Saturday, 2 March 2013

Saint Fergna Britt, Abbot of Iona, March 2


On March 2 the Irish calendars commemorate no less than three saintly abbots of Iona (Ia, Hy), successors to the great Saint Colum Cille. We will begin with Saint Fergna Britt, the fourth successor to the founder, and the account given of him by Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints:

The Acts of St. Fergna, or Fergnaus, drawn from various writers, have been published by Colgan, at the 2nd of March. The surname Britt, which signifies a "Briton," was derived, in Colgan's opinion, from his having lived in Britain; but, the Rev. Dr. Reeves thinks, that probably more is implied in such an epithet, than is found recorded. He belonged to the race of Conall Gulban, son to Niall, and he was son to Failbe, belonging to the family of Enna Boghaine. Fergna was born, probably after or about the middle of the sixth century, having been a member of the community in St. Columba's time. He is called Virgnous, by Adamnan, who describes him as being a youth of ardent piety. St. Oengus the Culdee and the Calendar of Cashel designate him, by an epithet meaning "white" or "fair." He appears to have presided over the religious community, at Iona, from A.D. 605, to 623, having immediately succeeded St. Laisren, or Laisrien, who died on the 16th of September, in the former year.

It is said, that St. Fergna had lived for some time with St. Lugudius, Abbot of Cluain-Finchuil, or Cluain-Fiacul, "in Ireland;" but, this Fergnous or Vergnous is clearly a different person. Both are confounded, however, by Colgan, who represents St. Fergna, as the disciple of St. Columkille. He was the fourth abbot, in succession; but, not so nearly related, to St. Columba, as his predecessors. Fergna's death is noted, at A.D. 616, in the Annals of Inisfallen; at A.D. 622, by the Annals of the Four Masters; and, at A.D. 623, by the Annals of Tighernach, and by the Rev. William Reeves. The 2nd of March is supposed to have been the day of his death. Simply the name Fergna, Abbot of Ia, is found in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the same date. St. Oengus the Culdee notices him, at the 2nd of March, as likewise Marianus O'Gorman; but, in the gloss to his Calendar, Fergna is styled bishop. Yet, this is thought to have been an incorrect designation; in so much as the precedent, so recently established, in Iona, by the founder, could hardly have been departed from, in the case of its fourth abbot.

Besides, a century afterwards Venerable Bede asserts, that in Iona they were always accustomed to have its ruler, a priest abbot. The Martyrology of Donegal mentions, as having a festival on this day, Fergna Britt, son of Failbhe, Bishop. In the entry of his name, by the compiler of a table added to this Martyrology, it is Latinized, Virgnous. In addition, Duald Mac Firbis enters Fergna Britt, Bishop and Abbot of Ia-Coluim-Cille, at March 2nd. At this date, likewise, the Carthusian Martyrology records his feast. At the 2nd of March, the Drummond Kalendar observes, that the Abbot Fergna, of the Hy monastery, went to Christ. In Ireland, this holy man seems to have had his office recited in nine lessons, as we learn from an old Antiphonarium, belonging to the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

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