted and in relieving and defending the poor." Surely a noble testimony from such a pen to the Apostolic virtues of the Irish monk.

Bishop Aidan being dead, Finan was ordained and sent by the monks of Iona to succeed him in the Bishopric of Lindisfarne. It was in the beginning of 652. Like his predecessor he was an Irishman. It seems that the conversion of the Angles had left St. Aidan little time for church building on the island, for Bede expressly tells us that Finan's first work was "to build a church, not of stone but of hewn oak after the manner of the Scots, and he covered it with reeds." The reeds were afterwards taken off and replaced by plates of lead in the time of Bishop Eadbert, when the church was dedicated to St. Peter by Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was there that the bones of Aidan were placed at the right hand side of the high altar, as stated before. The Easter controversy seems to have embittered the brief episcopacy of Finan. Like all the monks of Iona at this time, he could not be convinced that the manner of celebrating Easter practised by their sainted founder and his successors, could by any possibility be wrong. He was, too, as Bede says, a man of a rather quick temper, whom argument or reproof only made still more inveterate in his prejudices. Perhaps he thought that Ronan, the Irishman, fresh from the schools of Italy, and the Kentish priests who came with Queen Eanfleda to the North, might have abstained from troubling his diocese with their new-fangled notions. They argued and remonstrated with him, but in vain; he only became more obstinate in adhering to his own ideas. The consequences of this diversity in the celebration of Easter soon became very inconvenient. The good king Oswald was slain in battle in 642, and Oswy, his brother and successor on the throne having been educated at Iona, adhered to the usages of the Bishop Finan. But the Queen Eanfled, and her chaplain Romanus were from Kent, and followed the Roman usage. The result was that on one occasion the king was celebrating Easter Sunday, and of course had given up fasting, whilst the Queen and her chaplain were keeping Palm Sunday preparatory to the rigorous fast of Holy Week. Nothing, however, was done during the ten years of Finan's episcopacy to effect a settlement of the question.

After his death, however, another Irishman coming, as Bede says, direct from Ireland (Scotia), one Colman by name, persisted in the same practice. It was now felt that something should be done to stop the scandal and secure uniformity. The king was, indeed, in favour of the Columban usage, but his son and heir, Prince Alfrid, had been a pupil of the celebrated Wilfrid, and adhered to the views of his own teacher. It was agreed, however, between the two kings, as Bede calls them, and all other parties concerned, to hold a synod or conference for the purpose of obtaining a final decision on the question. This famous assembly was held in the monastery of Streaneshalch, since called Whitby. The venerable abbess Hilda presided over this great establishment, which was built on a cliff 300 feet above the sea and commanding a fine view of the "Bay of the Lighthouse," from which the place obtained its Saxon name. The rival parties at the conference were evenly matched. King Oswy favoured the Scots, but Alfrid was for the Southerns. Bishop Colman was the great champion of his own party, while on the other side was Agilbert, a Frenchman, who had studied the scriptures in Ireland, and afterwards became Bishop of the West Saxons, The learned and eloquent Wilfrid was at that time only an abbot, but he had much influence for he was known to have studied both at Rome and in Lyons under Archbishop Dalfin. The no less influential abbess Hilda was however on the side of Colman, for that royal maid received the veil from the saintly Bishop Aidan, and was trained in religious observance by him and his Irish successors. Bishop Cedd too, who had been long ago ordained by the Scots, although now a Southern prelate was inclined to their views. However he abstained from taking any decided part on either side, acting merely as an interpreter, for he was equally well acquainted with the Gaelic and the Saxon tongue.

Colman was called upon by the king to begin the discussion to which we can refer only very briefly. He justified his own usage by three arguments, first, that he received that practice from the holy elders of the Scottish Church who had sent him there ; secondly, that it was the practice of the holy Apostle Saint John ; and thirdly, that this was the usage sanctioned by Anatolius, a holy and learned man of great authority in the Church.

Bishop Agilbert was then called on to reply to Colman, but not being a fluent speaker of the Anglo-Saxon tongue, he deputed Wilfrid to speak in his name. Wilfrid was an able and learned man who had travelled much abroad. His first argument against Colman was of itself quite conclusive. "The Easter which we observe we saw celebrated everywhere, in Africa, Asia, Egypt, and Greece. We saw it celebrated by all men at Rome, where the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul lived, taught, suffered and were buried." Apostolic authority and universal usage were against the few Picts and Britons who adhered to the old Easter and the frontal tonsure. As to the authority of St. John, appealed to by Colman, it was not to the purpose. For St. John, according to Wilfrid, kept Easter on the 14th day of the first moon in the evening, no matter what day of the week it happened to be, in this respect following the Jewish Law, whilst it was yet lawful to judaize. " But you admit it may be not celebrated on a week day, and hence you do not follow the practice of St John, nor of St. Peter either," he added, "for he kept Easter on the first Lord's day after the 14th of the moon in the evening, and therefore from the 15th to the 21st while you keep it from the 14th to the 20th moon, so that you often begin Easter on the 13th of the moon in the evening," and hence "sometimes keep it before the full of the moon."

As to Anatolius, whom Colman quoted in his favour, Wilfrid admitted that he was "a holy, learned, and commendable man;" "but you," he said, "do not observe his decrees, for he had a cycle of nineteen years which you know nothing of, or if you do, you despise it, though it is now kept by the whole Church." Besides, the 14th of the moon on which our Lord celebrated the Pasch, Anatolius,"according to the custom of the Egyptians, explained to be the 15th moon in the evening," so that like St. Peter he held that Easter was to be kept on the Sunday between the 15th and 21st day of the moon. How far Wilfrid was accurate in this exposition of the teaching of Anatolius we cannot undertake to say, because most of the writings of that learned prelate are lost, and we only know his teaching from some very obscure references in Eusebius.

As to Colman's appeal to the tradition of the Columban Church, Wilfrid admitted somewhat dubiously the sanctity and miracles of its founder, which, however, were quite consistent with his adopting an erroneous Easter from rustic simplicity, "but you," he says, "have no such excuse, the,more perfect rule of the entire Church is brought home to your minds." Once more he appeals to the authority of the Apostolic See as conclusive, for it was to St. Peter our Lord said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

"Colman,'' said the king, "is it true that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord ?" "It is true, king,'' said Colman. "Then," said the king, "as Peter is the doorkeeper, I will not contradict him in any thing lest there should be none to open to me if I made him my adversary.'' So the conference concluded, and Colman and his clerics were defeated. The Roman Easter was adopted in Northumbria, and the usage of the Columban Church formally repudiated.

This was a severe blow to the venerable old man, and he felt it keenly. "His doctrine," says Bede, "was rejected and his sect despised," and that, too, by men whom he must necessarily consider interlopers. Why should they put their sickles into his harvest ? Why could not they leave him and his clergy and his people in peace? They were not there when the Northumbrians were to be converted, but they came now to regulate the date of their Easter, and to change the tonsure that he and his monks had worn from their boyhood. It was intolerable, and as King Oswy and his son, the young prince, had now joined Wilfrid and his party, Colman resolved to leave Northumbria to themselves. He would return whence he came, to some of the islands in the wild ocean on the far west of his native Connaught. There at least he could keep his Easter and his tonsure and serve the Lord in peace. But his beloved children in Lindisfarne would not stay behind. All the Irish and at least thirty of the English monks resolved to follow their master. And they would bring with them, too, at least a part of the relics of their sainted father Aidan that were buried outside in their little green churchyard. The grave was reverently opened, part of the sacred remains they carried with them, the only treasure they bore from the borders of Northumbria, and part they buried again in the sacristy for those who were to come after them.

So the exiled band set out on their journey. They stopped no doubt at old Mailros on the Tweed, where an Irish house was founded some time before, and where they were sure to be hospitably received. Then they made their way to Iona, the mother house, to take counsel of the abbot and the community. They remained there for a considerable period preparing their currachs and provisions for the voyage, until after about three years delay they finally set out for Ireland in the summer of 667, according to our most accurate annalists.

It was a long and dangerous voyage from Iona to Inisboffin, but the Irish monk lived always under the protection of God his father, and had no fear of winds or waves, when doing what he thought was the will of God.

Still the king did not wish to break completely with his Irish teachers to whom he owed so much. Another Irishman named Tuda, from the South of Ireland, where the correct method of fixing Easter Day had been adopted thirty years before, was chosen to succeed Colman as Bishop of Lindisfarne. He was a good and religious man, but unfortunately governed his church only a very short time, for the same year he fell a victim to the great plague that carried off so many of the Saints and Scholars both of England and Ireland. Colman had, it seems, not finally departed when Tuda died, for it was at his special request that the king nominated Eata to succeed to the abbacy and afterwards to the Bishopric of Lindisfarne. Eata was of English race, being one of the twelve boys whom Saint Aidan had selected to be trained up for the sacred ministry in the monastery of Lindisfarne. And so after thirty years' duration the rule of the Irish prelates of Lindisfarne came to a close, when they had just converted the Anglo-Saxon race of Northumbria to the true faith of Christ.

Then Bede adds this beautiful paragraph which is a noble testimony to the worth and holiness of these Irish missionaries. "The place (Lindisfarne) which they governed shows how frugal he and his predecessors were, for there were very few houses besides the church left at their departure; indeed, only what was barely sufficient for their daily abode ; neither had they any money but cattle; for if they received money from the rich they immediately gave it to the poor. There was no need to gather money there, or provide houses of entertainment for the great ones of the world, for such persons never resorted there except to pray in the church and hear the word of God. The king himself when opportunity offered came with only five or six servants, and having performed his devotions in the church departed. But if any took a repast there they were content with the plain daily fare of the brotherhood, and required no more. The whole care of these teachers was to serve God not the world to feed the soul and not the belly. For which reason the religious habit was at that time in great veneration so that wheresoever any priest or monk happened to come he was joyfully received by all persons as the servant of God, and if they chanced to meet him on the road they ran towards him, and bowing were glad to be signed with his hand or blessed with his mouth. Great attention was also paid to their exhortations, and on Sundays the people flocked eagerly to the church or to the monasteries, not to feed their bodies, but to hear the word of God, and if any priest happened to come into a village the inhabitants flocked together to hear from him the word of life, for the clergy went into the villages for no other purpose but to preach, baptize, visit the sick, in a word, to take care of souls; and they were so free from worldly avarice that none of them received lands or possessions for building monasteries unless they were compelled to do so by the temporal authorities, which custom was for some time after observed in all the churches of the “Northumbrians."



Sunday, 30 August 2015

Saint Loarn of Achadh-Mor, August 30

August 30 is the commemoration of Saint Loarn of Achadh-mor. As Canon O'Hanlon explains below, he is said to have been an early disciple of Saint Patrick from County Mayo:

St. Loarn, Priest, of Achadh-mor, now Aghavower, or Aghamore, County of Mayo [Fifth Century]

In the published Martyrology of Tallagh, a festival occurs, at the 30th of August, in honour of Loarn, Priest, of Achadh-moir. In that copy, as found in the Book of Leinster, the record is nearly identical, for this same date. Loarn was the son of Ernasc, who lived in the western province of Ireland, when St. Patrick's missionary course led him thither. At that time, Loarn seems to have been a youth of good and pious dispositions. He received the gift of Divine Faith, and he then became a disciple of the great Apostle. The incident is thus related. The illustrious missionary, after leaving Kierragia Airtech, came to Kierragia Airne. Here he found both Ernasc and Loarn sitting under a shady tree. To them the Apostle opened the welcome message of salvation, and, in return, he was kindly received, with twelve of his companions. They were invited to spend a week at that place. During his sojourn there, St. Patrick taught Loarn to write an alphabet. His instruction in letters and piety was rapid, and to the end of his life, it was in still greater progress. Moreover, the youth was celebrated for holiness and the gifts of God's spirit. It appears probable, that he was ordained priest by the Irish Apostle, although this is not recorded in the Acts of the latter. However, St. Patrick had desired to establish a church in that part of the country. This place is now known as Aghavower or Aghamore, a parish in the barony of Costello, and County of Mayo. Near this place, too, Saint Patrick designed the measure and spot where a church should be erected. It rose near a fountain, called in Irish Tober Muena. The church was designated Seincheall, meaning the "old cill," or church. When Saint Patrick had there laid the foundations of a church, in due course of time, Loarn presided over it. Some of our modern writers call it a monastery. In the Martyrology of Donegal, Loarn is commemorated on this day, as a Priest of Achadh-mor.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Saint Aedhan, August 27

On August 27 the name of Saint Aedhan (Aidan) appears on the Irish calendars. However, as is so often the case, there are various holy men of this name recorded in our martyrologies so trying to identify this one specifically is well-nigh impossible. Canon O'Hanlon mentions various candidates before admitting that he cannot positively identify them with the saint commemorated on August 27. In his entry for the saint below he also mentions that the seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, thought today's saint may possibly be linked to Clontarf, County Dublin and to the family of Saint Brigid of Kildare:

St. Aedhan or Aidan, possibly at Clontarf, County Dublin.

The simple notice of Aidan appears in the published Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 27th of August. The same mode of entry is to be found in that copy contained in the Book of Leinster. There is a saint having this name, and also called Mocukein or belonging to the race of Kien, nephew to St. Columkille, and son of his sister Sinecha. However, it cannot be said, that he was identical with the present Aidan. There is likewise an Aedhan, son to Lughar, and sprung from the race of Eochaidh Finnfuathart, son of Feidhlimidh Reachtmar, son to Tuathal Teachtmar, from whom Brighet descends.  As we have already found, there are several holy men, named Aedh, Aedhan or Aidan, in our Irish Calendars, at different days of the year; many of those are distinguished by parentage or place, while some are simply noted—-as in this instance—without any such clue to their recognition. According to Colgan, the Aidan, belonging to St. Brigid's  family, seems to have been venerated at a Cluain Tarbh—now probably Clontarf, County Dublin—either on the 27th of August, or on the 4th of  September. In the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same date, is entered Aedhan, but without any peculiar recognition of family descent or place of residence.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Saint Fillan of Strathfillan, August 26

August 26 is a second feast day of Saint Fillan of Strathfillan. As I used a Scottish source for the post  on his January commemoration, here I will bring Canon O'Hanlon's account from that date. But first, below is the entry for August 26 from Volume VIII of The Lives of the Irish Saints. Canon O'Hanlon is a little tentative about whether the saint commemorated today is the Saint Fillan also remembered on January 9 but the latest scholarly work, A Dictionary of Irish Saints by Pádraig Ó Riain, confirms that this is a secondary feast of the great Scottish saint.


Reference has already been made to St. Foillan or Faelan, Abbot, at the 9th of January. He probably had a double festival. However, the reader is referred to what has been already written regarding his name and place. At the 26th of August, veneration was given to Faelan, Cluana Moescna, as we find recorded in the published Martyrology of Tallagh. In the manuscript copy of this Calendar contained in the Book of Leinster is found a similar entry; while in a marginal note, the commentator has stated in more detail, that place with which he had been connected. The Calendars of Cashel and of Marianus O'Gorman have his commemoration this day. When the monastery was founded at Cluain Mecsna, in the barony of Fertullagh, County of Westmeath, does not appear to be clearly known. In the Martyrology of Donegal, this present saint is designated in like manner, Faelan, of Cluain Moescna, in Fir-Tulach, in West Meath. Whether the present saint is identical with, or distinct from, the Faelan venerated at the 9th of January, cannot be very clearly ascertained, inasmuch as the name has been associated with the same place, although on different days. It is probable, however, we may have only one saint of the name, connected with this place, while two distinct festivals may have been assigned to him.

And now here is the much fuller entry from Volume I of The Lives of the Irish Saints at January 9. Canon O'Hanlon positively relishes bringing us all the details of Saint Fillan's life, miracles and relics, especially the defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314:





THE people of Scotland, as well as those of Ireland, have an ecclesiastical and a civil history, of which they may justly feel proud. This might be allowed, although episodes in the course of narrative are often clouded and infelicitous. A saint, connected with so great a military event as the victory at Bannockburn—attributed to his intercession—must excite an interest, beyond that occasioned by narrating the facts of his Life. Through the virtues and miracles of this holy abbot, Hibernia and Albania acquired new glories. Ireland and Scotland combine most interesting historic associations. The 'Land of brown heath and shaggy wood, Land of the mountain and the flood,' has received no inconsiderable amount of Christian blessings and missionary benefit from the Major and older Scotia.

This holy missionary's name is variously spelt, according to the different authorities cited by Bishop Forbes. It is found written Felanus, Foelanus, Faelan, Foilanus, Fillanus, Filanus, Filane, Phillane, Fulanus. Foilan or Faolan is the more Irish mode of wriiting this saint's name. In Scotland he is known more generally as Fillan, and there likewise his memory is greatly held in regard.

The most detailed narrative of his Acts we can find is that contained in the Breviary of Aberdeen, and in additions to it by Camerarius, Dempster,  Colgan and Bishop Forbes. The Bollandists and Rev. Alban Butler insert, likewise, some short notices of St. Filan, Felan or Foelan, abbot in  Scotland. The father of our saint was named Feradach, Colgan supposes him to have been a prince in the Ulster province, or of some place adjoining. At least, he belonged to the family of Fiatach Finn.  His mother was St. Kentigerna, whose acts and origin have been already treated, at the 7th day of this month. Their son, who has acquired such celebrity in Scotland, was a native of Ireland. In this island he was born, probably towards the close of the seventh century.

The Breviary of Aberdeen recounts a curious story, regarding the saint's earliest infancy. But, we may well question the truth of a prodigy, which is found related in the Chronicle of Paisley, and afterwards by Camerarius. His father, as the legend tells us, considering his child to be a monster, had ordered him to be thrown into a neighbouring lake. There he remained for a whole year, during which time he was sustained by angels. Through a Divine revelation, Foelan was found by a holy bishop, named Ybarus or Ibar, while the infant was playing with these ministers of God, Lifting the child carefully from the lake, Ibar took charge of Foelan's maintenance and instruction in the knowledge of holy things. Where this lake was situated does not appear from the narrative.

Foillan was baptized by this holy man Ibar. He could not have been St. Ibar, who, according to some accounts, flourished in Ireland, before the arrival of St. Patrick, in the fifth century, and who, according to other statements, died A.D. 500. Equally futile is the conjecture of Colgan, that he might have been St. lomhar or Imar Ua h-Aedhagain or O'Hagan, who lived in the eleventh century. Yet, the context of our saint's acts seems to favour a supposition, that all we have hitherto described took place in Ireland, where likewise he made a religious profession, under the direction of another  holy instructor, called Mundus.

When the saint grew up, he was transferred from the care of Ibar, and he was given in charge to this good abbot, named Mundus. Under their joint direction, St. Foilan made great spiritual progress. A conjecture has been offered, that St, Mundus was brother to St. Foilan. The disciple's fame for extraordinary sanctity was not only known to his brethren in the monastery, but it was soon diffused over all the country. Having received the monastic rule and habit from Abbot Mundus, desiring to indulge more in heavenly contemplation, our saint built a cell near the monastery.  On a certain occasion, when supper was ready in the refectory, a little messenger was despatched to announce this news to Foilan. Peeping through a chink in the cell, the servant was surprised to see the blessed monk writing in the dark, while his left hand afforded a clear light to his right hand. This he told to the monastic brethren. Foelan had a supernatural knowledge regarding this secret information; and, by Divine permission, an accident happened to the servant. Although displeased respecting the servant's want of secrecy, yet Foilan was afterwards moved with compassion, and he restored the use of that sight which the messenger had lost.

A great deal of doubt prevails with regard to the St. Mundus, who was the master of our saint. In one passage, Colgan seems to regard them both as the sons of Feredach. But again, he inclines to an opinion, that the baptizer must have been St. Fintan Munnu, and the son of Tulchan. Camerarius more widely errs against chronology, when he makes this St. Mundus, an abbot in the territory of Argyle, in Scotland, and who died A.D. 962. In this latter case, it is easy to understand, that St. Foilan could not have been his disciple, much less, that he could have succeeded Mundus as the ruler of a monastery. A Scottish author says Fillan was brought up in virtue and literature, in the Monastery of Pittenweem, and that a short time before his death he retired to the solitary desert of Tyrus.



When the blessed father Mundus died, by unanimous consent of the brethren, the holy monk Faolan, although reluctant, was elected abbot over the monastery. This he governed wisely, for his virtues and good example instructed his brethren in all holiness, chastity, and humility. Those who believed in Christ, he regarded as true and special friends. He exercised hospitality, through love for God and in the noblest spirit of charity.

After his baptism, and probably during the early stages of youth, St. Kentigerna was careful to rear her offspring in the most tender sentiments of piety. It is said she had a brother, named Comgan or Congan, who, with his sister and her sons, emigrated to Scotland. There he took up his residence, at Loughelch, in Northern Erchadia or Argyle. Here it is thought all lived together for a time.  Again, we are informed, that in obedience to an angelic message, St. Foelan went to his uncle, St. Congan, living at a place called Sirach or Siracht, in the upper parts of Glendeochquhy, or Glendorche. Whether this place was in Ireland or in Scotland has been disputed. But, it must be allowed, there are accounts in the acts of this saint which have been confused, very probably owing to the ignorance of those early waiters who have treated about him and his relatives.

While Camerarius calls the place of our saint's retirement Sira, not far from Glendorchy, this latter district he localizes in Fife, and he associates St. Fillan with Pittenweem. Again the place is called Sirach. On the other hand, Colgan has Cerete, the desert of Sirach, at Glendorche, formerly a forest, on the confines of the counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh, in the Ulster province. Wherever this spot may have been situated, we are told the site for a basilica had been Divinely pointed out to him, with his seven serving clerics. There he was given altogether to prayer, contemplation, and exercises of penance. It would not be easy to account for the great veneration in which St. Faolan was held throughout Scotland, unless he lived for a considerable time in that country. As we know his mother Kentigerna chose it for a place of residence, and, as it is stated, other relations were there domiciled, every motive urges us to believe the present saint selected Caledonia as a theatre for his missionary labours.

While at Glendorchy, St. Foelan, with his little dog, drove away a ferocious boar that had devastated this district. He also converted many of the people there from the errors of Gentilism. While building the basilica at Glendorchy, wains and oxen were used to draw materials. A miraculous occurrence is  related, which enabled the saint to prosecute his good work without interruption. It must be observed, however, that a certain St. Faolan, surnamed "the Stammerer," is stated to have belonged to Rath-Erran, in Alba, and also to Cill-Fhaelain, in Laoighs, of Leinster. Now, it seems just possible, he was really the saint so greatly venerated in Scotland, and to whom so many churches and places have been dedicated. He is also said to have been a leper. Yet, the authority of Bishop Forbes determines the probability of greater celebrity to St. Faolan or Fillan, whose feast is celebrated on this day.

For the most part, Scottish historians endeavour to claim this saint as a native of Scotland. This pretension, however, cannot fairly be allowed. This Colgan attempts to show, but in the effort he seems to admit very inappropriate chronologies. But, it would seem he rather quoted popularly national names to prove the force of historic tradition, in favour of his arguments. First, St. Foelan's mother was Kentigerna, daughter to a king of Leinster, as already appears from the life of this holy widow, and from an account, found in Scottish documents, cited by Camerarius himself Secondly, he was baptized by St. Ibar, who was an Irishman. This Colgan promised to show, in his notes to the acts of St. Ibar, bishop, at the 23rd of April. Thirdly, our saint was a disciple of St. Mundus, who he assumes not to have been a Scottish, but an Irish saint. This would appear, from Colgan's note to the present Acts, as also from a Life of St. Mundus and corresponding notes, which it was intended to publish at the 21st of October. Fourthly, because the natalis of our saint was observed in Ireland on the same day as in Scotland, viz., on the 9th of January, at Cluain Moescna, in the region of Feratulach, according to St. Aengus, to Marianus O'Gorman, the Commentator on Aengus, the Martyrology of Tallagh and Cashel, at the same day. While, therefore, St. Foilan is venerated in Scotland, because he reposed there, he is also reverenced in Ireland, because he was a native and an abbot belonging to our country. Fifthly, the natalis of our saint's sisters, who are called daughters to Feradach, is observed in Ireland, on the 23rd of March. This must appear, from what has been previously observed, and from notes to St. Kentigerna's Life, published at the 7th of January. And lastly, Foelan is expressly numbered among our Irish saints, at the 9th of January, by the Martyrologies of Tallagh, and of Cashel, as also by the Commentator on Aengus. Thus, while Ireland is honoured by his birth, education, and training, Scotland deserves a participation in the honour acquired, owing to his missionary career, his death there occurring, while his tomb and relics had been preserved, with so many great benefits conferred on his adopted country.

St. Foelan seems to have laboured at missionary work in Scotland. Bishop Forbes tells us, that the chief scene of his labours was in the parishes of Glendochart and Killen, in the uplands of Perthshire. There a river and strath are called after him. The saint's cave is yet shown at Pittenweem, in Fifeshire. This seems to indicate his close connexion with the locality.There is a place of worship dedicated to him at the chapel-yard, parish of Largs. In Wigtown there is a Kilphillane. In the parish of Largs, and  in the lands of Skelmorlie or Cunningham, are the lands of St. Fillan's Well. There was a chapel of St. Phillane, within the castle of Down, and another chapel of St. Phillane, without the same fortress, on the banks of the Teith. St. Philan is said to have had a monastery, dedicated to him, in Knapdale, where St. Cathaldus was educated. There is a Killellan—a corruption of Kill-Fillan—near Lochalsh, formerly in Northern Argyle, now Ross-shire, where our saint is said to have built a church in honour of his uncle, St. Congan. Srowan has a fair called Feile Fhaolain. There is a parish, called Killallan or Killellan—a corruption of Kill-Fillan—in Renfrewshire, Scotland. Near the kirk there is a large stone, with a hollow in the middle. This is called St. Fillan's Seat; and a little distant from it, there is a spring called Fillan's Well. At the close of the last century, a local minister had it filled up, to prevent devotions there practised. Here there is a fair in the month of January. The time for holding it is called indifferently, Fillan's Day, or Fillan's Fair. The "Kalendarium Drummondiense" states that Felan departed to Christ, in Ireland, on the 9th of January. At the same day, his feast occurs in the "Kalendarium de Culenros," in the "Kalendarium de Arbuthnott," in the "Kalendarium Breviarii Aberdonensis," in Adam King's Kalendar, in Dempster's "Menologium Scoticum," as also in the Scottish entries in the " Kalendar of David Camerarius." Dempster tells us, that his natalis was particularly observed at Lough Levin, and he is called Abbot in Argyle. From some of the foregoing authorities we learn, also, that his office was contained in Nine Lessons.



The exact year of this saint's death cannot be ascertained. Were we to credit Camerarius, he died A.D. 649. But it would seem, this is almost—if not altogether—a century too early. St. Foilan probably died, about the middle of the eighth age. He seems to have departed, on the 9th day of January; and at that date, our native martyrologists' record a festival in honour of a Faelan or Foilan, of Cluain Maosgna, in the territory of Feara-Tulach. Whether or not he must be identified with the present holy man seems open to great doubt. Some of the Scottish historians state, that St. Faolan was buried at Strathfillan. There for a long period his remains were religiously preserved. There too a celebrated fountain, known as "St. Fillan's Well," was held in great estimation throughout Scotland, on account of the many cures said to have been wrought in favour of pilgrims to it. Here a fair was held, and most likely on the day of this saint's festival.

An elaborate notice of the ancient bell of St. Fillan, with two excellent wood engravings illustrating it, has been prepared, by the Right Rev. A. P. Forbes, D.C.L., Protestant Bishop of Brechin. This object of art is very minutely described by the learned dignitary.  In this paper the bishop stated that, when on a visit to Lord Crawford in the autumn of 1869, he met an English gentleman, who told him in a casual conversation regarding the early Scotch Church, that in the house of a relation of his in Hertfordshire there was preserved St, Fillan's bell. The father of that relation, partly in frolic and partly to abolish a still existing usage, had carried it away in the year 1798. The result of this communication was, that ultimately the bell was handed over to the custody of Lord Crawford and the bishop. It was then placed on the table, for the purpose of being deposited in the society's collection. This bell was held in great reverence, and it was believed to possess miraculous powers. It is of yellow bronze—now covered with a fine patina— four-sided as all those ancient bells are. It is about twelve inches high. But the most remarkable portion of this bell is the handle, on which there is twice repeated the well-known emblem of the Phallus. This symbol has never hitherto been found in any of the Scoto-Irish metal work, although the cultus of the Menhir, which is the same in stone, still survives in Brittany. It was a moot question, whether St. Fillan's bell was Christian or pre-Christian. After careful consideration, Bishop Forbes came to the conclusion, that the bell belonged either to the bronze period, anterior to Christian times, or that, if Christian, it had been imported from southern lands. It might, in the latter case, have come from Italy, for, according to the legend, St. Ternan is  said to have got his bell from Pope Gregory the Great. 

At Strathfillan are the ruins of a building, 120 feet in length, and 22 broad. Some of its walls are standing, and the structure itself is said to have been a cathedral. Again at this place, there was a deep pool called the "Holy Pool," where even to the beginning of the present century insane people were brought. These were dipped after sunset and before sunrise, on the first day of the quarter, and their friends had hope of a restoration to sanity. Certain functions took place at the well, and afterwards in a corner of the ruined chapel, which was called "St. Fillan's Bed." This bed still exists. For a long time, a stone called " Fillan's Chair," and seven small stones, that are said to have been consecrated by the saint, had been kept at the mill of Killan. These were regarded as sacred objects.

Long after the time of St. Foelan, his staff or crozier had been preserved in the wilds of Glendochart, in Perthshire, where the saint is said to have been buried. As usual among the Irish and Scotch, a certain family had charge of this relic. The possessors enjoyed special privileges in consequence of their trust. Among these were the holding of maintenance lands. This relic of St. Fillan was called the Coygerach, and its holders sought a royal charter, early in the fifteenth century, to confirm their rights. On the 22nd of April, A.D. 1428, the Baillie of Glendochart called an inquest of the men of the glen to give their verdict, regarding the authority and privileges of the relic of St. Fillan, commonly called the "Coygerach." Their verdict was, that this relic, then in the keeping of Finlay Jorc, had been originally granted by the successor of St. Fillan to one of Finlay's progenitors. Finlay himself was declared the rightful "heir of the office," whose privileges had been in exercise from the time of King Robert Bruce, and downward to their own day. Malise Doire was keeper of the "Coygerach" forty years later.'"

Many miracles were wrought by St. Foilan. To his intercession is attributed that glorious victory of Bannockburn, obtained by Robert Bruce over the English forces. The details of this celebrated battle are recorded by the mediaeval and more modem Scottish and English historians. Edward II., King of England, collected a force, amounting, it is stated, to one hundred and fifty thousand foot, with several thousand horse, for the invasion of Scotland. To oppose this immense army, comprising men of various nations, Bruce could scarcely muster thirty-four thousand men. Placing his whole trust in God, the Scottish King betook himself to prayer. Entertaining a great veneration towards St. Fillan, he entreated a certain abbot or priest, who was custodian, for a relic of this saint. The relic was an arm of St. Fillan, which had been preserved in a silver case. Fearing this relic might be lost in battle, the priest removed it fi:om the shrine, which was then presented to King Robert. In presence of many persons, the shrine was seen to open suddenly, and afterwards to close of its own accord. The priest then approached, to behold the result of this miraculous occurrence, when he saw the arm of St. Filan deposited again within its shrine. He related what had occurred to the King. Filled with admiration, on account of this incident, the priest exclaimed that Heaven should prove favourable to their cause. On the eve of this great battle, the Scottish King obtained some successes. Thus inspired with hope, although greatly fatigued, Bruce spent the remaining part of that night in prayer, and in acts of thanksgiving. On the following day, he ordered the Holy Sacrifice of Mass to be celebrated. He desired all his soldiers to partake of the Holy Eucharist, that thus they might be spiritually strengthened. A certain abbot, named Maurice, celebrated the Divine Mysteries on an eminence. He administered the Holy Sacrament to King Robert and to his nobles. Through the ministry of other priests, the entire army received Holy Communion. Afterwards, taking a crucifix in his hands, and showing the image of Christ crucified to the Scottish soldiers, Abbot Maurice exhorted them to defend their country with courage, trusting solely in God's goodness.  He then desired the warriors to prostrate themselves in prayer.

After a spirited address to his soldiers,  the army was placed in position by Bruce, while the English cavalry and archers advanced. Immediately the onset commenced, and the Scots fought with determined courage. After a fierce conflict, victory declared in their favour. Both armies were engaged not far from the castle of Sterling, then besieged by the Scots, and on the glorious field of Bannockbum. This battle took place on Midsummer Day, the Feast of St.  John the Baptist, A.D. 1314. The forces on both sides are variously estimated by English and Scottish writers. The English summoned a large host belonging to various nationalities; but the Scots appear to have had not alone the advantage of a brave and able leader, but a greater perfection of military discipline and order in their ranks. Soon after the battle commenced in earnest, the English skirmishers and vanguard fell into disarray. Bruce, leading the centre division and bringing up his reserves, added to their confusion, and the Scots advancing in compact bodies ensured their foes' discomfiture. The valiant Scottish king pushed forward the various divisions of his army. After a vigorous charge, the English horse and infantry became panic-stricken. At last the invading host gave way, and Edward's forces fled from Bannockburn in the wildest disorder. Many, trying to escape across the river in their rere, were driven into its waters and drowned; while a vast number fell under the battle-axes and spears of their opponents. An immense booty was the prize of the Scottish army. Like chaff scattered before the whirlwind, the English fled in dismay, and with continuously diminishing bands, towards the northern borders of England. Stirling almost immediately surrendered to King Robert, while Scotland recovered her independence, in a manner, most creditable to her military prowess, and most complete in the results achieved. It was believed, the great triumph at Bannockburn had been owing solely to St. Fillan's intercession, and to the mercy of the Almighty. Fifty thousand of the English are said by Scottish writers to have fallen in battle, or afterwards in the pursuit. Only a very small number of the Scottish army, and especially of their nobles, had been slain. The English king escaped with great difficulty, and he crossed the River Tweed, in a small boat, with only a single attendant.

When Bishop Macdonnell, who lately died in Upper Canada, and at a very advanced age, left the Highlands of Scotland, he brought with him that old staff and crook, used by the Abbot of St. Fillan to bless the Scottish army, before the battle of Bannockburn. It was of solid silver, and the workmanship proves its genuineness and antiquity. A relic is inclosed behind a white stone. This precious heirloom is yet preserved by the Catholic Bishop of Toronto. The Scots knelt before the abbot while holding this staff, according to tradition. The English monarch is said to have remarked, that his northern foes were then kneeling to sue for mercy. But, as of old, the chosen people of Israel trusted in the God of Battles when their cause was just, and referred to Him all the glory of victory; so did an oppressed nation wrest from ambitious and cruel invaders their rights and freedom, of which they had been so treacherously deprived. Our saint prayed for the devoted soldiers, who combined patriotic ardour with religious feeling and duty. The issue was fraught with triumph, right gloriously prevailing against the efforts of human might and despotic power. So should the warrior, especially in the trying moment of battles and danger, strengthen his soul by spiritual exercises, and trust his valour and his safety to the protection of the Lord of Hosts.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Saint Michan of Dublin, August 25

August 25 is the feast of a Dublin saint, Michan, a visit to whose church forms an essential part of any visit to the Irish capital. The fame of the church is centred on the mummified remains in the crypt which include a knightly figure known as 'The Crusader' and two brothers of the Shears family who were executed during the 1798 Rebellion. The founding saint however, is a shadowy figure around whom there are three main theories regarding his identity:

1. A 16th-century writer, Meredith Hanmer, suggested that Saint Michan was of Danish origin, a theory which is still held by some today.

2. A 17th-century hagiologist, Father Henry Fitzsimon, is the source of a quite extraordinary Life of the saint which showed that he was heir to the King of Canaan. Despite this he becomes a priest and then a bishop in the eastern church, even taking charge of Constantinople at one point. Canon O'Hanlon gives a summary of this Life in footnote 2 of the first chapter of his entry on Saint Michan in Volume VIII of The Lives of the Irish Saints:
The Bollandists alluding to him, at the 25th of August, relate, that they had an apocryphal "Vita Sancti Micheae," but that abounded altogether in fables; and to prove this statement, they adduce some specimens of absurd narratives drawn from it. This tract was contained in a drawer, among other Manuscript Lives of Irish Saints, received from Father Henry Fitzsimon, and it was marked + M.S. 167 A. That " Vita Sancti Micheae" was to be found at fol. 20 et seq. In it, the father of St. Michee is stated to have been King over the Chananaeans, and his name was Obeth, the son of Eliud; while his mother was named Alipia, and she was daughter to the King of Arabia. For twenty years she was sterile,when an angel predicted the birth of Michee, and the boy was afterwards baptized by Magonius, Bishop of Alexandria. When he was seventeen years old, Obeth died, then Michee was offered succession over the Kingdom of Chananaeum, but this he refused. He then went to the city of Alexandria, where he received the monk's habit from the bishop, and he was initiated to the priesthood, in the thirtieth year of his age. Then returning to his native country, he was consecrated bishop, and governed in that capacity for twenty-two years. Afterwards he left that place under angelic guidance. The narrative then continues in the original Latin: "inde perveniens ad ripam Nili fluminis, sociis LX sibi assecutis, fluminis impetum benedictionis oppositione constringens, cum omni comitatu suo securus pertransiit. Deinde ad littus Maris Rubri cum sociis veniens, secundum illud Israelitici populi, ab expugnatione Pharaonis per Dominum salvati, sic (sicco) vestigio transiturn fecit." The narrative then continues, that having spent two months at Jerusalem, there he continued to exercise the patriarchal ministry for seven years. During that time, he was directed by an angel to Mount Sion, and there he was shown that tree, from which the precious wood (of the cross) had been cut. By order of the angel, he also cut three baculi from it, and the angel took a fourth baculus. Subsequently, Michee is sent to Constantinople, and there he presided over that church. Again, having spent seven years there, he passed over the Alps. Furthermore accompanied by seven thousand companions he travelled over Gaul, the angel accompanying him, and coming to the English sea, he found no ships in which to cross; yet, with his companions, Michee passed over with dry feet. With such abbreviated notice of the narrative, the Bollandists derisively close their account, thinking they had already given more than sufficient of such absurdities. See " Acta Sanctorum," tomus v., Augusti xxv. Among the pretermitted Saints, p. 3.
3.  It is equally possible that Saint Michan is a native Irish figure, a thesis which has been advanced again in a recent academic work on medieval Dublin.  In a short historical piece here by the Irish Capuchins, they suggest that he may also have had a Welsh link. However, given that Saint Michan's name does not occur in the earlier Irish calendars and occurs for the first time in the 12th-century Martyrology of Gorman, this Welsh link might reflect a Cambro-Norman influence. A Norman influence also seems to be at work in the dedication of the south aisle of Saint Michan's Church in Dublin to the Anglo-Saxon female saint Osyth of Chich. There is a useful critical edition of her Life which describes the use the Normans made of this saint here.

So, with all of this in mind we can now turn to Canon O'Hanlon's account of Saint Michan. I have omitted much of the detail of the later history of the church, but the original volume is available through the Internet Archive if anyone wishes to follow it up:



IT appears rather strange, that a Saint, intimately connected with a city, which contains so many records of its early history, should have left little trace of his own personality to our time. The forms of his name are very various—Thus, Michanus, Mighan, Myghan, Michee, and Mahano are found in different mediaeval documents, which have reference to him and to the well-known church and parish of which he is the patron. The name Michanus is entered at this date, in the anonymous calendar, published by O'Sullivan Beare. For all that is personally known of the present holy man, we might end the account in a very few paragraphs. But the history of his parish, and of the churches there dedicated to him, may have some interest for our readers.Whether St. Michan is to be regarded as a Danish or an Irish saint is a matter contested. One of our most learned Irish antiquaries seems inclined to think he was of the former race. If we are to follow the prevailing  popular opinion of the inhabitants of Dublin, in the sixteenth century, we are likely to concur in the statement of Rev. Dr. Meredith Hanmer, who calls St. Michan a "Dane and Bishop."  Notwithstanding the latter distinction accorded him, and for which Hanmer appears to have had even documentary warrant, it does not seem likely, that Michan had been advanced to the episcopal dignity. A very probable opinion may be formed, as the name Michan, in any of its forms, is not found historically to have been at all common in Irish families, that the present holy man was of Danish origin, and born in Dublin, which in his time had been colonized by Scandinavians, who had embraced the Christian faith. The period when he flourished is unknown.

His name occurs in the Calendar prefixed to the Martyrology of Christ Church, Dublin, under 25th August—viii. Kal., Sept.—as S. Michee Confessoris; while he is described in the Martyrology itself in these terms, and at the same date: "Eodem die; sancti Michee episcopi, confessoris." However, we are told, that the insertion of the word episcopi is in a more recent hand.  In the Calendars prefixed to two ancient Breviaries—one of these belonging to St. John's Church, Dublin, the other to Clondalkin—and now in Trinity College Library, Dublin, the word "Episcopi" is inserted before "Confessoris." By some writers, he is regarded, as not having advanced beyond the grade of priest; and this opinion is altogether probable, since no record presents his parish in the character of having been a primitive See. St. Michan must have lived in the eleventh or perhaps the preceding century; but the year for his decease has not been recorded. The Danes or Ostmen, who had settled in Dublin, and who had surrounded their city with walls, embraced Christianity in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Their conversion from Paganism placed them on more friendly relations with the Irish. Many of the Dublin Ostmen then chose to live on the north side of the Liffey, about 1095 and owing to this circumstance, all that district near the river was known by the denomination of Ostmantown— afterwards corrupted to Oxmantown Green. These residents are thought to have built the Church of St. Michan. This church was dedicated to him, on the 14th of May, and Dr. Meredith Hanmer places the foundation of St. Michan's Church on the Fair Green or Commune, afterwards called Ostmontowne Green. This parcel of land is said to have been given by Murchard or Moragh, King of Leinster, for that purpose.

The festival of St. Michan was celebrated always on the 25th of August, and it seems to have been held as a general holy day in that parish, to refrain from servile works. Doubtless religious ceremonies were also prescribed, for its greater solemnity. In the year 1565, we have a glimpse of the manner in which St. Michan's feast had been observed in Dublin, or at least in that parish of which he was patron. The parish of St. Michan, during six centuries, was the only parish on the north side of the River Liffey, and it is supposed to be coeval with the earliest parishes in the City of Dublin "Within the Walls." About the year 948, a Benedictine Abbey, since known as St. Mary's Abbey, was founded on the northern bank of the Liffey. It was endowed with all the rich and fertile pasture land, stretching eastwards along the banks of the River Liffey, so far as the Tolka. The parish of St. Michan is one of the oldest parishes in Dublin. It extended from the River Liffey northwards, so far as Little Cabra; and from St. Mary's Abbey it reached westward, to Oxmantown Green. In Archbishop Alan's Register, the church is called " Ecclesia S. Michie," and " Ecclesia S. Micheani." And in the Calendar prefixed to the Martyrology of Christ Church, the 14th of May is assigned as the date for the dedication of the Church of St. Michan :—" ii Id Maii, Dedicacio Ecclesiae Sancti Michee." In the Repertorium Viride of Archbishop Alan, it is likewise noticed as " Ecclesia de Sto Mahano."...

...A somewhat remarkable feature attached to the church of St. Michan is, that its founders dedicated the building to St. Michan, and the south aisle to St. Syth, or Osyth. In the vestry-books of St. Michan's parish it is often referred to as "St. Syth's Aisle." Here stood the "Counting Table," and doubtless, here also were held the meetings of a guild which was called after her name. St. Osyth was a daughter of Redwald, King of East Anglia, who married a king of the East Angles, but the same day she obtained his consent to live always a virgin. That king, confirming her in such religious purpose, bestowed on her the manor of Chick. Having made a vow of virginity, she retired to Chick, now a parish in the hundred of Tendring, County of Essex. There she founded a church and a nunnery, and she presided over them for several years with great sanctity; but these were afterwards plundered by the Danes, who beheaded the foundress near an adjacent fountain. This happened about the year 870, during the inroads of Hinguar and Hubba, the barbarous Danish leaders. For fear of the Northmen pirates, her body, after some time, was removed to Ailesbury, and it remained there forty-six years, after which it was brought back to Chick or Chich, near Colchester, and which was remarkable for its noble Abbey of Regular Canons in times long past, while its name has been derived from St. Osyth, the patroness. This house continued till the dissolution of the monasteries, and it was famous for the possession of relics, which were honoured with the performance of many miracles. The festival of this holy virgin, variedly called Osyth, Syth, Sitha. Scite, is noted on the 13th of May, in some of our Martyrologies and Calendars. Her festival was celebrated with an Office of Nine Lesson, as we find in a Manuscript Breviary of the fifteenth century, and now preserved in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. In the original hand of this Manuscript is the entry "Scite Virginis, ix. lc." This Breviary was written in Ireland, as appears from an entry on the first leaf; and there is, therefore, some reason to think, that Sitha may be an Irish saint, although no other native Calendar to which the writer has access contains her name, nor is she mentioned by Aengus, Colgan, or any other authority. The introduction of her name into the Calendar, as appears from the recent entries in the Christ Church volume, and in the Chain-Book of the Dublin Corporation, must have taken place, at least in the Diocese of Dublin, about the end of the fifteenth century...

As has been already stated, at this date, in the ancient Martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, and now known as Christ Church, Dublin, there is a record of St. Michan, Confessor. A more recent hand has there inserted his title as a Bishop.  In the Martyrology of Donegal, at the 25th of August, we find that a festival was celebrated to honour St. Michan of Cill Michen, in Ath-cliath, now Dublin city. No records seem to have been preserved, and which might serve to attest the year, when St. Michan's Church had been first erected; but, it is not probable, that an earlier building stood on the site of its present vaults. However, the upper structure was remodelled or repaired at different periods. Nor is there good warrant for the statement, that St. Michan's body is yet preserved in one of the church vaults. It is altogether probable, however, that the holy ecclesiastic himself may have built that church during his life-time, and that he may have been buried therein, or at least, in the cemetery adjoining. It is likely, moreover, that the original church and cemetery were laid out, at one and the same time.

There is a place called Cloonymeaghan, in the barony of Corran, and county of Sligo, and it has been rendered "Cluain-michan, i.e., the retreat of Mhican." According to tradition, it is stated, that St. Mhican, the patron of a parish in Dublin, which bears his name, was a bishop and confessor, and perhaps an abbot. ...