Monday, 30 March 2015

Saint Fergus of Downpatrick, March 30

On March 30 we commemorate a bishop of Downpatrick, Saint Fergus. In his account of the saint below Canon O'Hanlon refers to the work of the scholarly hagiologists of earlier centuries and their inability to resolve all of the difficulties concerning our saint's place in the episcopal succession of Downpatrick, but his feast is attested by both the Irish calendars and the annals:

St. Fergus or Fergussius, Bishop of Downpatrick.
[Sixth Century]

The brief notices, contained in Colgan's work, are all we can find, referring to Fergus, or Fergussius. This saint appears to have been a distinguished person. Fergusius was son to Aengus, and he descended from Coelbadh, King of Ireland, who died, in the year 357. Aengus was the son of Chrimthann, son to Eochod, son of Colla, son to Coalbad, son of Crunn Badhrai. Our saint was born, probably in the early part of the sixth century. He built a church, or cell, at a place, called Killmbian. This name, which might be Anglicised Kilbean or Kilmean, is thought now to be obsolete. Without authority, Colgan states, that a monastery was at this place, the situation of which was unknown although Archdall places it in the county of Down. However, it is natural enough to suppose, that Killmbian was in that part of the country. Here, too, Harris conceives, that he presided, as an Abbot. Although distinguished Irish writers have believed the identification of his place to be unknown; yet, still it is asserted, that the cemetery of Cill-bian is still known as Killybann, in the townland of Barnamaghery, parish of Kilmore, barony of Upper Castlereagh, and not far from Crossgar. From the church of Killmbian, Fergus was called to preside over the church of Downpatrick. It is called, likewise, Dromlethglas, for which several old writers have Dun-da-leith-glas. Sir James Ware commences his list of the Downpatrick bishops, with St. Cailan. From having been Abbot of Nendrura, Cailan was made Bishop over the church of Down, about the close of the sixth century. For this statement, he refers to Acts of St. Cailan, cited by Usher. It is thought, that St. Fergussius must have been first bishop of Downpatrick, by a learned Irish Church historian, [the Anglican Bishop William Reeves] who supposes, there are no sufficient proofs to show that Cailan, or Coelan, was his predecessor, as some writers maintain. But, according to Mr. John W. Hanna, those who maintain such an opinion have overlooked the true conclusion to be derived from the dates, which show, that whereas Mochoe, Abbot of Nendrum, died 496, it was quite consistent, that another Coelan should be elevated to Down, in 499. Besides, Ussher, who possessed his " Life and Acts," could not have been deceived.

Near Downpatrick are the celebrated Struell Wells, which seem to have been resorted to by pilgrims, from times very remote, and where numberless miraculous cures have been effected...It is supposed, that St. Patrick often resorted to Struell, for penitential purposes, and to sing Psalms while in retirement at Downpatrick, from which it is only a mile or two distant. That see St. Fergus governed, with great prudence and sanctity, until the day of his death, which took place on the 30th of March, A.D. 583, in the sixteenth year of the reign of Aidus, King of Ireland, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, and, likewise, to those of Ulster. The latter have it noted again, under A.D. 589. The Annals of Tighernach have his decease recorded, under A.D. 584. The Annals of Boyle place his death, so early as a.d. 557. The Martyrologies of Tallagh, of Marianus O'Gorman, and of Maguire, have the festival of this saint, at the 30th of March. But, although they call him Bishop, they do not name that see, over which he presided. In like manner, Ferghus, Bishop of Druim-Lethglaisi, is recorded, in the Martyrology of Donegal, as having a festival at this date. Again, under the head of Druim Lethglaisi, Duald Mac Firbis enters, Fergus, bishop, quievit 583, at March 30th. At this day, likewise, the Bollandists have a brief notice of Fergus, although doubting if a cultus were due to him.

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