Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Saint Cairpre Crom of Clonmacnoise, March 6

On March 6 the Irish calendars commemorate a 9th-century successor to Saint Cairan at Clonmacnoise, Cairpre Crom. This bishop features in a curious piece of apocryphal literature, which reflects later medieval ideas on the subject of purgatory. Canon O'Hanlon summarizes the evidence for his feastday on the calendars:
From various sources, Colgan and the Bollandists have legendary Acts of this St. Corpre, at the 6th of March, on which day, we find him noted, as Carpre cruim [no Cruinn], in the Martyrology of Tallagh. The designation Crom, meaning "crooked," or "curved," had probably some relation to a personal deformity. So Marianus O'Gorman and Cathal Maguire, likewise, record his feast. We find entered, on this day, in the Martyrology of Donegal, Cairpre Crom, who was son of Feradhach, son to Lughaidh, son of Dalian, son to Bresal, son of Maine Mor, from whom descend the Ui Maine, of the race of Colla da chroich. This saint belonged to the posterity of Heremon. It is probable, he was born, in the earlier part of the ninth century, and that he belonged to the community, at Clonmacnoise. He succeeded to the Blessed Moeldarius, or Maelodhar, Bishop of this place, who died in the year 886. Cairpre Crom is styled Bishop of Cluain-mic Nois, and head of the religion of the greater part of Erinn, in his time. Hence, we may infer the great eminence, as an ecclesiastic, he attained. 
Among other things related, in the year 894, St. Cairbre Crom, with a Synod of Seniors, assisted at a convocation, held at Inis-Aingin, now Hare Island, in Lough Ree, on the River Shannon. At this time, the place itself was invaded, by the people of Connaught. A man was mortally wounded there, and the shrine of Ciaran was profaned. This bishop died A.D. 899, according to the "Annals of the Four Masters."
Canon O'Hanlon's contemporary, the Anglican scholar Whitley Stokes, published a translation of the strange story of Bishop Cairpre Crom and Maelschlainn's soul:

Coirpre Crom and Maelsechlainn’s Soul

A high bishop there was in Clonmacnois: Coirpre the Bowed was he called; and he was the head of devotion of the greater part of Ireland. He happened to be alone in his cell, after vespers, praying, when he saw coming towards him a Shape, jetblack, which stood in his presence. Thus then was that wretched Form: with a bright circlet round its neck and wearing a shirt with a single sleeve.
The cleric asked: ‘What art thou at all?’ quoth he, ‘for we do not recognise thee always.’
Then that shape answers: ‘I,’ it says, ‘am a Soul.’
‘What hath blackened it?’ says the cleric.
‘The abundance of my sins and the heaviness of my punishment.’
‘Miserable is that,’ says the cleric: ‘didst thou find (anyone) to sing thy requiem, or hadst thou clerical friends in thy life?’
‘That is not the greatest (mó) help,’ says the Soul: ‘but my burial in Clonmacnois is a greater assistance to me. At the Judgment moderation will be shewn to me, through the intercession of Ciarán.’
‘Bad luck,’ says the cleric, ‘that thou hadst not even a soulfriend, or that thou didst nothing good for his sake.’
‘And yet,’ says the Soul, ‘I had a soulfriend, a priest of Clonmacnois, (to speak) precisely. I did nothing very good for him, but I had a ring of gold made for me, and I bestowed it on him’: ut dixit:
‘I am mac Donnchada’s son: I am in rough-hewn hell: it is not welcome that one who has no soulfriend came into a body.’
‘What! art thou the man who had treasures when thou wast in the body?’ says the cleric.
‘Sad is that, O cleric,’ says the soul: ‘I am Maelshechlainn, grandson of Donnchad, and king of Ireland.’
‘Bad luck!’ says the cleric: ‘in what place is the priest, and what is the fruit of the alms?’
‘He is,’ quoth the king, ‘in the depth of hell, and my ring is as a fiery circle round his throat: he can do nothing for me alas! ’tis hard for himself.’
‘What is that bright circlet round thy throat?’ says the cleric.
‘The reward for bestowing the ring,’ says the king.
‘What then has caused the shirt with a single sleeve?’ says the cleric.
‘It shall be declared to thee,’ says the king. ‘Once formerly the schoolboys of the church came to me to ask a cloak for a poor student whom they had. Then, as at that time I happened to have no cloak by me, I told the queen to give the wretch an embroidered shirt of mine. This was done, and it is the shirt with a single sleeve which thou seest about me.’
‘That is very well,’ says the cleric; ‘but what brought thee hither?’
‘When I was in the air, some time ago,’ says the king, ‘with a crowd of demons on every side around me, punishing me, we heard the sound of thy voice praising the Lord. So then the demons are terrified and they scatter to the airts of the air; for no demon can remain for the space of a single hour on the earth or in the air as far as the sound of thy voice chanting thy prayers reaches him.’
Now when they had ended that colloquy, the king at last said: ‘Ah, ah, O cleric,’ quoth he, ‘I must now go to the same folk; and, if it so please thee, I would give thee a reward for this rest.’
‘What is that?’ asks the cleric.
‘Once formerly,’ says the king, ‘I went to Dublin to threaten the Danes, and I brought away from them an hundred ounces of gold and ten hundred ounces of silver. I and a single lad who was along with me concealed that (treasure), and then I killed him; and hitherto no one has known it from me; but the place wherein (the treasure) is shall be declared to thee; and do thou put thine own bridle upon it.’
‘I profess,’ says the cleric, ‘since there was no benefit to him who took little of thy wealth, no more will I accept much of it. As for me, quoth he, never and never will I have aught to do with thy treasures.’
Then the soul sprang from him, and this is what it said so long as the cleric heard:
‘Sad is that, O Son of my living God, that I did no good while I was in the body.’

Thereafter all the priests that looked after the church, to wit, twelve priests, are gathered together, and the cleric tells them what had taken place there, and said to them: ‘What is it to you, to bring the priest out of hell and to drag the king from the demons?’ Then they said: ‘The king to the bishop, and the priest to the priests.’
So alms and a three-days-fast and prayer were given and held and made by them. At the end of half a year, to the bishop came the king, and he (only) half-speckled.
‘What is this state?’ quoth the cleric.
‘A good state,’ says the soul; ‘provided that the same course be followed (i.e. giving alms, fasting and praying).’
‘What? How is the heaviness of thy punishment now?’asks the cleric.
This is what the soul said:‘On the top of the hard-bare tree with fierceness, above the green sea’s dangerous cliff, I suffered there without stint, in the rough night of windy snow. The soul whose punishment is least, which is in the regions of the oceans: hardly would its body have wonder
if it should have come out of hell.’
Then it sprang from him.
At the end of a year the cleric was alone praying in that same place, when he saw the radiant Form coming towards him. Now it happened that this was the king.
‘What is this state that thou hast?’ says the cleric.
‘Verily a good state,’ says the king. ‘Here I am bright-white, going to heaven.’
‘And the priest, in what state is he?’
‘A good state,’ says the king. ‘Tomorrow he (too) will go to heaven.’
‘What causes thee (to go thither) before him?’ says the cleric.
‘The nobility of thy prayer and the might of thy supplication beyond (that of) the priests.’
At that word the king goes to heaven in the presence of the cleric, and he leaves a blessing with the holy bishop.
So this is the story of Coirpre crom and Mael Sechlainn son of Mael Ruanaid, to wit, the King of Ireland.

‘Three Legends from the Brussels Manuscript 5100-4’, ed. Whitley Stokes, Revue Celtique 26 (1905) 360-77.

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