Monday, 23 September 2019

Saint Adamnan of Iona, September 23

September 23 is the feast of Saint Adamnan, a saint whose reputation continues to grow among modern scholars. Below, however, is a paper from 1901 by Canon E. Maguire, a Donegal priest who produced a number of books and articles on the saints linked to his native county. He is thus very keen to examine the career of Saint Adamnan not only in connection with Iona but also in his Irish setting as Saint Eunan, patron of Raphoe. Canon Maguire went on to publish a book entitled Life of Saint Adamnan, Patron of Raphoe, in 1917 and it is from this volume that the painting opposite has been taken.

ST. ADAMNAN OR EUNAN, PATRON OF RAPHOE

WHERE two such eminent and critical historians as Dr. Lanigan and Dr. Reeves are in complete accord, and no equally competent authority can be adduced in contradiction, a strong prima facie case is at once established in favour of their concurrent opinion on mere extrinsic evidence. Newman enunciates a truth, that has been frequently brought home to all of us in the experiences of life, when he states that there are many things of which we are thoroughly and justly convinced, and yet we could not, if called upon, specify the motives that have constrained this unalterable belief. That Adamnan, the illustrious author of the Life of St. Columba, and ninth abbot of Iona, and Eunan, first bishop and patron of Raphoe, were one and the same individual, is the contention which we shall here attempt to place on a firm and satisfactory footing, and for which, as its first prop of support, we gladly avail of the joint authority of the above-named great leaders of research and acute criticism in matters appertaining to ancient Irish Church history. It is true that they do not treat the subject at any great length, and that they content themselves with the statement of their mature opinion on the point, without particularizing the grounds of their judgment. In this they have acted wisely, and with thoughtful regard for the comfort of posterity. Many a pious and patriotic Irishman has heaved a heavy sigh of sincere regret that certain details of our national apostle's early life ever saw the light, since they have led to endless controversies, and equally endless disturbances of his penates, often effected with as little ceremony as the angel employed in transferring the Prophet Habacuc. If the present brief paper departs from the sage policy we applaud in those learned authors, it is because we feel our position is secure within the impregnable fortress of well-ascertained tradition. On the identity question, where local tradition cannot be traced far back, and where, undoubtedly, there has been a divergency of opinion among writers, we shall content ourselves with stating the arguments on both sides. Nothing could be farther removed from the object of these biographical notes than to provoke controversy. St. Adamnan is an historical figure that stamped its indelible impress on the discipline of the Irish Church, and on the annals of learning in Ireland and in Scotland; and the facts of his life cannot fail to be interesting to the readers of the I.E. Record.

A second argument in favour of this alleged identity is the incontestable fact that Adamnan of Iona died on the 23rd of September, the same day on which the feast of Eunan has been celebrated time out of mind. The two oldest Scottish calendars, and all ecclesiastical historians without any noteworthy exception, fix that date for Adamnan's death; and we know the extreme care with which the records of the deaths of distinguished bishops and abbots were kept, and the scrupulous exactness with which the anniversaries of such deaths were celebrated. Nor is it easily conceivable that the coincidence of these two feasts was merely accidental. Both saints bore the same name, Eunan being the phonetic spelling of Adamnan, which latter word, in the original Irish, has d and m aspirated; both were intimately associated with Raphoe and with St. Columba; both died on the same day of the same month of September; Eunan, distinct from Adamnan, is unknown to historian or annalist. Does not the inevitable conclusion force itself on our minds that the abbot and the bishop were one and the same person? This concurrence of feasts, and perfect agreement of name and of associations, would appear to dispose of all doubt on the subject. It is perfectly intelligible that, after the Plantation under James I., the phonetic form of the word should be almost exclusively retained in the district about the town of Raphoe, which was 'planted' with a vengeance; while the Irish-speaking people in other parts of the diocese, of course, pronounced the name Eunan at all times, as they do at the present day. Drighait-Eunan, or Adamnan's bridge, a few miles from the town of Raphoe, perpetuates the memory of the saint in the locality.

Thirdly, the Bishop of Raphoe is designated, in the old annals and biographies, the Coarb of Adamnan, and occasionally the Coarb of Columba and Adamnan, a title that can hardly be accounted for on any other hypothesis than that which is here advanced and defended; namely, that the well-known abbot was also first bishop of Raphoe. No doubt, his powerful relatives on his mother's side were the proprietors of the rich district around, called Tir-Enna, or the land of Enna, son of Nial of the Nine Hostages. They would naturally hold the saint's name in great reverence; but, why should they ascribe to him special patronage over Raphoe, and spiritual headship over the Bishop of Raphoe, if he was not the first bishop and the patron of the town and see? Adamnan was not born or reared in the immediate neighbourhood; his native Drumholme belonged to Tyrconnell, and Raphoe was, at this time, included in the territory of Tyrowen; and the age at which he became Abbot of Iona, forty-two years before his death, precludes the likelihood of his having been head of the Raphoe abbey for any lengthened period, before taking up his residence in Iona. All historians agree that he returned to Ireland in or about 701, sojourning most probably at Raphoe, and that his stay in his native land extended to four years at least, as he celebrated there the Pasch in 705, and went back to Iona only immediately almost before his death.

St. Ceolfrid, the Venerable Bede, King Nayto, King Alfred of Northumbria, and other zealous champions of uniform discipline in the Church, had inspired him with a holy enthusiasm for the extirpation of the scandalous abuse regarding the Paschal celebration in Iona, and in Ireland. Failing, for the time, in his mission in Iona, he undertook to enlighten, and to bring into harmony with the rest of the Church, on that question, the Irish bishops, priests, and people at home. To invest him with increased dignity and authority, it is almost certain that the same distinguished friends in Britain, who admired so much his learning and humility, persuaded him to allow himself to be consecrated bishop, before he entered on this arduous and important mission. Bede describes him merely as a priest and abbot on the occasion of his visit to Ceolfrid, which took place, most probably, early in 701. His success in Ireland was as complete as it was rapid; bishops and abbots, kings and princes, all listened with respectful attention to his learned reasoning, and unctuous eloquence, and at once discarded the traditional usage he assailed, to which they had hitherto been tenaciously attached, chiefly out of reverence for St. Columba. Through his opportune intervention, a crisis, filled with endless possibilities of danger for the Irish Church, was happily terminated; and the saint was enabled to resume the tranquillity of monastic life in the abbey of Raphoe, on which he reflected the lustre of his world-wide fame for learning and holiness. Thus was the see of Raphoe founded by Adamnan of Iona, in 701, as soon as the Paschal controversy was effectively set at rest forever in Ireland by that great saint; unless, indeed, we chose to believe that it was a different bishop of the same name who was the founder, and about whom all history and tradition, ancient and modern, are absolutely silent.

In recent times, the opinion we advocate has been strongly maintained by the successive bishops of the diocese, and by all local scholars, many of whom have given long and assiduous attention to Irish lore, and ecclesiastical antiquities. It is upheld with cogent and convincing reasoning by the present occupant of that historic see, who has been all his life a devoted and diligent student of ancient Irish history, and an untiring collector of local traditions. And it is embodied, with due precaution, in the new Office sanctioned, at his instance, by the Holy See, for the feast of Raphoe's patron saint.

It is, of course, perfectly possible that, even though Adamnan was a bishop, when he visited the court and the monks in the north of England, Bede might be unaware of his episcopal dignity, give him the distinctive and much-honoured title of Abbot of Hy, and merely state he was a priest, either because the saint concealed the fact that he was a bishop, or to distinguish him from lay abbots like St. Benedict of Nursia. This supposition is, however, highly improbable, and quite unnecessary in order to justify our contention. All difficulty is avoided by the obvious suggestion already put forward, that it was only when the stubborn and unreasoning resistance of the Iona monks on the Paschal question, made him decide on leaving that celebrated monastery, for a time at least, that he was induced to accept episcopal orders. There was a bishop in constant residence at Iona; and, hence, the acceptance of consecration would be no bar to our saint's return among the community, at any time he might choose to terminate his stay in Ireland.

Alban Butler is largely responsible for perpetuating the story of a second Adamnan (or Eunan), of whom neither he nor any other writer can find fact or tradition. The Irish saints have received scant attention from this author, but his neglect of them has been largely repaired by the eloquent and sympathetic pen of Montalambert, and in some cases more amply still by Canon O'Hanlon.

Adamnan, like the great Columba, was a scion of the princely line of Conal Gulban, and first saw the light amid the rich and gently undulating slopes of Drumholme, mid-way between Donegal and Ballyshannon, about the year 630. Ronan, his father, was a descendant of Conal, and a kinsman of Columbkille, while his mother Ronata belonged to the house and district of Enna, as has been already explained. At an early age, the promising child was consecrated to the service of God and to the monastic life, in the Columbian foundation of Raphoe. He had received the advantages of an excellent education from the first dawn of intelligence under the parental roof and in a neighbouring monastic school. Drumholme was then, and for many long centuries after, the hallowed nursery of numerous saints and distinguished men of learning, who gave their talents and their time ungrudgingly to the cause of God's Holy Church.

St. Asicus, first bishop and patron of Elphin, was so fondly attached to the sanctified soil of his birthplace in Drumholme that, in his waning years, he laid down the burden of episcopal cares to be transferred to younger shoulders, and returned to leave his bones to mingle their dust with that of the saintly monks near his natal spot, where his grave is still pointed out to the rare visitor. The illustrious St. Ernan practised by anticipation the sage advice suggested by the author of the Following of Christ: — Qui multum peregrinantur, raro sanctificantur. He appears to have spent his whole life in prayer and edifying works of charity in Drumholme and in a neighbouring abbey that is associated with his name. St. Hugh MacBrackan abandoned even his beloved Shangleann for the sweet tranquillity and sacred surroundings of Drumholme, whither he proceeded to yield up his pure soul to its Creator, and to seek the company of other chosen friends of God in determining the resting-place of his remains. Long ages after, the renowned Marianus Scotus resurrected, for a time, the decayed glory of Drumholme. But in recent days the sweet chant of the choral office is heard no more; the cowl and the habit, the prayers and the charity of the monks, no longer spread the fragrance of sanctity around the home of Adamnan. The big drum and the orange sash bring back forcibly to the minds of the inhabitants on each recurring Twelfth of July the doleful tale of impiety and plunder. Yet the old faith glows bright and unflickering in the hearts of the peaceful and respectable Catholic community, as their beautiful church and its magnificent congregation abundantly testify.

When the flush of boyhood's blooming freshness and growing strength gave an irresistible impulse and a definite form to the longing aspirations of Adamnan's generous heart to study and labour in solitude, and at a distance from the distracting pleasures and pleasing comforts of home, the monastery of Raphoe, where he had been solemnly offered by his mother when he was a mere child, was agreed upon by his parents and himself as the most suitable place to spend the novitiate of his religious life. It had been founded by Columba, and hallowed by his residence there; it had been endowed by his mother's wealthy relations; many of the holy monks of that establishment were allied by blood with the gifted postulant; he had often visited the several churches of Raphoe, had seen the monks, had been kindly treated by them when only a child, and had conceived an affectionate reverence for that home of sanctity. The renowned Columba was the great model he proposed to himself from the beginning, and he knew that in Raphoe the memory and traditions of their beloved founder were still fresh and constantly on the lips of his devoted disciples.

It was here he collected the nucleus of his immense stock of details, which he afterwards embodied in his invaluable biography of that saint; it was here that many of Columba's miracles had been performed. His farmer-kinsmen in the neighbourhood loved to tell how the 'Dove of the Cells' had shown their fathers the construction of a new and more effective form of plough he had invented, and how he had taught them to substitute the more elaborate and rapid machinery of the mill for the old wearying quern. While, within the precincts of the monastery, the strict discipline and the rule of life had been framed by Columba, the psalms that were sung, and the other sacred writings that were read each day, were copied either by the hand or by the order of the same beloved saint; the churches were his work; the bells sounded the praises of his heaven-inspired mission; Columba's Cross and Columba's Well, the tranquil shades and rich gardens, recalled pleasing traditions of his labours and counsels; the choir, the cloisters, and the altars commemorated vividly the zeal and taste of Tyrconnell's saint for the glory of God's house.

Next to his great hero and the subject of his principal work, the Irish saint, whose name stands out in boldest relief on Adamnan's pages, is Baithen, to whose memory he pays the highest tributes of affectionate admiration. Long years before he was called to fill the important and distinguished position of Abbot of Iona, in succession to Columba and Baithen, he had heard in Raphoe ravishing and marvellous tales of the miracles and sanctity of these two great servants of God. Baithen had been the first abbot of the once famous monastery of the Laggan, another of Columba's foundations, about six miles from Raphoe. An old graveyard and some interesting ruins mark the spot, while the townland has been designated Taughboyne (Teach-Baithine), or Baithen's House, ever since those remote ages, when the beneficent works of saints were appreciated, and their memory perpetuated in local topography and in the titles of parishes and churches. The whole rich agricultural district around is now called the Laggan, and is mainly peopled by well-to-do Presbyterian farmers, who, like the present inhabitants of Iona, know little, and care less, about the interesting and widespread antiquities of that historic locality. The best known and best authenticated of Baithen's miracles, is almost an exact repetition of one performed by Moses, and familiar to our readers. The Irish immigrants and indigenous Scottish converts were being overpowered by the countless numbers and impetuous savagery of their Pictish assailants; the saint raised his hands to heaven, directing his eyes and prayers and heart towards the throne of the God of Battles; and the surging waves of terrific invaders, that threatened to sweep away, in their murderous rush, every vestige of the fast-spreading religion of Christ, rolled back harmlessly to concentrate their energies and volume for a fresh assault. Time after time did the manifest intervention of the Almighty ward off the menacing hosts at the prayer of Baithen, until at length it became necessary to send relays of willing soldiers to sustain his fatigued and drooping arms. The golden rays of the sinking sun reflected from the glittering pikes of the kilted Northmen, brandished in joyous triumph, conveyed to the retreating Picts, as by heliograph, the damping but indisputable tidings, that victory rested secure on the green banners of the Irish missionaries. Again, in the touching picture of Columba's death, Adamnan does not fail to give Baithen that prominent place, to which the esteem of the dying saint and his personal greatness clearly entitled him. It was only a few hours at most before he calmly resigned his spirit into the hands of his Eternal King and Judge, when he laid aside his pen with which he had just copied the psalm Benedicam as far as: Inquirentes autem Dominum non minuentur omni bono ('They that seek the Lord, shall not fail in every good,') and, smiling, whispered to the monks, who were around: — 'I must stop here; Baithen will do the rest.' Thus the mantle of Columba fell on the shoulders of his favourite and worthy relative, about whom Adamnan had heard so many edifying and fascinating stories in Raphoe, and, still more, in the Laggan monastery where he had lived and ruled, and was so dearly loved.

In his Life of Columba, he mentions a memorable visit of that saint to an old bishop, Brugach, who resided at Raymochy, about four miles from Raphoe in the Letterkenny direction. It is most probable that a successor of Brugach still lived and ministered at Raymochy until Raphoe was erected into a bishop's see by Adamnan, visiting the churches of Tyrconnell for confirmation and other episcopal functions, and conferring ordinations in the numerous monasteries of the Columbian and other orders in that populous territory. That self-effacement, which Bede so loudly extols in our saint, has left many regrettable lacunae in the history of ecclesiastical events, that were in any way associated with his own zeal and name.

After many years of untiring study and constant growth in holiness, our saint was ordered to Iona to assist in training young missionaries for the work of extending the dominion of the Church over souls, in Britain and in all parts of western and central Europe. He was at that time prosecuting his literary labours and combining therewith the most edifying devotional practices in the celebrated and extensive monastery that stood amid 'Derry's oaks' on the left bank of the Foyle, twelve miles from Raphoe. There his unobtrusive and genial presence had become familiar and his brilliant gifts of mind and sympathetic heart had won the deep esteem and warm love of all; but when the mandate of his superiors was conveyed to him, he hesitated not a moment to bid adieu to his dear relatives, and to all his fond brother-monks and idolising young students in the loved and lovely scenes of his happy boyhood. In the beautiful apse of the unrivalled college church of Maynooth over the arched entrance to St. Columba's chapel, a singularly fine painting represents the exiled saint embarking at Derry with his twelve companions, while the afflicted priests and brothers he is leaving, stand weeping and inconsolable on the shore. Many a time and oft since then, has the same bank of the Foyle witnessed a similar heart-rending scene; but the departure of Adamnan was, in all its surroundings and details, an almost exact reproduction of that heroic and fateful event. Voyages were then rarely undertaken, and attended with extreme peril; while the descendants of Niall, unlike their adventurous progenitor, were exceptionally warm-hearted and home-loving. D'Arcy M'Gee has most aptly and elegantly embalmed in verse the sentiment a well-known tradition ascribes to Columba, when he saw a bird winging its flight from Iona in the direction of Ireland: —

But you will see what I am banned
No more, for my youth's sins, to see.
My Derry's oaks in council stand;
By Rosapenna's silver strand —
Or by Raphoe, your course may be.

Failbé was at this time the Abbot of Iona; and, delighted as he was to receive Adamnan, a man of such celebrity and promise, at once so learned and so humble, he extended to him a warm Irish welcome, and treated him from the first day with the tender kindness of a father. His love of books, and his zeal for copying manuscripts, and for teaching; the chanting of the divine office, and the repeated visits to the Blessed Sacrament, which St. Columba's example had made a rigid and conscientious duty for all the members of that pious community, left him little leisure for revisiting, in regretful reverie, the pleasant haunts and associations of his earlier years in his dear old Donegal. The Sacred Scriptures were his favourite and ceaseless study; Bede assures us that Ceolfrid found him deeply versed in the inspired volume, and fondly regardful of its counsels as well as its precepts, its implied meaning as well as its explicit statements. Despite his unfeigned and earnest efforts to labour and pray unobserved and undistinguished amid the immense multitude of devout monks, that then filled the vast monastery of Iona, his gentle mien, his striking figure, his burning charity, and his superior knowledge, unconsciously attracted the affection and esteem of all the members of the institution, and even of the countless pilgrims and other visitors.

The aged Failbé was called to his final account in 664; and, at once, without a dissentient voice, his predilection for Adamnan during life, and his anxious wish at death to have him as successor, were ratified by the entire community. Thus our saint was, by his brother monks, exalted, notwithstanding his energetic resistance, to a position, than which few were more enviable or more responsible in the Western Church of that day; and events proved the wisdom of their choice. He continued his exercises of piety with the same devoted assiduity as before; he taught theology and Sacred Scripture; he copied books, and composed original works; he gave wise counsel to bishop and friar, to king and to peasant. But there was one work of humility and love that he took a special delight in performing whenever the chance offered — that was the washing of the pilgrims' feet as soon as they landed on the shores of Iona, after the example of our Lord at the Last Supper, before conducting them to partake of the ungrudging hospitality of the monks. It was while engaged in performing this Christ-taught office of love that he once discovered, to his amazement, that the recipient of his attention was a French bishop, by name Asculf, who had lost his bearings on his return voyage from the Holy Land, and was driven ashore on Iona by a storm, after long and perilous wanderings over unknown waters. We take it that he was re-seeking the north-east coast of France, where the Franks of that time were settled; else his mistaken course could not be easily accounted for, even on the double supposition of a great tempest and want of nautical skill and appliances. In any case, the guest of that evening supplied the learned abbot with interesting material for a book much prized in those days, and bristling with points of detailed information that throw a flood of light on the usages of the time and on some texts of Scripture.

Towards the close of the seventh century, Nayto became King of the Picts, and soon developed a sincere and practical zeal for the spread and true observance of the Catholic religion, and an affectionate esteem for the worthy ministers of Christ. These laudable qualities had, naturally, brought him into close relations with the abbot and monks of Iona and having important affairs of the nation to transact with Alfred, King of Northumbria, he selected the gifted and prudent Adamnan for the delicate office of ambassador.

Up to this time our saint had observed the Pasch according to the custom adhered to in his native country and Scotland; nor is it to be wondered at that, in matters of disciplinary usage, these islands differed from the body of the Church, seeing that communication with Rome, or even with France, was difficult and rare, and that the calculation as to the date, on which Easter should fall, was still most complicated and little known. The nineteen years' cycle of Dionysius Exiguus had only just begun to be adopted in the churches and monasteries of England, the old cycle of eighty-four years being still retained in Scotland and Ireland. Besides, the systems of computation were so unsatisfactory and inexact, that Palm Sunday was celebrated in one church, while, perhaps, in a neighbouring abbey or diocese, Easter Sunday was being solemnized on the same day. The Irish were never Quartodecimans in the strict sense, as they always kept the feast of the Pasch on Sunday, and not on the fourteenth day after the first new moon following the Vernal Equinox, unless that day happened to fall on Sunday.

In Canterbury and in York, after the example of all the great seminaries on the Continent, one of the subjects studied with special attention was the method of calculating the date of the Pasch. The labours of Cyril of Alexandria, and still more, those of Dionysius Exiguus, had simplified the old cumbrous and uncertain system a good deal; but perfect accuracy and uniformity were not everywhere secured, even in the Western Church, in the calculation of dates, until the Gregorian Calendar had been introduced and gradually recognised in the various Churches long centuries after. The Pasch was, no doubt, celebrated on the same Sunday, and at the same time, everywhere, after the beginning of the eighth century, but the date or day of the month was different. Iona was almost the last Irish foundation to discard the old and erroneous computation, to which Irish missionaries on the Continent, notably the celebrated St. Columbanus, adhered immovably till their death. It must be remembered, however, that Columbanus had written twice to the reigning Pope, and had professed his readiness to abide by the Pontiff's decision with uncomplaining docility; nor is there any reason to believe that a different spirit prevailed in Ireland or in Iona.

Soon as the falsity of their system was clearly demonstrated — for the first time, by Adamnan in this country in 701, and in 716 by St. Egbert in Iona, where Adamnan's sudden rejection of the old method at the instigation of Ceolfrid and other Englishmen, had created a sinister impression prejudicial to his influence — when the revulsion of feeling not unnaturally created by the attempt to suppress at once a cherished traditional usage in an isolated community, that had only a faulty calendar to guide them, had gradually given way to the calm spirit of reason, Adamnan's lessons and brilliant example of obedience produced their effect, nine or ten years after his death; nor did his hallowed memory suffer more than a mere passing eclipse of popularity and affectionate esteem. He had, moreover, compiled a learned treatise shortly before his death, entitled De vero tempore faciendi Pascha, which assisted materially, if it was not mainly instrumental in reconciling the Iona community to the acceptance of the reform he had so yearned and laboured to introduce among them.

A brief stay in Northumbria brought Adamnan into close contact with the learned ecclesiastics and courtiers, and, naturally, the Paschal question was fully and frequently debated, with the result that Adamnan was convinced that the Roman custom was right, and embraced it cheerfully, with the earnest determination to use all his energies to have it adopted in Iona. From the court of King Alfred he proceeded to visit Ceolfrid, the abbot of Waremouth monastery in Durhamshire, and the most distinguished monk in England, in those days. This zealous advocate of the orthodox method of calculating the date of the Paschal Feast, was most agreeably surprised to find his illustrious visitor perfectly in accord with him on this important question, on which he was specially prepared with arguments and statements of the Popes and fathers, to bring conviction home to him at any cost. Ceolfrid had already written a most useful and instructive letter to King Nayto, which had been read in an assembly of ecclesiastics convened for the discussion and final settlement of that thorny question. Incidentally he had conveyed in that communication, replying to an inquiry of Nayto, that the form of tonsure, that was censured by many in the Iona monks, was a matter of secondary importance, implying no dogmatic error and infringing no explicit canon of discipline. Seeing, however, that Adamnan had disarmed him of all his powerful arguments on the subject of the Easter celebration, he proposed to himself the task of making him adopt also the Roman form of tonsure, with a view to enforcing the same form in Iona and all other Irish foundations.

'Brother' [said he], 'why is it that you wear an imperfect crown, since that distinctive feature of clerics is intended to symbolise the eternal crown to which you aspire? It is a perfect crown you labour for, and your wisdom, modesty, and piety, furnish every ground of hope for such a reward; why then do you persist in adhering to this singular and unmeaning badge? Do you expect to meet with a favourable reception at the hands of the powerful holder of the keys of heaven, when you shall present yourself disfigured with the tonsure of the magician, whom he anathematised?'

This homely argument and realistic description suppose that Simon Magus was the inventor of the Columbian tonsure, which took the form of a crescent or semicircle extending from ear to ear; while the Roman form is a complete circle having for its centre the crown of the head, and is commonly called the corona or la couronne. No trace, however, can be discovered of any such tradition in the numberless allusions by the early writers to Simon Magus, and most probably the statement is nothing more than a pious invention, suggested by seeking a contrast with the traditional tonsure of St. Peter. 'Be assured, brother,' calmly replied Adamnan, 'that whether I wear the tonsure of Simon Magus or not, I do not yield to anyone in detesting his crimes and errors.' The Venerable Bede describes so graphically this edifying and touching scene, that his account has been almost verbally transcribed or translated by later historians. He concludes by telling us, that the Abbot of Iona, being full of every virtue and deeply read in the sacred writings and the fathers, immediately submitted to the enlightened persuasion of his brother abbot, and adopted the common practice of the Church. Looking at the context, one can hardly detect any shred of justification for the statement, not uncommonly met with in ecclesiastical histories, restricting Adamnan's compliance, even here, to the adoption of the orthodox Paschal observance.

Ceolfrid was a disciple of the illustrious Bennet, Bishop of Canterbury; and, in addition to the varied and extensive knowledge he had acquired from that gifted master, he had spent a considerable time at Rome, where he became thoroughly acquainted with all ecclesiastical institutions and practices, at the centre and source of spiritual authority. Moreover, his fame for sanctity and zeal had made his name known and beloved throughout Great Britain, it is not, therefore, a matter of surprise that King Nayto had sought and obtained from him, a little before this time, an expression of his views in writing on the merits of the Paschal controversy and on the different forms of tonsure. The scholarly and exhaustive reply was read at a Scottish synod, and there it was decreed to adopt and to enforce the Roman discipline on both subjects. But, apart from these controversial matters, Nayto had conveyed a request, that presents to us an aspect of great interest. He begged the saint to send him some builders, who could plan and erect commodious stone churches, such as existed at Rome. Obviously, no such edifice, that could serve as a model, had yet been erected in Iona or in any part of Scotland. Bee-hive cells of stone, such as we see in an excellent state of preservation in Innismurray, and small houses of that shape, like the house of Columba at Kells, were already well-known; some small churches of stone, oblong in shape and graceful in their simple architecture, had been built in Ireland; but church architecture in these countries was only in its infancy. The name Raphoe (Rath-both) signifies fort-of-cottages or huts, which probably consisted of clay walls covered with a roof of wattles. Of course, the churches were more substantial and more ornate, and probably of stone like the little chapel of Columbkille still in perfect preservation at Gartan, within a mile of the spot where that great saint was born, and generally classed, with Raphoe church, among the numerous sacred edifices he everywhere erected. The ruins in Iona represent a church of later date; no vestige remains to mark the site of many of the widespread apartments of the monastery, which were largely constructed of perishable material.

The embassy of Adamnan was a brilliant and unqualified success. He bade an affectionate good-bye to the saintly Ceolfrid and the good King Alfred, promising to use all his energies and to spend the remainder of his days in establishing uniformity of discipline, and in uniting more closely than ever, in spirit and in external form, the Churches of Scotland and Ireland with Rome, the Mother and the Mistress of all the Churches. But the bright crown that awaited him in heaven and the perpetual honour and homage which he was destined to receive from the Spouse of Christ, were not to be gained without a keen struggle and bitter sufferings. When he returned to Iona, happy in the consciousness that he had done a great work for the glory of God's Church, what was his dismay and torture of heart to find his own beloved monks turning a deaf ear to all his gentle persuasion and his cogent arguments alike; condemning most emphatically, if not by words at least by looks and conduct, his adhesion to the discipline of the Church in the matter of the Paschal celebration as well as in that of the tonsure; and obstinately determined to resist any attempt to change their old traditional usages in regard to one or other of these observances. He saw with undisguised emotion that lowering clouds were gathering around the sunset of his hitherto serene and happy life, and to prevent the storm from bursting and defeating his mission of conciliation, he cheerfully resigned the wand of office into the hands that had forced it upon his reluctant acceptance, and prepared to return to his native country.

It was at this gloomy crisis in the history of the great monastery of Iona, that, according to a well-supported belief, the humble and zealous saint yielded to the persuasion of his numberless friends and allowed himself to be consecrated bishop. He took up his permanent residence at Raphoe, but visited many other parts of Ireland, and was everywhere received and listened to with that profound and admiring respect, that was due as well to his personal piety and rare attainments, as to the praiseworthy object of his zeal.

The nineteen years' cycle and the correct calculation and observance of Easter were at once adopted by church and state; and provision was amply made to ensure the careful teaching of this subject in all colleges and monastic schools. Thus the indomitable energy, gentleness, and scholarship of our saint, strengthened and enlightened by divine grace, rescued the Irish Church from possible schism; nor were his national services limited to the spiritual order. His advice and persuasiveness healed many a gaping wound of offended jealousy among princes, and infused a pacific spirit into the enactments and administration of monarchs. In synod and in council, in monastery and in church, his voice was ever raised to preach peace and unity, charity towards all, and pardon for the repentant sinner.

In face of the most abundant evidence supplied by contemporary writers of undoubted truthfulness, that Adamnan possessed an angelic sweetness of temper, and invariably supported the cause of the weak against the strong, it is alleged that he encouraged the descendants of Ainmire, high-kings of Ireland, in their attempts to extort the oppressive Borumean tribute from the Leinstermen. No proof of the statement is anywhere discoverable, and all well-ascertained facts leave little room for doubting that the charge is utterly groundless. About 674, while Adamnan was still a young abbot, living in the tranquil seclusion of his monastery away in Iona, the high-king Finnaghta generously renounced all claim to this obnoxious tribute on his own part and on the part of his successors. Thus the doubtful right was expressly waived, and the matter lay in abeyance till 722, long after Adamnan's death, when the claim was renewed by Fergall with most disastrous results. It is, therefore, impossible that the holy abbot should have taken any part in discussing the justice or iniquity of this tribute, at all events during the last thirty years of his life. If further evidence were needed, it is abundantly supplied in the canons, which he had been carefully studying and collecting during his long residence in Iona, and which he circulated as widely as he could, in manuscript copies, before his death. Some of these canons are expressly directed against the horrors of war, forbidding women, for instance, to take the field in any circumstances, and guarding churches, ecclesiastics, and convents against desecrating assaults. St. Columba is said to have procured the enactment of the humane prohibition first alluded to, and the name of St. Adamnan himself was associated, in ancient times, with many salutary and prudent regulations.

The most important and best known of Adamnan's literary works in his famous Life of St. Columba. A careful translation has been edited, with many useful notes and comments, in a very cheap and popular form, by the late Bishop of Kerry, Dr. MacCarthy, to whom the Irish Church is indebted for many publications of deep interest and usefulness. A work of still greater research and of profound scholarship, is Dr. Reeves' edition of Adamnan's Life of Columba, where all obscure passages are elucidated, and an immense collection of miscellaneous information about the early Irish Church is appropriately interspersed. This book is invaluable, but, unfortunately, it is very rare and entirely too expensive for the ordinary student. Fowler's edition is cheap and easily procurable; but, in the preface and in some of the notes, it manifests a strong anti-Catholic bias, and is dangerously untruthful in statement and suggestion. This interesting biography is largely founded on a previous work written by Cummeneus Albus, but is much more extensive and detailed. Contemporary scholars, like Bede, pronounced it, with unanimous accord, a very learned and useful compilation, and even at the present day, critics are agreed in regarding it as one of the best specimens of Latinity belonging to the middle ages.

His Descriptio Terrae Sanctae was sought after and read with the keenest avidity everywhere throughout Great Britain and Ireland, for many ages after its first appearance. Its accomplished author brought a copy of this much-prized work for presentation to King Alfred, on the occasion of his embassy to that monarch, and it was in this way, that it came to be transcribed and circulated among all classes of educated Christians in these countries. The Venerable Bede constructed from it the whole framework of his larger treatise De Locis Sanctis, as he generously acknowledges; and together with Bede's less handy compilation, it continued to be the only accessible source of authentic information on the geography, Christian antiquities, and customs of the Holy Land, until the crusades gave England a new and more acute interest in those distant and inhospitable regions. It consists of three books, and is written in a most entertaining and story-telling style. The first book describes Jerusalem and the immediate neighbourhood, devoting much space to an enumeration of the many relics and memorials of our Lord's Passion and Death, that were preserved in or near the famous Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The chalice used at the Last Supper is stated to have been kept there in a room, and is described as a silver vessel, with two handles, and of pretty large dimensions. The sponge was also shown, that had been dipped in vinegar and gall, and offered to our Lord on the cross to alleviate the pain of His agonizing thirst. The tombs of St. Joseph and of St. Simeon were also visited by pilgrims and much reverenced, and in the Valley of Jehosaphat was pointed out the tomb of the Blessed Virgin, an object of still greater attraction and deeper reverence. It is on that same spot that the Archbishop of Metz solemnly laid on Sunday, October 7th, 1900, the foundation stone of a superb new church in the course of erection to mark the scene of the 'Dormition.' He describes with exact minuteness, the Mount of Olives, whose summit was then covered by a spacious and beautiful church, differing entirely in outline and finish, from the Basilica of Calvary.

The second book treats, in detail, of Bethlehem, and of the country about the Jordan. Here we are supplied with a most graphic description of the grotto, where the Saviour was born, and all its surroundings. The tombs of David, St. Jerome, and many other saints, were much frequented by pious pilgrims; the entire locality presented to the Christian visitor, at every step, some memorial of his redemption, or of striking events and great saints of the old and the new dispensation. The exact spot where our Lord was baptized in the Jordan, was easily recognised by the well-used passage through an untilled field leading up to it; and then, as at the present day, pilgrims often bathed in that historic stream. He further recounts the rather curious fact, that young people, and the poor frequently boiled and cooked with oil, insects called locusts that were to be met with in great abundance in the deserts near the Jordan. On certain trees, moreover, in that district were to be found large soft leaves, from which was expressed a thick substance resembling milk in colour, and tasting like honey. This is Asculf's account of the locusts and wild honey, on which the Baptist subsisted. But Adamnan was well aware that many commentators took a widely different view, explaining the locusts as fruit, and the wild honey as the casual products of bees to be found in the mountainous wastes, where bee-cultivation was unheard of. In support of Asculf's account, he assures his readers that he had compared his statements with St. Jerome's expositions and comments, and that he found them to agree perfectly throughout. This important observation occurs in connection with curious traditions about Mount Thabor and Tyre, but it manifestly proves that Adamnan was quite conversant with the writings of St. Jerome and the early fathers. Alexandria is briefly treated of, the principal object of attraction in its vicinity being the tomb of St. Mark, which was greatly reverenced.

The third book gives a lengthy and delightful account of the sights and religious ceremonies witnessed at Constantinople. There a large portion of the True Cross was enclosed in a rich case on an altar of gold, in a church called Rotunda from its circular shape, and exposed for adoration on the three last days of Holy Week. On the first day, the emperor, his generals, and nobles, and then the ordinary rank and file of the male population, having approached the altar, reverently bowed their heads in homage to the instrument of their redemption. The empress, her suite, ladies of rank, and then the ordinary women, performed the same devotional ceremony on the second day; while Holy Saturday was reserved for bishops and priests. Mount Aetna belching forth its heavy volumes of sulphurous smoke, with an occasional glint of red, burning fire, lending beauty and picturesqueness to the dark mass, and its frightful subterranean murmurings, is described in vivid and realistic language, that few modern guide-books can surpass.

We have already referred to the learned and opportune little volume, which our saint compiled, De Vero Tempore faciendi Pascha, to serve as a useful text-book for students. Its accuracy and utility were very soon recognised, and it acquired a wide-spread and lasting popularity.

The garbled citations and scattered allusions that can be traced in ancient writers, furnish only the most meagre and unsatisfactory data, on which to attempt a critical analysis or enumeration of the ecclesiastical canons collected by this zealous and devoted churchman. But we are safe in asserting that this work was the first of its kind that had appeared in these countries, and that it was compiled with that scrupulous precision that characterised all his numerous and excellent productions.

The magnificent new cathedral at Letterkenny, unrivalled in gracefulness of architecture and in symmetry of rich decoration, will be solemnly consecrated and opened for public worship in the course of the coming summer, as a suitable tribute of honour to the glorious saint — whose life and labours are here briefly, but we trust faithfully outlined — from his coarb and the priests and people of his ancient see,

Congaudet omnis civium
Nobis chorus caelestium,
Magni videns perennia
Nunc Eunani solemnia.

E. Maguire.

The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 4th series, Volume IX (1901), 113-134.












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Thursday, 15 November 2018

Saints Marinus and Anianus, November 15

I have already posted on the feast of the two Irish missionaries, Marinus and Anianus, on August 16 here. This date arose from the fact that the seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, intended to write about them on that day. Canon O'Hanlon's contemporary, the scholarly Anglican Bishop William Reeves, argued in a paper delivered to the Royal Irish Academy in 1863, that November 15 was the date of their martyrdom. In his brief entry for the pair at the August date, Canon O'Hanlon confessed that he was 'unsure of how they were connected to Irish hagiology', alas since he did not live to publish a November volume I cannot check if he revised this opinion. Certainly Bishop Reeves is able to supply the background information which Canon O'Hanlon lacked: 

The Rev. William Reeves, D.D., read the following paper : —

On SS. MARINUS AND ANIANUS, TWO IRISH MISSIONARIES OF THE SEVENTH CENTURY.

The Academy owes to the vigilance of its excellent Librarian the recent acquisition of a volume which, independently of the value arising from its great rarity, possesses the merit of introducing to notice in this country two Irish Missionaries, whose names have escaped our ecclesiastical writers, and who, notwithstanding the deficiency of detail in their history, have yet a sufficient reality to render them a welcome accession to our recorded list of Irish worthies.

The volume comprises three tracts. The first bears the title-"Das leben der Heiligen S. S. Marini Bischoues Martyrers, und Aniani Archidiaconns, Bekenners die aus Irrland in Bayrn kommen, des Gotchauses Rodt Patronen wordenseind. Durch Johan a Via, der II. Schrifft Doctorn beschrieben." The lower half of the title-page is occupied by an engraved plate, having in the middle a shield, which bears quarterly the arms of the monastery of Rot, and of Christopher the abbot, supported by two ecclesiastics, the dexter one vested in an episcopal, the sinister one in a sacerdotal habit. Between them is the inscription, "CHRISTOPHORUS. S. ABBAS. S. MARINVS. S. ANIANVS. PATRO. IN ROT. 1579." This German life, with the dedication, occupies nineteen leaves.

The second tract is a Latin version of the same life, and bears the title-"Vita S. S. Marini Episcopi Hybernobavari, Martyris, et Aniani Arehidiaconi Confessoris, Patronorum celebris Monasteril in Rota. Per Johan. a Via Doct. Theol. conscripta, Monachii excudebat Adamus Berg. Anno M. D. LXXIX." It has the same frontispiece as the former, except that it omits the date. To this tract is appended (fol. 12 b) a "Sermo brevis cujusdam pii patris in Monasterio Rott ad Fratres ibidem pronunciatus." The verso of the concluding folio (15) contains the enactment of the Council of Trent, Session 25, '"De Invocatione, etc., Sanctorum."

The third tract is intituled, "Officium de Sanctis Marino Episcopa et Martyro, et Aniano Archidiacono Confessore celebris Monasterii in Rott Patronis. Jussu Reverendi in Christo Patris ac Domini, D. Christophori ejusdem Monasterii Abbatis vigilantissimi in ordinem redactum, et jam primum in lucem editum. Monachii excudebat Adamus Berg. Anno DM. LXXXVIII". On the title-page is an engraving of a circular seal, having on the field two shields, charged respectively with the arms of Rott and the abbot Christopher, with the legend + CHRISTOFF. ABBT. ZV. ROTT. A. 1588. This tract contains twenty six folios.

The author, in his dedication to the abbot Christopher, expresses his regret that the notices of the patrons of this monastery which were scattered through the ancient annals belonging to the institution had not been put together in any regular order, and that they who had been set upon a candlestick to give light to all that were in the house, should, through the neglect of past generations, have been kept hidden under a bushel. He states that the acts of SS. Marinus and Anianus were preserved in three very ancient manuscripts, together with a sermon on the same subject by a learned and pious member of the fraternity, which he has annexed as a separate chapter to the Latin life. Munich, 6th of April, 1579.

The following abstract of the Life contains the principal particulars of their history. [Opening Latin text omitted]… Finding their labours among the pastoral in habitants of the neighbourhood successful, they resolved upon settling in this region for the rest of their days, and erected huts for themselves over two caves about two Italian miles asunder. Here they led a life of solitude and self-mortification, meeting only on Lord's days and festivals, when they joined in the services of the altar. And thus they continued, teaching both by precept and example, and crowned with success in their endeavours to convert the surrounding people, until at length a horde of barbarians, driven from the Roman provinces on the south, entered this territory, and proceeded to lay it waste. In their wanderings they arrived at the cell of S. Marinus, and the Life thus relates the cruel treatment which he experienced at their hands: [Latin text omitted]. It happened that at the same time S. Anianus, who had escaped the notice of the barbarians, was released by a natural death from the trials of this life; and thus both master and disciple on the same day namely, the 17th of the Calends of December, that is, the 15th of November, which afterwards became the day of their commemoration passed to a happy immortality, while their remains were consigned to a common tomb, where they rested for above a hundred years. At the end of this period, the circumstances of their death and interment were made known to an eminent and devout priest named Priam, who resided in a neighbouring village. ie, it is stated, communicated the matter to a bishop called Tollusius, who repaired to the spot, and having ordered a solemn fast, on the third day exhumed the remains with due solemnity, and conveyed them to the village of Aurisium, now known as Ros, where they were deposited in a sarcophagus of white polished marble, within the church of that place. This invention is loosely stated to have occurred in the time of Pepin and Caroloman, kings of the Franks, when Egilolph was in Italy; and it is added "Priamus presbyter, jussus a domino Episcopo Tollusio, vidi omnia et scripsi: et testimonium his gestis perhibeo, et testimonium meum verum est, quod ipse scit, qui benedictus est in saecula, Amen."

From this place the reliques of the two saints were subsequently transferred to a spot near the river Aenus (now the Inn), which obtained the name of Rota  from a little stream that flowed past it into the Inn, and here they were to be seen beneath the high altar of the choir.

A Benedictine Monastery was founded at Rot in 1073, by Chuno, or Conon, Count of Wasserburg, and his charter, of that date, makes mention of the "altare SS. Marini et Aniani."

In a bull of confirmation granted by Pope Innocent II., in 1142, Rot is styled "praefatum SS. Marini et Aniani monasterium." Mabillon, who states that he visited this monastery in one of his journeys, describes it as the Benedictine Monastery of SS. Marinus and Anianus, but he takes no notice of the patron saints themselves in the earlier, part of his "Annals." Raderus, however, gives a short memoir of them, which he illustrates by two engravings, representing respectively the martyrdom of S. Marinus, and the angelic vision of S. Anianus,  to which be assigns the date 697.

Under the year 784, this author makes mention of another Marianus, who also was an Irishman. He came to Bavaria in company with St. Virgil of Saltzburg, and was one of the two companions who were sent by him with Declan to Frisingen. The festival of this Marinus was the 1st of December, and his ashes were believed to be efficacious in curing certain diseases.

As regards the names, it is not clear what is the Irish equivalent for Anianus; but Marinus is beyond all question a Latin translation of Muiredhach, which is derived from muir (mare), and signifies "belonging to the sea." The name is of very early occurrence: thus, Muiredhach, the first bishop and patron of Killala, who is commemorated at August 12, is mentioned under the form of Muirethacus in the early part of the eighth century. In like manner, the name of the celebrated Briton, Pelagius, is understood to be a Greek form of the British Morgan, which is equivalent to Marigena. We have in the Irish calendar a name closely allied to Morgan, in the form Muirgein, which means "sea-born," and is of common gender, for it is applied in one instance to an abbot of Gleann hUissen, now Killeshin; and in another to the celebrated Mermaid, in whose case it is interpreted liban, that is, "sea-woman."?

The name Marinus is to be distinguished from Marianus, as the latter is derived from the name Maria, and represents, in a Latin form, the Irish Mael-muire, "servant of Mary."




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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The Irish Saints: 'a light to foreign and distant lands'


"there was no desert, no spot, or hiding-place in the Island, however remote, which was not peopled with perfect monks and nuns; so that, throughout the world, Ireland was justly distinguished by the extraordinary title of the Island of Saints....  
" .... in holy mortification of the flesh and renouncement of self-will, rivalling the Monks of Egypt in merits and in numbers, and by word and example they were a light to foreign and distant lands."  
— Jocelyn, Acta SS. Mart., xvii.

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Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The Martyrdom of Saint Blathmac of Iona

July 24 is one of the feast days of Saint Blathmac of Iona, martyred whilst attempting to defend the relics of his beloved founder Saint Colum Cille from Viking marauders in the year 825. His other feast day is celebrated on January 19 and an earlier post containing Canon O'Hanlon's account will be found on that date here. I have also previously posted the findings of modern scholar John Marsden setting the martyrdom of Saint Blathmac into its historical context here.  As he points out, the closest thing we have to a contemporary account of Saint Blathmac's martyrdom comes not from Irish or Scottish sources, but from a monk, Walafrid Strabo, writing in the Swiss monastery of Reichenau. This was an Irish foundation and it seems that a visiting peregrinus, whom Marsden speculates may have been a last surviving eyewitness, gave a detailed account to Walafrid from which he composed his hexameter verse work on the life and death of Saint Blathmac. It was written within twenty five years of the events he describes. So below is an excerpt from Walafrid's poem on the last stand of this heroic Irish monk and the terrible death he endured:


A certain island appears in the shores of the Picts, rising above the wave-driven sea; it is called Iona,  and there the saint of the Lord, Columba, rests in the flesh. To this island came [Blathmac], wishing to endure Christ's scars, because there many a pagan horde of Danes is wont to land, armed with malignant greed. And the saint of the Lord purposed in his mind to tempt these lions, and stripped his mind of empty dread; but armed with the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation, he feared not the arms of wicked men. He might have sung with the wisdom-speaking prophet, "I have God as my helper, let base fear depart." Already too by wars of states he had been taught to despise the servants of the devil, since he had fitly overthrown their lord, and alone defeated him in all his weapons.

The time arrived, when God's great clemency disposed to associate his servant with the shining bands above the stars, and to bestow upon the good conqueror his certain crown: when the man's holy mind, foreknowing events, learned in advance by exalted sense that the approaching wolves were hastening to divide the members of the pious sheep. He said, "You, my friends, search within yourselves with active minds whether you have courage to endure suffering with me for the name of Christ; you who are able to await it, I ask to arm your manly minds; but those whose frail hearts are afraid, let them hasten their flight, to avoid the impending danger, and arm their hands in a better cause; close to us stands the experience of certam death. Let strong faith be watchful, supported by hope in the future; let the prudent precaution of flight save the weaker."

Upon these words the company was stirred, and in this mood they decided upon what they saw was possible; some, with courageous breast, to face the sacrilegious hands ; and they rejoiced with tranquil minds to have submitted their heads to the violent sword: but others, not vet induced to this by their confidence of mind, took to flight by a footpath through regions known to them.

Golden dawn shone forth, parting the dewy dusk, and the brilliant sun glittered with beautiful orb, when this holy teacher, celebrating the holy service of mass, stood before the sacred altar as a calf without blemish, a pleasing offering to God, to be sacrificed by the threatening sword. The others of the company were prostrate, commending to the Thunderer with tears and prayers their souls, about to depart from the burden of the flesh. See, the violent cursed host came rushing through the open buildings, threatening cruel perils to the blessed men; and after slaying with mad savagery the rest of the associates, they approached the holy father, to compel him to give up the precious metals wherein lie the holy bones of St Columba; but [the monks] had lifted the shrine from its pediments, and had placed it in the earth, in a hollowed barrow, under a thick layer of turf; because they knew then of the wicked destruction [to come]. This booty the Danes desired; but the saint remained with unarmed hand, and with unshaken purpose of mind; [he had been] trained to stand against the foe,  and to arouse the fight, and [was] unused to yield.

There he spoke to thee, barbarian, in words such as these: — "I know nothing at all of the gold you seek, where it is placed in the ground or in what hiding-place it is concealed. And if by Christ's permission it were granted me to know it, never would our lips relate it to thy ears. Barbarian, draw thy sword, grasp the hilt, and slay; gracious God, to thy aid I commend me humbly."

Therefore the pious sacrifice was torn limb from limb. And what the fierce soldier could not purchase by gifts, he began to seek by wounds in the cold bowels [of the earth]. It is not strange, for there always were, and there always reappear, those that are spurred on by evil rage against all the servants of the Lord; so that what Christ's decision has appointed for all, this they all do for Christ, although with unequal deeds.

Thus [Blathmac] became a martyr for Christ's name; and, as rumour bears witness, he rests in the same place, and there many miracles are given for his holy merits. There the Lord is worshipped reverently with fitting honour, with the saints by whose merits I believe my faults are washed away, and to whom as a suppliant I have sent up gifts of praise. Christ refuses nothing to these — they have brought him the greatest gains — ; and he reigns for ever with the good Father and the Holy Spirit, and is exalted without end in everlasting splendour.

Here end the verses by Strabus of the life and death of Blathmac.

Walafridus Strabus, Life of Blathmac, in Pinkerton's Vitae Antiquae, pp. 461-463.

Alan Orr Anderson, ed. and trans., Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286, Vol. I (Edinburgh, 1922), 263-265.


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Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Deer-Stone: A Legend of Glendalough

Saint Kevin of Glendalough, whose feast is celebrated on June 3, is one of the Irish saints whose cult has taken on a new lease of life due to the modern 'Celtic Christianity' movement. There he is viewed as the supreme exemplar of the supposed unique relationship the Irish saints enjoyed with nature and animals. In general, I am uneasy whenever I see people of earlier ages being seamlessly cut and pasted into the agendas of contemporary movements. That is not to deny that stories of 'saints and beasts' figure in the hagiography of Irish saints and in native folklore, but there is a particular context in which these tales are framed, one that does not necessarily reflect current 'green' concerns. Irish poet, Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918), wrote about one of these legends, the story of how Saint Kevin saved the life of an abandoned infant by getting a female deer to leave her milk in a hollow stone for the human baby. In The Deer-Stone, she first begins by relating how the young wife of Colman Dhu is poisoned while nursing her baby by a jealous and evil maidservant. Her distraught husband then opts to join his wife in death, now the witch has only to wait for the infant to succumb. I have picked up the text at the point where Saint Kevin enters the scene, for me the moral of the story is not that Saint Kevin is some sort of Doctor Doolittle who can talk to the animals, but that as an Irish saint living a life of asceticism, prayer and repentance, he can talk to God and manifest the divine power to punish the wicked and save the innocent. The poem ends by telling us that people can still point to the 'Deer-stone', this is a common phenomenon at Irish holy sites where natural features are cross-referenced to episodes from the lives of saints. A picture of the Deer-stone of Glendalough can be seen here.







THE DEER-STONE

A LEGEND OF GLENDALOUGH


It was the good St. Kevin went,
All bowed and lost in prayer,
And as he paced his lonely path
The young witch met him there.


And in her gown the poison cup
She did most quickly hide,
But spoke the good saint unto her,
And would not be denied.

"What evil thing is this?" he said,
"That you must put away?
It is no gracious act indeed
That fears the light of day."

"It is but bread," the witch replied,
"From my small store I take,
To feed a poor deserted babe,
I go for pity sake."

"Now, be it bread," the priest replied,
"I pray it multiply;
But if it is an evil thing,
Full heavy may it lie."

And then the priest, all deep in prayer,
Went forth his lonely way,
While stood the witch upon the path
In wild and deep dismay.

For in her robe the poison cup
Did all so heavy grow,
She scarce could stand upon her feet,
And could but slowly go.

Now when she reached the rugged rock
That held her hidden home,
The waters threw their magic up
And blinded her with foam.

She gave a sharp and sudden cry
And fell within the lake,
And so may perish all who sin,
And evil vengeance take.

But good St. Kevin, deep in prayer,
His holy way did go.
Soon came to him the sound of grief,
Soft cries of bitter woe.

There in a dark and lonesome place
A little babe he found,
And, close beside, a lovely pair
All cold upon the ground.

"Movrone, Movrone," the good saint cried,
"What evil deed is here? "
And for their beauty and their youth
He shed a bitter tear.

He dug for them a lonely grave,
A grave both wide and deep;
"And slumber well," he softly said,
"Till God shall end your sleep."

He knelt him down upon his knee
Their lonely bed beside,
And then he saw the little babe
That weak in hunger cried.

He raised it up in his two hands,
And held it close and warm;
"O Christ," he said, "your mercy give
To keep this child from harm.

" Oh, pitiful indeed is this
Poor little one alone,
Whose dead lie peaceful in their sleep
While he doth make his moan.

" O Mary, who in Bethlehem
Held once upon thy breast
A tender babe, look down on this
Who is so sore oppressed.

"I have no food for this poor child,
Who must with hunger die.
Thy mercy give," the good priest prayed
With many a piteous sigh.

He looked across the waters deep,
And to the hills so brown,
And lo! a shy wood creature there
All timidly came down.

And thrice it sprang towards the west,
And thrice towards the east,
It was as though some hand unseen
Drove forth the gentle beast.

But when the little child it heard,
That still with hunger cried,
It sprang before the guiding hand,
And stood the babe beside.

And in a hollowed stone it shed
Its milk so warm and white,
And then, all timid, stood apart
To watch the babe's delight.

And at each eve and every morn
The gentle doe was there,
To find the little babe, and see
The saint, all deep in prayer.

In Glendalough the stone lies still
All plainly to be seen,
And many folk will point the place
Where once the milk had been.





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Monday, 14 May 2018

Saint Carthage of Lismore, May 14


On May 14 we commemorate Saint Carthage (Mochuda) of Lismore, County Waterford. I have previously posted an introduction to his life by Father John Ryan S.J. here, but below is a paper by a resident of Lismore, W.H. Grattan Flood (1857-1928), a prolific contributor to the antiquarian and religious periodicals of his day. Flood published an entire ecclesiastical history of Lismore in the Journal of the Waterford and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, of which this paper forms a part. In the extract below, the author gives a retelling of the traditional account of Saint Carthage and his expulsion from the Abbey of Rahan:

ST CARTHAGE OF LISMORE.

By WILLIAM H. GRATTAN FLOOD.

The early years of the seventh century found Christianity fairly well established in the territory of Nan Desie. Already the monasteries of Ardmore, Molana, Dungarvan, Ballintemple, Mothel, etc., were famous, and sent forth numerous disciples to take up the good work of St. Declan. As yet the city of Waterford was unknown, and so was Lismore. But the Providence of God was mysteriously working, and a great servant of God was already qualifying to be sent as the Apostle of Magh-Sciath. In a previous number of the Journal I explained the entry under date of 634, recording the death of "Eochaid, Abbot of Lismore," which has reference to Lismore in Scotland.

About the year 614 St. Carthage, Abbot of Rahan, visited Kerry Currihy and was royally entertained by Carbery Criffan, King of Munster. Whilst still in this part of the country a very dreadful incident occurred. The Queen and her son, Aidus (Hugh) were killed by a thunderbolt, and the monarch, plunged in grief, besought the saint to make intercession to God on their behalf, whereupon the mother and son were restored to life. (a) No wonder that the king was profuse in his thanks for such a miracle, and he bestowed most signal marks of favour on St. Carthage, “to enable him to extend his great work."

Finghin, son of Hugh Dubh, King of Munster, died in 621, but his wife, Mor, lived until the year 632. The new ruler of Munster, Cathal MacHugh, was not only blind, but was also a deaf mute, and as such was incapable of being sovereign. His courtiers bethought of St. Carthage, to whom they sent a most urgent message on behalf of the invalid king, and the saintly Abbot of Rahan again journeyed southwards. In the quaint language of the Life: "Mochuda came where the king was, and the king and his friends implored Mochuda to relieve his distress. Mochuda made prayers to God for him, and put the sign of the holy cross on his eyes, and ears, and mouth, and he was cured of all his diseases and troubles, and the King Cathal (b) gave extensive lands to God, and to Mochuda, for ever, namely, Cathel Island, and Ross Beg, and Ross Mor, and Pick Island; and Mochucla sent holy brethern to build a church in Ross Beg in honour of God, and Mochuda himself commenced building a monastery in Pick Island, and he remained there a full year.” According to the Life, St. Carthage placed three favourite disciples in Cathel Island, Ross Beg, and Ross Mor, viz: "the three sons of Nascann, i.e. Bishop Caban [Gobban], and Straphan [Stephen] the priest, and Laisren [Molaise] the saint.

In 628 St. Carthage was still only an Abbot, and on that account he requested the holy Bishop of Ardmore [St, Domaingen] to ordain and bless as Abbots the three above-mentioned disciples, in his own presence." The modern reader will need to be informed that these three abbeys were in Co. Cork, not far from Ardmore, but were afterwards incorporated with the diocese of Cloyne- Pick Island in particular, although unidentified by some Irish writers (including the great O'Donovan), is best known as Spike Island, near Queenstown, of which St. Ruissen was first Abbot, and which twelve centuries later was used as a convict depot. St. Carthage appointed the Bishop of the Nan Desie, to have spiritual jurisdiction over the three abbeys, "and he left two score more of his brethren in his own stead in the monastery of Pick Island."

“Mochuda then returned towards Rahan. On his way eastward through Munster he passed over a river which was called Nemh at that time, but which is called Abhan Mor to-day, and he saw a large apple in the middle of the ford over which he was passing, and he took it up and carried it in his hand, and hence Ath-Abhal (or Aghowle, now Appleford) in Fermoy, has its name.

And the servant asked for the apple from Mochuda, and he did not give it, but said: 'God will work a miracle with this apple through me this day, for we shall meet the daughter of Cuana MacCailchen, with her right arm powerless and motionless, hanging by her side, and she shall be cured through this apple, and through the power of God.'

“And this was verified; for Mochuda saw the virgin with her maiden companions at their sports and amusements on the green of the court, and going up towards her he said: 'Take this apple to thyself, my daughter.' She stretched forth her left hand for the apple, as was her wont, but Mochuda said: 'Thou shalt not get it in that hand, but reach out the other hand for it, and thou shalt get it.’ And the maiden, being full of faith, attempted to reach forth the right hand, and the hand was instantly filled with vigour and life and she raised it out and took the apple into it.

"There was joy all over the king's palace on this occasion, and all gave praise to God and to Mochuda for this miracle. And Cuana said on that night to his daughter: 'Make now your selection, and say whom you like best of all the princes of Munster, and I will have him married to you.' To this the maiden replied: 'I will have no husband but the man who cured my hand,' 'Hear you that, O Mochuda,' said Cuana. 'Give me the maiden' said Mochuda, 'and I will give her as a spouse to Christ, Who cured her hand.' And Cuana gave the maiden and her dowry, with an offering of land on the bank of the river Nemh [Blackwater] to God and to Mochuda for ever; and his munificence was too great to be described.

"Flandath [or Flaithniath, identical with Flanna] was the maiden's name, and Mochuda brought her with him to Rahan, where she spent her life most profitably with the other 'Black Nuns' till Mochuda was banished by the King of Tara out of his own city, when he took Flandath with him, and the rest of the Black Nuns."

About five years after the return of St. Carthage to Rahan, namely, during the Easter-tide of the year 635 (O.S. 634), a wicked prince called Blathmac expelled the saint and his monks from the monastery which had shed such blessings around the country for forty years. However, this apparently terrible misfortune led to the happiest results because it eventuated in the foundation of the great Abbey and University of Lismore.

St. Carthage and about five hundred of his monks (exclusive of conversi and lepers), journeying through Drumcullen (near Birr), Saigher, and Roscrea, came to Cashel, where they were welcomed by Falvey Flann, King of Munster. At that time it so happened that Maelctride, son of Cobhthaich or Coffey, Prince of the Desie, was on a visit with his royal father-in-law, and he unconsciously co-operated in the design of God by offering the future patron of the See of Lismore a large tract of land in his country whereon to build a monastic establishment. The saint gladly accepted the offer, and viewed it as a distinct revelation from on high. The monks then proceeded via Athassel, Ardfinnan, Clogheen, Affane and Cappoquin, (c) and halted within three miles of the present town of Lismore, in a townland near Ballysaggartmore, ever since known as See Mochuda, "the seat of St. Mochuda," where a holy well sprang up at the bidding of our saint. (d)

On approaching Magh Sciath the progress of the monks was impeded by the Aw Mor, or Broad Water, which was then at flood tide. There being no boats available, St. Mochuda commanded two of his favourite disciples, SS. Molna and Colman, to join their prayers with his, and that perhaps it would please Heaven to work a miracle. Almost immediately, as we read in the Life, the swollen waters of the dark rolling river were parted, and a perfectly dry passage was opened to the exiled community. Thus, in the summer of the year 635, St. Carthage settled at Magh Sciath, in a tract called Dun Sginne, i.e. "the fortress of the flight," commemorative of the expulsion from Rahan. He endured much since leaving his beloved monastery in King's Co. (then portion of Co. Meath), and was very sad thereat. St. Cuimin of Connor thus sings of him:-

"The beloved Mochuda of Mortification;
Admirable every page of his history.
Before his time there was no one who shed
Half so many tears as he shed."

The Irish Life tells us that, having viewed the site of his new foundation, (e) St. Mochuda cried out: " Here shall be my rest, for I have chosen it." He at once began to build a circular enclosure on Dun Sginne, now known as the "Round Hill," and busied himself unceasingly in directing the monks in their operations. The Life goes on to state that a certain holy virgin named Cornelia or Caemghill, who inhabited a small cell in the neighbourhood, likely adjoining Temple Declan at Drumroe, approached the new-comers and enquired the nature of their work. "We are building a small Lis here" said St. Mochuda. “A small Lis [Lis-beg]!" said the woman: "this is not a small Lis, but a great Lis [Lis-mor]," said she, "and so," we are told, “that church ever since continued to be called by that name.”

To the above incident is due the present name of Lismore. Lios-Mor is justly equated as the great Lis or the great Rath –the words Lis and Rath being practically the same, and Lismore, which is rendered in the Latin Life as Atrium Magnum, means the "great entrenchment of earth." Near Lismore there is a very extensive townland still called Rath (pronounced as if written Ralph), divided into Upper and Lower Rath. Thus was founded Lismore, generally translated " the great habitation; " and the pagan Magh Sciath, or Campus Scuti -the plain of the shield-a plain of solid limestone formation-disappears from history. Traces of the ancient double trench are still to be seen near Deerpark.

The Life continues:- “And when he had finished his own city of Lismore he sent Flandath [the Nun from Fermoy, previously mentioned] to her own country, that she might build a church there. And she built a noble church in Cluain Dullain [Clondulane, about eleven miles from Lismore, near Fermoy], and it is in Mochuda's parish [diocese] it is," For the sake of chronological sequence I shall here add that this holy Abbess was joyfully received, by her father, Cuan MacCailchen, and laboured for many years in Clondulane. (f) This Cuana, Prince of Fermoy, was also called Laech Liathmhuine, i.e. "the hero of Liathmhuin," afterwards known as Clogh-lemon. He died in 642.

St. Carthage lived scarcely two years after the foundation of the Abbey and Cathedral. Finding his end approaching he retired to a lonely valley at the east end of the town, near the present St. Carthage's Well (in the garden of Mr. Maurice Healy), where he spent over a year in contemplation and prayer. At last he summoned his monks and gave them a farewell exhortation and blessing. "After this, being favoured with a vision of angels, he asked to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, and then departed in peace.'' His pure soul was seen, according to the oft-quoted Life, ascending into Heaven “on the day before the Ides of May," and thus passed away the first Abbot-Bishop and founder of the See of Lismore, on May 14th, 637, the feast of his natale. (g)

In the ancient Irish Office of St, Carthage, the following beautiful Antiphon was sung at the Magnificat:-

"Gloriose Praesul Christi, venerande Carthage,
Apud Deum tuo sancto nos juva precamine,
Ut detersa omni sorde, et abluti crimine
In coelesti sempiternum collaetemur culmine."

Colgan tells us that the rule (h) of St, Carthage was almost similar to that of the reformed Cistercians, or to the order of La Trappe, of which there are two well-known Abbeys in Ireland. "When any of the brethren returned from a mission, it was the rule to kneel down before the Abbot, and, in that humble posture, relate the events which had occurred. All kinds of austerities were here practised, and the monks lived by their labour, and on the vegetables which they cultivated with their own hands." The order was afterwards incorporated with the Regular Canons of St. Augustine-an order which must not be confounded with the Hermits of St. Augustine or the Austin Friars.

Allemande, in his Monastic History of Ireland, published at Paris in 1690, thus writes from the ancient Life:-"Lismore is a famous and holy city, into the half of which, in consequence of being strictly cloistered, no woman dare enter. It is filled with cells and holy abodes of prayer, and a number of pious men are always in it. Religious men flow to it from every part of Ireland, England, and Britain, being desirous to remove to Christ; and the city itself is situated on the banks of the river formerly called Nemh, lately called Abhan Mor, that is, the Great River, in the territory of Nan Desie."

In the Litany of Aengus the Culdee, dating from 798, we find that ancient hagiologist invoking “eight hundred monks who settled in Lismore with Mochuda, every third of them a favoured servant of God." He also invokes "the seven bishops of Donough-Youghal”, the “seven bishops of Donoughmore Magh Feimhin" etc. In a very ancient catalogue of the principal monasteries in Ireland, cited by the learned Dr. O'Conor, and also by Hardiman, Lismore is entitled "the Litanies of Ireland."

The number of disciples who gathered round St. Carthage before his death is variously estimated. Some authorities give the number as over a thousand, whilst the ancient lives vary from 844 to 867 monks. Professor Hogan writes:-" Lismore had no spacious halls, no classic colonnades, no statues, or fountains, or stately temples. Its houses of residence were of the simplest and most primitive description, and its halls were in keeping with these mere wooden structures, intended only to shut off the elements, but without any claim or pretence to artistic design. And yet Lismore had something more valuable than the attractions of either architecture or luxury. It possessed that which has ever proved the magnet of the philosopher and the theologian-truth, namely, and truth illumined by the halo of religion. It sheltered also in its humble halls whatever knowledge remained in a barbarous age of those rules of art that had already shed lustre on Greece and Rome, or had been fostered in Ireland itself, according to principles and a system of native conception." St. Colman (previously alluded to) was one of the principal professors of the infant university, under whom studied the youthful St. Flannan, the subsequent founder of the See of Killaloe.

Archbishop Usher had two manuscript copies of the Irish Life of St. Carthage, and Smith, in his history of Waterford, says that one of these Lives begins “Gloriosus Christi miles." In 1634 Philip O'Sullivan Beare sent the Latin translation of the "Irish Life of St. Mochuda" to Father John Bollandus, S.J. It is much to be deplored that we have not an accurately edited English version of the Irish Life. (i)

Maeloctraigh, Moelctride, or Mael MacTirid, Prince of the Desie, died early in 637, some months previous to the death of St. Carthage. It is probable that he was buried in Lismore, and he was succeeded in his kingship by Bran Fionn, or Bran the Fair, son of Maeltricle, who proved a munificent benefactor to the Cathedral of Lismore, which was a Damlaig or Stone Church. It is only to our present purpose to add that Nualathan, the aged widow of Prince Maeloctraighe, died in 670.

To the archaeologist, one of the most interesting facts in regard to the history of St. Carthage is the identification of the sites connected with his ministry. Many distinguished writers, including Cardinal Moran and Bishop Healy, have asserted that the name of St. Carthage, or yet the memory of his labours, has not been much in evidence in the topography of the county. On the contrary, his name is “writ large" in the district around Lismore, as an intimate knowledge of the local topography will amply testify. His Cathedral and Well have been already alluded to, as also See Mochuda, near Ballysaggartmore, and Rath Upper and Lower. I am glad to be able to identify the old monastic cemetery, as, alas! the present generation scarcely knows its name. This is none other than the field on the left hand side of the avenue leading to Lismore Castle, and known to the older inhabitants as "the relic." The Celtic name is relig or “churchyard," and when some operations were going on in connection with the town drainage in 1891, in the spot now called the "New Walk" (although nearly a century old), numerous bones were disinterred, (j) especially outside the gateway leading to Lisrnore Villa.

Not far from the present Cathedral, adjoining Ballyneligan Glebe, is one of the sites of the hermit cells of Lismore. From the 7th to the 12th century we meet with many entries in the Irish Annals referring to the “Anchorites" of Lismore; and one of the termon lands which they became possessed of in after days was known as the “Anchorites' Land," now called Ballinanchor. The site referred to is Cumaillister, the valley of the cliff hermitage, ister being a corruption of disert, originally meaning a desert, but afterwards frequently, applied to churches and hermitages in solitary places.

The Sarughadh, pronounced Scorroogh, about half a mile from Lismore, and marked on the Ordfiance Map as " Ballysaggartbeg: Wood”, was a sanctuary land from the 7th century, whilst adjoining it is Ballinaspick, or Bishopstown. The names Ballysaggart = the priest's townland, Burgessanchor, Baldydecane, Aglish (near Castlerichard), Glensaggart, Tubrid, Monataggart, Tubber-na-hulla, Boher-na-neav, etc., suggests at once the religious life of the locality.

In other portions of the Desie country the name of St. Carthage survives in Kilcaragh, near Killure, Temple Carthaig, and Cloghcuddy; whilst in Co. Cork we meet with Coolemogillacuddy and Garranmocuddy; and in Co, Wexford, Coolnacuddy. (k)

By a truly marvellous dispensation of Providence,(almost exactly as happened to St. Carthage when he was expelled from Rahan), we, in our own day, behold the successors of another exiled community, driven from France in 1831, silently toiling and praying on the side of Knockmealdown mountain, six miles from Lismore. The rugged barrenness of the “ bare brown hill" has become a smiling garden, thoroughly accentuating its honeyed name of Mount Melleray; and the present writer recalls vividly his boyish feelings at the interment of the last of the pioneer Trappists-Brother Similien -a French monk, who ended his days, almost a centenarian, in that grand Abbey which fittingly represents in this degenerate age the primitive wattle cells and pure faith of the glorious St. Carthage of Lismore.

Notes

(a) Irish Life of St. Carthage

(b) King Cathal died in 625, or, according to some, in 630.

(c) Whilst in the neighbourhood of Cappoquin St. Carthage and his companions halted at a cell called Killcluthair, now Englished Kilcloher, and for three days and three nights were hospitably entertained by the Abbot, St. Mochua, Miannain, who presented the cell to St. Carthage. Kilcloher means "the churchof the shelter," and is four miles east of Cappoquin.(Dr. Joyce).

(d) Seemochuda is a natural seat, somewhat like an arm-chair of "primitive man ;" and the well is close at hand, which, by a constant tradition, is said to have come into existence at the command of St. Mochuda by merely planting his crozier there.

(e) In the ancient Irish Life we read that St. Columbkille had predicted the foundation of Lismore on the occasion of a visit to St. Carthage at Rahan:-

"Formerly from the top of Slieve Cua, thou hast seen a great band of angels on the bank of the river Nemh, and raising to Heaven a silver cathedral with a golden image in it. There shall be the place of thy resurrectidn. That church of silver is thine, and the golden statue placed in it represents thee." It is strange that Ussher, Archdall, and Lanigan located Rahan as "Rathyne, in the barony of Tertullagh, Co. Westmeath," but certain it is that the site of St. Carthage's foundation was Rahan, in the barony of Eglish, near Tullamore-not far from Tullabeg.

(f) There is a townland formerly known as Ballymacpatrick in the parish of Clondulane, now called Careysville. Strangely enough Canon O'Hanlon was unable to identify Clondulane.

(g) According to the prophecy of St. Colman Elo, the Reilig, or cemetery of St. Mochuda, “designated by the angels, was that in which our saint was buried "-afterwards known as-" the cemetery of the Bishops." St. Ita also foretold the fame of St. Mochuda's cemetery, where, subsequently innumerable servants of God were laid at rest,

(h) There were thirteen different monastic Rules in the early Irish Church, namely, those of SS. Ailbe, Declan, Patrick, Bridget, Columbkille, Carthage, Molua,, Mochta, Finian, Columbanus, Kieran, Brendan, and Comgall.

(i) Among the valuable MSS. of O'Curry, now housed in Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, there are two lives of St. Carthage. One of these is a transcript of the ancient Irish Life, whilst the other is a translation from the Irish. The Salamancan "Life" is in the Burgundian Library at Brussels, but the Vita Secunda is the one usually quoted.

(j) On April 26th, 1897, two papers were read before the Royal Irish Academy on the subject of those remains, but no definite conclusions were arrived at.

(k) The present name of this townland is Courtnacuddy, but the Irish speaking and old residents still call it Cuil-ne-cuddy = the recess of St. Cuddy, ne being an old Celtic endearing term similar to mo-as is seen in the place name Ardnekevan. In 16th century records it is written Courtmocuddy. From the Irish Life we learn that "a large tract of land near Ardfinnan, Co.Tipperary, was afterwards formed into a parish, dedicated to St. Mochuda.

Journal of the Waterford and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, Volume IV (1898), 228-237.


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