Thursday, 21 March 2013

Saint Enda of Aran, March 21

March 21 is the commemoration of Saint Enda of Aran, whom tradition remembers as an important monastic founder and teacher.  Canon O'Hanlon has a very full account of our saint, but below is one taken from the work of one of his contemporaries, Irish Redemptorist priest, Father Albert Barry. Father Barry relied heavily on the hagiographical records of the saints and gives a real flavour of the genre in his work. Although Saint Enda (or Eanda as Father Barry renders the name) is now associated with the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway, hagiography records that he was a native of Ulster and that he had four sisters. One of these, Fanchea, was instrumental in leading him away from the life of a secular prince and into the religious life instead. Her shock tactics will seem rather disturbing to the modern reader but they certainly achieved their aim. Enda  developed a reputation as a teacher of the monastic life second only to Saint Finnian of Clonard.  Father Barry describes the journey our saint took from prince to monk and along the way we will also meet some of Saint Enda's distinguished pupils:


SAINT EANDA was born at Rathmore (near Clogher), in the year 458. His father was Conall Derg, the King of Oirghial in Uladh, and his mother was Brig-Aebhfinn, granddaughter of the King of Ard (Co. Down). He had four sisters.

Eanda was chosen King of Oirghial after the death of his father, and he led a good and stainless life amidst his wild and warlike clansmen. He grew up a lily amongst thorns. When a neighbouring chieftain soon afterwards did some harm to his tribe, he was forced against his will to inaugurate his reign by making war upon him. He and his half Christian followers went forth on the war-path, and having slain a man belonging to the hostile tribe, came homewards in triumph, brandishing their spears, striking their shields, and singing with savage cries their wild war songs. They drew nigh on their way to a monastery of Nuns, where Fanchea, the sister of Eanda, was Abbess. Fanchea, who had given her heart to resort early to the Lord, hearing the savage shouts of the soldiers, said to the Nuns: “This unseemly shouting is not pleasing to Jesus Christ.” But when she heard the voice of Eanda, she said: “He is a child of the heavenly kingdom.” Fanchea and another Nun stood at the gate of the monastery, and when Eanda hastened towards her, she lifted her hand towards him and said loudly: “Do not come near to us, for you are stained with blood.” Eanda was abashed, and humbly answered: “I am guiltless of bloodshed as well as of all other crimes." But she said to him: " Why, wretched man, do you thus provoke God to anger? Why do you drown your soul in a sea of evils by your many sins?" Eanda answered boldly: "I have the inheritance of my father, and I must fight against my foes." Fanchea said to him : " Your father is lost, and suffers for his crimes.” Eanda was silent, but after a while said to his sister : "Give me as my wife the maiden whom you are bringing up in the monastery, and I will then give heed to your advice.” Fanchea thereupon promised him to lay all before the maiden. She went inside, and taking the girl aside into a room, said to her: "You must now make a choice between loving and serving Him whom I love and serve, and loving and serving an earthly husband.” The maiden, filled with grace and light from God, at once answered: “I prefer to love and serve Him whom you love." Fanchea then bade her to stretch herself upon the bed that was in the room. The maiden lay down, and soon, by a miracle, her fair soul left her body and went to her heavenly Spouse, and her cold and lifeless body lay upon the bed. Fanchea threw a covering over the white face of the dead girl, and then going forth beckoned Eanda to follow her into the room. Fanchea then uncovering the lifeless face of the dead girl, said to her awe-struck brother: “Behold her whom you sought to be your wife." Eanda was speechless, but at length, almost choking with grief, said slowly in a whisper: "Her face, indeed, is white and unsightly." Fanchea then spoke strongly to him of the happiness of heaven and the torments of hell. He wept as she spoke, and his heart was changed. He at once made up his mind to forsake the pleasures and honours of earth, and to become a Monk. He went home, and shortly afterwards gave up his kingdom in spite of the earnest entreaties of his people who loved and honoured him.

Eanda built for himself a wooden hut not far from the monastery of Fanchea, and learned to lead a holy life by the help and example of his holy sister. He spent his days in prayer and work. He built up a high embankment around the monastery, and employed his time in rooting up the weeds and briars that grew in the garden of the Nuns.

A chieftain made a sudden onslaught about this time on the people of Oirghial, and the two clans fought a battle in the neighbourhood of the monastery. Eanda, hearing the wild shouts of the warriors, which made the woodland ring, snatched up a stake from a pile of wood which he had heaped together for a building, and rushed to help his fellow-clansmen, but Fanchea saw him and cried out: "Put your hand on your head." He put up his hand, and feeling his monastic tonsure, remembered that he had become a soldier of Jesus Christ, and throwing his weapon upon the earth, he slowly went back to his work. Fanchea soon afterwards persuaded him to leave his native land, and to become a pilgrim for the sake of Christ.

Eanda set forth at the bidding of his holy sister, and having sailed to Britain, became a Monk in the monastery of Saint Paulinus at Ty-gwyn (Whitehouse), in Glyn-rosin (Caermarthenshire),in the year 481. Saint Dewi and Saint Teilo, afterwards Bishop of Llandaff, were then living in the monastery. The Monks of Ty-gwyn were highly esteemed by the people, who were wont to say of them: "These holy men by the power of God make wild beasts obedient to their will. We can slay them when hunting, but we are not able to tame them. When these apostles preach to us we do not hearken to them, but the beasts of the field listen to and obey them." Eanda spent five years working, praying, and doing the will of Paulinas, on the banks of the Taf, in the small and lovely vale of Rosnant. He soon became perfect in the Gospel counsels, and with the blessing of Paulinus he went back to Ireland.

Eanda stayed for a short time in Uladh, and then went to Caiseal (Cashel), where King Aenghus Nadfraech, the husband of his sister Dairinne, held his court. Aenghus besought him to build a monastery at the foot of his rock-hewn stronghold, but Eanda was unwilling to dwell there, and begged the King to bestow upon him the lonely island of Ara-mohr.

Aenghus thereupon made a gift of Ara-mohr to God and to Eanda in the year 486, and Eanda and his fellow Monks at once hastened to take possession of their island home.

Eanda at length stood on the sea shore and beheld the fair island sparkling like an emerald far out on the blue waves of Lough Lurgan, whilst its steep cliffs glowed brightly in the sunshine. He glorified God with the sacrifice of praise, and he and his disciples sang together: " My soul doth magnify the Lord.” They sailed across the nine miles of water that lay between them and the island, and took possession of it in the name of God. They then built wooden huts to shelter themselves from the stormy winds, and a small House of prayer, wherein to sing the praises of God and celebrate the divine mysteries.

Ara-mohr was at that time a lovely island with wooded valleys, green fields, and fair sheltered nooks bright with wild flowers, and the peaceful island was surrounded by the blue water of the sea, which sometimes made music in the dark caves, but more often dashed with the sound of thunder against its lofty cliffs. These cliffs rose out of the water to the height of 300 feet on the western side of the island, and from thence the land fell in gentle slopes towards the eastern sea-shore. Eanda built his monastery and church near the sea or the north-east corner of the island, where the land was most fertile, and he there led a life of great holiness. “Eanda of great piety," writes Cuinnen of Conneire, "loved in Ara victorious virtue, and a narrow prison of hard stone to bring all unto heaven.” His holiness became known far and wide, and he soon had around him a family of 150 Monks. He divided them into ten companies, and built a church for each band of Monks. They fasted and prayed, and sang the praises of God night and day. They lived mostly on shell-fish and herbs.

Saint Breanndan came to Ara to hold converse with Eanda. Saint Breanndan writes:—

“Again I sailed and crossed the stormy sound

That lies beneath Ben-Aites' rocky height,

And there upon the shore the saint I found

Waiting my coming through the tardy night.

He led me to his home beside the wave,

Where with his Monks the pious father dwelled;

And to my listening ear he freely gave

The sacred knowledge that his bosom held."


D. F. McCarthy.

Saint Ciaran also came to behold and to get wisdom from Eanda at Ara-mohr. Saint Ciaran one night dreamed that he was standing on the bank of the river Sionan, and that he saw a great tree clothed with leaves and fruits, and its outstretched branches cast their shade over the whole of Ireland. He made known his dream to Eanda, and Eanda said: "You are that great and fruitful tree. You shall bring forth sweet fruits of good works, and you shall be held in honour throughout the whole island." He then bade Ciaran go forth in the name of the Lord and build a church and monastery. They went together to the sea-shore, having bound each other to an everlasting friendship. St. Ciaran bade farewell to Eanda, and sailed away in his hide-covered wicker-work skiff, which skimmed along the waves like a snow-white sea bird Eanda having put up a cross as a sign of their promise of friendship, went back full of sadness to the monastery. He wept and fasted and prayed for three days- An Angel came and said to him: "Why are you so sad and why do you afflict your flesh so much?" Eanda answered: ”I am sad at heart because I saw all the Angels of Ara go away with Ciaran”. The Angel said: "God sent His Angels with Ciaran because he is very dear to Him; but be no longer sorrowful, for they shall come back. Cease in the name of the Lord to fast." But Eanda answered: “I will not cease to fast until I get three gifts from God. I ask that the gate of hell shall never be shut upon any one who has been sorry for his sins, and has been buried beside me; I also ask that whosoever calls upon me may be helped by my Lord Jesus Christ; and I ask that I myself may be placed at the right hand of God with His saints”. The Angel said: “God has granted to you what you have asked."

A multitude of holy men, whose names are known to God alone, lived with Eanda at Ara-mohr ; and the island became illustrious and a land of saints. These holy men had inward peace of mind, and wore a smile upon their face as if they were listening to the songs of Angels. They were like their fair island home, around whose rocky shore the restless sea-waves dashed in fury. When they wandered clad in white with sandalled feet along the pebbly beach, or stood on the bold headlands and beheld the outspread sea, they thought of God, whose throne is heaven, and whose footstool is the earth, who holds up the whole world with His fingers and holds the sea in the hollow of His hand, and when they heard the ceaseless war of the waves in the deep chasms and the shrill screams of the wild sea birds as they flew over the water, they thought of the evil passions of their fellow-men. Eanda prayed to God that the island of Ara-mohr might become the home of His saints, and God heard his earnest prayer, and made known to him that many saints should arise on the last day from the graveyards of Ara. Ara of the flowers became Ara of the Saints.

Eanda lived to a “decrepit old age,” and died in the year 542. Aenghus Ceile-De, in his Litany of Irish Saints, gives the feast of “Eanda the illustrious of Ara" at March 21st.

Ara-mohr is now a bleak wilderness of limestone rock, crowned by the windworn walls of the ruined fortress of Dun-Aenghus. The ruined Temples and the gravestones of the 120 "virgin Saints” of Ara alone remain to tell the story of that holy island, and Teglach-Eanda, near which the body of Eanda awaits the resurrection, lay buried for many years beneath the advancing tide of drift sand which has made a desert of his once fertile home.

“Oh, Ara, my sun, my heart is in the west with thee:

To sleep in thy holy earth is as good as to be buried in the land of Peter and Paul:

To live within the sound of thy bells is to live in joy:

Oh, Ara, my sun, my love is in the west with thee."

—Saint Colum-Cille.


THE END


Rev. Albert Barry, Lives of Irish Saints (Dublin, n.d.)

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