On April 25 we commemorate the saint whom tradition holds was the bishop who bestowed the veil upon Saint Brigid of Kildare. Canon O'Hanlon's account brings together what is recorded of Maccaille, Bishop of Croghan, including the famous story that a jet of flame erupted from the head of Saint Brigid at the time of her profession. He is also at pains to ensure that we do not confuse Saint Maccaille with a saint of similar name, Machaldus (Maughold), who is also commemorated on this date in some sources, although I will be posting an account of him on his other feast day, 28 December.
St. Maccaille, Bishop at Croghan, King's County.
One of the revered prelates of our early Irish Church was the venerable man of whom we are now to treat, but whose special Acts do not seem to have been written. The Bollandists have published accounts of the Holy Bishops Maccalleus, of Cruachad, and of Machaldus, in the Isle of Man, at the 25th of April. As we have seen, in the previous Article, these personages are to be distinguished. Mac-Caille is variedly called Maccille, Macalleus, Kilius Cailleus, Maccille, and Machillus. This latter is the form of his name, as used by Surius. Little is known, regarding the birth and parentage of this saint. As in the Irish language, however, Mac signifies "son," and as, in a notice of this holy man, taken from one of St. Patrick's Lives, his name is Latinized Filius Cailie, it seems to be almost certain, that Caille was the name of his father, and it may have been given by his parents, or it may have arisen, owing to some other cause. Nevertheless, another opinion has been advanced, and which shows, that Maccalle may have been the true way for spelling his own name. He is sometimes called Macull; yet, this has probably more immediate reference to the saint, whose Life precedes [i.e. Saint Machaldus of the Isle of Man].
Maccaille is stated, also, to have been one of St. Patrick's nephews, by his sister Darerca; and, he is thought, in all probability, to have been the same as that Maceleus, who is classed among the disciples of St. Patrick. Again, it is conjectured, that Maceleus had been identical with a person mentioned in the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, and who is named Macetus, or Maccectus. Having found Maccalleus elsewhere, and wishing to swell the number of St. Patrick's disciples, the Rev. Dr. Lanigan remarks, that Colgan thought it better, to distinguish him from the Maceleus of Tirechan. However, Maceleus or Makaleus differs not from Maccaleus, in the ancient Irish pronunciation. A very general opinion now prevails, that the present holy man had been a disciple to St. Mel, or Melchu, of whom St. Patrick was supposed to be uncle. St. Maccaille was elevated to thegovernment of a church at Cruachad, or Cruachan Bri-Ele, in the territory of Offaly, or Hy Failge; and, this place is expressly mentioned in the Calendar of Cashel, and in other documents, as that where his church stood. Here, it is stated, he was a Bishop. It was on the confines of Leinster and Munster, according to the former extent of the latter province, and before a part of it was added to the present King's County. The Eile, with which the name of that place terminates, was a district, commonly called Ely O'Carroll. It has been supposed, that while Mac-calle's See was established, at the place already named; his jurisdiction also extended over a considerable tract of country, and that we may reasonably conclude, he had been consecrated, before A.D. 465. The range of Croghan Hills gives name to a small parish, in the barony of Lower Philipstown, King's County. There are three well-defined summits, the highest of which rises towards the west, and this elevation is terminated by a remarkable cone, from which a most extensive and varied view of all the neighbouring Irish counties may be obtained. Immediately under it, and sloping along the hill-side, with its aspect towards the east, the crowded cemetery, within which a church was formerly to be seen, is now enclosed, with a low and parapeted stone wall. A great number of head-stones with inscriptions rise over the graves; and this spot is still a favourite and frequented place for interments. This hill was, no doubt, that site, formerly selected by St. Macaille, for his religious establishment.
It is said, one Macca, or as others will have it Machilla, a disciple of St. Patrick, presented the veil to St Bridget. By many, it was supposed, that the holy Patroness of Kildare received it from the Bishop of Soder, in the Isle of Man. He bore a name, somewhat similar to that of our saint, and to this circumstance may be attributed the popular error. But, he does not appear to have been baptized, much less consecrated as Bishop, at the time when St. Brigid had been veiled. However, the illustrious and holy Abbess received the veil from the son of Cuille, or Caille, i.e., Maccaille, in Uisninch Midi, or Usneagh, in Westmeath, according to some accounts; and there, too, it has been supposed, that our saint usually resided. It is stated, that Maccaille had an inspiration from Heaven, regarding St. Brigid's earnest desire of becoming a virgin, she being so remarkable for her maidenly love of chastity. He consecrated her to the Almighty, by receiving her vows, and by investing her with a white cloak, or veil, the usual dress of nuns, in the early times of Christianity. The white garment of St. Brigid is noticed, likewise, as having been her peculiar dress, in the Third of her published Lives. There is no notice, about the cutting of her hair, which in the profession of holy virgins was not practised, at this early period. The date for St. Brigid's profession has been referred, to about the middle of the fifth century. That Maccaille then officiated, is to be found in that entry of the Cashel Calendars regarding his festival day, and this statement has been followed by Cathal Maguire. An old Poem, ascribed to St. Brogan Cloen, agrees with such a notion. On this occasion, according to another account, St. Brigid went to receive the order of penitence from Bishop Mel; or, in other words, to be invested with the religious habit, as already stated in her Life. Some modern writers have incorrectly stated, that our Apostle St. Patrick was the prelate who received the profession of the holy virgin, St. Brigid. However, it seems not improbable, that both St. Mel and St. Maccaille officiated, at this investiture. The latter might have been deputed by the former, to take a leading part in that solemn function, which led to the great works afterwards accomplished by the holy virgin. Thus, to each of them might fairly be attributed a part in the ceremony of veiling, although it be immediately and properly referable to the ministry of St. Maccalleus. When her father Dubthach found, that heaven had decreed his daughter to become a consecrated virgin, he desired that Melchon should have charge of her religious direction, and, accordingly, she was providentially conducted to the temple, by one who accosted her on her way, but who is not named. Perhaps, he may not have been any other than St. Mac-Caille. Other pious virgins accompanied St. Brigid, and to share her graces. Then took place that remarkable miracle of a great flame extending from St. Brigid's head to the very roof of the church. In admiration of this phenomenon, the Bishop especially made diligent enquiries about the saint's parents, he also learned her manner of living, from the time of her infancy. One of his clerics informed him, that she was Brigid, the wonder-worker, and a daughter to Dubtach. On hearing this, the Bishop was most anxious to comply with the virgin's desires. Her good fame seemed to herald a future career of great usefulness in the Church. The Bishop who received her religious profession is stated, likewise, to have procured a suitable place, for the establishment of her nunnery. He presented her with as many cows, as there were members in her community ; but, the number of her virgins, at the time of her religious commencement, has been differently stated. The Third Life says, she left her father's house attended by three, but it afterwards enumerates, eight postulants while the Fifth Life has seven.
The home which St. Brigid occupied, in the beginning of her monastic seclusion, is thought to have been not far from the place where Mac-Caille lived. According to one conjecture, it was called Rath-brighde, or Brigid's rath. This was situated within the territory of Fearcall, in Meath. Another supposition is, that it may have been at Tegh-Brighide, or Brigid's House, in Kinel-Fiacha, the country about Kilbeggan. As St. Brigid was then very young and inexperienced, St. Mac-Caille appears to have devoted some portion of his time to her instruction, and to supply the religious necessities of her community. He exercised hospitality towards herself and her nuns; and, on one occasion, when they had been invited to a banquet, an interesting spiritual colloquy took place. In the opinion of the Bollandists, the veiling of St. Brigid took place, before A.D. 440; while Ussher places the event, at A.D. 467, and he states, that St. Patrick, or some one of his disciples, was reported to have given it to her, when she was little over fourteen years old. As her peculiar practice, and on the recommendation of St. Mac-Caille, to aim at excellence, in a special degree, St. Brigid selected Mercy, while her other religious applied themselves respectively to observe some chosen virtue, with great constancy and fervour. The Bollandists place the death of our saint, in the year 456, on supposition, that St. Patrick survived him four years. The Annals of Innisfallen have A.D. 484, for that event. The Chronicum Scotorum places Maccaille's death, at A.D. 487. The Annals of Senat-mac-Magnus, of Clonmacnoise, those of the Island, and other authorities—such as Duald Mac Firbis—have 489. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, Bishop Mac-caille died in the year 489 which, after his usual manner. Rev. Dr. Lanigan interprets into A.D. 490. This latter, however, is the year set down for his death, in the Annals of Tigernach. The Felire of St. Aengus records the feast of St. Mac Caille, at the 25th of April, and with phrases conferring on him very exalted praise. A glossographer on the passage distinguishes him, as having his church in Cruacheii Brig Eli, in Ui-Faitge, and as having set the veil on St. Bridgid's head, while he took Mochuda's hand out of Rathin. This closes with an observation: "He comes not till the end of 435 years." This seems alluding to some former legend regarding him. In the Martyrology of Tallagh, at this date, we meet with the simple entry, Mac Caille, Bishop. His festival occurs, on the 25th day of April, according to the Calendar of Cashel, as quoted by Colgan. Marianus O'Gorman has an entry of his festival, likewise, at this date. Again, Cathal Maguire has a similar account, in his Martyrology. On this day, April 25th, the Martyrology of Donegal records the festival of Maccaille, Bishop. The foregoing relation contains all that is distinctive and known, relating to the venerable man.
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Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.