Friday, 6 December 2013

Saint Gobban of Old Leighlin, December 6

The exact feast day and identity of the Saint Gobban commemorated on December 6 is the subject of some confusion and debate. The Martyrology of Oengus records:

6. The feast of Gobban, shout of thousands!
with a train of great martyrdom,
the angelic rampart,
the virginal
abbot, lucid descendant of Lan.

Notes
6. of Gobban i.e. of Cell Lamraide in Hui Cathrenn in the west of Ossory, i.e. a thousand monks it had, as experts say.

angelic wall, i.e. angels founded the wall of his church for him.

Lane, i.e. an old tribe, which was once in the south of Ireland, and of them was Gobban.

Is this holy abbot the founder of the monastery at Old Leighlin? The problem is that there are a number of saintly Gobbans listed in the Irish calendars, including one 'Goibhenn, of Tigh Scuithin', who is commemorated on 23 May. He too has been identified with the founder of Old Leighlin. In the notes he contributed to the revision of the classic work on Irish monastic foundations, the Monasticon Hibernicum, Bishop Moran (following the authority of Colgan) accepts, however, that the Saint Gobban commemorated on December 6 is the founder of the monastery at Old Leighlin:

St. Gobban was the founder of the monastery of Leighlin. There are several saints of that name in the Irish Calendars, but Colgan judged that most probably our saint was the "St. Gobban of Kill-Lamraidhe, in the west of Ossory," who is honoured on the 6th of December: "Hunc Gobanum existimo fuisse ilium celebrem mille monachorum patrem qui postea Ecclesiam de Kill-Lamhraighe rexit" (Acta SS. p. 750). The "Martyrology of Donegal" styles him " Gobban Fionne, of Kill-Lamhraidhe, in Ui-Cathrenn, in the west of Ossory. . . A thousand monks was the number of his convent, and it is at Clonenagh his relics are preserved. He was of the race of Eoghan Mor, son of Oilioll Olum" (p. 327). St. Laserian having visited the monastery about the year 600, St. Gobban, struck with his many virtues, placed it entirely under his charge, and went himself to found another religious house at Kill-Lamhraige, in a western district of Ossory.

Monasticon Hibernicum or A Short Account of the Ancient Monasteries of Ireland in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol 6 (1869), 198-99.

This identification was also accepted by a 19th-century priest who published a three-volume history of the dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin:

Annals of Clonenagh

A.D. 639. St. Gobban, who founded the monastery of Old Leighlin, and afterwards resigned it to St. Laserian, retiring in 632 to Killamery in Ossory, died this year and was interred at Clonenagh. His feast was observed on the 6th of December.

"Gobban's feast, a shout of thousands, with a train of great martyrdom, angelic wall, abbot of virginity, lucid descendant of Lane." (Feil. Aeng.)

The Gloss in Leab. Br. and entry in Mart. Donegal state that “in Clonenagh are Gobban's relics."

Rev M Comerford" Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin" Vol. 3(1886) 

The sources relating to Saint Gobban preserve the tradition that after founding an important monastery at Old Leighlin, he later committed it to the care of Saint Laisren (Molaise, feastday April 18) and retired to another foundation in Ossory. The Life of Saint Laisren, as preserved in the Salamanca MS, describes how this transfer of leadership took place:

(S.8 continued.) The holy abbot Gobanus and his followers served God there. When he heard of the arrival of the man of God [Laisren] he went to meet him and after greeting him led him reverently to the monastery. As they came to the door of the monastery, a certain woman then carrying the body of her son who had been beheaded by robbers, earnestly begged St Lasrianus in the name of God that he might restore her son to life. His feelings of pity were stirred by the lamentations of the mother and he turned to his usual help of prayer, and having placed the head beside its body he restored the dead man to life and gave him back to his mother. Then blessed Gobanus made a treaty of spiritual brotherhood with him, giving him the place and everything in it and setting up a monastery for himself in another place.

Colum Kenny, Molaise – Abbot of Leighlin and Hermit of Holy Island, (Morrigan Press, 1998), 47-48.

So, whilst we cannot say with complete confidence that it is the founder of the monastery of Old Leighlin who is commemorated on December 6, the Martyrology of Oengus makes it clear that an important monastic figure is honoured on this date, a man who is said to have had one thousand monks in his charge and whose relics had been preserved. Thus we can say 'Holy Father, Gobban, pray to God for us!'.

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