Sunday, 11 January 2015

Saint Suibhne of Iona, January 11


Among the saints commemorated on the Irish calendars for January 11 is a seventh-century abbot of Iona, Suibhne, the first of Saint Columcille's successors to bear that name. Colgan makes the point though that he is also the first of the successors whose genealogy is not recorded, and thus we cannot idenitfy how he is related to the family of Iona's founder. The commentators also argued over the date of Saint Suibhne's death and the length of his tenure at Iona, but as we shall see from the following account of Canon O'Hanlon, all agree that he reposed in the 650s after a few years as abbot:

St. Suibhne, or Suineus, Abbot of Iona. [Seventh Century]

We are led to believe that St. Suibhne or Suinne, the son of Cuirtre, Cuirtri, or Curthre, was born in Ireland most probably in the sixth—but certainly not later than the commencement of the seventh—century. This holy man was moved with a desire of leading a religious life, and he sought the island of Iona, where Segenius then ruled over a monastery, founded by St. Columkille.

For many years St. Suibhne dwelt as a monk, in this retreat of piety and learning, while his humility and fervent dispositions of soul endeared him to the abbot and his community. He made such great progress in ecclesiastical learning and monastic perfection, that on the death of Segenius in 651, or 652, the brethren of Iona unanimously proceeded to the election of our saint as successor.

By all Suibhne was allowed to excel in the virtues and talents requisite for his exalted position. Illustrious by his virtues and sanctity, this saint ruled over the community with great prudence for a period not longer than three years, in Colgan's opinion; in accordance with another statement, nearly four years and five months; while according to some other authorities, his term was five years. To credit one account he died in the year 654; according to others in 656, or 657, and on the 11th day of January, which is that of his festival and commemoration. The Martyrology of Tallagh of Marianus O'Gorman, of the Commentator on Oengus, and the Martyrology of Donegal, confirm this statement. This saintly superior was buried with all due reverence, within those precincts of Iona's sacred enclosure, where so many sleep in death. Relating to his necrology, the Annals of Clonmacnoise state that St. Suibhne died in the year 653:"A.D. 653, Swyne mac-Cuirtre, Abbot of Hugh, died.” The Annals of the Four Masters, Ussher, and the Martyrology of Donegal, place this saint’s death under A.D. 654. There the Four Masters say, "Suibhne, son of Cuirtre, Abbot of Ia, died." Again the Annals of Ulster refer his death to the year of 656 while the Rev. William Reeves prolongs his government of Iona Monastery from A.D. 652 to A.D. 657. We are reminded how this Saint Suibhneus or Suinneus, as the name is Latinized, is the first Abbot of Hy, whose genealogy is not given in the histories.

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