Saturday, 6 December 2014

Saint Berehert of Tullylease, December 6

The Berechtuine Stone
December 6 is the feast of another saint whose identity and day of commemoration raise the same sort of difficulties as that of Saint Gobban - Saint Berehert founder of a monastery at Tullylease, County Cork.

The Martyrology of Donegal records:

6. D. OCTAVO IDUS DECEMBRIS. 6

BERETCHERT, of Tulach-leis.

but gives no further details. So what else do we know of this saint? Below is a short paper on Saint Berehert which summarizes some of the sources for his life. I originally sourced this from the Tullylease parish website but can no longer find a working link:




St. Berehert of Tullylease
by V. Rev. Robert Forde, P.E. 
At the Synod of Whitby, in northern England, held in 664 A.D., the majority of those present voted to accept the Roman system for deciding the date of Easter. St. Colman, Abbott-Bishop of Lindisfarne with others disagreed and decided to return to Ireland where they established two monasteries, one for the English monks in Mayo and an island monastery for the Irish monks. 
Tradition tells us that a young Saxon Prince from Winchester left the group, travelled across Ireland and came to Tullylease, which was then a stronghold of Druidism. Despite firm opposition he established a large monastery which lasted for over 700 years - he was named Berehert. 
In the Annals of the Four Masters the death of Berichter is recorded 'Berichter of Tullach-leis died on 6 December, 839.' If this entry is accurate, the monastery founded by Berehert, almost 150 years before, was well established, and here we commemorate a later Abbot. 
In 1230 we find the following entry in the Annals: 'A holy monk, chief Master of Carpenters in Tullach-leis died today'. This entry is important as it clearly shows the extent and the national reputation of the schools and workshops of Tullylease monastery.
The Monastery also excelled at metalwork. The beautiful cover of St. Patrick's Bell, now in the National Museum, was decorated by a family of Noonans, who were closely associated with Tullylease. 
The Berechtuine Stone 
The Monastery had large stone-carving workshops. Many of these stones are still extant. The most famous is the Berechtuine Stone, incised with a Greek cross, expertly carved and ornamented, with inscriptions in Latin and Greek. The Greek text reads : 'XPS' which is the abbreviation for Christus or Christ. The other corner of the stone is missing and probably contained the Greek letters for Jesus.' IHS' 
The Latin inscription translates: 'Whoever reads this inscription, let him pray for Berechtuine." For many years, it was accepted that Berechtuine was another name for Berehert and this beautiful monument was erected to honour the Founder. A long article by Professor Henderson of Cambridge and Professor Okasha of University College, Cork on the carved stones of Tullylease showed conclusively that they were two separate people. Therefore, we honour two saints in Tullylease! 
This Berechtuine Stone is dated about 800 A.D. The extant monastic buildings that we see today date from about 1200 to 1500 
About 1200, the Monastery took the 'Rule of The Canons Regular of St. Augustine' and in 1415, Henry IV annexed the Monastery to the Priory of Kells in Kilkenny. From Tullylease, at least five other churches were founded in Munster, and probably a foundation in Leinster and one in Connaught. 
In 1993, the historian Dr. Daphne Pochin Mould took an aerial photo of the site in mid-December, on a clear frosty evening. A large portion of the 'massive external enclosure bank of the early monastic site' showed clearly on photo. It is now possible to trace the external original boundaries of the monastery. 
The people of Tullylease are very proud of the Monastery. They take great care of it, and they are most grateful that Bishop Magee chose the Tullylease as a special place of Pilgrimage for Jubilee 2000.

Now this writer has established two conflicting traditions about Saint Berehert, one that he was a Saxon prince who came to Ireland after the Synod of Whitby and the other that he was a 9th-century monastic bearing the same name as his founder. But there is a further complication as Saint Berehert has also been identified with a saint commemorated on 18 February. This is a Saint Nem, Bishop of Drum Bertach, an even earlier figure associated with Saint Patrick. O'Hanlon in his entry for 18 February records:
St. Nem, Bishop of Drum Berthach. This holy man is entered in the "Martyrology of Tallagh," as Nem, Bishop of Droma Bertach. By some writers, this saint has been confounded with a St. Beretchert, Berichter or Berechtuine, of Tullylease, county of Cork—thought to be locally called St. Ben or St. Benjamin. This identification, however, admits of very great doubt. The Martyrology of Donegal records on this day Nem, Bishop of Drum Berthach. It seems difficult to identify this place, but, very possibly, it may be in or near Tullylease. We may ask, too, if the St. Nem of our Calendars could have been corrupted into the local pronunciation of Ben. This seems, at least, possible. Colgan thinks, the present saint may have been St. Patrick's disciple, who was set over Tullachrise, in the diocese of Connor. It is said to have been one of the churches St. Patrick erected in Dalaradia. Under the head of Druim-bertach, Duald Mac Firbis records, Nemh, Bishop of Druim Bertach, at February the 18th.
There is thus no doubt that a Saint Nem is commemorated on February 18 but how he became identified with our Saint Berehert is unclear. Interestingly, O'Hanlon also records that:

'Every male child, born on St. Berechert's day, is called by his name, which is regarded as the Irish for Benjamin. We are told, that from remote times, the saint's day has been unaccountably transferred from the 6th of December to the 18th of February. At the former date, we shall have more to state, in reference to St. Berechert.'
Alas, O'Hanlon did not live to publish his December volume so we cannot know what other evidence he might have presented.

So, it would seem that we cannot identify the person of Saint Berehert commemorated on December 6 with any certainty. I am intrigued by the process which has led the monastic founder of Tullylease to be identified with a 5th-century Patrician Bishop, a seventh-century Saxon refugee and a ninth-century Irish monastic. Which is the real Saint Berehert? I'm not sure if we can ever know.

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3 comments:

  1. Most interesting . . . but what about "St. Bereherts Kyle" in the Glen of Aherlow, County Tipperary? A unique place with over fifty stones carved with crosses, one stone with Celtic design, and the remains of a High Cross. It's not signposted, but the landowner, whom I met one day last year, was most welcoming.

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    1. Yes, Pádraig Ó Riain reckons that the Tipperary site reflects the conflation of Beircheart's cult with that of Bearach of Termonbarry. Apparently the St B's Kyle site saw a large-scale pattern day on February 18.

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    2. Hello Sean,

      I read about the Kyle, but can't find out where it is.
      Can you give a description how to get there ?
      Hope to hear from you.
      Regards, Roy from the netherlands

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