Saturday, 18 May 2013

Saint Merolilan of Rheims, May 18


May 18 is the commemoration of an Irish saint who laboured in France and there met a martyr's death - Merolilan of Rheims. Canon O'Hanlon summarizes what is known of his life and career:

Merolilanus, a Scottish Priest and Martyr, at Rheims, France. [Eighth Century.]

Merolilan, a Scottish Priest and Martyr, at Rheims, is noticed by the Bollandists at the 18th of May, in a historic commentary. It was the intention of Father John Colgan, to give his Acts, at the same date. His period has been assigned to the eighth century; but, the date for his birth has not been ascertained. Nor was his memory preserved in our Irish Calendars; for, only among the Rhemi of France had he been then known, and afterwards venerated. An account of St. Merolilanus is to be found, in the ancient Breviary of the Diocese of Rheims, in France; and, the accomplished Flodoard, in his history of that ancient church, sets forth several particulars, regarding the holy man. St. Merolilanus was of Irish race—indicated by the term Scotigena applied to him—and he travelled into France, with some companions, for the purpose of making a pilgrimage to Rome. Passing along the River Axona —now known as L'Aisne —some robbers set upon the travellers, and those freebooters killed Merolilanus. His companions brought the body of the holy man to Rheims, where it was interred in an ancient cemetery. For a long time, the very memory of St. Merolilanus seems to have been forgotten, in the place of his sepulture, until miracles revealed the spot where he was buried. It happened in the time of Hildegarius, a Priest of Rheims, as we are told in the History of that city, by Flodoard, 'that a person of some respectability', yet in poor circumstances, died; and, as means were wanting to give him a decent interment, his friends applied to that Priest for a place of sepulture, where they might find a sarcophagus to enclose his body. The requisite permission being granted, his friends opened that place, where Merolilanus had been entombed, and they found his sarcophagus, which, however, could not be opened by them. Hearing this, the Priest approached the spot, and endeavouring to raise the lid of that sarcophagus—which he partially accomplished—a most fragrant odour was diffused around. Looking in, Hildegarius saw the saint's body preserved entire, and clothed with sacerdotal garments. He replaced the lid, not daring furtlier to interfere with the remains; however, he allowed the dead man's body to be placed over them, some planks being inserted beneath. That very night, his uncle on the mother's side, and who had long been dead, appeared to the Priest during sleep, and told him, that he had offended deeply the Almighty on the day past, and more especially, should he presume farther to violate the sepulchre of Merolilanus. About the same time, the latter holy man appeared in spirit to Hildegarius, and intimated, that he felt much the indignity of a corpse having been placed over his own remains, and he announced, that if the Priest did not remove the body soon, some preternatural punishment should befall him. Wherefore—according to the History of Rheims Church, by Flodarius —affrighted by such admonitions, Hildegar caused almost immediately the body of the buried man to be raised, for interment in another place. The saint of God appeared to a rustic and ordered, also, that he should go to the Bishop Artoldus, or Artand, and tell him, that the body of Merolilanus, which lay in the cemetery without, must be removed to within the church. The rustic was unwilling, however, to convey such a message to the Bishop, and he treated it with neglect. Afterwards, the saint appeared one Sunday night in a vision to a certain Priest, who served under Hildegarius. He was admonished to inform the Bishop, that the body of Merolilanus should be brought into that church, and even the very place where it was to be deposed had been mentioned. Then, too, did he give the history of himself, which had been forgotten; while, he told the priest, to write down his name as Merolilanus, and he presented a piece of chalk for that purpose. During the effort, however, the priest wrote down the letter R for that of L; and Merolilanus warned him to make the necessary correction. The Bishop—informed of these visions—caused the church to be restored; still, he did not transfer to it the saint's relics. Nor was it long afterwards, until in the presence of Prince Hugo, fifth son to Heribert, Count of Picardy, and in the same church, Artoldus abdicated the Episcopal dignity. However, the King Raoul having prevailed against Heribert in war, and after the peace concluded between them, at Soissons, A.D. 935, Artaud was restored to the archiepiscopal seat of Rheims. Afterwards, the remains of Merolilanus were translated to the Church of the Holy Apostles and of St. Symphronien, Martyr, at Rheims. It seems probable, that either Archbishop Artaldus, or his successor Odalricus, took care to have this ceremony carried out, with due solemnity, and according to the requirement of St. Merolilanus.

His relics were preserved, in the Church of St. Symphorien, at Rheims. There, his Natalis was specially venerated. In the city and diocese of Rheims, the Feast of St. Merolilanus, Martyr, is kept under a simple rite of three Lessons. His martyrdom is commemorated, in the third Lesson, and the other parts of his office are taken from the common of a Martyr, and not a Bishop. His festival is found inscribed, at this date, in the Martyrologies of Saussay, of Ferrarius, and of Camerarius. Little more do we find on record, regarding that sainted Irish pilgrim and martyr.

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