Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Saint Criotán of Bangor, September 16

Among the saints commemorated on the Irish calendars on September 16 is Saint Criotán of the County Down monastery of Bangor. The Martyrology of Gorman describes this seventh-century monastic as Criotán Certronnach Celloir Comhgaill Bennchair, which the editor, Whitley Stokes, translated as 'Critán, the Justly-Dividing, Comgall of Benchor's cellarer'.  The Martyrology of Donegal's entry expands on this to include something of the saint's genealogy:
CRIOTAN CERTRONNACH, Cellarer of Comhgall, of Bennchor.  
Eithne, daughter of Saran son of Colgan, and sister of Ronan, was the mother of Criotan Certronnach; who was so called because he used to divide fairly.
The editor's note explains that certronnach, 'divide fairly' derives from the Irish cert, 'right', 'just' and roinn or rann, 'a division'.

Saint Comgall is the founder of Bangor and thus Saint Criotán is a member of the monastic household, holding a specific office within it. Father John Ryan, in his classic study of Irish monasticism, discusses the office of cellarer, whose responsibilities are perhaps rather more important than one might think:

The cellarer (ceallóir or coic) had under his charge not only the kitchen, but the supplies upon which the kitchen depended. He had, therefore, to be a man in whom the fullest reliance could be placed. Over-generosity on his part might lead to unbecoming ease and laxity, whilst an all too rigorous regime might lead to murmuring, discouragement and discontent. Even Caesarius of Arles proved a failure when appointed to fill this office at Lérins, and had to be superseded by another. Hence much might be said in justification of a statement made in one of the later rules that the discipline of the community depends on the cellarer. [This statement is from the Rule of Ailbe, 32: 'as the food is, so will the order be'.]

John Ryan S.J., Irish Monasticism - Origins and Early Development, (2nd. edition, Dublin, 1972), 274 .

 It would seem therefore that our saint made a success of his office and was awarded the epithet of 'the justly-dividing' in recognition. We can conclude with Canon O'Hanlon's account from Volume IX of his Lives of the Irish Saints:

St. Criotan, or Critan Certronnach of Bangor, County of Down. 

[Seventh Century.]

An entry of Critain is found in the Book of Leinster copy of the Martyrology of Tallagh for the 16th day of September; but, it is omitted from the published edition of Rev. Dr. Kelly. However, the festival of Critan is found in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, at this date. Veneration was given, at the 16th of September, as we find set down in the Martyrology of Donegal, to Criotan Certronnach, Cellarer of Comhgall, of Bennchor. Eithne, daughter to Saran, son of Colgan, and sister to Ronan, was the mother of this Criotan Certronnach, who was so called because he used to divide fairly. The present Saint is entered in our Calendars without such a distinction; and, therefore, we may doubt, if he filled any higher office than that of Cellarer in the Monastery. The Annals of Ulster and of the Four Masters placed his death under the year 668. The Annals of Clonmacnoise enter his decease previously to this date, and on the same year, A.D. 665, with Mochwa, or Mochuo, son of Ust, who is also called Abbot of Bangor.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Saint Lassar of Clonmore, September 15

September 15 is the commemoration of one of more than a dozen female saints who bear the name of Lassar. I have given a list of the others on the page dealing with homonymous saints here. The task of separating these individuals is not made any easier by the association of today's holy lady with the place name Clonmore. Clonmore is an anglicisation of the Irish cluain mór, the large meadow and is itself shared by localities throughout the island. The most famous in terms of ecclesiastical sites is perhaps Clonmore, County Carlow and in his account below Canon O'Hanlon is informed by one of his correspondents that this is indeed the Clonmore of our saint. If this is so, she is the only female saint I have come across in connection with this monastery whose two most well-known saints are the founder Maedoc and the zealous relic collector Saint Onchu. Finally, the calendarist Marianus O'Gorman's description of Saint Lassar as bright and shining is a reference to the fact that her name is derived from the old Irish word for flame.

St. Lassar of Clonmore. 

This pious Virgin, St. Lassair, of Cluain-mor, was venerated at the 15th of September, as we read in the Martyrologies of Tallagh. The name of Lasra, Lassar, Lassera or Lassair was not an unusual one among the Irish female Saints.  Of these, some are distinguished by their patronymics; others by their connexion with a particular locality; while others are not recognizable under either category. The present St. Lassar is said to have been of Cluain-mor. Many places, bearing the name of Clonmore, are found in various parts of Ireland. Mr. John McCall informs the writer, however, that the place of this holy virgin was Clonmore Maedhoc, now Clonmore, in the County of Carlow, which place has been already described at the 8th of February, when treating about St. Oncho or Onchuo, Confessor. At the 15th of September, the bright St. Lassar is invoked in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, as the shining one who is not decrepit. A commentator adds, that she was of Cluana Moir. At the present date, likewise, Lassar is noticed in the Martyrology of Donegal.  The same entry occurs in the Irish Calendar, belonging to the Ordnance Survey Records.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

'The Exaltation of Dear Christ's Cross'

September 14 is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which the 12th-century calendarist, Marianus O'Gorman, describes as 'the Exaltation of dear Christ's Cross, the great, pure, diademed standard'. Father John Ryan, in his classic work on Irish monasticism, has written of the use of the sign of the cross by the Irish monastic saints:

To invoke the divine aid against these evil powers the sign of the cross was in constant use. St. Columban, during his meditations in the woods near Luxeuil put that holy sign on his forehead frequently as a form of armour. His monks did the same whenever they left the monastery. Columban's successor at Luxeuil, the abbot Athala, had a cross erected outside his cell, so that when going out or returning he could lay his hand upon it before putting the sign of salvation upon his brow. A torch when lighted by a junior monk had to be handed to a senior to be thus blessed, and spoons when used at table had to be treated similarly by the brethern. In Iona the same custom prevailed; for it is recorded that St Columcille was displeased when the holy sign was not placed on a milk vessel (Adamnan ii, 16). The 'signum salutare' might be placed on tools and used for various pious purposes. When his uncle Ernan died suddenly on the way from the harbour to the monastery, a cross was raised on the spot where life failed him and another on the spot where Columcille stood awaiting his approach. Another cross, fixed securely in a large millstone, was erected in the place where the old white horse wept for the saint's approaching end just before his death. Caesarius of Arles shows that the practice of signing oneself with the sign of the cross was very common in Gaul. St. Patrick made the sign of the cross upon himself a hundred times during the day and night, and never passed a cross upon the wayside without alighting from his chariot and spending a while beside it in prayer. St. Jerome said it could not be made too frequently. The hermits in the Egyptian desert were wont to make the holy sign over their food and drink, before they took their repast, and one of them is credited with the statement that "where the cross passes the evil in anything is powerless."

Rev. John Ryan, S.J., Irish Monasticism - Origins and Early Development (2nd edn. 1972, reprinted Irish Academic Press, 1986), 234-235.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Saint Mael Tolaigh of Drumbeg, September 13

Among the saints commemorated on the Irish calendars at September 13 is an obscure County Down saint who rejoices in the name of Mael Tolaig. His locality, Drumbeg, was noted by the scholarly Anglican Bishop, William Reeves, in a note (e) on page 46 of his work on the Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore

Drum.—Now Drumbeg parish.—Ord. Survey, s. 9, Down; s. 64, Antrim. The church occupies the ancient site, on a hill in the county of Down, commonly called the Drum. The parish is intersected by the river Lagan, and was sometimes styled Drom in the Lagan. The Irish word Lagan signifies, according to Mr. O' Donovan, "a hollow, or hollow district between hills or mountains" ( Hy Fiachrach, p. 223), and is applied to tracts in the counties of Mayo and Donegal. At the Dissolution, the rectory of this parish was appropriate to the abbey of Moville.

Canon O'Hanlon's account  brings the details from the calendars:

St. Maeltolaigh, of Drumbeg Parish, County of Down. 

The Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman enters the feast of Mael Tolaig, "of the strong effort," at the 13th of September. In the Martyrology of Donegal, it is mentioned, that Maeltolaigh, of Druim Niadh, in Ulster, was venerated at the same day. The place is now known, as being included within the present parish of Drumbeg, intersected by the River Lagan, and situated partly in the County of Down and partly in the County of Antrim. The Protestant church occupies the ancient site, on a hill, commonly called the Drum, in the County of Down.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Prayer of Saint Molaisse to the Holy Spirit

September 12 is the feast of Saint Molaisse of Devenish, a saint from the beautiful lakeland county of Fermanagh. A prayer attributed to Saint Molaisse was published as part of an occasional series 'Fragments from the Early Irish Church' in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which I reprint below:

1. Prayer of St. Molaissi, Abbot of Devenish. The following short poem of St. Molaissi is preserved in the ancient Liber Hymnorum, a MS. of the tenth century. There are three famous saints of the name Molaissi, in the Irish calendars, viz., St. Molaissi, son of Cairill, Abbot and Bishop of Leighlin, whose feast day is the 18th of April; St. Molaissi, son of Dealan, Abbot of Inishmurray, on 12th August; and St. Molaissi, son of Nadfraich, Abbot of Daimhinis, on the 12th of September. The Irish poem which we now publish has merely the title " Moelisa dixit", i.e., Molaissi composed this poem. But as it is attached to a Latin hymn which bears the title " Incipit imnus Lasriain, id est, Molasse Daminnse" " Here begins the hymn of Laserian, i.e., Molaissi of Devenish", all doubt is removed as to its author.

St. Molaissi of Devenish flourished in the sixth century and his death is registered in the Chronicon Scotorum, in 564: " Molaise of Daimhinis quievit" [1] in the Annals of Ulster and of the Four Masters the entry is made under the year 563. He founded a famous church and monastery in the island of Daimhinis, i.e., " Bovium insula", now Devenish in Loch Erne, not far from the present town of Enniskillen. A beautiful round tower and the ruins of the old monastery still adorn the island (Petrie's Round Towers, pp. 355, 395).

In the Felire of St. Oengus the Culdee, the name of St. Molaissi is commemorated with other saints on the 12th of September as follows:

" Celebrate the festival of Ailbhe
With Fedh, the bright, protecting,
With the festival of Laisren the chosen,
From Daiminis of the assemblies". [2]

A gloss also is added to the original text, and from it we learn that St. Molaissi was only in his thirtieth year when he attained his crown, and that he himself described his monastery in the following verse :

" A happy land we have found,
A broad lake in Sliabh Achad,
A common resort for the Gaels,
The beloved abode of God the Father".

In the curious and very ancient Irish tale entitled " The Courtship of Bec Fola", there is a passage relative to our saint which illustrates the customs of our island in those early times. Four chieftains had challenged their rivals to meet them in deadly strife in the island of Daimhinis. On the appointed day they proceeded thither in their richest attire. Seven of the combatants were soon numbered among the dead, and the only surviving one was severely wounded. The bodies of the slain were interred by St. Molaissi, and he sent four of his religious to the monarch Diarmaid, to know what was his pleasure regarding their weapons and rich ornaments. It was on a Sunday that these messengers reached the monarch's abode, and it being unlawful for the clergy to travel about on the Lord's day, it is added that Diarmaid " drew his cloak over his head that he might not see the strangers". The religious, however, told him that it was "by order of their superior and not for their own pleasure" that they had undertaken this journey: and having detailed the circumstances of the combat, they thus continued :

" The chieftains left behind them as much gold and silver as two men could carry, i.e., of the gold and silver that was on their garments and on their necks, and on their shields, and on their spears, and on their swords and on their hands, and on their tunics. We have come to know what portion of this booty you desire". The king replied: " That which God has sent to Molaissi, I shall not take from him : let him make his reliquaries of it": and the narrative adds: " This indeed was verified, for with that silver and gold, the reliquaries of Molaissi were ornamented, viz., his shrine, and his ministir [3] and his crozier".[4]

St Cuimin of Connor flourished about a hundred years later and in his poem on the Characteristic virtues of the Irish Saints, he thus speaks of Saint Molaissi:

" Molaissi, of the lake, loved
To live in a cell of hard stone :
A strangers' home for the men of Erin,
Without refusal, without a sign of inhospitality" .

Many other particulars connected with St. Molassai may be found in Lanigan, vol. ii. pag. 218. We now present to our readers the sweet prayer which he composed.


"May the Holy Spirit be around us
Be in us and be with us :
May the Holy Spirit come to us,
O Christ, forthwith.

The Holy Spirit, to abide in
Our bodies and our souls,
To protect us unto Jerusalem
From dangers, from diseases,

From demons, from sins,
From hell with all its evils:
O Jesus, may thy Spirit
Sanctify us, save us".

[1] Chron. Scotorum, trans, and edit, by W. M. Hennessy, Esq., for the Master of the Rolls. London, 1866, page 57.

[2] Leabhar Breac, fol. 48, a.

[3] O'Donovan in his Ir. Gr., pag. 438, explains ministir as indicating " a portable relic". It seems to me to be derived from the Latin word Ministerium, which often occurs in medieval writings, and which is explained by Du Cange as "mensulam juxtaaltare, in qua reponuntnr vasa ad sacrificium idonea". Our venerable Irish Abbot Dungal, in 814, when sending some silver to a brother abbot in France, thus explains the purposes for which he wished it to be employed: "Volo rogare, si vobis facile est ut iubeatis uni bono et perito de vestris fabricare illud et facere inde ministerium, calicem et patenam" (Jaffa's Monumenta Carolina. Berlin, 1867, pag. 436). It would thus be something like a portable safe for containing the sacred vessels, and perhaps the Gospels or Lectionary for the service of the altar.

[4] Copies of this tale are preserved in MS. H. 2. 16, and H. 3. 18 (T. C. D.), and in the O'Curry MSS. Catholic University.

Irish Ecclesiastical Record Vol 5, 1869, 224-227

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Saint Loarn of Bright, September 11

September 11 is the feast of Saint Loarn of Bright, County Down. He is a saint known from Patrician hagiography and Canon O'Hanlon draws upon these sources in his account below which I've broken up into sections to help make it a little easier to digest:



OUR early Pastors and teachers were truly Apostolic men. The spiritual father, as a ghostly adviser and director of his people, always attracted his flock to the practice of virtues, which he preached, not less by word, than by example. Even after death, his influences remain, and affect religiously generations that survive. Colgan promised to treat about St. Loarn, on the day for his festival, which by Marianus O'Gorman and others has been placed, at the 11th of September. This intention he did not live to accomplish, and we are not aware, that any special acts of St. Loarn now exist. According to the O'Clerys, the present holy man was the son of Darerca, sister of St. Patricks and consequently he was a nephew of the great Irish Apostle. However, we cannot place too much reliance on this statement. But few particulars have been preserved, in reference to him. Incidentally we are told, in the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, that  when the Irish Apostle was in the North of Ireland, and returning from his unsuccessful visit to his old master Milcho at Slemish, he went to Saul, and thence set out southwards towards the residence of a chief named Ros, who was brother to his first convert, Dichu. That Ross or Rus lived in Derlus, to the south of Dun-leth-glaise, now Downpatrick. Whether Loarn lived there at that time or not seems doubtful; but, it is probable, that soon after the conversion of Ros, he was appointed to rule there in the capacity of a chorepiscopus. This saint is classed among the disciples of St. Patrick and, it is likely, he was a convert to the Faith, at an early stage of the Irish  Apostle's mission. The ancient fort of Ros, known as Durlas, formerly an earthen rath, probably stood where the Castle of Bright may now be seen.

The parish of Bright, in the County of Down, was formerly known as Brettain or Brettan. In old documents, this place is variously called Brict, Brich, Brett, Bratten, Brettain, and Brichten. We are informed, that the townland, in which the Protestant church of Bright was situated, is named  Ballintubber—the town of the Well—from a remarkable spring a quarter of a mile to the north of the church, and which is supposed to have been the ancient holy well, where Ros-mic-Trichim had been baptised. This church was built in 1745, by the distinguished Protestant Dean of Down, Dr. Patrick Delany,  and the friend of the still more celebrated Dean of St. Patrick's, Dr. Jonathan Swift. St. Loarn, who was contemporaneous with St. Patrick, presided over it, in the capacity of a bishop. The church of Bright stood beside the ancient fort called Derlus, where, it seems probable, the Anglo-Normans of Lecale afterwards erected the Castle of Bright. Colgan very incorrectly infers, that the author of St. Patrick's Tripartite Life must have lived contemporaneously with this saint, from an  equivocal phrase introduced. Archdall has it, that Loarne was bishop or abbot at Bretain.

In the Acts of our national Apostle, a curious legend is related regarding St. Loarn, who was present at the grave of St. Patrick, when the top, belonging to a boy who was there playing with other boys, rolled into a hole made in the holy man's sepulchre. One of these playmates endeavoured to draw forth the top, but found his hand firmly held. St. Loarn was sent for and he came to the spot. Then addressing St. Patrick, he cried out: "Why, O holy senior, do you hold the hand of this innocent child?" Immediately the boy's hand was loosed from this thrall.

The modern Protestant church of Bright occupies the original site of the ancient structure, and near it are the ruins of an old castle. The church itself was a dependency on the See of Down before the Anglo-Norman Invasion; and about A.D. 1178 John De Courcey confirmed its possessions to Malachy, Bishop of that See. Shortly afterwards, under the name of Brichten, Malachy annexed it to the Abbey of St. Patrick, of which he was ex officio abbot. The church and the grave-yard surrounding it are situated on a high natural bank of earth, from which the descent is very rapid on the north and south sides ; but the other sides are on a level with the adjacent fields.  The church-yard is about an acre in extent. A fosse, about twenty feet broad and ten or twelve feet deep, was on the northern side. This fosse extended from the western termination of the high bank to the end of that same bank. On the south side and with the banks, it enclosed about two and a half Irish acres.  Some notices of this church occur in our mediaeval rolls and annals.  In the Taxation of Pope Nicholas IV., the Church of Brich was valued at Eight Marks ; or rather in that of Pope Clement V., and carried out A.D. 1306. During the Invasion of Ireland, by Edward Bruce, the Scots and Irish burned the Church of Bright, it being full of persons of both sexes at the time. After the Dissolution, the tithes of Bright were leased in 1583 to the Earl of Kildare. In 1609, Bright alias Beaten was annexed, by charter, to the Deanery of Down. In 1622, its church was returned by the Protestant Bishop as in ruins. These were removed when the Protestant church was built. In the adjoining fields stone-lined graves are frequently found.

According to the Martyrology of Donegal, a festival was celebrated at the 11th of September, in honour of Loarnn, Bishop of Cill Chunna. The only modern parish denomination we find resembling Cill Chunna is the present Kilcooney, in the barony of Clare and County of Galway; yet, it does not seem this had any special connection with the present Saint. In a passage of the Martyrology of Donegal, St. Loarn is called Bishop of Inrec Nechtain. However, the correct reading is Inrechan, or Inreathan. This is described as a "civitatula" or little city, and it has been identified with Breatain or Bright. The site of 'his ancient church is now occupied by the Protestant house of worship.

According to Colgan's conjecture, in all probability, St. Loarn did not survive beyond the middle of the sixth century, or the year 540; but as we have already seen, his opinion rests on the false supposition, that the second writer of St. Patrick's Life lived contemporaneously with Loarn. However, it seems likely enough, this holy man lived into the earlier part of the sixth century. At the iii. of the September Ides—corresponding with the present date—his feast is entered by Marianus O'Gorman, and in the local Calendar, compiled by the Rev. William Reeves.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Saint Senach, son of Buidi, September 10

September 10 is the feast of Saint Senach, son of Buidi. His name first appears in the earliest of the Irish calendars, The Martyrology of Tallaght, but as it's a name shared by an number of saints it is difficult for Canon O'Hanlon to bring specific details, although he concentrates on the saint Senach with Patrician associations in his account below:

St. Senach, son of Buidi.

[Possibly in the Fifth Century.]

Veneration was given to a Senaig Gairbh—as he is called—at the 10th of September, according to the published Martyrology of Tallagh. In that copy contained in the Book or Leinster, while we have Senaig Gairb on one line in large letters, mac buidi seem to follow in smaller characters in the space underneath, and immediately over Findbair. There is a saint of this name, who was placed by St. Patrick to rule over the church of Achadh-fobhuir as a bishop. This lay in the western part of Connaught.

In our Ecclesiastical Calendars, there are several persons bearing the name of Senach. One occurs in Tirechan's List. It is not improbable, that he may have been Senach of Aghagower. This was in the territory of Umalia or Hymalia. Yet, it is not certain, that he can be identified more with the present, than with any other bearing the name and mentioned in our Calendars. The following account is given by Jocelyn, in his Life of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. In the place, which is named Achadfobhair, St. Patrick had built and endowed a church with fair possessions; and, over it he appointed and consecrated as bishop Sennach, who, for the innocency of his heart, was called the Lamb of God. And he, being so consecrated, entreated of the saint that with unceasing prayer, he should labour with the Lord, to shield him in his office from the commission of all sin. Furthermore, he suppliantly besought, that the church over which he presided might not be called by his name, as was in many places the custom among the Irish people. And this he did, to preserve his lowliness, and to avoid vain glory, which is the fretting moth of all virtues. Then, understanding the worthiness of Sennach, and the simplicity of his heart, St. Patrick promised to him the fulfilment of all his desires. Blessing him and his flock, St. Patrick prophesied, that therefrom should proceed many holy and eminent priests. Serving in exceeding holiness the Holy of Holies, and being renowned for his miracles and for his virtues, Sennach entered at length into the heavenly sanctuary. More than once, Colgan calls Aghagower merely the locality of a bishop's see. Archdall places a monastery under Senach of Aghagower. But, in whatever account we have regarding him, no such thing is mentioned. If the holy man be identical, as Colgan thinks, with the former mentioned, the present Senach was greatly distinguished as a virtuous disciple of the Irish Apostle. The name of Senach, son of Buidi, appears in the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same date.