Sunday, 4 May 2014

Saint Siollan, the Deacon, May 4

On May 4 the earliest Irish calendars commemorate a Saint Siollan, at whose name the scholiast in the Martyrology of Oengus has added, 'this is Sylvanus the deacon'. In his account, Canon O'Hanlon claims that the 17th-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, sought to identify today's saint with a monk of this name found in the Life of Saint Berach of Kilbarry. Although he does not mention it here, the same claim was made in relation to another saint of this name, commemorated on March 28. On that occasion I reproduced the relevant chapter from the Life and will do so again here, following O'Hanlon's account of Saint Siollan, the Deacon, from Volume V of his Lives of the Irish Saints.

St. Siollan, the Deacon.

A festival was celebrated on this day, as we read in the Martyrologies of Tallagh and of Donegal, in honour of Siollan the deacon. This account is taken from the Felire Aenghuis. It has been thought by Colgan, that the present St. Sillan may be identical with one, mentioned in the Life of St. Berach, of Kilbarry, who is venerated, at the 15th of February. The Bollandists have the feast of St. Sillan entered, at this date; and they give a similar reference, as if her were identical with that monk of St. Berach, who had been killed by robbers, and who had afterwards resuscitated, through the miraculous agency of his venerable superior. This miracle was wrought, at a place called Rath-ond, which has not been identified. In the sixth or seventh century, St Sillan flourished, if the identification in question be admitted. This Natalis occurs, also, in the Kalendar of Drummond, as Sillan, Deacon, a holy confessor, at the 4th of the May Nones.


From the Life of Saint Berach

xxix. (85) On one occasion when Berach was in Cluain Coirpthe, he sent a monk on an errand to Rathonn, Sillen by name. Nine robbers fell in with him, who had come from the East of Tethba to ravage in Connaught, and they killed the monk, and went between his head and his body. This was revealed to Berach, and he proceeded quickly to seek them, and found them (standing) over the corpse. When the robbers saw Berach, they resolved forthwith to kill him, and seized their spears with that intent. Their hands stuck to their spears, and their spears stuck to the rock near them, and the marks of their butt-ends will remain on it till doom. (86) They did penance, and said to Berach: 'Do not deprive us of heaven, and we will do all thy will, O Clerk,' Berach then spared them, and said to them: 'Fit the head to the trunk’; and they did so, And Berach took a rush from a rushy pool on the bank hard by, and made a prayer over it, and fitted it round the throat of the corpse, and he arose forthwith; and hence (these rushes) are (called) 'Berach's rushes' till doom, And Berach left great grace upon them, and (as a doom) to the robbers that their seed should never exceed nine, and that there should always be a servitor of them in Cluain Coirpthe, and that as long as there should be one, there should only be one man of them in succession to another. And this is what is still fulfilled, and will be fulfilled till doom. And a servitor went with Berach, and thus they parted.

'Life of Berach' in C. Plummer ed.and trans. Bethada Naem nErenn – Lives of Irish Saints, Vol II, (Oxford 1922), 41.

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