On February 17 Canon O'Hanlon presents an account of an eighth-century saint who flourished in Belgium and whom some accounts described as a 'Scotus' or Irishman. Admittedly this is not a strong basis for Saint Silvin's inclusion in the Lives of the Irish Saints, but in his ascetical practices this saint is very much in the Irish tradition.
St. Silvin, reputed to be an Irish Bishop, at Alciac, or Auchy, in Belgium.
[Seventh and Eighth Centuries]
By many writers, it has been remarked, that in past ages no less than in later times, Ireland seems to have been indifferent to the fame of her illustrious children, who have served and blessed other countries, by their presence and labours. Desirous to remove some part of this reproach, we should not be willing to omit any record, that might tend to recover even a possible appropiation of fading renown. Thus, St. Silvin, Bishop of Alciac, or Auchy, in Belgium, is said, in an unpublished life, to have been a Scotus, by which term we may consider him an Irishman. His feast occurs on this day, in several Calendars. In the city of Rheims, in France, Federicus Flouetus had seen a Manuscript Life of St. Silvinus, in which it was asserted, that the present holy man was a Scot by birth. Nor have we any very strong reason to doubt, that such was the case; for, not only are the names of Sillan or Silvans purely Celtic, but, in the time of this saint, many Irishmen were accustomed to emigrate and to settle in different parts of France. Yet, we have a different account, regarding the place of his birth, in a Life of St. Silvin, at first said to have been written by a bishop, called Antenor, and afterwards considerably amended, and apparently altered, by some anonymous writer. He was engaged on this task, by request of an abbess, named Leutwith or Lseutevit. This amended biography makes Silvin to descend from a noble family, and to be born in the territory of Thoulouse. He is said to have lived in the time of King Charles I. and of Childeric, or Chilperic. When a young man, he espoused a maiden, according to the rite then prevailing; but, the grace of God wholly taking possession of him, he reflected deeply on these words of our Divine Redeemer, "every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive a hundred-fold, and shall possess life everlasting." Doubtless, with the free consent of his affianced spouse, they resolved on a mutual separation, and Silvin decided on embracing a religious life. He seems to have remained in the world, until after the Vinciac War, waged by Charles against Raghenfrid, or Ragemfrid. The latter was totally defeated, with great slaughter, while his troops were dispersed.
When Silvin began his missionary career, the fame of his sanctity and eloquence went abroad, while many souls were converted to God. He went to the Teruanensian region, where the people were yet uncultured in the maxims and practices of religious feeling. In a short time, by word and example, Silvin effected a wonderful change. His self-denying life was a subject for admiration among his converts. His humility was unfeigned, and yet recognised, by them, and for this very reason, he was loved as a father, while he was revered, as if he were a great lord and master. Doing good to all men, but especially to those, who belonged to the household of the faith; he was prudent in teaching, devout in feeling, incessant in missionary work, full of integrity, correcting first what he found to be deserving of reprehension in himself, and thus was he justly prepared to reprove the faults of others. Meantime, while remarkable for his comeliness of mien and cheerful look, he was clothed in a poor habit, but rich in God's graces, his constant study was to gain over souls, and in uniting them to the fold of Christ, he hoped to increase the more his individual merits. In his humble habitation, guests and strangers were received, as if he beheld Christ in their persons. He washed their feet, while he gave them food and clothing; for he desired on the last day to be among the number of those to whom should be said, " I was hungry and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger and you took me in: naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me." Mindful, too, of the Royal Prophet's words, "I will take heed to my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue, his vocal organs were usually employed either in preaching God's word, or in hymning the Divine praises. More solicitous to adorn his soul with graces, than his person with fine dress, he imitated the Saviour of the world in a contempt for its riches; his prudence and judgment were shown, by regarding secular affairs as transitory, and by desiring only the love of God and of his neighbour, that this might tend to his eternal gain.
Through no desire of change, or to gratify human curiosity, but rather to satisfy his devotion, Silvin visited the shrines of many saints, and he travelled much for his own spiritual comfort.'' He prayed for the intercession of God's holy servants, to aid him on the way to glory; and he knew, that as no person can be saved through his own efforts, so was it necessary to ask Divine assistance. He even travelled as far as the Holy Land, visiting among other places Calvary, where our Lord was crucified, and the Jordan, where he was baptized. Having thus satisfied his devotion, he left that distant country, and returned. He cultivated most kindly relations with the secular clergy and religious. He was renowned as a holy confessor, while multitudes flocked to receive his salutary admonitions in the tribunal of penance. For the four Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance, St. Silvin was distinguished; and taking them as a shield and a coat of mail, he was able to repel all temptations of the most wicked one. He preached most eloquently, and daily, both to the clergy and to the people, in his church, where he fervently prayed. This holy bishop was ever under the guardianship of his protecting angel, who led him safely to the end of his life. The father of orphans, the defender of widows, the protector of virgins, the glory of monks, St. Silvin was a promoter of peace, cautious in preaching and holy in work. He took care to observe the Apostolic admonition, lest preaching to others he should become himself a cast-away, strengthening himself in the grace of God, and becoming all things to all men, that he might gain souls to Christ. He referred all things to God, and gave whatever he possessed to the Lord. Thus on property, belonging to himself, St. Silvin erected two churches. One of these was in a place called Mundini Cisterna, and the other lay in Remicensi Campana. Here he was accustomed very frequently to celebrate the Almighty praises. St. Silvin, besides redeeming several captives, converted many of them to the Christian Faith. It was his custom, when infirm persons flocked to him, first to procure their conversion, and afterwards, when their souls were refreshed by sacramental graces, to send them away healed from their bodily infirmities. So great was his abstinence, that it is said, for forty years together, he did not taste even bread; he being content with the herbs and fruits of the earth. His clothing was of a very humble description, except when wearing the vestments for religious ceremonials. He practised various austerities, sleeping on the bare earth, wearing an iron chain next his skin, desiring to lead a hermit's poor life, only for his episcopal engagements, and even sighing for the martyr's crown. He made a pilgrimage to Rome, and visited the shrine of St. Peter.
Silvin wrought many miracles; he relieved possessed persons, he cured lepers, he healed paralytics, the lame, the blind, and the infirm. But the time for his release at last approached, and he fell into a fever. During this illness, he caused the holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be celebrated in his presence, and the psalms to be sung, while he was frequently refreshed with the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Giving holy admonitions to those surrounding his death-bed, he left all present a great example of perseverence to the end. In the supreme moment of his exit from this world, he had an angelic vision. He recovered strength to exclaim in a clear voice: "Behold, the Angels of the Lord come to me; Behold, the Angels of the Lord come to me!" His departure took place on a Sabbath evening, and as generally supposed at Auchy, in the district of Artois, on the 15th of February, about A.D. 718, or 720. He was buried however, on the 17th of this month, and it is the date generally assigned for his feast. As the angels rejoiced in heaven, at the coming of such a saint, the faithful on earth lamented his departure; his funeral solemnities were celebrated in a becoming manner, and while the dirge was sung, priests, clerics, nuns and people were in tears. His remains were deposited in the monastery at Auchy, or Auxy-les-Moines, several monks, from the adjoining religious house of St. Richarius, or Riquier, at Centule, affectionately and piously assisting at his obsequies. A nobly-descended nun, called Siccherdis, caused his tomb or shrine to be magnificently adorned with gold and precious stones. The Bollandist Acts contain details of many great miracles wrought at the shrine of St. Silvin, long after his happy departure. To preserve his remains from the Northmen impieties, they were brought, at first to Dijon, and afterwards to the monastery of Besua, for preservation. It is probable, the chief part of those sacred lipsanae were again taken back to Auchy. In 951, his relics were removed to St. Bertin's monastery, at St. Omers, and there the greater part of them were preserved, towards the close of the last century. At the time of the French Revolution, this magnificent establishment was left the melancholy, but still noble, ruins it exhibits, at the present time, and St. Silvin's relics, with others, must have been dispersed. The jaw-bone and arm of this holy man were preserved at Auchy, in the seventeenth century; and, it is probable, they have not been destroyed or lost.
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