Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Saint Banbán of Leighlin, November 26

A saintly bishop, Banbán of Leighlin, is commemorated on the Irish calendars on November 26. The earliest, that of the Martyrology of Oengus, records him as:

'Banbán a sparkling mass of gold' 

and the scholiast notes add:

'Banbán, i.e. bishop of Lethglenn'.

The 12th-century Martyrology of Gorman records him as:

'vigorous Banbán' 

and it too has a gloss:

'bishop of Lethglenn: of the Corco-Duibni was he'.

The 17th-century Martyrology of Donegal combines the information in its entry:

26. A. SEXTO KAL. DECEMBRIS. 26.

BANBHAN, Bishop, of Lethghlinn. He was of the Corca Duibhne.


I was hoping that I might be able to find some further information in the diocesan history of Kildare and Leighlin by the Rev. Michael Comerford, but he makes no mention of our bishop in the list of those who occupied this see. A note by the translator of the Annals of Ulster says that:

The Felire of Oengus at 26 November mentions a Banbán, Bishop of Leighlin, of the Corco-Duibhne, who is not noticed in Ware’s list of the bishops of that diocese.

and warns that our saint of 26 November should not be confounded with another saint of the same name who is known as 'Banbán the Wise' and whose feastday is given in the Martyrology of Donegal on May 9. He died, according to the Annals, in the year 720.

W. M. Hennessy, ed. and trans., The Annals of Ulster - A Chronicle of Irish Affairs from A.D. 431 to A.D. 1540, Volume 1 (Dublin, 1887), 176-177.

It would thus seem that although the feast of our Saint Banbán is well-attested in the Calendars, the Annalists and the later compilers of the lists of episcopal succession of Leighlin have not noticed him. Eoin Neeson comments:

BANBHAN or Banvan, bishop of Leighlin about whom nothing else is known. His name is interesting as it might be an indication that he was the first native Irish bishop in that area, Banba being a name for Ireland. 
E. Neeson, The Book of Irish Saints (Cork, 1967), 206-207.

I'm not sure what to make of that curious suggestion. I agree that the name is interesting, but the existence of Banbán the Wise shows that it is not unique. The founding Bishop of the see of Leighlin is held to be the 6th/7th-century Saint Laserian or Molaise, whose feastday is commemorated on April 18. He, however, found a monastery already established at the site by Saint Gobban, who relinquished the abbacy to Laserian in fulfilment of a heavenly vision of a coming saintly stranger who would gather together in that place as many servants of God as there were angels in the heavenly host. Dr Comerford's history reconstructs the list of successors to Saint Laserian only from the year 725 and does not mention our saint Banbán among them. Perhaps it is possible that he was one of the earlier abbot/bishops and flourished sometime in the period between the death of Saint Laserian in 639 and the death of Saint Manchen of Leighlin in 725, the first of the founder's successors recorded by the Irish Annals.

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