Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Saint Maelceadar of Hainault, July 14

July 14 is the feast of a Belgian saint for whom some of the sources claim an Irish origin - Vincent Maldegarius of Hainault.  Although the European careers of some Irish saints are very well-attested and beyond doubt, the same cannot be said for this saint and his family. Yet his name appears in a Gaelicized form as Maelceadar in the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal, although the translator noted 'This entry, within brackets, is in the more recent hand'. There is also a tradition that he was sent to Ireland on a mission for King Dagobert and that he returned to the continent in the company of some of those Irish saints whose European careers are not in doubt - Saint Fursey and his companions. It may be, therefore, that  even if Saint Maldegarius/Maelceadar is not of Irish birth, he might have spent time in this country. Certainly, Canon O'Hanlon has no reservations in including him (and his family) in his Lives of the Irish Saints and provides a full account of this holy man's life, death and relics:

ST. MAELCEADAR, THE VICTORIOUS, OR MALDEGARIUS, SURNAMED VINCENT, FIRST EARL OF THE HANNOINA, OR HAINAULT.

[SEVENTH CENTURY.]

REGARDING the early part of this holy man's life, authors appear to have entertained different opinions ; and, as a consequence, his biography has been involved in great confusion and obscurity, notwithstanding the distinction he attained in later years. His origin and the place of his birth have likewise been contested. While some writers —and especially those of our country—place his birth in Ireland; others think he had been born in Aquitaine; while many—if not most—hold that his birth took place at Strepy-tes-Binche, in Hainaut. However this controversy may be decided,  all are agreed, that he spent some time in Ireland, with his virtuous wife Waltrude, and this gives him a claim under all circumstances, to be included among the holy persons connected with our Island.

Colgan intended the publication of Maldegarius' or Vincentius' biography, at the 14th of July. When he had reached the Acts of Madelgarius, surnamed Vincent, our national hagiologist undertook the proof of his being descended from an Irish family. A Father Jean du Pont, Canon Regular, also prepared a biography, and Le Fort another in French. The chief authority we have for the Acts of this holy man, is an anonymous Life, supposed to have been written about the twelfth century and, no doubt, it abounds in many historic errors. The Bollandists have published his Acts, at the 14th of July, and these have been edited by Father John Baptist Soller. They are preceded by a commentary, in four sections, containing fifty paragraphs. The Acts proper are an ancient Life of our saint, by an anonymous writer, and contained in two different codices, which are collated one with the other. These Acts have a Preface of two paragraphs, while the Life itself is in four chapters, of twenty-nine paragraphs. An account of the more ancient miracles succeeds, as also of the more modern miracles. We find recorded, likewise, in the Fourth Volume of  Acta Sanctorum Belgii, the Acts of St. Vincentius, Confessor, alias Madelgarius. The Abbé Destombes has recorded this holy man in his work.  The Petits Bollandistes have a biography of the present distinguished saint, whom they call Mauger or Vincent, at the 14th of July. In Rev. S. Baring-Gould's work, there are notices of this holy man, and at the same date.

This distinguished saint has been called Maelceadar, Madelgarius, Mauger and Vincent; but, he is most generally known in hagiology by the latter name. According to one account, he was born in Ireland, and his original name was Maguir, Latinized into Madelgarius. His parents have been denominated Mauger, the father, and Onoguera, the mother. It is thought to be likely, he had been born in Hannonia, and sometime about the beginning of the seventh century. According to a calculation made, his birth might be assigned to A.D. 615; yet, it seems to us more probable, it was at an earlier period, to make it synchronize with the subsequent Acts of his life. From early youth, Madelgarius was brought up in a manner worthy his noble birth and Christian profession. He received an excellent education. But, his early dispositions towards piety and the fear of God were such as to give promise of a future holy life. He was attached to religious practices. His character was of a generous and candid nature, while his natural abilities were conspicuous. In the midst of society, he contrived to preserve great purity of morals. In military and state affairs, he became greatly celebrated. The Almighty had reserved for him, likewise, a true reward in the married state  for a holy woman, known as Waldetrude—sometimes called Waltrude, Valtrude or Vaudru—he had taken for his spouse. Her life had been spent in a state of perfect innocence, both before and after their marriage, which has been ascribed to in or about the year 635. In allusion to the marriage of Madelgarius with St. Waldetrude, the Bollandists promised to show, that such alliances were common enough between the French and Irish, in his time. The King of France, Dagobert,  who reigned about this period, conceived a great esteem and affection for Madelgarius, who often graced his court, with other very illustrious seigneurs. It would seem, that the king had some delicate and important relations with Ireland; and, in order to have this business properly discharged, he selected Vincent for a mission there, soon after his marriage with Waltrude. In ignorance of the facts of Irish history, some of the Continental writers have asserted, that King Dagobert sent Madelgarius to our Island, in order to chase the Vandals from it ; but, it may be observed, these hordes never invaded that country, nor are they once mentioned in connection with its general history. It has been incorrectly stated, that King Dagobert of France had appointed him, as governor over Ireland.

But, no part of Ireland was perfectly subdued by that king, nor by any other foreigner, for any great length of time, prior to the Anglo-Norman Invasion. When Madelgarius returned from Ireland to France, he brought in his train a number of holy missionaries, who formed a galaxy of glory for the churches of France and of the Low Countries Among those most distinguished were Saints Fursy, Foillan,  Ultan, Eloquius, Adalgisus, and Etto. When St. Gislain  began to build his monastery at Celles, and to edify the whole of that country around by his virtues and pious labours, Madelgarius dwelt in Hannonia, with his holy wife Waltrade. Nothing more distinguished the noble count and his companion, than their charitable care of the poor and helpless. The sick and infirm they were accustomed to regard, as a charge left specially to their kind attentions. Besides furnishing the material necessaries for their living, they spoke words of consolation, likewise, urging their clientele to have confidence in the goodness of God, and to practise his commands, so that the vices, which are often connected with a life of poverty and temptation, might be removed from their souls. Being placed in a high station, and entrusted with public duties of a very important character, by his king; a ready and conscientious discharge of those duties, and fidelity to his prince, caused the people to revere their governor, and to be loyal subjects to their sovereign.

He had children, by his wife Waldetrude. The oldest of these was Landric or Landry, and the youngest was named Dentelin. He had two daughters, Aldetrude  and Madelberte. The excellent example set by their parents, and the care taken of their instruction, caused them to be faithful imitators of their virtues. The pious inclinations of his eldest son Landry were soon manifested to the father, when he expressed a desire to become a priest.  Madelgarius had other objects in view, and had designed to chose for him a noble and pious wife, with whom he might live in a manner becoming his station, and thus work out his salvation in a married state. This intention he expressed to Landry, who declared he had no inclination for a worldly life. His father then took counsel with some pious and sage men, who advised him, not to persist in his purpose, but to yield compliance with the expressed wishes of his son. At that time, no doubt, this course was contrary to the policy and inclinations of the influential and powerful governor. His wife Waltrude had also a great desire to embrace the religious state would her husband only consent. Even many of the nobles in that country, and at that period, had given example of renouncing rank and wealth to serve God in monasteries. These circumstances weighed on the thoughts of her husband, whose mind had been deeply imbued with religious sentiment.

Meantime, St. Ghislain had been engaged building his monastery, and it being now completed, he invited St. Aubert, his diocesan bishop, and St. Amand, to be present at its consecration. The Count Madelgarius could not be absent on an occasion of this kind, representing the triumph of Faith. Both the prelates named preached most touching and edifying discourses, during the order of that august ceremonial. As a result, the heart of that nobleman was effectively moved, to regard the paltry ambitions of this world as worthless, and fleeting like shadows; wherefore, his firm resolution was now taken, to withdraw from their attractions, and make a perfect sacrifice to the Almighty, whose servant alone he desired to become for the rest of his life.

Soon afterwards, the Count visited St. Aubert of Cambrai. From him, Madelgarius received the religious habit. Then he commenced the erection of a monastery, at Hautmont, near Maubege, on the River Sambre. It has been stated, that about 642, A.D. the Almighty chose to send a vision, in which an angel appeared to him one night, and with a reed that heavenly messenger traced out the plan of a church to be built in honour of St. Peter, chief of the Apostles. This was to be erected at Hautmont. Thus was Vincent the more encouraged to proceed in his resolution. On going to the place designated, he found it covered with dew, white as the drifting snow, except in that particular spot, where the foundations were to be laid. When the monastery had been completed, a number of pious monks were drawn together to dwell in it, under the patronage of this powerful protector. There can hardly be a doubt, but that Madelgarius' inclinations, directed by the inspirations of Divine grace, had been long maturing for his final resolution, to embrace a life of continence and to retire with them from the cares and distractions of this world. When the project was communicated to his wife, who also desired to spend the rest of her days in religion, they voluntarily separated about the year 653. At this time, King Dagobert was dead, and the state of France had been greatly disturbed by factions, during the troubled reigns of his posterity. The Count now sought for retirement, in that monastery he had founded. It has been said, that he received the name of Vincent, to signify the victory obtained over himself and the world. So elevated in rank was he, that all in Austrasia and throughout France admired his spirit of self-sacrifice, and that generosity of soul, which caused him to renounce all earthly dignities and advantages, for the sake of Christ. Soon, the monastery in which he dwelt became one of the most celebrated in that age and kingdom. Numbers of his friends, and several nobles, moved by his example, hastened to enrol themselves as members of that community, and hoping to spend the remainder of their days in pious seclusion. In fact, St. Vincent was already regarded as a master of the spiritual life, and as a centre to whom all might resort for counsel and comfort. Especially several holy and apostolic men were his frequent visitors. Among these were St. Ghislain—a special friend of Vincent—St. Wasnolfe or Wasnou, St. Etto, St. Humbert, St. Usmar, St. Amand, and St. Aubert. In his society, they loved to consult on the spiritual necessities of the people entrusted to their care, and to devise the best methods to effect their sanctification. There, also, they exchanged sentiments and opinions on those eternal truths, which are best studied in solitude and in quiet conference.

Soon after his religious retirement, however, the fame and lovable character of the holy Abbot brought too many of his former friends and the nobles to disturb his peaceful retreat. This caused Vincent to resolve on seeking greater obscurity, and he now desired to found a monastery, in some more remote spot. The old forest of Soignies, not far from where the Senne takes its rise, seemed to him most suitable for his purpose. It was then a deserted spot, among the solitudes of Hainaut. There, he began the erection of another monastery, and soon was he in a position to assume its direction, under the same form of rule that had been established at Hautmont. This change of life took place, as is generally thought, about the year 670. Soon again, he had a crowd of postulants seeking admission to serve God under his direction. Their lives were spent in devout prayer and praise, in announcing the great maxims of the Gospel, in charitable acts towards the poor and afflicted; while a part of their time was devoted to reclaim an inhospitable soil, and to prosecute agricultural operations, which they effected with continuous industry and perseverance. This spectacle of charity, devotedness and labour made a great and lasting impression on the minds of those rude peasants, who lived in that region of country.

While St. Vincent presided over his community, and directed the course of their lives, his humility was most remarkable, and his religious fervour was communicated by example to his monks. He taught them to repress every worldly desire, and to desire only the treasures which endure forever; he showed them how fleeting were the ambitions and pleasures of men, and what miseries awaited those, whose lives were not in accord with God's commandments; he exhorted to preserve always the spirit of charity towards one another; while he often referred to the ascetic practices of the old monks, their holy conversation, and the regularity of their morals. These exhortations, coming as they did from one who had furnished so sublime an example in his own person, sunk deep into their souls, and they were received with the most profound respect. This once powerful Leude, formerly covered with temporal honours and dignities, while he had been the companion of kings, and the most admired of courtiers, now chose to live in a remote desert, among a rude people, covered with the coarsest habits, and having for nourishment only a morsel of bread, with water for his drink. Oftentimes, he slept on the bare ground, to accustom himself in the ways of penitence, practised by the ancient religious. Age now began to come upon him, and with it the usual infirmities of body. He was troubled with gout. Finding his end approaching, he desired his son Landry, then Bishop of Meaux, to visit him. The monks were assembled around his death-bed, when the holy Abbot Vincent said: "Dearly beloved son, the Divine bounty hath called you to direct the religious, and hath placed you at the head of a flock. Take on yourself this work confidently, and the Lord shall be with you. Govern with goodness of heart and wisdom, those whom God hath given you to rule, and thus you shall deserve to enjoy the glory of His presence, and to receive that magnificent reward He has ever destined for His true servants." Whereupon, Landry promised his venerable father to fulfil those wishes, and to have a care over the communities of Hautmont and of Soignies. Then, his aged and holy parent felt, that his monks should be amply provided for after his departure. His thoughts were now wholly concentrated on the joys of Paradise, and the presence of his Creator, for whom he had lived and desired to die. The last breath of St. Vincent is said to have been drawn, in the arms of his devoted and holy son Landry, Bishop of Meaux. St. Vincent is thought to have departed this life, about the year 677.

He is venerated, at the 14th of July, and this seems to have been the date for his death. The body of St. Vincent was interred in his monastery at Soignies, and around it in course of time grew the town of that name. The cures afterwards wrought through his intercession caused successive Bishops of Cambrai and others, to care for the respect due to his memory. His relics were translated on more than one occasion. Handsome shrines had been prepared for their reception by Marguerite, daughter to the Emperor Baudouin, and Countess of Hainaut, who designed to honour the relics of this saint. The different persons, composing the family of St. Vincent, are to be seen figured on his shrine. When the Normans invaded that part of the country, it was deemed necessary to remove the relics of St. Vincent, with other precious depositories, to the strong city of Metz. The Count of Hainaut, denominated Regnier au Long Col, had been vanquished by those hordes, at the battle of Walcheren. He wished to remove from them, on his own shoulders, the shrine of St. Vincent, which was most likely to be desecrated by those invaders. About the middle of the thirteenth century, Margaret, Countess of Hannonia, had a magnificent silver-gilt shrine prepared, and then in 1250, the sacred head was removed from the other remains of St. Vincent, and placed in it, by Peter, Bishop of Albano, Legate to Pope Innocent IV., other local bishops and clergy assisting. When the Black Pestilence  in 1349 produced frightful ravages, in that part of the country, an enormous concourse of the inhabitants of Mons and of Soignies, with those of the country around, went in solemn procession, carrying the shrines of St. Vincent and of his pious wife St. Vaudru. It has been stated, that a hundred thousand persons were joined in that ceremony. It pleased the Almighty, to regard and to spare his suppliant people; for soon afterwards, the plague entirely disappeared from that part of the country. Our saint has been venerated, as the special patron of Soignies and of Mons. His relics, in two beautiful mediaeval shrines of rare execution, are still preserved in the monastery at Soignies ; while these are not only described, but illustrated, in separate copperplate engravings in the work of the Bollandists. In one of these, presented by Margaret, Countess of Hannonia, and daughter to the Emperor Baldwin, the head of St. Vincent is kept. The larger Lipsanotheca contains the body, and it is of that size and weight, that eight strong men scarcely can raise it.

In the best known copies of the Martyrologies of Ado, of Usuard, and of other writers, belonging to the ninth century, and especially in those of earlier date, there is no entry to be found, regarding Vincentius or Madelgarius. But, in later copies of Ado are to be met with notices of him, as also in the Florarius Sanctorum, on the 14th of July, that being the day of his departure from this world. Various Belgian Calendars contain the record, and especially these in the Codices of Usuard enlarged. In the Codex of Tournay, and in other Manuscripts of Bruxelles, his feast is entered. In certain additions to the Martyrology of Venerable Bede, this feast of St. Vincent's Deposition is set down for the 14th of July. Among other Martyrologists, Greven, Molanus, and Wion, celebrate this festival. Again, Dorgan, Menard. Bucelin, Constantinus Ghinius, Ferrarius, and Castellanus, notice him. This holy man is commemorated, likewise, in the Martyrologies of Saussay and of Mirseus. At the 14th of July, a festival is entered in the Martyrology of Donegal, in honour of Maelceadar, the Victorious, first Earl of the Hanoine. His name and designation are found within brackets, in this Calendar. This is probably the Irish form of his name; but, on the Continent, it assumes a different denomination. In Father Henry Fitzsimon's Calendar of our saints, we meet with Vincentius, alias Waldegarius, for the same date. Father Stephen White commemorates this saint, at the present date. In Convseus' list, we find St. Vincentius—called the companion of Maldeigarius—in the Irish language identical with Mac Guer, and his festival is placed at the 14th of July. In the anonymous list of our national saints, published by O'Sullevan Beare, the name Vincentius is entered, at the 14th of July. He was venerated at Cambray, a city of Hainault, on the River Scheld, in the Low Countries. Formerly, in the church of Cambrai, an office of St. Vincent had been celebrated with nine Lessons, and a Mass was likewise offered. These are thought to have had an ancient origin, and to date back probably to a period, soon after the invasion of the Normans, to which allusion has been already made. In Hautmont and Soignies, likewise, special reverence was paid to his memory. In a Manuscript belonging to Soignies, there is an office for St. Vincent, and various extracts from it—such as antiphons, hymns, capitulum and proper prayer—in the Bollandists' work.

Devotions offered by religious communities, or any prayer said in common, especially with united fervour, must always be found very powerful with God. "If two of you," said our Lord, "shall consent upon earth concerning anything,whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven." Therefore, we may infer, that the continuous prayers, labours and self-sacrifices of religious persons, who retire from high stations in this world, to serve God solely, are most acceptable in his sight; and the more so, when in the monastic state, a holy violence is offered by a large association of pious inmates, urged by the example of a holy superior, and animated by his exhortations.

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