June 20 is the commemoration of a seventh-century Irish saint and martyr, Gobanus or Gobain, who flourished in France. In his account of Saint Gobain, a disciple of Saint Fursey, Canon O'Hanlon has accessed many of the sources for his life, death and miracles:
ST GOBANUS OR GOBAIN, PRIEST AND MARTYR, PATRON OF SAINT-GOBAIN, DIOCESE OF LAON, FRANCE.
When our Lord Jesus Christ sent his Apostles to all parts of the world, and with a mandate to preach the Gospel for every creature; the Island of Hibernia was comforted far away in the ocean, by those holy missionaries, who first announced to her the glad tidings of salvation. Soon were the flowers seen to blossom, and the fruits to ripen, in the hearts of men. At home and abroad, the harvest was gathered by willing and laborious gleaners. Among those who chose his field of labour far off was the present holy saint, whose life and toils were crowned with the martyr's laurel.
From times remote, the Acts of this holy man appear to have been written, and they are still preserved in ancient Manuscripts. The old Latin Acts of St. Gobanus or Gobain, Priest and Martyr, are set down in the Bollandists' great collection. There is a precious commentary in seven sections. The Rev. Alban Butler has some account of this saint, at the same day. This holy martyr's festival, at this date, is marked in Les Petits Bollandistes, as also in the Rev. S. Baring-Gould's work.
The name of this holy man indicates his Irish origin. He was of noble birth, and in our Island, he served God from his childhood. His old Acts relate, that he was a boy of elegant appearance, and that he was early addicted to studious habits. But, the dispositions of his soul were still more admirable, and he knew that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The eight Beatitudes, recommended so convincingly by our Divine Redeemer, were exemplified in his person. His chaste character and conversation marked him out as a vessel, into which heavenly graces might be stored. His love for the practice of holiness gave edification to all who knew him. He watched carefully, to prevent every irregular desire, and he spent nights of holy vigil. He cared little for the concerns of earth, and his bestowal of alms on the poor commenced at an early age. Like a true servant of God, he progressed from virtue to virtue.
It would appear, that Goban lived in a district of Ireland, where the great St. Fursey exercised the office of a bishop. The latter had desired to select worthy subjects for the ministry from the young men of his district. The holiness of Goban pointed him out as a destined candidate for holy orders. Accordingly, he was ordained priest by St. Fursey, and with him were eleven others, whose names are thus given, viz.: Nervisandus, Foillanus, Gislenus, Etho, Vincentius, Adelgisus, Mommolenus, Eloquius, Godelgerus, Guillebrodus, and Moelboenus. Having been invested with priestly orders, these young men went to their respective homes. St. Gobain was one of those who accompanied St. Fursey into England, A.D. 637, and who remained at Crobheresburgh, now Burghcastle in Suffolk, after his great master went to France. Here, as we have already seen in the Life of St. Fursey, he assigned to his brother Fullan, as also to the priests Gobban - the present holy man—and Dichul the care of his monastery and of his missions, when with his brother Ultan, he desired to lead the life of an anchorite. This lasted an entire year, while he was favoured with heavenly visions.
While glowing with religious fervour, and while the sweet odour of his new graces were fresh upon him, Gobain being on his way homewards, the fame of his holiness had brought to him a blind man, who earnestly entreated, that prayers might be offered, so that his sight should be restored. Through humility, the saint at first refused, as deeming himself unable to procure such a miracle. Yet, as the blind man persisted in his request, moved through compassion for his case, Goban prostrated himself on the ground, and earnestly besought the Lord to hear his prayers. Then rising from prayer, he made the sign of the cross over the eyes of that blind man, who immediately was restored to the power of vision. This soon became known to his parents and neighbours, who praised the Almighty, as having wrought such a miracle in consideration of his servant Goban. His ardent desire to serve Christ more perfectly, induced him to leave his native country; and to adopt this course, he was further urged, by a vision all the ordained had on a certain Sunday night, when they lay down after a day of labour. Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to them during sleep, and spoke these words: "Come to me all you who labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you." Wherefore, all arose from sleep, and after mutually communicating to each other what had severally happened, they resolved to seek St. Fursey in a body, and relate to him such a remarkable occurrence. When they were assembled together in his presence, St. Goban spoke in the following terms: "Brethren, while lying on my bed and asleep, our Lord Jesus seemed to address to me these words, 'come, blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.'" All his companions stated, that they had heard the very same words, and that the circumstances were precisely the same in each individual case. Wherefore, on taking counsel together, and remembering the words of Christ, "If any one come tome, and do not leave father and mother, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple;" they finally resolved, as if inspired by the Holy Ghost, that all should set out in company for the shores of France. To St. Fursey, who sought an issue of this affair, they said: "This vision certainly admonishes us to leave our country, and to go on a pilgrimage beyond the sea." Wherefore, they began to prepare every requisite necessary for their journey, so that leaving parents, relations and neighbours, as also their houses and lands, the pious missionaries at once hastened to the sea-shore.
However, while they were there awaiting embarcation, a great tempest arose, and the waves began to swell mightily; when fearing to venture from land in such a storm, they fasted for three days. Then, the rest of his companions approached Goban, and requested he would celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, as the Lord had graciously restored sight to the blind, owing to his merits. Again, his humility was alarmed, as he found they all had an idea of his extraordinary sanctity, and he wished to forbear; notwithstanding, he yielded in fine, to their pressing remonstrances. Assuming the sacerdotal vestments, and asking a blessing from the whole company, he began to celebrate, and having reached the secret prayers of the Mass, the storm was entirely lulled. Whereupon, all went on board to prosecute their destined voyage, when they had a swift and favourable passage to the shores of France. It has been supposed, that he left East Anglia, in consequence of the irruptions of Penda, King of the Mercians. This happened most probably, after A.D. 634 when the first invasion of Penda took place.
The port where those pious missionaries landed has not been mentioned in the record; but, it seems altogether probable, it was somewhere on the northern coast of France. They afterwards journeyed on for three days. They sought out and stopped at Corbeny, it is stated, in the first instance; but, at the time, there was no monastery in that place, although the Acts relate it otherwise. There, as we are informed, the pilgrims were very hospitably received by the inhabitants. Having severally chosen the places in which each desired to serve God, the companions separated, giving each other the kiss of peace, according to the religious usage of those times.
Thence St. Goban went to Laon, where there was a place known as Eremi-Mons, or Le Mont d'Hermitage. When he had arrived, being fatigued with his journey, he fixed his staff in the ground, and placing his cape under his head for a pillow, he lay down to sleep. However, he cautioned his attendant to watch while he slept. Meantime, the holy man apparently unconscious of his act began to sing the whole Psalter to the Psalm, "Memento Domine David," and he followed on with the versicles, until he came to these words: "Haec requies mea in seculum seculi, hic habitabo quoniam elegi eam." When Goban awoke from his sleep, a full flowing fountain of water was running from that spot, in which the staff had been fixed. From all this he inferred, that it was providentially destined, he should there take up his dwelling, as he found it in every way suitable for his hermitage. This intention he expressed, likewise, to that disciple who had accompanied him into the solitude. When he had rested for a few days in that place, Goban was induced to visit Laon, that he might pray there in a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. He came to the mountain, formerly called Bibrax, and with meekness and reverence, he entered the fortifications of Laon, where he found two afflicted persons, one blind and the other mute, sitting in a porch of the great church. Moved to compassion, he implored our Lord for them, and both were relieved; one recovered his sight, and the other the use of his tongue. The fame of these miracles soon spread abroad, and even reached the king, who greatly desired to see the holy stranger. Accordingly, Goban went to visit the monarch, who thus addressed him: "O my brother, whence have you come, and to what race do you belong?" The holy man answered: "I have come from the province of the Hibernian Island, and I belong to the race of the Scots; for the love of Christ, I journeyed hither, and now I implore your majesty, that you would graciously grant me a small place in the desert of this city." The king immediately replied: "Whatever spot you deem to be suitable for God's service and to be pleasing for yourself, 1 shall most willingly grant you for ever." Then, the monarch directed one of his household to return with the saint, and to confirm by royal charter the perpetual gift which he desired to offer for God's sake.
He had entered a great forest, which was near the River Oise, and there with his own hands, he resolved on establishing his humble dwelling. About two leagues from that river, he built a cell. It was about equidistant from La Fere and from Prémontré. The site had been given by Clotaire III., who ruled over Neustria and Burgundy. So long as he lived, that king never ceased greatly to honour our saint, who in turn never failed to pray for his sovereign's good estate. There aided by the people, he built a church, which was dedicated to St. Peter; and, which afterwards bore the name of its holy founder.
In prayer, in vigils and by fasting, the holy man served God, in his retirement at this place. Again, he preached to and instructed the people. He laboured especially for the conversion of sinners, for at that time, and in that part of the country, wickedness greatly prevailed; while the morals and manners of the inhabitants were deplorably uncivilized and un-Christian. Often in prayer he earnestly cried out: "Remove, O Lord, this guilt from them, or if Thou dost not, remove me from this life." At length he heard these words in a nightly vision: "My servant Goban, the world indeed rejoices, while you sadly wail and pray; yet, wait awhile, and your mourning shall be changed into joy; for you have unceasingly importuned to pardon those people; wherefore, I shall bring upon them temporal calamities, that being chastised, they may not perish forever. Within a few days, barbarous men shall come, and these shall prove more fierce than the older Vandals; for, deriding thy words, they shall crown thy labours with the laurel of martyrdom." These words comforted the servant of Christ, who, for His sake, had left father and mother, and who had even renounced his own convenience, to become a true disciple.
A horde of barbarians, coming from the north of Germany, ravaged the whole adjoining country. About this time, moreover, other people appear to have been associated with them, and they penetrated so far as Mons Eremi. Disrespecting the contemplative state of life embraced by St. Gobain, their hatred was greatly excited against him. They found him engaged in the exercise of prayer. With fierce violence, they set upon the holy man, and he was beheaded, by those barbarians. At that place, formerly known as the Mount of Hermitage, the holy man suffered martyrdom. Afterwards, his sacred remains were waked with religious ceremonies in the church of St. Peter the Apostle, and which he had built. There, too, they were buried. Long after his happy release, pilgrims came in crowds to his sepulchre, where many miracles were wrought; the lame were restored to the power of walking, the blind saw, and the deaf recovered hearing, through his great merits before God. This locality afterwards obtained the name Saint Gobain, from the founder. In the sequence to an ancient Mass, a summary of this holy Martyr's career is versified in Latin.
The head of this holy Martyr was long preserved in the sacristy of the large church. A large stone sarcophagus or tomb was also there, in which the body of the saint lay for many centuries. However, during the wars of the sixteenth century, it was found necessary to remove these remains from place to place for concealment, and at present no clue has been left, which might lead to their discovery. It is much to be regretted, that St. Gobain's body appears to have been irrecoverably lost, owing to the confusion arising from those civil wars, excited by the Calvinists.
Two chief festivals of St. Gobain were celebrated in his church one on the 20th of June, which is supposed to have been the anniversary date for his Martyrdom; the other is on no fixed day of the month, yet, it is kept on the Wednesday within the Octave of Pentecost, and it is held to have been commemorative of that for the Translation of his remains. Formerly, the first festival was celebrated with an Octave, in which religious solemnities were carried out by the monks of St. Vincent of Laon. Thus, an ancient Lectionary or Life of the Saint, in seven Lessons, one for each day of the week, is extant. His proper Mass with its sequence was sung likewise, during that week. Also, in the new Processional of Laon, mention is made of St. Goban, who is there invoked with other saints of Laon Diocese. In the Rev. Alban Butler's Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and other principal Saints, at the 20th of June, the festival of St. Gobain is set down. The feast of St. Gobain occurs, likewise, in the Circle of the Seasons.
Famous as Ireland was for the learning and sanctity of her teachers, her many holy missionaries were no less distinguished for that generous liberality, with which they dispensed to other countries the blessings of religion, of civilization, and of education. The unwearied labours of those countless missionaries, who went forth from their home schools to foreign nations, are well known to the world. Like the present holy man, they were not satisfied to leave the seeds of self-seeking in their hearts, but they resolved to remove the roots with the weeds. They were addicted to severe fast, long vigils, and earnest prayer. They thirsted for the living waters, and buried themselves in the world; they were even willing to surrender life, so that after a course of purification and martyrdom, they might live forever with our Lord Jesus Christ in the happy company of his glorious Martyrs and Saints.
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