August 22 sees the commemoration of Saint Andrew of Ireland, also known as Andrew the Scot or Andrew, Archdeacon of San Martino a Mensola. The name of Saint Andrew is inextricably linked with that of his spiritual master, Donatus, with whom he travelled to Italy and with Brigid, his faithful sister in the flesh. I have been very interested in this trio since first learning about them, Bishop Donatus was responsible for spreading devotion to Saint Brigid of Kildare in Italy and indeed modern scholars believe that Saint Andrew's sister Brigid is in reality a manifestation of the cult of the Irish patroness in the Fiesole area. I have read a number of accounts of Saint Andrew but the most enjoyable is that of Margaret Stokes in her 1892 book, Six Months in the Appenines: Or A Pilgrimage in Search of Vestiges of the Irish Saints in Italy. We begin with her account of how Saint Andrew came to accompany his master Donatus into exile for the sake of Christ:
It happened at the time when Donatus was a teacher in Ireland, that there lived in the same country a noble virgin named Brigid, and her brother Andrew, a comely and gallant youth. Andrew was the elder of the two, and her constant guide and counsellor. It was their custom from earliest childhood, when they walked out together on their way to school, as they passed the church door, to pause and enter reverently and pray, which service they also repeated at every hour that they could save from sleep. Nor were there any poor or miserable that did not leave the house of Andrew comforted, so deeply was love to the unhappy rooted in his heart; his parents meanwhile were careful that he should be taught the art of riding, as befitted his high rank. As time passed on, a rumour reached the ear of brother and sister that a great teacher, named Donatus, had arrived from many miles distant, who could still further instruct them in divine philosophy, and Donatus having already heard of the great promise of this youth Andrew, took him to his school, and soon came to love him as a son. The kindly greeting with which he was received caused Andrew more satisfaction to his heart than he could express, and an old Latin writer has said of these two holy men: "The greatest happiness of Donatus was the instruction of Andrew ; the greatest enjoyment of Andrew was in obedience to Donatus."
One day, as they were both standing at the gate outside the city (cashel) walls, discoursing, as was their wont, upon things human and divine, Donatus revealed to his disciple that he had long desired to journey into distant lands, to visit all the holy places throughout Italy, and then to seek a spot where none would know him, so that, far removed from family and friends, he would be free to give up his life to the service of God, desiring to imitate Heraclitus, who ceased not to mourn over human suffering.
Andrew, unable to part from his beloved master, prayed that he might go with him on this journey, and thus these two servants of God determined to depart. So fixed on Heaven were their hearts, that they showed no sorrow in parting, and paid no heed to the opposition of their people.
Great was the grief of Brigid when she learned their project, yet not even her tears could turn them from their course. The unhappy sister said, "Brother dear, why dost thou leave me? When shall we see one another again?" They clung to one another in a close embrace, and their hot tears showed the tender love that bound them. At last, Andrew with much gentleness put his sister from him. "Go in peace," she said, "and pray to God for thy sister, abandoned here in sorrow."
Then the two pilgrims, followed by their friends and families, went down the island to the sea-coast, where they embarked upon a ship whose sails soon swelled in the wind, and bore them to a foreign shore. They had scant money or provision for their journey, since they meant to beg their way from place to place, and having landed, they set off on foot with staff and bag, contented and humble in spirit. They rested at the monasteries where the relics of the saints were kept and honoured, and they often turned aside to visit certain hermitages in almost inaccessible places, where they might hold converse with holy anchorites who had resigned the world. As throughout their pilgrimage they greatly desired to visit every possible place where a holy sanctuary was to be found, in their careful search for such they came upon the beautiful mountain of Fiesole, where were the shrines of numberless martyrs and many stations of the cross.
In those days the people of Fiesole, having been deprived of a pastor, were in difficulty about the election of a new one, because of the civil discords that had sprung up after the recent devastations of the Northmen. The nobles and the people were at variance, and the state was passing through a crisis of great difficulty and danger. Then the good men of the city prayed fervently to God to the end that he might save their tottering state from civil war and mercifully provide them with a good pastor. Having thus prayed with all their might, the righteous petition of this multitude reached the ear of Him who sleepeth not, and He sent them aid in the following manner, as is related by the old historian of Donatus: —
" It was while the dismayed city of Fiesole was in this condition that the men of God, Donatus and Andrew, had turned thither in their wanderings through Tuscany, and, like other travellers, wearied with the great height they had climbed, and tired with their journey, they entered the hospice as the night closed in. Now it happened that at the moment of their arrival the abbey of Fiesole was filled with a great crowd of people in deep distress because they had been deprived of a pastor's care. With one voice they implored that He who brought Israel up out of Egypt might protect them with His right hand, and might deign to preserve their church by some angelic visitation. While the people thus prayed aloud, Christ worked a new miracle for them, and brought Donatus and his friend Andrew to the church door.
"As they ascended the steep hill from the river's side, the bells of the city on the instant rang forth, and the lamps burst miraculously into light of themselves. The people of Fiesole, amazed at this miracle, ran hither and thither through the city in all directions and in great confusion, asking in terror what might this portent mean. Impelled by their trust in God, they hurried down the hill to the abbey; men, women, and children of all ages, knelt there in tremblings and sobs and tears, and piously raising their hands to heaven, made prayer to God that He would deign to show them the meaning of this miracle.
Suddenly a silence fell upon the multitude, and a voice proclaimed, ‘Receive the stranger who approaches, Donatus of Scotia; take him for your shepherd.’ When the voice of the Lord had ceased, the people, not knowing what to do, remained in prayer. Then behold the men of God, Donatus and Andrew, having just entered the city, went to the abbey where the congregation were at prayer, and believing it to be a feast day, marvelled to see the dismayed people praying in alarm and suspense. Advancing slowly, they stood in silence awaiting the result.
"Then a certain poor man standing by, and happening to see the strangers, inquired of them whence they came and whither they were bound, and by what name they were called. Donatus, with his usual simplicity, answered humbly, ‘We are both men of Scotia. He is named Andrew, I Donatus. We came on pilgrimage to Rome.’ And the poor man, remembering the divine voice he had just heard, straightway cried aloud, ‘Citizens, the man is here of whom the Lord has spoken.’…
Donatus and Andrew at Fiesole.
Andrew, the faithful disciple who had followed Donatus from Ireland, remained at his side till death, serving him in humility and goodness. Such was his wisdom that he was loved by the people of Fiesole no less than by his master. Donatus desired to promote him to the office of archdeacon, so as to raise his rank in the people's eyes. Henceforth Andrew followed the footsteps of the first deacon, and is said to have resembled Stephen and Laurence in his habits of life.
It happened that one day the two friends were walking together round the foot of the hill of Fiesole, when they came to the banks of the little river Mensola, which flows at the foot of a certain height crowned by a church dedicated to St. Martin. Ascending the hill, they found the ancient sanctuary in ruins, and on inquiring the cause of this desolation from the people in the neighbourhood, they learned that it had been laid waste in former days by the barbarous soldiers of Totila.
Donatus, as he stood in his sadness among the broken walls and bewailed the destruction of the temple, wept, and then in silent prayer the bishop entreated of God to send and restore his church, and the deacon Andrew, standing by, seeing the tears of his most holy father, inquired the cause of his sorrow; the bishop lifting up his voice to heaven, cried aloud, “Behold how Thy sanctuaries are laid low, and Thy high places are made desolate, and Thy temple has become the den of robbers and of wicked men, who show tyranny against Thy house before the eyes of all men." Andrew hearing these words, and filled with the zeal of charity, humbly offered to the bishop his earnest service for the restoration of the temple, and then, fixing his eyes on the ground, awaited his pleasure and commands. Donatus praised the devotion of the holy man, whose offer corresponded with his own thought. He made the sign of the cross, with hands stretched over him, and blessing him in God's name, said that henceforth he was free to devote himself to this pious work, and that when he had restored the monastery, he might therein dedicate the days of his life to the Lord, along with such of the brethren as he might choose. Andrew, though the work seemed arduous and difficult for a poor and needy man, thus strengthened by the holy bishop, began to clear the sacred place of brambles and of thorns, to search for the ancient foundations and dig out the stones of the old walls, hidden under the ruins. He also prepared new stones and cement and other things necessary for the building, with sedulous care. He sought alms from the pious and faithful persons in the neighbourhood around; he hired builders, with whom he laboured himself after the manner of a reasonable bee, continually fulfilling these labours in the restoration of the church so far as his little body, attenuated by fasting, would allow.
In a short time the basilica was not only restored but enlarged; moreover, the man of God bought lands sufficient for his small company of monks with such sums as he could save by a holy parsimony, and earn through his own labours and that of his brethren. During these labours they lived on a most scanty subsistence, rejecting all superfluous things that might soften and enervate the rigour of their penitence, and after the completion of their work he distributed the surplus among the poor, not allowing these offerings to be hidden in chests, even to the amount of one jot; for the man of God thought avarice the greatest sin.
Having thus established his monastery near that of his master Donatus, he led a holy life in this place until he attained a good old age, expecting with a tranquil mind the gradual approach of his latter end. Were I to relate all the miracles which God deigned to grant to the prayers of this holy man, my work would expand beyond the limits usual in sacred writings. But here, in S. Martino a Mensola, did St. Andrew draw around him a number of devoted men who, invested with the sacred religious garb, led a life of austerity and purity; nor can the pen record the glorious deeds of his old age, how he cast out demons, gave sight to the blind, health to the fevered, and strength to the infirm, so that they might live to render thanks to their Creator.
Death of St. Andrew in San Martino
Andrew survived his master but a short time. When the Lord revealed to him that his last days were approaching, and he lay upon his sick-bed wasted by fever, he collected or assembled his monks around him, exhorting them to good works and faithful obedience to their monastic rule. Then turning his mind to heavenly things, the memory of his childhood came back to him, and he thought of his sister Brigid, whom he had left behind in Ireland, from whom he had been parted for upwards of forty years, and whom he greatly longed to see before he died. Just at this time Brigid was seated at home in a retired place in Ireland, at her frugal meal of salad and small fishes. Then the Lord, mercifully willing to comfort Andrew, and grant his earnest prayer that he might once more behold his sister's face, sent an angel to her chamber, who bore her to the bedside of her brother at Fiesole.
The monks who stood around his bed in tears were amazed and dumb at her appearance. Brigid, trembling and awestruck, thought the crowd before her in their strange costumes and the aged dying man upon the bed to be but a vision. Andrew lifted his eyes, and when they rested on the aged woman standing at the foot of his couch, he understood it all. He spoke to her in tender tones, and said, " Brigid, my beloved sister, long have I in my heart wished to see thee before I die, but all my hope was fading out as death approached and I remembered the great distance between us. But the fount of eternal love has granted to me, a sinner, this great favour that thou seest now. Fear not, for it is in very deed and truth Andrew of Ireland, thy brother, whom thou now seest before thee. Now thou shalt behold him but a little while, him who, thou thoughtest, had long emigrated from this world. I trusted that God for thy merits would grant my dying prayer ; I always hoped that here to this place, where I, far from my country, a feeble soldier, have passed my days, thou wouldest at some time come, a solitary and a penitent, to fill up the measure of the shortcomings in my soldiership by thy virtues. Behold herein the mercy of God. Fear not, but pray for me with all the fervour of thy soul. Behold the hour is at hand and my summons has come. Lay down thy soul's amazement, and know that what thou now seest is true."
Then Brigid, awaking as it were from sleep, wept for joy and fervour and grief; kissing her brother's hand she held it tightly, but could not speak, so choked was she by sobs and sighs. She folded her brother in the chaste embrace of her most modest arms, and crying out in prayer she bathed him in her tears. Then wearied out in this hour of sorrow, she was first silent, and afterwards, kneeling to the ground, she thus broke forth in prayer : —
“All powerful God, who alone doest marvels, whom the powers of Heaven serve, whom the elements obey, on whom all creatures justly wait, I give Thee thanks with praise and blessing, since Thou hast vouchsafed to Thine handmaiden to lead her to the presence of her brother. All honour and glory be unto Thee." Then turning to the dying man, she said, " O most holy brother, long years ago the best guide of my youth and the director and guardian of that life which by thy holy persuasion I have dedicated to the Lord, now I both rejoice and mourn at the same moment. For when I see thy weakness I pity thee in my affection, and yet I grieve and mourn that thou shouldest go so soon from this miserable world wherein thou leavest me unconsoled. But when I see with what great striving thou hast resisted the temptations of this life, and hast defeated the evil one, and in thy good deeds art justified before the Lord, I exult and rejoice. For the rest I do but say, Whatsoever days remain for me after thou hast gone I am resolved to dedicate to thy just will, following in thy footsteps so far as the weakness of my sinful frame allows. I will tarry patiently in this place whither the angel of the Lord has borne me so long as God wills, but praying of thee, dearest brother, to entreat of Him that He may grant a man's strength to aid my woman's frailty. And now, oh, my brother ! be strong in the Lord, and show in death that strength in the cross which thou didst bear in life."
When she had thus spoken, Andrew, the man of God, strengthened by his sister's words, raised himself on his knees from the harsh hairy couch on which he lay, and having clasped his hands on high so far as his failing strength allowed, he bade farewell to his sister and to his brethren, and raising his eyes to heaven he prayed, "Receive into Thy bosom, O Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour, the spirit of Thy servant Andrew." Then having covered his eyes he straightway died.
And the brethren, who with his sister were praying around him expecting the hour of his departure, suddenly beheld a splendour of light descend upon the man of God from heaven, which from its excessive brilliancy was more than their eyes could endure, and the whole house was filled with a fragrant odour, and when this great light had returned to the heaven whence it came, and they could look upon the holy corpse again, they saw him laid upon the bed as if in sleep, his arms folded like a cross upon his breast. The monks then, according to their usual custom, reverently carried the body thence, and laid it on a bier opposite the altar, until such time as they could duly celebrate the funeral.
Meanwhile, all the people of Fiesole, male and female, young and old, as if summoned by a heavenly trumpet, left the city and hastened in crowds to the monastery of St Martin on the Mensola. Moreover, crowds assembled from the regions round about, to the place where the body lay, and they kissed his hands and feet in their reverence and devotion, carrying away with them as relics whatever little fragments of the holy man's garments they could secure.
Margaret Stokes, Six Months in the Apennines: Or a Pilgrimage in Search of Vestiges of the Irish Saints in Italy, (London, 1892), 230-252.
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Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.