Sunday, 21 July 2013

Saint Arbogast of Strasbourg, July 21

21 July is the feastday of yet another Irish missionary in Europe, Saint Arbogast, whose name is forever linked with that of his successor and fellow countryman Florentius; both are attractive and interesting figures.  I was struck by the echoes of Saint Brigid in Arbogast's oak tree and was not surprised to see that the church associated with these two saints also has an altar dedicated to Ireland's patroness. The few details below on Saint Arbogast have been taken from Roísín Ní Mheara's guide to Irish saints in Europe:


Arbogast and Florentius

Strassburg, not seated directly on the Rhine, used the waterways of the Ill for river barges trading with the city. Here, outside the walls, near the Ill landing place stood the monastic school of St Thomas, another early Christian foundation with strong Irish connections. Two Irish bishops of sixth century Strassburg, associated probably with Trier, have left their mark here on the present day Protestant church of St Thomas. With an attached institute of learning, including a seminary of theology, it pays tribute to a spiritual heritage when St Thomas was called the 'cradle of Alsatian Christianity'. Bishop Florentius, claimed to be of Irish birth and nobility by his biographers, founded the monastery, choosing the peripheral site with intent. The conversion of country folk being his main concern, he encouraged pilgrimages to the grave of his predecessor and countryman Arbogast, entombed in St Thomas. This place, associated in tradition with early Christian baptisms, had also an altar dedicated to St Brigid.

Who are Arbogast and Florentius? The scarcity of sixth century documentation clouds the path of pioneer days when these missionaries entered Alsace, starting, we are told, with hermitages, to be consequently called to the see of Strassburg by Merovingian kings. The impression received points to the category of learned Irishmen who were drawn, first to the cultural centres of southern Gaul, becoming then infused into Trier for reformatory and apostolic reasons.

Arbogast and Florentius are treated with awe in the tenth century life of St. Dicuil, a chronicle from the Columbanian abbey of Lure in Burgundy. They are presented as shining examples, religious leaders, ‘of all Strasburg’s holy patrons the holiest’…

The accepted date for Arbogast’s arrival in Alsace is 550. His bishopric was preceded by a sojourn in the forest of Hagenau. This dense oakland, the haunt of anchorites, was called the Sacred Grove of Northern Alsace. Within it Arbogast had his cell. An oak tree of huge dimensions marks the spot. Indicative are the hamlets Saint-Arbogast and Chene (=oaktree) on the road from Strassburg to Weissenburg/Wissembourg.

On the northern fringe of the forest Surburg, Arbogast’s first monastery was founded. It was destroyed in the Thirty Years War. The abbey church has since been restored to house the founder’s tomb. His effigy is also in an old Gothic sanctuary in the centre of Surburg village. The cult of Arbogast was widely spread throughout Alsace, but his ministry was concentrated in the North and there are further indications that he travelled to these parts from Trier.

Roísín Ní Mheara, Early Irish Saints in Europe - Their Sites and their Stories (Seanchas Ard Mhacha, 2001),113-115.

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2 comments:

  1. Probably you meant: The accepted date for Arbogast’s arrival in Alsace is "650" because 550 makes him older than Saint Columbanus

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  2. I rechecked the original text in case I had made a typo when transcribing this, but on page 114 the author says 550. She feels that Arbogast and Florentius are 6th century figures and her discussion of them follows on from a discussion of whether Saint Columbanus himself was present inStrassburg.

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