ST. COLMAN, BISHOP AND CONFESSOR, PATRON OF DROMORE DIOCESE.
Among many Irish saints, bearing the name of Colman, and numbering at least one hundred and twenty, much difficulty arises, in assigning to the patron of Dromore diocese distinctive acts, which bear a sole reference to him. However, there are Manuscript Lives of him still preserved. Some of these are kept, in the Bodleian Library, at Oxford. Among the Burgundian Library Manuscripts, at Bruxelles, there is a Latin Vita S. Colmani, E. Drum. On this day, Colgan intended to have published Acts of this saint. A Manuscript Life of this holy bishop was in possession of the Bollandists, towards the close of the seventeenth century. This has been edited, in the volume of their great serial work, which was published, A.D. 1698. According to the editor, Father Francis Baert, this Manuscript had been written three hundred years before the date of its publication. He justly considers it, as abounding in many unreliable accounts, which could not fail to displease any judicious reader. However, as in the case of certain Acts of the Irish saints, finding none others extant or more reliable; and, in the present instance, if he did not use those materials prepared—hitherto inedited and perhaps likely to remain so—Baert proposed to set them before the curious reader, although many might suppose it better, to withdraw such Acts from their great collection. Another reason he assigns, that as Irish historians were accustomed to refer to Lives of their Saints as historic authorities, he considered it just as well to produce such accounts, even when silly and fabulous. In reference to the present holy man, it is to be suspected, that accounts relating to him have confounded our Colman with other saints bearing a similar name. There are notices of this holy bishop, at the 7th of June, in Rev. Alban Butler. The Rev. Dr. Lanigan and the Petits Bollandistes have his commemoration, at this same date. Also, in the "Circle of the Seasons," in the works of Bishop Forbes and of Rev. S. Baring-Gould, is he noted.
Before his birth, predictions announced Colman's advent to the Irish. On a certain occasion, whilst our great Apostle journeyed from Armagh towards the monastery of Saul, he was hospitably entertained by a bishop, who presented himself and his establishment to the venerable guest, at his departure. We are informed, however, that St. Patrick refused to accept of that bishop's offer, but he predicted :" Thou art not assigned to me, but, after sixty years, one must be born, who shall found his monastery in an adjoining valley. There, a little while ago, whilst engaged in singing Mass, I saw through the church window a great multitude of angels assembled." St. Patrick is said, also, to have repealed the foregoing prophecy to another bishop, ordained by himself in those parts, and who wished to become a subject himself, with all his possessions, of the Irish Apostle. This prediction has been referred, however, to Colmanelo, of Muckmore. Still, it cannot be ascertained, that there had been any Colman, or Colmanellus, a Legate of all Ireland.
We are further assured, that in lapse of time, all these predictions regarding place and person were fulfilled, as they had been declared from the lips of St. Patrick. Again, we are told, that whilst the holy abbot St. Columkille was in the plain of Conall —a rural tract in southern Ulster —he spoke in prophetic spirit regarding our saint, to a certain nobleman named Mongan, who wished to dedicate himself and his posterity to Columba: "Trust me, I cannot receive you, because God has destined you for a certain holy man, who will build his monastery, on the northern bank of a river, called Locha. He shall be venerable, in the sight of God and man.'' Whatever credit may be given to an assertion, that St. Colman's birth had been predicted long before its occurrence, by St. Patrick, we cannot admit, that St. Columkille had also foretold an event, which must have happened, probably before his own birth. Neither is the latter prophecy contained in any of St. Columba's authentic Acts, as published by Colgan, nor in other ancient works; neither do we find the name of Mongan, as there introduced. However, unless we are to reject what is related of his education under Caylan and Ailbe, and of his connection with Macnisse, Colman was prior to Columkille by many years.
Our saint is usually invoked as Colman, in his offices. Yet, there are other forms of this name. He appears to have been denominated Colmoc, in the Aberdeen Breviary. Colmus, Mocolmoc, and Colmanelus, are names applied to this saint. A scholiast on the Aengussian Martyrology styles him Mocolmus. In former instances, a variation of name will find its illustration, in the case of other Irish saints, to whom diminutives and terms of endearment have been accorded, by the people inhabiting this island. It has been asserted, that St. Colman of Dromore was born at an earlier period, than has been generally supposed; for, it is evident, that St. Finian of Maghbile was first instructed by our saint, who was eminent in the early part of the sixth century. Colgan reckons Colman of Dromore, among the disciples of St. Patrick and, if we admit this statement, the birth of this Irish patriarch should be placed early, and in or about the middle of the fifth century. The birth of our saint is assigned by Sir James Ware and by his editor Walter Harris —quoting Ussher as authority—to 516. It is a very general opinion, also, that St. Colman flourished in the sixth century. However, it has been incorrectly stated, that when treating on the Writers of Ireland, Ware asserts that Colman of Dromore flourished to the seventh century; but, this accurate writer makes no such statement there, unless we are to apply his account respecting St. Colman, Bishop of Lindisfarne, to the saint of whom we are now treating. Because there is an account of St. Gregory the Great having consecrated a Colman, at Rome, it has been thought, he can have been no other than the first bishop and patron of Dromore, so named. But, the Rev. Dr. Lanigan tells us, that through a mistake of Ussher, Colman of Dromore has been confounded with a Colmanel of Muckmore. They are distinguished, however, by Father John Colgan, who, on the authority of Jocelyn," calls the latter an Apostolic Legate." Through a sort of negligence very usual with Colgan, he quotes, and without any observation, a passage, in which Colman of Dromore, is confounded with Colmanel. Harris has the same confusion at Bishops and Writers, but he distinguishes them at Monasteries. The Rev. Mervyn Archdall has jumbled them together, when treating about Muck-a-more. Yet, we have no certain data for these statements.
The Acts of this saint, as preserved, must have been falsified, at least in some particulars; for, various anachronisms are detected in them, if we accept the foregoing accounts. However, those Acts of his as taken from the Salamancan MS. assure us, that St. Colman, Bishop of Dromore, derived his descent from the Dalriads of Ards territory. This district is also called Dalaradia, meaning the people or offspring of Araidhe. A local tradition, however, connects his birth with Ferrard. The O'Clerys apply to St. Colman the patronymic Mac-Ua-Arta, and they state, that he belonged to the race of Conall Cearnach. Dalaradia is the Ultonian and eastern district, stretching from Newry towards Sliabh Mis, and lying northwards. Its name seems to have been derived from Fiach, surnamed Aradius, King of Ulster. Within his principality, it was situated.We are told, that St. Colman was baptized by a bishop, bearing his own name. This prelate is said to have been his uncle.
However, there are so many saints having this name, that neither the office nor cognomen will enable us to discover, who this baptist really was. According to our accounts, Almighty God caused a fountain to spring suddenly from the earth, in which Colman was baptized. During his youth, a remarkable but legendary miracle is attributed to him. After this, St. Colman's parents are said to have sent him to be instructed, by St. Caylan, abbot over Nendrum. Under this capable master, he not only received the rudiments of literature, but practical lessons for a devout life. Our saint made such progress in learning and sound morality, that one day, when his lessons had been perfectly committed to memory, he asked the father Abbot, what he should further do. His spiritual director told him, to remove a certain rock, which impeded the progress of the monks, when going to recite Matins. This act, Colman miraculously accomplished, after making over it a sign of the cross. It has been asserted, that St. Caylan was our saint's first master. According to Sir James Ware's testimony, having being at first abbot of Nendrum, he was afterwards made bishop of Down. An alternative has been submitted by Baert, that our saint might have been instructed by that bishop, who had formerly been abbot at Nendrum, and that therefore he retained the old title and office; yet, this he considers incongruous, for bishops have usually occupations, more nearly appertaining to the glory of God, than those which require the teaching of letters. Through God's assistance, having performed these and similar miracles, Colman obtained his master's benediction, and he then set out on his journey, to visit St. Aylbeus, Bishop of Emly. He was regarded as being a wise and holy man. Colman desired to receive from him the rule for a religious life. Under this latter saintly instructor—perhaps about A.D. 500 —our saint is stated to have remained some years. With great docility, he applied to study sacred Scripture, to fasting, to prayer, and to keep assiduous vigils. The Almighty gave him power to work many miracles.
Having obtained permission from St. Aylbeus, to revisit his native place, Colman returned to the holy fathers, his uncle Bishop Colman, and Caylan his master. With this latter he made some stay, and he exhorted the monks to a better rule of living. He was pointed to, as an examplar of all virtues. He often visited the holy and venerable bishop Maonyseus of Conor, who, having a prescience concerning his guest's arrival, ordered all things necessary for him to be prepared. On going to the bishop, he was received with a warm welcome, and he remained with that prelate for a few days. Then, he consulted that venerable senior, about the possibility of founding a religious house. Macnissius answered : "It is the will of God, that you erect a monastery, and within the bounds of Coba plain." Wherefore, according to the advice of this holy bishop, Colman sought the place indicated. Then, in a valley, and on a spot, formerly designated by St. Patrick, Colman established his dwelling. It was near a river, called Locha, now known as the Lagan. This place, which at present is called Dromore, was situated in the Dalaradian territory, of which St. Colman had been a native. The O'Clerys gave an alias name to Drum Mor, by calling it after our saint, Drum Mocholmdg, in Ui Eachach Uladh. It is now a very small town, about twenty-five miles eastwards from Armagh, and eighteen from Carrickfergus, towards the south. Its being selected as the seat of a bishop is placed so far back, as the fifth century. Here, at first, St. Colman seems to have established a monastery—it is thought before the year 514 —when St. Mac Nisse died. There he trained a number of fervent monks in the practices of a religious life. It is said, he wrote a Rule for his Monks, but this is a questionable statement. However, we find a different statement, that it was at Muckmore, in the county of Antrim, he became the first Abbot over a religious house, and that he was afterwards chosen to be first Bishop of Dromore. During his lifetime, it is said to have become an episcopal See; for, this St. Colman, whose feast occurs this day, is regarded as the patron of Dromore church and diocese. In a short time, the multitude of his disciples greatly increased. They observed a very strict rule of discipline. However, in all things, our saint set them a perfect example; for, abstinence, prayer, fervent piety, and vigils, altogether chastened his mortified body.
To illustrate the great merits and virtues of his biographical subject, and to show how he was favoured from Heaven, the old writer of St. Colman's Acts instanced many stupendous miracles wrought through him. One of these happened at a time, when Diermit, King of Ireland, pitched his camp near the monastery of our saint. Colman then induced this monarch to visit his religious house. Received with great welcome, the king and his retainers were hospitably entertained by this holy bishop. A miraculous event is recorded, in connection with this visit. Colman is said to have forgotten his Psalter, which he left in or near the lake; but, according to tradition, he afterwards found the book, without its having undergone any damage.
The saint is said, also, to have restored a female to life, after she had been decapitated by robbers. At one time, when our saint preached to a great multitude, in a certain wood, some importunate rhymers approached, and earnestly demanded a gift from him. The saint said to them: "At present, I have nothing to give you, but God's word." One of them impiously replied, “Keep the word of God for yourself, and give us something else." Colman said, "You foolishly reject the best and select the worst of gifts." Then they urged him to work miracles to gratify an idle and impious curiosity. The power of God was manifested against those incredulous bards, who most probably were pagans. The earth is said to have swallowed them up, as in the case of Dathan and Abiron. All who were present admired God's judgments in these wonders. Prostrate on their knees before St. Colman, they gave thanks to the Almighty, for those miracles the holy man had wrought. Diarmaid gave thanks to God, likewise, and to his holy servant, through whose power, those wonderful prodigies occurred.
Our saint is stated, to have thrice visited the Apostles' tomb, on the authority of those best qualified to offer a statement on the subject, who, however, are only the writers of his Acts. St. Gregory was Pope, while on one of those visits, and it is related, that our saint obtained the Episcopal dignity from that Sovereign Pontiff. He returned with some relics of the holy Apostles. On his way home, he visited the house of a king in Britain. It so happened, on the night of his arrival, that the queen gave birth to a dead son, who was no other than St. David of Wales. Through the power of God and the merits of the holy Apostles, whose relics he possessed, St. Colman brought the child to life. Afterwards, Colman fostered and taught him. This child, we are told, in course of time, became the renowned British bishop of Menevia.
Our saint's mother had sent a message, that she desired the privilege of speaking to him. But, the servant of Christ returned for answer: "Let her take choice of the alternative, either to see me only, or to speak without seeing me." On hearing this, she said: "I had rather he would speak to me, on matters pertaining to the welfare of my soul." Then, both met, but on opposite sides of a tree, and they began to converse with each other, without being mutually seen. Meantime, by Divine interposition, an opening was made through the tree, and which enabled both to behold each other, without the intervention of any obstacle. Again, we are told, that our saint once found a hind, which had strayed from its dam, and the saint called the animal to him. Then, he placed it with some heifers, from which a calf had been stolen. Soon, the heifers began to treat the hind, as if it had been one of their own species. At stated times, it herded with them, until at last, it returned to its own dam. At one time, the brothers of his monastery had nothing left to place on their table. For three days and nights, they were obliged to fast. This filled Colman with surprise, and obliged him to inquire into the cause of such privation. At length, by Divine revelation, he learned, that the keeper of the stores had been guilty of fraud. Immediately, he was deposed from that office, and a more faithful person was appointed in his stead. Thenceforward, the Almighty was pleased to provide for all the wants of Colman's religious community.
These incidents form only a summary of his life. It remains for us to speak regarding his decease. When about to leave this world, and to receive the reward of his labours from God, corporal infirmities grew upon him, until it was found necessary to administer Extreme Unction, and to strengthen his departure from life, by giving him the Holy Eucharist. Then, bidding farewell to his brethren, and with earnest prayer on his lips, his pure spirit fled to the bosom of his Creator.
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