Monday, 12 August 2013

Saint Ségéne of Iona, August 12


August 12 is the commemoration of the fifth abbot of Iona, Saint Ségéne. This is the accepted version of the saint's name today, Canon O'Hanlon in his account below brings us all of its variations, as he does for the island of Iona which appears in its various forms as Hi, Hy, Ia and the genitive form Iae. If that weren't enough to contend with, we are also faced with the problem of identifying the island known as 'Rathlin' where our saint founded a church. To a northern woman like myself Rathlin island is that place off the County Antrim coast with many historic links to Scotland, but it seems that in this case it may be a place known today as Lambay island off the coast of County Dublin. Saint Ségéne had a long and interesting reign as a successor to Saint Colum Cille of Iona. He was one of those related by blood to the founder and he featured prominently in the Paschal Dating Controversy. Abbot Ségéne was one of those implacably opposed to accepting the Roman computation for the date of Easter. Why the Bollandists appear to have had reservations about 'numbering him in a Catalogue of the Saints' I am not sure, the Abbot's feast is marked on the Irish calendars of the saints both early and late and his repose noted in the Irish annals. I have also been reading an account of this saint by a modern scholar, Professor Máire Herbert, who has some interesting observations to make on the contribution made by Saint Ségéne to the development of the hagiographical school on Iona. She argues that he directly encouraged his nephew and eventual successor Cuimine the Fair to compile a life of their kinsman and founder. The hagiographical endeavours at Iona of course flowered in the famous Life of Columba by the ninth abbot, Saint Adamnan, but Prof. Herbert argues that the foundations were laid under Ségéne. Perhaps in the future I will bring a summary of her thoughts on this saint as he seems to have been a rather more important figure than perhaps Canon O'Hanlon's account below suggests:

St. Seighin, Abbot of Iona, and Founder of the Church on Rathlin Island, County of Antrim.

The festival of the celebrated Segene, is commemorated on this day, in the "Feilire" of St. Aengus. The commentator observes, that he was Abbot of Hi of Colomb Cille. The Martyrology of Tallagh mentions, that veneration was given at the 12th of August to Segene, Abbot, Iae. The Bollandists have a notice of Segenus or Segeneus, Abbot of Hy, at the 12th of August, while remarking, that Dempster and Camerarius noted it at the 7th of April; but, they express a doubt, regarding the propriety of numbering him in a Catalogue of the Saints. He is called Segineus, son of Fiachrius, son to Feradac, son of Ferguss, son of Conall Gulban. A commentator on the Donegal Martyrology makes Seghin the son of Fachtna while the Irish Saints' Genealogies state, he was son of Fiachra, or of Ronan. Segeni, Abbot of Ia, is commemorated on the same day, in the Festilogium of the Psalter of Cashel. He was nephew to Laisren, the third Abbot of Iona. He is said to have built a church on Rachrainn, Ragharee or Rathlinn Island, A.D. 630, 632, 634, or 635, according to various statements. Dr. O'Conor, however, considers him to be only the restorer of this church. This idea he appears to have entertained, because St. Columkille is said to have been the original erector of Rachrann church. But, it would appear from Prince O'Donnell's Life of St. Columkille, as also from various other authorities, that the Island of Rachrainn, on which this holy man built the church, belonged to the east of Bregia. It was, in fact, the ancient name of Lambay Island, off the coast of the County Dublin. Adamnan refers to Segene as being the informant of Failbeus, his own immediate predecessor, for certain particulars which are set down in the Life of St. Columba. The Venerable Bede mentions him as presbyter and abbot. He succeeded Fergna Brit, in the year 623; and thus, he was the fifth abbot, in order of time, who followed after St. Columba. He ceased to rule the community at Iona in 652. He was a zealous advocate for the old Irish Paschal observance. He was addressed in 634 by Cummian, in an Epistle on the Paschal observance. The clergy of Rome, in 640, wrote to him another epistle on that same subject. The death of this present saint took place in the year 642, according to the Annals of Inisfallen, or A.D. 651, according to Ussher; or A.D. 652, according to the Annals of Tighernach, and of Ulster. He is registered in the Martyrology of Donegal, at the same date, as Seighin, son of Fochtua, Abbot of Ia-Coluim-Cille. Also his feast is recorded, at this day, in the Kalendar of Drummond.

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