Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Saint Columbanus, November 21

November 21 is the feast of Saint Columbanus, one of the most distinguished Irish saints to have left these shores for missionary work in continental Europe. Below is an account of the man and his mission by an English writer, Father John Golden. The work was originally published in 1890 by the Catholic Truth Society in London, presumably as one of its pamphlets, it was collected with a variety of others into a bound volume of CTS Publications issued in 1900. I tried but failed to find out something about the author, only that he was associated with Saint George's Cathedral in Southwark. Golden's account of Saint Columbanus is a typically late-Victorian presentation, complete with poetic quotations and a somewhat defensive tone when dealing with the relationship of the Irish Church to the Holy See. The author quotes some of the miracles associated with Saint Columbanus, I particularly enjoyed how the pagan god Wodan was deprived of his offering of beer when Saint Columbanus breathed upon the container and shattered it:  "The barbarians were surprised and said he had a strong breath." Yes, indeed!


We have here no permanent city, but we seek one to come. — Heb. xiii. 14. 

Ancient in name and in history, the little town of Bangor is situated on the southern shore of Belfast Lough. On the opposite coast of the fine bay is seen Carrickfergus, with its picturesque situation and strong mediaeval castle. Bangor, too, had its ancient stronghold, as the noble ruins thereof clearly testify. Of its far-famed monastery, however, nothing but memory and history remain. "The parish church occupies the site " — that is, dear reader, the Church of the followers of the eighth Henry and his daughter, Elizabeth. Bangor was called "the Valley of the Angels," at the time when its great monastery flourished. The founder and first Abbot of this illustrious institution was St. Comgall, who lived between 516 and 601, was the contemporary of St. Columbkill, and "has justly been considered among the fathers of the Irish Church." 

Bangor Abbey, one of the most distinguished in ancient Ireland, was founded in 559, according to some historians; but Alban Butler places its foundation in 550. The high reputation for sanctity and learning of its Abbot attracted students from Erin, Alba, Britain and the Continent. Its situation, at once convenient,  picturesque, and salubrious, was an additional attraction. This was the age when, according to Camden and others, Ireland was the mart of sacred and secular learning, to which the English Saxons flocked in large numbers. Of Sulgenus, in the 8th century, it is written: — 

With love of learning and example fired, 
To Ireland, famed for wisdom, he retired. 

In 674, Marianus Scotus, quoted by Alban Butler, makes this remark in his Chronicle: — " Ireland was filled with saints or holy men." Among these, and a disciple of St. Comgall at Bangor, St. Columbanus finds an honoured place. One of the noblest sons of France, the great St. Bernard, refers to Bangor in the following terms: " Its disciples not only filled Ireland and Scotia, but swarms of its saints spread themselves through foreign countries, among the number of whom was St. Columbanus, who went to France, where he founded the monastery of Luxen." These are the words of a holy man, whose name and authority all revere, and they afford a light whereby we can read the character of the institution which, for long centuries, adorned " the Valley of Angels." 

The birth of St. Columbanus is assigned to various years, ranging between 539 and 546. That he was born within this limit may be regarded as certain, and the balance of proof points to the year 539. Leinster was his native province, and he sprang from an illustrious family. His first tutor was the great St. Senile, Abbot of Cluain-inis in Lough Erne, one of the broad and romantic expansions of the Shannon. The sequestered and delightful situation of this monastic school exercised a healthy influence on the gifted mind of the youthful Columbanus; it helped to develop his love of contemplation and study. So remarkable was his progress in sacred studies, that he composed some tracts and wrote  an exposition of the Psalms while yet in his youth. The venerable Abbot of Lough Erne, once the disciple of St. Finnian of Clonard, was well qualified to have the moulding of a mind endowed with talents of the highest order; for St. Senile was remarkable for a high degree of sanctity and extensive knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures. The classics, too, of Greece and Rome, and the usual course of science, St. Columbanus studied under this venerable master and servant of God. He left Lough Erne in early manhood, and returned to the home of his parents, who sought to divert his mind from the religious to the secular state. But Columbanus, though young, had already formed the cherished design of embracing the monastic life. A mind like his, imbued with the love of holy solitude and of a strong intellectual grasp, was not likely to yield under any pressure. Against his mother's earnest wish, and rejecting brightest prospects, he fled his native province and directed his steps to St. Comgall at Bangor. His vocation was from God, and he must needs obey God rather than father or mother. Bangor received with joy a young man so distinguished for high attainments in virtue and knowledge; and Columbanus was fortunate in having for his master, during many years, the wise, holy, and learned St. Comgall. Here he made his religious profession and received Holy Orders; and here, too, he cheerfully engaged in the religious exercises, the labours and studies, of that great institution, from which "Alfred selected professors, when he founded the university of Oxford."

Manual labour formed, by rule, part of the occupation of the monks of Bangor, as indeed was the case in all the abbeys of the island; but manual labour, whether in the field or in the workshop, was not permitted to interrupt the rule of constant contemplation. While the body was engaged in useful industry, the mind was employed in communing with God; and in this manner did St. Columbanus, one of the brightest luminaries of the Irish Church, spend at Bangor a large portion of his useful and edifying life. To him, as to all the servants of God, " blissful solitude" was very dear —

Reaping immortal fruits of joy and love,
Uninterrupted joy, unrivalled love,
In blissful solitude.

About his fiftieth year, St. Columbanus conceived an invincible desire of following in the wake of other Irish missionaries, who went to evangelize various countries abroad. This longing he regarded as the will of Heaven. His age, wisdom, solid piety, and extensive learning rendered him a most valuable assistant to his venerable master, St. Comgall. Master and disciple were among the great men of that age, so fertile of greatness in the Isle of Saints. They were attached to one another with all the earnestness of saintly and noble minds. Long years of holy friendship had cemented between them a union such as the angels love to contemplate. So we find that St. Columbanus cheerfully obeyed the voice that called him away from his beloved monastery and native soil; and that St. Comgall not only acquiesced in his wish, but even selected twelve companions, who should accompany him on his mission of mercy to nations either wholly pagan, or only partially Christian. Some twenty-six years before this, St. Columbkill set out with an equal number of disciples for the conversion of Caledonia. The fascination which this number had for missionary chiefs going forth from ancient Ireland, arose from the fact that our Lord had chosen twelve disciples to propagate the Gospel. Chief among the disciples of St. Columbanus were St. Gall, St. Dichuil, latinized Deicola, St. Columbanus the younger, St. Cummin, and St. Kilian. It appears certain that this missionary band visited Britain first, and that they established there the rule of St. Comgall, though their sojourn in that country was brief. Their arrival among the Franks of Gaul is set down to 589 or 590.

Toilsome and perilous was the mission upon which St Columbanus now embarked, but he possessed zeal, fortitude, and knowledge equal to the enterprise. To correct abuses of long standing, and to restore discipline among a half-civilized people, is an undertaking as laborious as it is necessary for the well-being of religion. And this, together with the conversion of pagan tribes, was the work which St. Columbanus accomplished. Jonas, Abbot of Bobbio, in the middle of the seventh century, gives a sad account of the state of society and of religion in the Gauls, that is, Burgundy and Austrasia, at the time under consideration. On the dissolution of the Roman Empire, numerous tribes of hardy and cruel barbarians, pagan to boot, came down from the north and the east upon the fair plains of France. Conquest and plunder were their pursuit. In a word, frequent wars, incursions of fierce enemies, and a consequent relaxation of discipline, had all but effaced the virtue of religion. Though faith had survived the rude shock, penance and mortification had become almost unknown. Alzog does not hesitate to say that, "owing to the fury of war and the negligence of the bishops, ecclesiastical discipline had become greatly relaxed, and Christian morality almost unknown." But a great and salutary change is at hand. What Christ said of the house of Zacheus may be applied to Gaul, on the arrival of St. Columbanus and his monks: "This day is salvation come to this house." For several years they traversed the country up and down, preaching the Gospel, exhorting by, word and example, and everywhere diffusing the "good odour of Christ." No labour was deemed arduous in the noble work of reformation and conversion, to which all their endeavours were directed. Bearing well in mind the command of our Lord: " So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven," they furnished in their own lives bright examples of every Christian virtue. God blessed their work, and vouchsafed them a rich and abundant harvest.

In the kingdom of Burgundy, and amidst the wild forest-clad mountains of the Vosges, there was an old Roman castle, now no better than a picturesque ruin. This was the stronghold of Annegray, and, ruined as it was, St. Columbanus was glad to receive it from the king as his first settled residence. Here indeed, there was sweet solitude —

The shadowy desert,
unfrequented wood;

but there was also a lack of all the necessaries of life, St. Columbanus and his numerous disciples being reduced to the hard necessity of subsisting for nine days on grass and the wild produce of the forest trees. But it is from trials and the Cross that the way leads to the throne, and St. Columbanus was too well versed in the science of the saints not to understand the value of trials. Extreme want would be followed by abundance, and by an increase of the blessings of heaven. Caranticus, Abbot of Salix in the neighbourhood, having heard of the distress at Annegray, sent a supply of provisions, and thus did Providence reward the patience of the sufferers. But another reward of a higher order was bestowed on them. The daily increasing fame of their sanctity brought to Annegray multitudes from all quarters, and the name of God was glorified in cures and conversions.

Owing to the abundant influx of disciples, a more commodious residence became a matter of prime necessity, and Goutran, the king, bestowed on St. Columbanus the strong old fortress of Luxeuil, some eight miles from Annegray. According to Jonas, St. Columbanus was the first who established the monastic order among the French, and Luxeuil became a most celebrated monastery and a great centre of perfection. Its foundation is ascribed to the year 591, and its situation was in the deep solitude of the Vosgean mountains. "Luxeuil was in Franche-Comte, in the diocese of Besancon, at the foot of the mountains of the Vosge towards Lorraine." The rapid increase of disciples very soon rendered a third institution necessary and it was from the highest grades of society that candidates chiefly came. The new monastery was named Ad Fontanes, the Fountains, because of the springs which abounded there. St. Comgall and St. Columbkill had several minor houses subject to them; and so St. Columbanus had precedents to follow when he made Annegray and Fountains subordinate to Luxeuil. The celebrated rule he drew up for the government of his monks was founded on that of St. Comgall of Bangor. The instructions which he gave the monks, sixteen of which are preserved in the Library of the Fathers, Mabillon and others highly extol. The discipline of Luxeuil found almost universal favour in the monastic houses of France, and it was followed by several in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. At the Council of Macon, in 627, the French Bishops stamped it with their approval, and, after it had done glorious service in the Church for some centuries, it was finally incorporated with the rule of St. Benedict, in the reign of the Emperor Charlemagne. Alban Butler remarks that "the rule of St. Columban was highly esteemed, was observed in many great monasteries, and is still followed jointly with that of St. Benedict. Both excelled as law-givers, and the nations owe them a debt of gratitude."

What those great Fathers of the cloister taught by wise and enlightened rules, which are a "treasury of invaluable precepts," they had themselves practised for long years; "and hence the sound of truth was mighty on their lips." The regeneration of society, shattered and broken like the Roman Empire, was due to the marvellous self-denial and heroic zeal of the children of Benedict and Columbanus. The sombre forest and the barren desert yielded to the persevering toil of the monks of Luxeuil, and became productive. While manual labour subdued the soil, the eloquent preaching of the Word, supported by angelic holiness of life, softened savage manners and created in them a change truly marvellous. In the secluded shades of the cloister, science and literature were cultivated with eminent success; and the treasures of Greece and Rome were preserved by the persistent multiplication of manuscripts, the loving work of monks. Besides all this, intervals were allotted to the reciting of psalms, anthems, and the canonical hours. Prayer, study, and labour alternated by rule; and of St. Columbanus it is said, that he left his monks a rule of life so admirable as to merit universal eulogium; that he was a man profoundly versed in the science of salvation; and that he was endowed by the Holy Ghost with grace to conduct souls to the highest state of perfection. The Columban Rule was very rigorous in punishing faults, while it allowed but one meal in the day — towards evening— the food being of the roughest and meanest kind. The monks to the letter followed the precepts of St. Columbanus, and what a charm did the fulfilment thereof impart to their sacred characters! In the midst of all their varied duties there was maintained a continual application of the mind to God, and day and night they beheld nothing but our Lord Jesus Christ hanging from the wood.

The mode of computing the Easter time gave rise to a dispute between St. Columbanus and the French bishops. This was the great Paschal question, which regarded discipline only, and touched no dogma of faith. What was the exact time of celebrating Easter became, however, a question that gave rise to many serious difficulties and disturbed the peace of the Church from very early times. The General Council of Nice, held in 325, decreed that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon of the vernal equinox, i.e. after the spring full moon. This rule, which was the famous Jewish cycle of eighty-four years, was the one which St. Patrick introduced from Rome into Ireland, and the early missionaries into Britain. St. Columba and his monks followed it at Iona and throughout Caledonia and the north of England. But this system of computation was found to contain an error, which the Alexandrians were the first to discover. In 444, a difference of nearly a month was found between the days on which Easter was celebrated at Alexandria and at Rome. The Alexandrian system of calculation — that of nineteen years — was the more correct one; and the adoption of this cycle in Rome, through the exertions of the Abbot Denys the Little, secured uniformity in the Eastern and Western Churches on the vexed Paschal question.

The new system of calculating the Easter festival had been introduced into France not many years prior to the arrival of St. Columbanus in the country. In Ireland, however, it was not adopted till the year 633, when the ambassadors, despatched by the Irish Bishops to Rome, reported on their return, that people from all quarters were of one mind on the question, and that all celebrated Easter on the same day as the great centre of Catholicity. The Irish Bishops, in sending a deputation to the Pope, proved their loyalty to the Holy See, and also to the famous canon of St. Patrick, that "if any questions arise in this island (Ireland), they are to be referred to the Apostolic See." The report of the ambassadors as to the practice in Rome placed the question beyond controversy, and the Irish Church accepted the decision of the Successor of the Apostles. But St. Columbanus had departed from Ireland many years prior to this date, and had taken with him to France the custom handed down from St. Patrick and scrupulously observed, both at home and abroad, by all Irish missionaries. The deep veneration he entertained for St. Comgall, St. Columba of Iona, and all the venerable fathers of the Irish race, made him very reluctant to change at the bidding of the French bishops. As no question of faith was involved, and as Rome had not yet enforced the new cycle in Ireland, Columbanus firmly and religiously adhered to the discipline he had brought from the great monastery of Bangor. This occasioned much irritation between him and the French prelates. A tract which he composed on the Paschal question, defining and defending his own position, he directed to St. Arigius, the first bishop of Gap — in Latin, Vapincum.

In 602, the bishops held a Synod, and St. Columbanus, writing to them, thanked God they had assembled, and expressed his wish that, according to the Canons, they should do so more frequently. He entreats them to examine dispassionately which is the correct tradition, and refers them for explanation to his letter to the Bishop of Gap and to three different communications addressed by him to Pope St. Gregory the Great. For twelve years he had lived in the wilderness for the love of Jesus Christ, and now that a tempest was raised against him, he would say, in the words of Jonas the prophet: "If I am the cause of this tempest, make it cease by casting me into the sea." Yet he was of opinion that, instead of disturbing poor strangers, they should have afforded them comfort. He begged to be allowed to adhere to the traditions of his elders in Ireland, and disclaimed any idea of disturbing others in their observances. In the first Council of Constance, it was decreed that the Churches outside the Roman Empire are to be administered according to the traditions of their fathers. This decree St. Columbanus claimed in his favour, as Ireland, his native country, had never come under the dominion of Rome. And though he maintained, with warmth and vehemence, the traditional customs of his native land, he declared his entire willingness to comply with whatever instructions should arrive from Rome. Indeed, no heart could be truer to Rome than that of St. Columbanus, as is abundantly manifest from his own words. If St. Columbanus in France, the Irish missionaries in Scotland and the North of England, and the Irish Church at home, were so tenacious of what, after all, was a matter of discipline only, but a discipline originally received from Rome, what would they not have been prepared to do and to suffer for the essentials of religion, for the faith of St. Patrick and of the Apostolic See? The great revolt of the 16th century found them ready to shed their blood and lay down their lives for the faith of Rome. Had the occasion arisen, St. Columbanus and his monks at Luxeuil would have cheerfully sacrificed their lives for the faith of St. Peter and his successors. Relative to the Paschal question, his feelings and motives should have won more respect.

The life of the saints is the continual carrying of the Cross. "If any man will follow Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow Me."  So spoke our Divine Lord, the master of the school of tribulation, "who, though exempt from sin Himself, was not exempt from suffering."  The disciple must not seek to be above his master; and as it is with gold refined in a furnace, so with the soul purified by suffering: each comes forth improved in lustre and in value. St. Columbanus was tried in the school of tribulation. We refer to the persecution he suffered from Thierry, King of Burgundy, and his grandmother, the impious Brunchilde. St. John the Baptist lost his liberty and life for reproving the vices of Herod's court. St. Columbanus was banished from Luxeuil for raising his voice against the corruptions of the Burgundian court. The Baptist's worst enemy was the wicked Herodias: the Abbot of Luxeuil experienced the greatest hostility from the ambitious and designing Brunchilde. Fearing to lose power, if the young Thierry engaged in lawful wedlock, the haughty Queen Dowager dissuaded him from marriage and encouraged him to lead a vicious course of life. St. Columbanus remonstrated with the King by letter and by personal interview. The deep and heartfelt interest he took in the monarch's salvation, influenced him powerfully, and would have effected in him a thorough and permanent conversion, had not Brunchilde's relentless hostility and dark intrigues interposed to frustrate the Abbot's charitable endeavours. Filled with holy zeal and fearless of consequences, he inveighed against the scandals in high places; and the hostility of the Court, increasing by lapse of time, culminated in his banishment from the Vosges. "In the world you shall have distress; but have confidence, I have overcome the world." Inspired by the divine example and pro- mise, St. Columbanus wavered not in his character of apostle and reformer. Hence the persecution. "What fellowship has light with darkness?" Later on we shall see how it fared with the man of God, and how with his enemies.

In 610, St. Columbanus was forcibly expelled from his beloved monastery. The monarch himself attempted the ignominious task. The energy of the Abbot's reproving words inspired him with fear and horror. When attempting to invade the enclosure, he was met and driven back by those terrible words of the Saint : "If thou, sire, art, come hither to violate the discipline already established, or to destroy the dwellings of the servants of God, know that in heaven there is a just and avenging power; thy kingdom shall be taken from thee, and both thou and thy royal race shall be cut off and destroyed on the earth." It happened to Thierry and his race according to the Abbot's prophetic words. Courage failed the guilty king and he desisted; but satellites were not wanting to execute his will. Brunchilde, thirsting for vengeance, succeeded in bringing matters to this crisis. And the stormy scene she excited did not abate until St. Columbanus was banished first to Besancon, and then to Nantes on the western coast, whence it was intended to send him a prisoner to Ireland. His Irish monks were permitted to share in his banishment. Grief filled the hearts and tears the eyes of the other monks who were forced to remain behind. The scene was very touching; but St. Columbanus, as far as sympathetic words could effect, relieved the distress of his disciples. "God will be to you a father, and will reward you with mansions where the workers of sacrilege can never enter."

 Long was the way — a via dolorosa — from the neighbourhood of the Rhine to the port of Nantes. Ragamund, the captain of the guard, executed his commission with much severity. When at Auxerre, St. Columbanus uttered these prophetic words to Ragamund, who had spoken disparagingly of Clothaire, King of Soissons, on the north-west of Gaul: "Remember what I tell you. Clotharius, whom you now despise, will be your master in three years." At Nevers on the Loire, when embark- ing for Nantes, one of the guard struck a holy monk named Dua. Here again St. Columbanus uttered a true prophecy — the unfeeling soldier would be struck by God on the very spot where he had committed the wanton deed. On his return journey, the soldier found there a watery grave. Ragamund refused the citizens of Orleans the consolation of ministering to the servants of God, though provisions had now entirely failed them. But the designs of Providence are not to be frustrated. A Syrian woman, having met two of the monks in quest of supplies, became to them a good Samaritan. She invited them to her hospitable abode, and treated them with kindness and generosity. A stranger herself, but in easy circumstances, her sympathies were with those strangers in distress. " Blessed are the merciful : for they shall obtain mercy."  The miraculous cure of her blind husband, at the prayer of St. Columbanus and his companions, amply rewarded her devotion to the saints. The report of this miracle brought to them large numbers of suffering humanity; and the captain of the guards, willing or not, was obliged to leave the people free in supplying St. Columbanus with the necessaries of life.

At the historic city of Tours, St. Columbanus was refused permission to visit the tomb of St. Martin. By the will of Heaven, however, it happened that the boatmen, unable to row away, were compelled to tarry there over night; and thus an opportunity was afforded the monks of satisfying their pious desires. The good Bishop of Tours, Leuparius by name, extended to them his kind hospitality, and wished them a prosperous voyage. They reached at length the ancient port of Nantes, at the mouth of the Loire. Providence willed this to be the termination of their weary pilgrimage. While some treated them here with coldness and desired to expedite their departure, two pious ladies, Procla and Dola, proved themselves veritable Veronicas. The monks were now embarked out in the harbour, and St. Columbanus was about to rejoin them by sailing down the river in a boat. But lo! a great storm arose: mighty waves rolled in: the ship was driven back ashore and stranded for three days; and the captain, divining the cause, liberated the monks, and was rewarded by the calming of the winds and the waves. St. Columbanus and his monks had yet work to do abroad, and Divine Providence would not permit their enemies to frustrate His purpose.

As the storm abated in the port, as soon as the monks disembarked, so the storm of persecution ceased, the one being a significant prelude to the other. They were prisoners no longer, and the guard offered them no further molestation. Their meekness and patience edified all, and the citizens of Nantes were indignant at the unworthy treatment they had experienced. They were now the victors, and the people rejoiced at being able to render them the services of charity. St. Columbanus, before leaving Nantes, sent written instructions to Attala, whom he had placed over the monks at the Vosges. He was to remain at his post; "but if,"the Saint adds, "you see danger, I mean danger of disunion, which may be caused by the Paschal question, you may come to me: "whence it appears that the Easter Computation was still a probable danger to the peace of the community near the Rhine.

The King of Soissons (or Neustria), Clothaire II., received St. Columbanus with joy and affection. He would have him and his monks establish themselves in his dominions, but this did not seem good to the Saint, whose face was set to other regions more in need of his apostolic labours. But St. Columbanus rendered Clothaire a service of much importance. By his advice, the King abstained from taking part in the dispute, which, at this juncture, disturbed the peace between the brothers Thierry and Theodebert, respecting the boundaries of their kingdoms; and he foretold, as afterwards fell out, that in three years Clothaire would be monarch of the whole of France. The King lent him an escort on his way through Paris and Meux to the dominions of Theodebert. At Paris he cured a man possessed by an evil spirit; and at Meux a generous nobleman, Chameric, took him under his own protection. St. Columbanus gave the nobleman's family his benediction, and devoted to God his youthful daughter, Brugundofora, who afterwards shone as a model of virtue. Though he drank of the cup of bitterness from the Rhine to the sea, his return journey was all a triumph, God vouchsafing to magnify His servant by many striking miracles.

After many vicissitudes of travel, St. Columbanus and his companions arrived in the kingdom of Theodebert. This monarch, always well-disposed, treated them with the utmost courtesy and hospitality. Several of the monks of Luxeuil had now rejoined their dear Abbot, and their arrival cheered his heart. Theodebert offered sites for new monasteries, held out various inducements to the servant of God to fix their abode in his realm. The Bishop of Metz was equally desirous for them to stay, and gave many proofs of his affections for the monks. But the Bishop failed to detain him at Metz, and as he was left free to make his own selection, he directed his steps to the lake region of South Germany, which was a portion of the dominions of Theodebert. Alzog summarises his journey up the Rhine in the following passage: "He ascended the Rhine from a point below Mayence, till he reached the lake of Zurich, made a short stay at Theergau and Arbou, and finally established himself at Bregenz, on the lake of Constance. His chief assistant in these missionary labours was another Irishman by the name of Gall, as daring and resolute as Columbanus himself, well educated and eloquent, and able to preach in the German as well as in the Latin language." The people at Lake Zurich, rude and impious pagans, raised a violent storm of persecution against the monks, and St. Columbanus, seeing that no good could be effected, departed from them. They had conspired to murder St. Gall, whose zeal promoted him to burn down their pagan temples and cast the offerings of idols into the lake. St. Columbanus was to be scourged and banished. The monks, having got notice of hostilities, escaped the hands of the infidels. At Arbon, Willimara, "a worthy priest," cheered them by his hospitality, and procured a boat and trusty rowers to convey them across the lake of Con- stance, to the pleasant valley where stood the old Roman town of Brigantium, now Bregenz, a frontier town of Austria on the lake. The situation was very picturesque at the mouth of the river Bregenz, where it enters the lake between the Swiss and Bavarian territories.

St. Columbanus reaped an abundant harvest on the shores of the beautiful lake of Constance. The people, that is, the ancient Suevi, were little better than those at Zurich, who sought the lives of the monks ; but the courage and address of our Saint disarmed opposition and won them to the Church. At Bregenz, he found an oratory dedicated to St. Aurelia, and also a temple now in the hands of the pagans, but originally Christian. On the walls of this temple were brass images, to which the people, some utter pagans and others lapsed Christians, used to point, saying: "These are our ancient gods and protectors." St. Gall preached with such fiery zeal that they allowed him to break their idols and cast them into the deep lake. Most of them were thoroughly converted. St. Columbanus purified the temple with prayer and holy water, anointed the altar, and, having deposited there the relics of St. Aurelia, celebrated Mass, to the great joy of the new converts. The solemn dedication of this church was an event of great importance, marking a new era of religious life at the lake of Constance. A miracle helped to win the hearts of the people and to bring about most happy results. Wodan was the false god of the Suevi, and to Wodan they were about to make an offering of beer, when St. Columbanus, breathing on the vessel, caused it to be smashed in pieces and the contents to be scattered on the ground. The thirsty god had to do without his beer that day and ever after. "The barbarians were surprised and said he had a strong breath."

 The new monastic institution at Bregenz continued to flourish and grow in usefulness under the rule and guidance of St. Columbanus. Here the Saint would have gladly remained, had not an untoward event decided otherwise. In 612, his friend and benefactor, Theodebert, having suffered defeat first at Toul and next at Tolbiac, was made prisoner at Cologne by his brother Thierry; and at the instigation of the vindictive Brunehilde, her grandson was cruelly put to death. The kingdom of Austrasia, which was Theodebert's, having fallen thus into the hands of Thierry, St. Columbanus resolved to seek safety in flight.

The relentless enemies who banished him and his Irish monks from the sweet solitude of the Vosges, would not fail to banish them from their new abode at Constance also, and from whatever place St. Columbanus might select in their dominions. Old as he now was, and greatly enfeebled in health, he resolved to cross the Alps and extend the sphere of his usefulness to the classic land of Italy. It so happened that St. Gall, his most zealous assistant, was unable to accompany his beloved master owing to a violent fever. Divine Providence had other work for St. Gall amidst the mountains of Switzerland. St. Columbanus saw in this malady an indication of the will of God in his regard, and accordingly he offered no opposition to his remaining behind. The city of St. Gall and a province of the same name, commemorate to this day the labours and the virtues of that great man, who founded the illustrious monastery of St. Gall, and did so much for the propagation of the faith.

In 612, St. Columbanus crossed the Alps and reached the historic city of Milan, the capital of Lombardy. At that time, Agilulf and his virtuous Queen, Theodelinda by name, held their Court at Milan. Devoted children of the Church, the King and Queen rejoiced at the arrival of St. Columbanus and his monks; and the good King of the Lombards offered St. Columbanus his choice of sites to found a Monastery. It was the monarches pleasure that the servants of God should settle wherever they deemed fit. The abbot Jonas, biographer of our Saint, mentions that while at Milan, he confuted the Arians in a very learned tract, which is not extant. From Milan also he wrote his celebrated letter to Pope Boniface IV., and this he did at the urgent request of King Agilulf, who hoped that the Pope might take such action as would confound the heretics of his kingdom, and restore to the Church the peace which they had violently disturbed. " An extract from the letter in question will show how strongly St. Columbanus felt and wrote on the doctrine of Papal Supremacy, and that the faith of the Irish people, and the opening of the seventh century, was the same as that of their posterity at the close of the nineteenth. It runs as follows: "For we, Irish, are disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul, and of all the divinely-inspired canonical writers, adhering constantly to the evangelical and apostolical doctrine. Among us neither Jew, heretic, nor schismatic can be found; but the Catholic faith, entire and unshaken, precisely as we have received it from you, who are the successors of the Apostles. For, as I have already said, we are attached to the Chair of St Peter; and although Rome is great and renowned, yet with us it is great and distinguished only on account of that apostolic chair. Through the two Apostles of Jesus Christ, ye are almost celestial, and Rome is the head of the Churches of the world." Splendid testimony of the faith of our ancestors and of their unshaken fidelity to the See of Peter, from which St. Patrick derived his authority and came to our shores with the benediction of a holy Pope.

In other parts of the famous document referred to, St Columbanus designates the Popes "their Lords and Fathers in Christ;" and "the first Pastors set higher than all mortals;" and again, "the most beautiful Heads of all the Churches of the whole of Europe." He is profuse in the titles and encomiums he bestows on the Apostolic See and its occupants. The Popes are "the Princes of the Leaders;" "the Steersmen and the Pilots of the Spiritual Vessel;" and "no one is to discuss with Rome." "The Pontiffs give the bread of doctrine to those who seek it;" and "the Irish are bound to the Chair of Peter." Elsewhere he tells why Rome is great among the Irish: it is "through this Chair." The Irish " are the servants, scholars, and children of the Popes." "The principal seat of orthodoxy and the head of the Churches of all the world," behold what he calls Rome. These and many other vigorous expressions St. Columbanus employs to show the faith of the Irish in the Papal Supremacy, and with a view to rouse the Pope to greater zeal against the heretics and schismatics. Because the Vicar of Christ was higher than all mortals, he should raise his voice like a trumpet, in order to protect the flock and confound the enemies of the Church. "You are the Prince of the Leaders, and have to endure the perils of the whole of the Lord's army — therefore I strive to stir thee up." Here we have a monk coming forward as the adviser of the head of the Church, and urging him to action. St. Bernard and St. Peter Damian in later periods, and Cardinal Miccara, acted similarly, respecting the Popes of their times. Men of wisdom and holiness of life have used strong but respectful language to the Holy See, when occasion required. So with St. Columbanus, whose heart was ever in Rome and in the interests of holy faith. The heretics and schismatics of that day he would have quickly condemned; and the pretended union they affected with Rome he repelled with all his orthodox soul. "Let the cause of schism be immediately cut off with the sword of St. Peter, that is, by a true confession of the faith in a synod, and the detestation and anathematisation of all heretics." The great and high-souled Abbott is fired to indignation because the heretics had aspersed the character of Boniface, and therefore he urges him to have them condemned in a Synod, and thereby to prove that their heresy precludes the possibility of union with Rome. "The Roman Church," he writes, "admits to its communion none who impugn the Catholic faith" words as true today as when they came from the heart and the pen of St. Columbanus — words whose import all non-Catholics would do well to study.

At the time when St. Columbanus came to Lombardy, the North of Italy was in a state of great agitation relative to the affair of the "Three Chapters " or writings condemned in the East. The famous Three Chapters were publications which favoured the heresy of the Nestorians, who sought to undermine the belief in the mystery of the Incarnation; and were the productions of three Oriental bishops, Theodoret of Cyrus, Ibas of Edessa, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. At the General Council of Chalcedon, celebrated in 451, the authors of these mischievous writings retracted their errors, by making a profession of Catholic faith. Later on. Pope Vigilius, in hope of promoting peace, condemned the Three Chapters himself, with this reservation: "In accordance with the authority of the Council of Chalcedon." But this did not restore peace, and another General Council, that of Constantinople, convened in 550, opened the whole question afresh and condemned the Three Chapters. Though the action of this Council established comparative tranquillity in the East, there still prevailed considerable commotion in Africa and Italy. The want of more frequent communication with the East and ignorance of its language caused the question to be misunderstood in Italy. Alban Butler, in his life of St. Columbanus, remarks that "Pope Gregory the Great tolerated the conduct of those in the West, chiefly in Lombardy, who, upon mistakes concerning facts which passed in the East, defended the Three Chapters, but did not on that account break off communion, till they could be better informed, as their faith was in all respects orthodox." St. Columbanus deeply felt the unsatisfactory position of affairs and hence his letter to Pope Boniface IV.,  in which "the author expresses great zeal for the honour of the Roman See, and professes himself inviolably attached to it." The Saint may be taken as a type of the race from which he sprang; for, "the Irish, though far removed from other nations, excelled all their neighbours by the fervour of their faith."

Their attachment to the Holy See, then, as ever since, corresponded with "the fervour of their faith." In 610, St. Columbanus foretold that Thierry and his race would "be cut off and destroyed on the earth;" and he also predicted that, in three years, Clothaire, king of the small territory of Soissons, would become monarch of all France. Let us see how these two predictions were verified. In 612, by the defeat and assassination of his brother Theodebert, Thierry became ruler of the whole nation, except Soissons. That portion, too, he coveted; but in 613 he died at Metz, when on the point of waging war with Clothaire, who, thereupon became sovereign of the whole French monarchy. As for the illegitimate offspring of Thierry, some were put to death, while others fled, no more to appear on the scene of political action. As for the old sinner, Brunchilde or Brunhant, the cause of many wars and misfortunes to France, she was found guilty of putting to death several Kings, besides the saintly Desiderius, Bishop of Vienna, because he had reproved her public scandals; and according to Alban Butler, "she was put to the rack for three days, and afterwards dragged to death, being tied to the tail of a wild mare."

Now firmly established on the French throne, and seeing the prophecies literally fulfilled, Clothaire became most anxious for the return of St. Columbanus. Eustasius, Abbot of Luxeuil, was dispatched as ambassador to invite the man of God to the Court. This was in 614. The Saint excused himself on the plea of age and infirmities, but sent messages of wisdom to the King, and instructions for the government of the institutions he had founded on French soil. Never had he coveted worldly honours; much less had they any charms for him now. "St. Columbanus from Ireland sung the shame and folly of avarice." Of him might it well be said:

Full of zeal and faith, esteemed light
All worldly honour, empire, treasure, might.

 At Bobbio it was that Eustasius delivered the royal message to St. Columbanus. Bovium, or Bobbio, a site at once romantic and retired, lies in a deep gorge of the Apennines, between Genoa and Milan, but nearer to the former city. Agilulf, the Lombard King, bestowed on him this picturesque site as his choice, and here, on the banks of the rapid Trebia, he founded, in 613, one of the most celebrated monasteries of Christendom. An old church, dedicated to St. Peter, and sadly in need of repairs, he found in the wild but beautiful gorge. This he caused to be renovated, and by its side he laid the foundation of the great Abbey. Bobbio has to-day a Cathedral Church and episcopal palace, and a population of about 4,000 souls. But St. Columbanus, sighing for complete solitude, built himself a little oratory, apart from the Church, and in the cavern of a large rock. This became to him a kind of Bethlehem, and he dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin. In this secluded dwelling he spent the residue of his days in the practice of prayer and mortification, and close communion with his God. Remembering that "man shall go into the house of his eternity," he shut himself in from the world and found in his sweet grotto that deep repose which he loved so well, and in which he employed all his time in preparing his soul to meet the great Judge. Others he had served during many long years, and now he felt the force of the great truth —

What to thee is other's good.
 If thou neglect thy own ?

 And so, in his lonely grotto, he resolved

To finish the short pilgrimage of life,
Still speeding to its close on restless wing.

 In this beloved retirement he closed a most eventful and brilliant career on the 21st of November, A.D. 615, about three years after he had left Bregentz on the lake of Constance. His sacred remains found an honoured resting place at Bobbio, where, with some of his companions, he lies buried in the crypt of the Cathedral. Jonas mentions that many miracles were performed at his tomb, and Jonas, first and chief among his biographers, published his life in 650.

The town of San Columbano, in Northern Italy, derives its name from our Saint, and he is honoured in many churches in France, Italy, and other countries. St. Columbanus was chief among the long roll of Irish saints and missionaries, who in the French, German, and Helvetian nations converted various tribes, founded numerous churches and monasteries, subdued wild forest and desert places to the use of man, and gave an impetus to religion, science, and civilization. "The breviary of the French Benedictines styles him one of the chief patriarchs of the monastic institute, especially in France, where many of the principal monasteries followed his rule, till, in the reign of Charlemagne, for the sake of uniformity, they all received that of St. Benedict."  How impressive is the beautiful story of his grand life! how serene the death of so great a servant of God! and how glorious a reward awaited him in Paradise! Trials, contradictions, and persecutions he endured in life; but "the God of all consolation," in Whose service he persevered to the end, enabled him to convert tribulations into blessings. Internal joy accompanies the patient endurance of afflictions, and Providence has ordained that those who suffer with Christ 'here shall reign with Him hereafter. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy," (Ps. cxxv. 5).

St. Columbanus was the author of various tracts and poems of a high degree of merit. He was endowed with a genius unusually rich, and he had stored his capacious mind with every branch of learning, sacred and secular. His writings manifest an intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures and the early Fathers, with the classical learning of Rome and Greece. His knowledge was acquired ere his departure from Ireland, and chiefly in the great school of Bangor, under his beloved master, St. Comgall. He went out in middle age, ripe in years and wisdom and elegant acquirements, to begin a life of wonderful activity and usefulness. Cave and Dupin, quoted by Ledwick, speak of St. Columbanus as of primitive simplicity and ancient virtue . . . Dupin, who carefully examined, and with ability epitomized his works, declares they are written with wisdom and eloquence, and with a profound knowledge of ecclesiastical history: they are judicious, witty, and learned. The holy and austere life of St. Columbanus; the miracles he performed; the prophecies he uttered; his writings, remarkable for breadth and holiness of thought; his famous Rule, which is full of wisdom and spiritual instruction; and his great school declared to be the first monastic establishment in the Gauls, — all tended powerfully to influence many parts of the Continent, and especially France. The zeal and courage wherewith he reproved vice, even in high places, was characteristic of a true reformer of morals, of a brave champion of Christianity. Persecution he suffered from a depraved Court, banishment, too, from his dear monasteries amid the Vosges; — persecution from the barbarous tribes of Helvetia. What more natural for a faithful and intrepid follower of a crucified Master? "If they have persecuted Me, they will persecute you," says the great Master of the school of affliction. But our Divine Lord, Who overcame the world, encourages His servants to "have confidence," and their "distress," after "a little while," shall be changed into everlasting joy.

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Saturday, 11 November 2017

Holiday Customs in Ireland: Saint Martin's Day

November 11 is the feast of Saint Martin of Tours,  a saint much venerated in the Early Irish Church. I have previously given a summary of this devotion here, and now we can turn to having a look at some of the rather strange 'bloodletting' customs associated with the feast, in an extract from an 1889 paper on holiday customs in Ireland. As the author says, Irish practices are but part of a European-wide tradition, living in a city I have no personal experience of any of what he describes but it is certainly interesting. There appear to be two central parts to what takes place, one being the sacrifice of blood and the other being a taboo on wheels or anything else being allowed to turn on this day. Curiously, there is an attempt to suggest that Saint Martin was a miller or that he was a martyr, broken on the wheel à la Saint Catherine of Alexandria, to explain this taboo. Hagiography, however, does not depict Saint Martin as either a miller or a martyr but rather as a Roman soldier who sacrificed his cloak to help a beggarman, only to find that he was helping Christ.

The Holiday Customs of Ireland. 
By James Mooney.
(Read before the American Philosophical Society, May 3, 1889.)


We come now to Saint Martin's day, a festival which for some reason seems to be connected with animal sacrifice throughout Christian Europe. Among the ancient Greeks, this day was the beginning of the Vinalia or feast of Bacchus, which lasted four days and was a season of public carousing, being considered the time for trying the new wine, but there is no mention of sacrifices. In modern Europe also it is-or was-a time for testing the new wine and for feasting, drinking and public sports, but, in addition to this, we find among all the northern nations traces of sacrifice, which may have come down from the old Teutonic and Keltic religions. With the more practical moderns, this rite has generally degenerated into a simple provision of the winter's meat. On the continent, the animal commonly selected to die on this occasion is a goose, a preference for which the Norse assign a legendary reason. In England, the goose is killed on Saint Michael's day, September 29, while Saint Martin's day is considered about the proper time to kill beef and hogs for winter, whence it comes that a beef is called a marten in the north of England. In Gaelic Ireland, a beef cow is called a márt (marth). In England, it is said that on this night water is changed to wine, a belief transferred in Ireland to Twelfth-night, while in both countries it is held that on this day "No beam doth swinge, nor wheel go round."

Saint Martin, who has been styled the second apostle of France, came of a noble family in Pannonia, now included under the government of Hungary. By his father, he was designated for the military profession, but this life was distasteful to him, and he became a religieux, being finally appointed bishop of Tours. He died, surrounded by his clerical companions, about the year 397. In the history of his life, even as related in Butler's "Lives of the Saints," a work which deals largely in the marvelous, we find nothing to account for the strange legends and practices connected with his name, and the conclusion seems irresistible that these belong proper connected earlier pagan god or hero. Can it be that under the name of Saint Martin, the modern peasant is honoring Mars, the ancient god of war? The bloody rites which so distinguish this day from all others might well bear out such an assumption.

In Ireland, the poorer people sacrifice a goose or a rooster, while the wealthier farmers and graziers offer a sheep. When a rooster is to be the victim an effort is made to procure a black one, and in some districts it must be a coilleach Martain, or March cock, i. e., one hatched in March from an egg laid in the same month. Strangely enough, a rooster is never sacrificed in some parts of Kerry, where the people dislike to kill one under any circumstances. The doomed animal is previously "named for Saint Martin," that is, dedicated for a sacrifice in his honor on Saint Martin's day, and the vow is sealed by "drawing blood" from it. In the case of a sheep, this is done by cutting a piece from its ear. A weakly sheep is sometimes thus consecrated, and so well tended in consequence that it may become the best in the flock, but no money would tempt the owner to sell it for any other purpose, although there is no objection to selling the wool. The animal is killed on the day preceding the festival, and the flesh is eaten on Saint Martin's and succeeding days until consumed, a portion being also given to the poor in honor of the saint. The chief object in killing the animal is not to feast upon its flesh, but to "draw blood" for the saint, and it is believed that if any fail to draw blood for Saint Martin, he will draw blood from them.

In illustration of this belief, there is a story told in Connemara to the effect that a man once named a sheep for Saint Martin, but as the day approached the animal was in such fine condition that his avaricious wife was constantly urging him to sell it instead. Afraid to break his vow, and equally unwilling to incur his wife's displeasure, he secretly killed a fowl and smeared the bed with the blood. Then getting into bed and covering himself up as if sick, he persuaded the woman that the saint was drawing blood from him in punishment of the contemplated impiety, until such fear seized her heart that she was as anxious as himself to see the sheep killed.

In Kerry, they tell a story of a man who had been always mindful to draw blood for Saint Martin, but who, for some reason, was at last banished from his native land. One night, in his new home, he was going along a road all alone when he suddenly rememberd that it was Saint Martin's eve, and there came over him a feeling of deep regret that he could not be at home to draw blood on the occasion. At that moment a horseman rode up from behind and inquired where he was going. On being told, the stranger said that he was going the same way and invited the man to ride behind him on the horse. He consented and mounted behind the other.  Soon the night grew so dark that he could not distinguish objects about him, until, at last, the stranger set him down at the end of his journey, and, sure, where did he find himself but at his own door at home in Ireland. "It was supposed from this," added the old man who told the story, "that the horseman was Saint Martin."

Like the other festivals, Saint Martin's day is considered to begin at midnight and to last until the following midnight. The blood must be drawn before the "day" begins-usually on the eve as it is a common saying that the saint will take it before, but not after. A part of the blood is soaked up with tow or cotton and preserved for use in connection with certain prayers in the cure of various ailments. In parts of Galway the blood is not preserved but is sprinkled about the house and upon the people, and a bloody cross is marked upon the forehead of each member of the family. Those who are too poor even to afford a rooster sometimes gash one of their own fingers for this purpose.

The following detailed account of the practice as it exists today on the west coast, together with the reason assigned for the usage, is given by Lady Wilde, and applies equally well to other districts where the primitive customs are still kept alive: "There is an old superstition still observed by the people, that blood must be spilt on St. Martin's day; so a goose is killed, or a black cock, and the blood is sprinkled over the floor and on the threshold. And some of the flesh is given to the first beggar that comes by, in the name and in honor of St. Martin.

"In the Arran isles, St. Martin's day is observed with particular solemnity, and it was held necessary, from ancient times, to spill blood on the ground in honor of the saint. For this purpose a cock was sacrificed; but if such could not be procured, people have been known to cut their finger in order to draw blood, and let it fall upon the earth. The custom arose in this way: St. Martin, having given away all his goods to the poor, was often in want of food, and one day he entered a widow's house and begged for something to eat. The widow was poor, and having no food in the house, she sacrificed her young child, boiled it, and set it before the saint for supper. Having eaten and taken his departure, the woman went over to the cradle to weep for her lost child; when, lo! there he was, lying whole and well, in a beautiful sleep, as if no evil had ever happened to him; and to commemorate this miracle and from gratitude to the saint, a sacrifice of some living thing is made yearly in his honor. The blood is poured or sprinkled on the ground, and along the door-posts, and both within and without the threshold, and at the four corners of each room in the house.

" For this symbol of purification by blood the rich farmers sacrifice a sheep; while the poorer people kill a black cock or a white hen, and sprinkle the blood according to ancient usage. Afterwards the whole family dine upon the sacrificed victim. In some places it was the custom for the master of the house to draw a cross on the arm of each member of the family, and mark it out in blood."

 Another legend makes it his own son whom Saint Martin, like Abraham of old, was about to sacrifice out of love to God, because in his great poverty he had nothing else to offer him. Although he loved the boy more than life, he killed him late one night, and then lay down, intending to complete the sacrifice at daybreak. On opening his eyes in the morning, he was surprised to see a sheep hanging up in front of him, all skinned and dressed. Full of wonder he went over to his son's bed, and there he found the boy sleeping quietly and in perfect health, with not even a mark to show where his father had driven the knife. The saint gratefully offered up the sheep as a sacrifice to God in the place of his son, and thus the custom originated in remembrance of the miracle.

Saint Martin is stated to have been a miller, and his festival is said to commemorate the day on which he was "drawn on the wheel," an expression which seems to hint at martyrdom and the rack, although there is no authority for believing that he was either a miller or a martyr. In accordance with this tradition, it is held that no wheel should turn, or anything go round, on this day; no yarn may be spun, no mill may grind and no cart may be driven on the highway. Even a stocking should not be knitted, because in so doing it is necessary to turn it round upon the band, and the boatman will not put out from shore on this day, because in starting it is customary to turn the boat round on the water. So strong is this feeling that even in the city of Limerick the large factories sometimes find it difficult to procure a working force on the eleventh of November.

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Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Seven Bishops of Cluain Caa, October 3

On October 3 we find another of the groups of saints who are a feature of the Irish calendars - The Seven Bishops of Cluain Caa. The Martyrology of Donegal records:

THE SEVEN BISHOPS, of Cluain Cua. We find seven bishops, the children of one father, of the race of Fiacha Suighdhe, son of Feidhlimidh Reachtmhar, son of Tuathal Teachtmhar, as we have said at the 21st of July.

A Footnote from the editor adds:

Cluain Cua. The more recent hand adds, Cluana Cáa rectius, more correctly, of  Cluain-caa. This is the reading in the Mart. Taml., and Marian.

The entry for July 21 reproduces the genealogical details ascribed above to the bishops commemorated on October 3:
THE SEVEN BISHOPS, of Tamhnach Buadha, [Bishop Tedda, of Tamhnach,] and we find seven bishops, the sons of one father, and their names and history among the race of Fiacha Suighdhe, son of Feidhlimidh Reachtmhar, son of Tuathal Teachtmhar.
I turned next to the twelfth-century Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman to see if he could shed any further light on these bishops or the locality of Cluain Caa. They form the last verse of his entry for the day:
The bishops of Cluain Caa,
their day I will mention.
with a footnote reading 'seven bishops of Cluain Caa'.

In consulting the index of places attached to the calendar I found that, according to the nineteenth-century scholar and translator W.M. Hennessy, Cluain Caa was located in Queen's County, i.e. County Laois:
Cluain Caa, Oct. 3, wrongly spelt Cluain cua, Progs. R.I.A. Irish MS. series i. 100, 101, where Hennessy locates it in Queen's co.
I also confirmed the entry in the earlier Martyrology of Tallaght:
Secht n-epscoip Clúana Caa.
So it would seem that the calendars concur in having a feast of seven bishops from Cluain Caa celebrated on October 3.  Only the Martyrology of Donegal supplies the genealogical detail and suggests that they are siblings. It is also only this calendar which seeks to link them to the group of bishops commemorated at Tamnach Buada on July 21. The Martyrology of Gorman notes only 'austere bishops from Tamnach' at this date and does not cross-reference this episcopal grouping with that commemorated on October 3.

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Friday, 29 September 2017

The Hymn of Saint Colman in Praise of Archangel Michael

September 29 is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, a saint with a long history of devotion in Ireland. Below is a hymn in praise of the Archangel from the Irish Liber Hymnorum, where it is attributed to Colman, son of Murchu. Archbishop John Healy tells us something of the author and supplies a translation of the text:

In A.D. 730 flourished Colman, son of Murchu, Abbot of Moville, who is regarded as the author of a Latin hymn of singular beauty preserved in the famous work known as the Liber Hymnorum now in Trinity College, Dublin. "Colman, son of Murchu," is described as the author of the hymn, and hence Dr. Todd very justly regards him as identical with the Abbot of Moville. The following is an English translation made for the learned Father O'Laverty, author of the History of the Diocese of Down and Connor, by the late lamented Denis Florence McCarthy, a poet whose own pure heart could well interpret the soaring aspirations of a saintly soul: —


"No wild bird rising from the wave, no omen from the land or sea,
Oh Blessed Trinity, shall shake my fixed trust in thee.
No name to God, or demon given, no synonym of sin or shame,
Shall make me cease to supplicate the Archangel Michael's name,
That be, by God the leader led, may meet my soul that awful day
When from this body and this life it trembling takes its way.
Lest the demoniac power of him, who is at once the foot of pride
And prince of darkness, force it then from the true path aside.
May Michael the Archangel turn that hour which else were dark and sad
To one, when angels will rejoice and all the just be glad.
Him I beseech that he avert from me the fiend's malignant face,
And lead me to the realm of rest in God's own dwelling place.
May holy Michael day and night, be knowing well my need, be nigh,
To place me in the fellowship of the good saints on high
May holy Michael, an approved assistant when all else may fail,
Plead for me, sinner that I am, in thought and act so frail,
May holy Michael in his strength my parting soul from harm defend,
Till circled by the myriad saints in heaven its flight doth end;
For me may holy Gabriel pray — for me may holy Raphael plead —
For me may all the angelic choirs for ever intercede.
May the great King's eternal halls receive me freed from stain and sin,
That I the joys of Paradise may share with Christ therein.
Glory for aye be given to God — for aye to Father and to Son—
For aye unto the Holy Ghost with them in council one.

V. "May the most holy St. Michael
The prince of angels defend us,
Whom to conduct our souls heavenward
God from the highest doth send us.''

Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum or Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars by the Most Rev. John Healy (6th edition, Dublin, 1912), 255-256.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Saint Adamnan, September 23

September 23 is the feast of Saint Adamnan, a saint who made his mark in more than one field of endeavour in the world of the seventh century. In this 1882 article below, the future Archbishop of Tuam, John Healy, has pleasure in bringing us details of Adamnan's multi-faceted career:


In the year 1845, Dr. Ferdinand Keller was poking with a German's pertinacity, through the shelves of the Town Library of Schaffhausen in Switzerland. In a corner of the room he found a high book chest filled with all kinds of old MSS. without title or number of any kind, and at the very bottom of the heap he came upon a dark brown parchment manuscript bound in moth-eaten beech wood, covered with calf skin, carefully clasped in front, and very neatly and curiously sewed at the back. It was a goodly quarto of 68 leaves, with double columns, written on dark coloured goat skin parchment in large heavy drawn letters of the character known as minuscular. Everything about the MSS. showed great antiquity the cover, the parchment, the lettering, and the ornamentation. Dr. Keller at first thought he had come upon a hitherto undiscovered treasure ; but in this he was mistaken. He only recovered a lost treasure and secured its preservation for the learned world. On examination, the MS. turned out to be the oldest and most authentic copy of Adamnan's Life of Saint Columba, made in Iona either during the lifetime of Adamnan himself, or certainly within a few years after his death.

There can be little doubt that this is the identical MS. discovered by Stephen White in the Monastery of Richenau, and published, with some variations, both by Colgan and the Bollandists. How then did it come to pass that it was found in the old book chest of Schaffhausen Library? The celebrated Benedictine Monastery of Richenau Augia Dives, or the Rich Meadow was situated on a pleasant fertile island in the Lake of Constance, an expansion of the Upper Rhine. The Monastery was suppressed in 1798, but it seems that before its suppression most of its literary treasures were carried off, and thus it came to pass that the old Irish MS. was transferred to the neighbouring Town of Schaffhausen, also on the Rhine, where it was consigned to the bottom of the old book chest until the German scholar brought the hidden treasure again to light. The Monastery of Richenau in the ninth century appears to have had many Irish inmates, and this is not unnatural, for the great Irish Monastery of St. Gall was within a few miles of the shore of Lake Constance, and considerable intercourse would naturally take place between the two houses. Walafridus Strabo, Abbot of Richenau, from 842 to 849, had been previously Dean of St. Gall, and in his writings shows an intimate knowledge of many things connected with Ireland which he could have learned only from Irishmen. We know, too, from other sources, that crowds of Irishmen came to France and Germany in the beginning of the ninth century, and that many of them brought their books from their schools at home along with them, as Dungal brought the books which he bequeathed to the Monastery of Bobbio. It is thus easy to understand how some of the monks of Iona, driven from home by the Norsemen, who so often plundered the island about the beginning of the ninth century, would migrate to some friendly monastery on the Continent carrying their literary treasure along with them.

There can, however, be no doubt that the Schaffhausen MS. of St. Columba's Life was written in the Island of Hy by one of the Family, so early as the beginning of the eighth century. The character is of that peculiar kind of which we have almost contemporary specimens in the Book of Kells, and the Book of Durrow, and which is now universally acknowledged to be purely Irish ; the ornamentation of the chapters, and of the capital letters, is Irish ; the orthography is Irish, and what is stranger than all, the Lord's Prayer is written in Greek on the last page of the MS., and in Greek, of which we have other specimens remaining in old Irish MSS. with the same peculiar spelling, in the same semi-uncial character, without accents, and without breathings a fact which of itself indisputably proves that the Greek tongue was taught and written in the Irish School of Hy 1170 years ago.

The Colophon, or superscription, in rubric, at folio 136, at the end of the life, records, according to the usual custom, the name of the scribe : "Whoever reads these books on the virtues of St. Columba, let him pray to the Lord for me Dorbbeneus, that after death I may possess eternal life."

In 713, Tighernach records the death of Dorbene, Abbot of Hy, the very year of his election to that high office. There can be no doubt this Dorbene was the writer of the Schaffhausen MS.; there is no mention of any other of the same name in our annals except of one Dorbene, whose son Failan is said to have died in 724. This Dorbene was, as Dr. Reeves thinks, a layman, and, if his son died in 724, he himself in the course of nature must have lived and died before Adamnan. But the abbot who died in 713, would have outlived Adamnan only nine years, and in all probability had been for many years scribe of the monastery, and may have written the book at the dictation of Adamnan himself.

And now, who was Adamnan? Unfortunately we know very little of his early youth. He gives us to understand, at least by implication, that he was born at or near Drumhome, in the barony of Tirhugh, and Co. Donegal. The Church of Drumhome was founded by St. Columba, but St. Adamnan is the patron; and this fact, too, indicates his connection with the locality. There, also, he seems to have spent his earlier years ; for it was there, he says, " in my youth, that a very old man called Ferreol, a servant of Christ, who is buried in Drumhome, told me " of a glorious vision which he saw, when fishing in the valley of the Finn, on the night of Columba's death. Scarcely any traces of the old Church of Drumhome now remain; but it was once nobly endowed by the O'Donnells. Even so late as 1609, an Inquisition tells us that " there are in the said parish of Drumhome, four quarters of church land, three quarters of Columbkille's land, each quarter containing six townlands, then in the possession of Lewis O'Cleary, the head of that family which the Four Masters have made illustrious for ever. The old church was finely situated near the shore of the Bay of Donegal, not far from Ballintra, in hearing of the sea, and in view of the bold range of mountains, where the sons of Conall Gulban so long and so nobly defended their ancient freedom.

Adamnan's father, Ronan, was sixth in descent from that same Conall Gulban, and thus belonged to the royal blood of Tirconell ; his mother was Ronnat, a daughter of Tirenna, the territory that in ancient times extended from Lough Foyle to Lough Swilly. Thus Adamnan was of the same family as St. Columba himself; for Columba was grandson of Fergus, son of Conall Gulban, and Adamnan was sixth in descent from the same Fergus. He was born in 624, according to the best authorities, just twenty-seven years after Columba's death, and, as we may fairly assume, was in his youth placed under the care of the monks of Drumhome, in whose old churchyard he himself tells us many of the monks of Columba await a happy resurrection. How long the boy remained in his native Tirhugh, feeding his spirit on the glorious vision of its waves and mountains, we cannot now ascertain. It was at that time the custom for scholars, even of the noblest birth, to visit the great monastic schools of the country, and all the more celebrated masters were surrounded by crowds of eager students, who lived on their wits, and lodged as best as they could, generally in little huts of their own contrivance. A curious story is told of St. Adamnan himself in his youth, which amusingly illustrates what may be called the University life of the time.

Finnachta, afterwards Monarch of Ireland, from 675 to 695, and Adamnan's greatest friend, although of the blood royal, was at first very poor. He had a house and wife, but only one ox and one cow. Now the King of Feara Ros (Carrickmacross) strayed in the neighbourhood of Finnachta's hut, his wife, too, was with him and a crowd of retainers ; but they could not find their way home, for the night came on dark, cold, and stormy, so they were forced to take refuge in the hut. Small as it was, the size of the house was greater than its wealth. Finnachta, however, "struck the ox on the head and the cow on the head," and feasted all the king's people sumptuously, so that no one was hungry.

Then the King and Queen of Feara Ross gave large herds of cattle to the generous Finnachta, and made him a great man. Shortly after this time, Finnachta, not yet king, however, was one day coming with a large troop of horse to his sister's house, and as they rode along, they overtook " Adamnan, then a young school-boy, travelling the same road, with a vessel full of milk on his back. Anxious to get out of the way, Adamnan stumbled and fell, spilling all the milk, and breaking the jar to pieces." The cavalcade rather enjoyed the fun, and rode away; but Adamnan pursued them closely, and said : "0, good men, I have reason to be sad, for there are three good school-boys in one house, and they have us as two messengers for there is always one going about seeking food for the five and it came to my turn to-day. The gathering I made is scattered, and, what I grieve for far more, the borrowed vessel has been broken, and I have no means to pay for it." But Finnachta declared he would make it all right, and he kept his word. He not only paid for the vessel, but he brought the scholars clerics they are called to his own house, and their teacher along with them, he fitted up the ale-house for their reception, and gave them such abounding good cheer, that the professor, exhilarated by the ale, or filled with the spirit of prophecy, as the annals say, declared that Finnachta would one day become the King of all Ireland, "and Adamnan shall be the head of the wisdom of Erin, and shall become 'soul's friend' or confessor, to the king."

When Adamnan was duly trained in the wisdom of the Irish schools at home, his thoughts naturally turned to Iona. For that remote islet, surrounded by the stormy waters and under the misty skies of the Hebrides, had long been the religious home of his race and family. It was founded by the great Columba, with twelve companions of his own kith and kin. It was now thronged by crowds of pilgrims and scholars, most of whom still came from the Columbian houses in Donegal, Sligo, and Meath. It was the head and centre of the Columbian Order; and almost all its Abbots hitherto, and for long after, came of the royal race of Fergus, son of Conall Gulban. At this very time, when Adamnan was about twenty-five years old, a cousin of his own, Seghine, fifth Abbot of Hy, ruled the entire Order. So with the south wind blowing fair, we may suppose the young scholar launched his curach on the Foyle, and sweeping past the hills of Inishowen, he would in about twelve hours see Columba's holy island slowly rising from the waves. As his bark approached he would eagerly note all the features of the island the central ridge, the low moory shores, and narrow strait about a mile wide separating it from the Ross of Mull, on the mainland. With a heart swelling with emotion, he must have stepped on the shore of Port Ronain, and then kneeling prostrate before the Abbot in his wooden cell, he begged to be admitted to the habit of the Order. And we may be sure the venerable Seghine received with open arms the strong-limbed, fairhaired boy, who was sprung of his own ancient line, and born in his own Tirhugh.

Adamnan began his noviciate about 650, and after thirty years' service in the brotherhood, was himself raised to the Abbatial Chair, in 679. We know little of his life during this period, except that it was eminent for virtue and learning. We have undoubted proofs of his success in sacred studies, not only in the works that remain, but also from the testimony of his contemporaries. He was, says Venerable Bede, a virtuous and learned man preeminently skilled in Sacred Scripture: "Erat enim vir bonus et sapiens, et scientia Scripturarum nobilissime instructus." This is high testimony from a high authority. Father H. Ward felt himself justified in saying that Adamnan was thoroughly educated in all the knowledge of his time, liberal, sacred, and ascetical; that he was also skilled in the Greek and Hebrew languages, as well as in the arts, laws, and history written in his native tongue: "Edoctus est omnes liberales, sacras, et asceticas disciplinas, linguas etiam Hebraicam et Graecam; et quicquid patria lingua (in qua tune pleraeque scientiae et Dryadum quae non fuerant damnata dogmata), scriptum est vel artium vel legum vel historiarum."

Yet this learned monk was not above giving his assistance in the manual labour of the monastery. He tells us in his life of St. Columba, how on a certain occasion he and a number of other monks cut down as many oak trees in one of the neighbouring islands, probably Arran, as loaded twelve boats, in order to procure material to repair the monastery; and how, when detained by an adverse wind, St. Columba heard their prayer, and procured for them a favourable breeze to waft them home. This fact, incidentally mentioned, proves that most of the monastic cells were made of oaken boards, which were covered in with a roof of reeds. St. Columba's own hut is represented as tabulis suffultum, and we know from other sources that as a protection against the weather these cells were harundine tecta. It is in this respect that the "Vita Columbae " is so valuable, because it gives us incidentally not only a graphic picture of the simple and pious lives of the Family of Hy, but also of their food, their clothing, their monastery, and their entire social arrangements.

Although St. Adamnan ruled the monastery of Hy from 679 to his death in 704, he paid several visits to Ireland, and exercised a large influence both on its ecclesiastical and civil polity. This was due partly to his high character for learning and holiness, partly to his position as Supreme Head of the Columbian Houses, and in great measure also to his influence with Finnachta, the High King from 675 to 695. It is not easy to ascertain the exact date of these visits nor the work done on each occasion, but the substantial facts are certain.

In the year 684 one of the generals of the Northumbrian King Ecgfrid, made a descent on Magh-Bregh, that is the eastern plain of Meath along the sea shore. They pillaged and slaughtered in the usual fashion, and furthermore carried off many captives male and female. This attack was wholly unprovoked, and as Bede testifies brought down upon the Northumbrian prince the signal chastisement of heaven. In the following year, rashly advancing against the Pictish King Brude, Ecgfrid was slain and his army routed at a place called Dun Nechtain. Thereupon Aldfrid his brother returned from Ireland, where he had been for many years an exile, and succeeded to the throne. Aldfrid during the years he spent in Ireland became intimate with Adamnan; our annalists call him the alumnus, or foster son of Adamnan. Now, that he was raised to the throne, the latter took occasion to pay him a visit, in order to obtain by his friendly offices the release of the captives. Miraculously crossing the Solway Frith, whose rushing tide "the best steed in Saxon land ridden by the best rider could not hope to escape," he came to the Northumbrian Court, at Bamborough, and seems to have been received with open arms by his alumnus, who at once consented to restore the captives, sixty in all, whom shortly after Adamnan brought home to Ireland. But this visit to the English court had other important consequences. When he saw, says Bede, during his stay in our province (probably at Easter) the canonical rites of our church, and was prudently admonished that they who were placed on a little corner at the end of the world should not persevere in their peculiar Paschal observance against the practice of the universal church, he changed his mind and willingly adopted our custom. On the same occasion he visited the monastery of Jarrow where the monks greatly admired the humility and modesty of his demeanour, but were somewhat scandalized at his Irish frontal tonsure from ear to ear, then known as the tonsure of Simon Magus.

Onhis return to Hy, Adamnan tried to induce his monks to adopt the Roman Paschal observance, but they were so much attached to the practice sanctioned by their great and holy founder that even Adamnan failed to bring about a change, it was not until 716, twelve years after his death, that they finally consented to adopt the Dionysian cycle of nineteen years in fixing Easter Day.

He was more successful in Ireland. On his return thither with the captives in 686, a Synod seems to have been held for the purpose of bringing about this change, to which he himself alludes in his life of St. Columba. Neither the time nor place of the Synod can be exactly ascertained; it is not unlikely, however, that it took place on the Hill of Tara at the " Rath of the Synods," where tradition still marks out the place of " Adamnan's Tent " and " Adamnan's Cross." Others think it was held a much later date in 696 or 697, when " Adamnan's Canon" was published, to which we shall refer later on. It is certain, however, that Adamnan exerted his great influence thenceforward to introduce the new Paschal observance into Ireland, although he did not perhaps finally succeed until towards the end of his life.

On this occasion Adamnan's visit was not of long duration, but he paid a second visit to Ireland in 692 fourteen years after the death of his predecessor Failbhe, as the Annals say. This time it was a political question that attracted him from Hy. For forty reigns the men of Leinster had been paying the cow-tax, known as the Borumean tribute, to the princes of the Hy Neill race, to which race Adamnan himself belonged. Finnachta, however, the present High King and the old friend of Adamnan, remitted this tribute at the prayer of St. Moling, whom our Annalists represent as having recourse to a curious equivocation to effect his purpose. The king, at the prayer of the saint, consented to remit payment of the tax for "the day and night." "All time," said the Saint, when the king had pledged his royal word to this remission, "is day and night; thou canst never reimpose this tax." In vain the monarch protested that he had no such intention, the Saint kept him to his word, promising him heaven if he kept it, and the reverse if he did not. When Adamnan heard how weakly the king had yielded the ancient rights of the great Hy Neill race, he was somewhat wrathful, and at once sought out the monarch, and asked to see him. The king was playing chess, and told Adamnan's messenger, who asked an interview for the Saint, that he must wait until the game was finished; then he played a second, and was going to play a third, when the Saint threatened him with reading a psalm that would not only shorten his life but exclude him from heaven. Thereupon he came quick enough, and at once Adamnan said, " Is this true that thou hast remitted the Borumha for day and night." "It is true," said the king. " Then it is the same as to remit it for ever", said the Saint, and he "scolded " him in somewhat vigorous language, and made a song on him on the spot, calling him a foolish, white-haired, toothless king, and using several other epithets the reverse of complimentary.

Of course all this is the work of a northern bard, who puts into the mouth of Adamnan language which he would use himself; nevertheless, there is a substratum of truth in the story highly coloured as it is by poetic fiction, in the end, however, the writer adds : "Afterwards Finnachta placed his head on the bosom of Adamnan, and Adamnan forgave him for the remission of the Borumha." Shortly after, however, Adamnan was again angry with the king, and foretold "that his life would be short, and that he would fall by fratricide." The Irish life gives the true cause of the anger and the prediction: it was because Finnachta would not exempt from taxes the lands of Columbkille, as he exempted the lands of Patrick, Finnian, and Ciaran. This not unnaturally incensed the Saint against the ungrateful king, whose throne he had helped to maintain. The prediction was soon verified; Finnachta fell by the hand of a cousin in 697.

It was on his return to Hy after this second visit that Adamnan seems to have written the life of Columbkille. Shortly after he paid a third visit to Ireland in 697, and apparently spent the remaining seven years of his life in this country. It was in that year, most probably, was held the Synod of Tara in which the Cain, or Canon, of Adamnan, was promulgated. According to a story in the Leabhar Breac there are four great Laws, or "Canons," in Ireland. The Canon of Patrick, not to kill the clergy; the Canon of the nun Dari, not to kill the cows ; the Canon of Adamnan, not to kill women ; and the Sunday Canon, not to travel on that day. The origin of the Canon of Adamnan was this. He was once travelling through Meath, carrying his mother on his back, when he saw two armies in conflict, and a woman of one party dragging a woman of the other party with an iron reaping hook fixed in her breast. At this cruel and revolting sight Adamnan's mother insisted that her son should promise her to make a law for the people that women should in future be exempted from all battles and hostings. Adamnan promised, and kept his word in 696 according to the Ulster Annals "dedit legem innocentium populis." That is he procured the passing of a law exempting women and children -innocentes  - from any share in the actual conflict or its usual consequences, captivity or death. This fact is substantially true, though considerably embellished in the details. And Ireland owes the great Abbot a lasting debt of gratitude for procuring the enactment of this law, which was afterwards re-enacted in 727 when the relics of Adamnan were removed from Iona to Ireland and "the law renewed." There are several other Canons probably enacted at a Synod at Armagh about the same time, but this is far the most important of them all.

The life of St. Gerald of Mayo represents Adamnan as governing the monastery of that place, originally founded by the Saxons, for seven years. Tradition also connects the Saint with the Church of Skreen in the Co. Sligo, of which he is the Patron, and was in all probability the Founder. As head of the Columbian Order it was his duty, from time to time, to visit the Columbian Churches in Ireland, of which there were very many, especially in Sligo and Donegal. He may thus have spent a considerable time in Mayo of the Saxons, although the life of St. Gerald is very unsatisfactory evidence of the fact.

We cannot stay to notice the alleged "Cursing" of Irgalach by Adamnan. The story is intrinsically improbable and unsustained by respectable authority. In the last year of his life, 704, he returned to Iona. Although the Monks would not consent to give up St. Columba's Easter, he loved them dearly and wished to bless them before he died. After his noble life he might well rest in peace with the kindred dust of all the saints of Conall Gulban's line that sleep in the Holy Island.

A century later, however, as we have seen, the sacred relics were transferred to Ireland, but it is not known for certain where they were laid.

Adamnan's two most important works are his " Vita Sancti Columbi," and his Book, " De Locis Sanctis."

The Life of St. Columba has been pronounced by Pinkerton to be "the most complete piece of such biography that all Europe can boast of, not only at so early a period, but even through the whole middle ages." Adamnan himself declares that he wrote the book at the earnest request of the Brothers; and that he states nothing except what was already written in the records of the monastery, or what he himself heard from the elder monks, many of whom saw the blessed Columba, and were themselves witnesses of his wonderful works. The entire narrative,which is written in fairly good Latin, furnishes ample proof of the truth of this statement. Hence the great value of this Life, not only as an authentic record of the virtues and miracles of St. Columba, but also as a faithful picture of the religious life of those early times by a contemporary writer, so well qualified to sketch it, and who does so, quite unconsciously. The manuscript in the Library of Schafihausen is of equal authority with the autograph of the saint, if, indeed, it were not actually written at his dictation, so that the most sceptical cannot question the authenticity of this venerable record. The Life was printed from this codex by Colgan in 1647, and by the Bollandists at a later date. But the edition published in 1837 by Dr. W. Reeves, for the Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society, is by far the most valuable. The notes and appendices to this admirable volume render it a perfect mine of wealth for the student of Irish history. The Life was translated into English, and published with short notes by Gill & Son, Dublin, 1878.

Venerable Bede gives us a very full account of the treatise de Locis Sanctis, in the 16th and 17th chapters of the fifth Book of his Ecclesiastical History. It is, he says, a book most useful to the reader (in that age). The author Adamnan received his information about the holy places from Arcuulfus, a Bishop from Gaul, who had himself visited Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, and all the islands of the sea. When returning home a tempest drove his vessel to the west parts of Britain, where he met Adamnan, probably in Hy, to whom he narrated all the noteworthy scenes he had gone through. Adamnan at once reduced the narrative to writing for the information of his own countrymen. He presented the work to his friend King Aldfrid, through whose liberality copies were multiplied for the benefit of the young, if such be the meaning of Bede's phrase : "Per ejus largitionem etiam minoribus
ad legendum contraditus." Bede himself was greatly pleased with the book, from which he inserts several extracts in his own History, concerning Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Mount Olivet, and other places in Palestine. It was published at Ingoldstadt in 1619.

A Life of St. Patrick and various poems have been attributed to Adamnan, bat there is no evidence to prove that they are genuine. The same may be said of the Vision of Adamnan," a kind of moral discourse in Irish, which purports to relate a wonderful vision of joys of heaven and of the torments of hell as seen and narrated by the saint. The work is certainly very ancient, but contains many things that go far to disprove its own authenticity.

When we consider the life and writings of this great man, as well as the large influence which he exercised on Irish affairs during the latter half of the seventh century, few will be disposed to question his right to take a high place amongst the saints and scholars of the West. He has been justly described in the prologue to the "Vision" as "the noble sage of the Western world." We have already quoted Bede's high testimony to his virtue and learning. The Four Masters emphatically endorse that testimony, and add that "he was tearful, penitent, fond of prayer, diligent and ascetic ;" and that he was moreover " learned in the clear understanding of the Holy Scriptures of God."


Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3rd series, Vol 3 (1882), 408-419.

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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Saint Anci, September 19

Canon O'Hanlon flags up an obscure entry in some of the Irish calendars at September 19 for a saint Anci. The name first appears in the Martyrology of Tallaght and then later in the Martyrology of Donegal. It is missing however from the Martyrology of Oengus and from the Martyrology of Gorman.

St. Anci or Ainchi.

 In the published and Book of Leinster copies of the Martyrology of Tallagh, we find the simple entry, Anci, without further designation, and at the 19th of September. The Martyrology of Donegal has Ainchi, at the 19th of September. We cannot find any further account of him.

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Monday, 18 September 2017

Saint Gema of Riacc Innse, September 18

The name of an obscure Irish female saint is found in some of the Irish calendars at September 18. As Canon O'Hanlon explains below, the name of Gema of Riacc Innse is found in the Martyrology of Tallaght and in the Martyrology of Gorman. Her name is absent though from the Martyrology of Oengus and from the Martyrology of Donegal:

St. Gema, Virgin, of Riacc Innse. 

We find a festival registered in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 18th of September, in honour of Gema, Virgin, of Riacc Innse.  In the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, at the same date, the entry of Gemma is found. Her place and period seem to be unknown.

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