ST. AIDAN, BISHOP AND PATRON OF FERNS.
ST. Aidan, one of the most illustrious saints who adorned the Irish Church in the sixth century, was born at Innis- Breagh-Muigh, a small island in Brackley Lough, in the territory of east Breffny (the north-west of the modern county of Cavan), about the year 530. His father's name was Sedna, through whom his lineage went back to the Colla Uais, the ancestor of the most illustrious clans of the Oirghialla ; whilst through his mother, Ethne, he was connected with the race of Amhalgaidh, whose descendants gave name to the territory of Tirawley in the county of Mayo.
Aidan is the usual Anglicised form of the saint's name. The original Irish name was Aedh, sometimes written Aodh, which in various Latin works became Aeda, Aidus, Aiduus, Aedeus, Oedeus, or Edus. The diminutive termination, an or og, being often added in Irish proper names, we find our saint in some ancient tracts called Aedhan or Oedhan, and Aedhog, which in Latin was modified into Afdan, Hedanus, Aidanus, and Edanus.
The name of Aedh (i.e. fire), which was given to him at baptism, as well as its endearing form, Moedoc, had its origin in two visions of a heavenly light which a little before his birth, were seen by his parents, and foreshadowed his future greatness. Some holy men being asked to explain these visions, replied "As a star led the wise men to worship Christ, so shall a son be born to you full of the fire of the Holy Ghost."
The spot where the saint was born continued for a long time illumined with a more than human splendour : also, the flagstone on which the water of his Baptism was poured, was regarded as hallowed in a special manner, it was jealously guarded in his church for a thousand years, and popular tradition preserved the memory of innumerable cures performed at it through the intercession of St. Aidan. The Martyrology of Donegal also records that Ethne, when giving birth to our saint, held in her hand a spinster's distaff, which was a withered hard stick of hazel, but subsequently it put forth leaves and blossoms, and was covered with goodly fruit ; and the writer of the martyrology adds, " this hazel is still in existence as a green tree, without decay or withering, producing nuts every year in Innis-Breach-mhaige."
From his infancy he was remarkable for miracles, and ere he attained the years of manhood, his fame for sanctity was widespread throughout all Ireland. Two facts connected with his youth are mentioned in his ancient life, which merit special mention. On one occasion he had retired to a lonely spot, where he was engaged in study and prayer. Thither a weary deer fled, as if seeking his protection from the hounds that pursued it. Our saint, taking the waxen tablet on which he wrote, placed it between the horns of the animal, and this sufficed to save it from its pursuers and render it invisible till the hounds passed by. Another time, some pious men, directed by heaven, came to St. Aidan asking him to choose for them a spot where they might lead a life of penance, and await their resurrection. St. Aidan asked them had they heard the bell of any monastery as they travelled along. They replied that they had not ; then, setting out with them, he pointed out the place which God had marked for their resurrection, and there these holy men continued for the remainder of their lives in the practices of piety and penance.
Miss Stokes, having referred to this fact, adds the following remarks :
" Among these early Christians it was a favourite custom to seek the knowledge of the place they should be buried in from some holy man gifted with the spirit of prophecy, that in that spot they might erect their church and monastic establishment, there to live, and there to remain after death, until the day of the resurrection; and with them the burying- place was not called grave, or tomb, but 'the place of resurrection' as if in the minds of these men the thought of death and the fear that springs from the contemplation of it, had been absorbed in the first fresh joy of the hope of the life eternal."
It was at the school of Clonard that the youthful Aidan was trained in the higher paths of perfection and of science. St. Finnian, a little time before, had founded that great monastery, and so many were the saints who came forth from his school to adorn our island by their virtues and learning, that he is styled in our annals " the foster-father of the saints of Ireland," and his monastery was celebrated as " a holy city full of wisdom and virtue." " Like the sun in the firmament (thus runs his ancient life), St. Finian enlightened the world with the rays of his virtues, wholesome doctrine, and miracles. For the fame of his good works invited many illustrious men from divers parts of the world to his school, as to a holy repository of all wisdom, partly to study the sacred scriptures, and partly to be instructed in ecclesiastical discipline."
In this holy school of Clonard, St. Aidan formed a close friendship with St. Molaise of Devenish, and several facts mentioned in the ancient lives of both saints prove that that friendship lasted till death. On one occasion we find St. Molaise advising a sorrowing woman to turn for assistance to " Moedoc the most blessed." Her sons had been drowned in Lough Erne, and she had sought help of many saints, in the hope that at least their bodies might be found. St. Molaise told her to go to the shore of the lake, and there to await the coming of Moedoc. She hastened to the place, and straightway Moedoc came to her, and then, weeping bitterly, she told her sad tale. Moedoc, knowing that his friend St. Molaise had prophesied the return of her sons to life, and trusting in his sanctity, boldly entered the waters of the lake, and drew forth the young men alive, " wherefore their father, who was a powerful chieftain, offered to the saint one of his sons, with his children and posterity, as a perpetual gift to St. Moedoc for the honour of God."
On another occasion, towards the close of their school-days, the devoted friends Moedoc and Molaise were seated beneath the shadow of two trees, and they prayed to God to make known to them whether they might continue together, or whether it was His will that they should separate and work apart. While they thus prayed, the tree which stood over St. Molaise fell towards the north, while the tree beneath which St. Moedoc was fell towards the south. Then, filled with the divine spirit, they said one to another " This token for parting is given to us by God, and we shall go as these trees have fallen ;" so "embracing each other, and weeping, the two friends parted, and St. Molaise turned towards the northern region of Ireland where he founded the celebrated monastery of Devenish in Lough Erne, while St. Moedoc went southwards, where, in after times, he became the founder of Ferns, in the province of Leinster.
Whilst yet a youth, St. Aidan was led away a hostage with many more of the territory of the Hua-Briun by Ainmuire, who subsequently was monarch of all Ireland. Our saint, when brought before him, appeared beautiful with the comeliness of God's grace (apparuit gratia Dei in vultu pueri Moedoc), so that the prince said to his attendants: " This youth is comely indeed ; should he consent to remain with me, he must be one of my royal court ; but if he is anxious to depart, let him be at once set free and restored to his parents." The blessed Aidan, filled with the Holy Ghost, replied : " O king, if thou wishest thus to favour me, I pray thee, through the mercy of that God whom alone I wish to serve, to set free all those who have been my companions as hostages under thy charge." Ainmuire granted the request, only asking in return the prayers of Aidan, foretelling at the same time that one day he would be a great pillar of the Irish Church.
Abiding for awhile in his native district, many resorted to him for counsel, and wished to become his disciples. Desiring to shun such honours, he was preparing to depart, but Aedh Finn, the chieftain of the Hy-Briuin, opposed his project, being unwilling that his territory should be deprived of the presence of the saint. " Do not detain me," said the holy man to Aedh, " and I pray that the blessings of Paradise may be your eternal portion." No entreaty however could avail, and it was only by a special manifestation of divine power that St. Moedoc could at length obtain permission to depart. The chieftain who thus sought to detain our saint in the district of Breffny, had been baptized by him, and in Baptism received the sirname of Finn, i.e. " the white," or " beautiful," whereas hitherto he had borne the name of Aedh Dubh, i.e. "Aedh the black." From him the two great families of the O'Reilly's and the O'Rorke's are descended, both of whom continued for centuries to honour St. Moedoc as their Patron.
The life of St. Aidan also mentions another instance in which, at this period of his life, heaven interposed in his favour. He was journeying along Mount Beatha (famous for its shrine of St. Dympna,) on the confines of Monaghan and Fermanagh, wishing to arrive at Ardrinnygh, to visit there a holy man named Airedum, who enjoyed great fame for sanctity ; but darkness set in, and he could no longer discern the path to pursue his journey. Betaking himself to prayer, he found himself borne by the hands of angels to the centre of the town he sought for, and in memory of this prodigy a cross was subsequently erected on the spot, which, at the time when the life was written, was still called " the Cross of St. Moedoc."
The monastery of St. David, at Kilmuine, in Wales, was at this time a favourite resort for Irish pilgrims. Thither too went St Aidan, and during the years that he resided there, such was the odour of his sanctity, and such was the esteem in which he was held by that great master of virtue, St. David, that his history became thenceforward interwoven with the history of Menevia, and his abode in Britain is not only related in his own acts but in those of St. David and St. Cadoc. Among other remarkable facts we find it recorded that the Anglo Saxons made an inroad at this time into Wales. The Britains, though taken unawares, rushed to arms, and sent messengers to St. David, praying him to send St. Aidan to the field of battle to bless their army. At the bidding of the abbot, the blessed Aidan hastened thither and prostrated himself in prayer, whilst the Britains rushed on to battle. The invaders were at once seized with panic and fled. For two days the victorious Britains pursued them with great slaughter, whilst not one of their own men was slain. And the Life adds: "the Anglo Saxons abstained from further inroads as long as Moedoc continued in Menevia, for they were persuaded that the miracle was due to his prayers."
After some years spent in the practice of piety, under the guidance of St. David, our saint, with the sanction and blessing of the holy Abbot, and accompanied by other Irish religious of the same monastery, returned to his native land. As he approached the coast of Hy-Ceinnselach (the modern county of Wexford), he saw some travellers attacked and plundered on the shore. He at once sounded his bell, which being heard by the plunderers, their chief cried out, " This is the bell of a man of God, who wishes us to desist from our deeds of plunder." Thereupon they allowed the travellers to pursue their way unharmed, and themselves hastened to the sea-shore to welcome the man of God. One of them, named Dymma, even rushed into the sea, and bore St. Aidan on his shoulders to dry land. Nor satisfied with this, he devoted himself and his territory of Ardladhrann, in Hy-Ceinnselagh, to the service of God and of St. Aidan. Our Saint erected a church and monastery there, and such was the fame of his miracles and sanctity, that the faithful from all the surrounding country soon flocked to him to receive lessons of eternal life.
It is not certain at what time St. Aidan founded the church of Ferns, but probably this foundation, which was cherished with special predilection by our saint, must be reckoned among the first of the thirty churches which, as Colgan assures us, were erected by St. Aidan in the territory of Wexford.
The Irish name of Fearna is supposed by some to mean "the Land or Field of the Elder Tree," whilst others, with Colgan and Ware, derive it from the hero Ferna, son of Carill, King of the Desies, who was here interred, being slain in battle by Gall, son of Morna. In the " Leabhar Breac" there is a marginal gloss on the Felire of St. Oengus, which, in two short verses, thus recounts the happy privileges of Ferns :
" Plain of Ferna, Plain of Ferna,
Where the chaste Moedoc shall be ;
Plain where are hounds and troops ;
Plain that will be filled with sacred chaunting !
" Moedoc shall sing hymns and the Psalter ;
The desire for constant chaunting is awakened
By that plain of heavenly sounds :
O Lord, who rulest the elements !"
In the " Irish Life of St. Molaise," of which a copy is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy, we read that that saint, when he had resolved on setting out on a pilgrimage to Rome,to bring back thence relics and some clay to hallow his monastery of Devenish, proceeded first to visit his friend, St. Moedoc, at Ferns. It was on this occasion that the two saints entered into a new covenant of friendship, binding themselves that whosoever should merit the blessing of one, should inherit the other's blessing also ; and whosoever should incur the displeasure of one, should incur, at the same time, the other's displeasure likewise. We are not told how long St. Molaise sojourned at the shrines of the Eternal City, but his life adds, that " having accomplished his visit to Rome, he again hastened to St. Moedoc, and presented to him a portion of the relics which he had brought thence," and the names of these holy relics are then given, viz., relics of SS. Peter and Paul, of SS. Lawrence and Clement and Stephen, of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Martin, and many other relics.
The Life further adds that St. Molaise, having given these relics to his friend, St. Moedoc exclaimed, " Is Breac go maith uait me anossa," i.e., " Now, indeed, I am well speckled by thee," as if he said, " You have given me such a corselet of relics, that I am now all over ornamented and protected by them." And St. Molaise then said, " Breac Moedoig (i.e., the speckled or variegated shrine of Moedoc) shall be the name of the reliquary for ever."
This shrine, or " Breac Moedoig," is still happily preserved, and has been admirably illustrated by Miss Stokes for the Royal Society of Antiquarians… the following is her account of the manner in which it passed into the " Petrie Collection," now accessible to the public in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy. The Breac Moedoc, she tells us, " was bought some years ago by Dr. Petrie, from a jeweller in Dublin, into whose possession it came in the following manner : The shrine had been preserved for many centuries in the Church of St. Moedoc, at Drumlane, where it had remained in the keeping of the Roman Catholic Parish Priest. It was occasionally lent for swearing the accused at trials, and so great was the reverence felt for it, that the people believed a false oath taken thereon would be surely followed by some singular judgment. About the year 1846 it was lent to a person named Magauran, from the parish of Templeport, he having deposited the usual pledge of a guinea for its safe restoration ; tempted, however, by the Dublin jeweller's offer of a larger sum than that which he had given in pledge, he broke faith with the priest, and sold the sacred relic."
…Ferns had long been one of the royal seats of the Kings of Leinster ; and when St. Aidan founded his religious establishment there, he received from these devoted princes every aid in his mission of piety and charity. Colman, son of Cairbre, King of Leinster, died in 576, and was succeeded by Brandubh, son of Eathach, of the race of Cathair-Mor, who during his long reign of 28 years, proved himself the constant friend and patron of our saint. In 593 Leinster was invaded by Cumasgach, son of the Monarch of Ireland, who, without receiving any provocation, ravaged the territory around Baltinglass (where Brandubh then resided): he, however, was soon put to flight, and, near the Church of Kill-Rannairech,was slain by the adherents of the Leinster King. The armies of Ulster were at once mustered to avenge the death of Cumasgach, and being led in person by the Monarch himself, threatened to lay waste the whole of Leinster. It was on this occasion that St. Aidan encouraged Brandubh to go forth fearlessly to repel the unjust invasion. As we read in his ancient life, he said to the king, " many saints have served God faithfully in thy territory ; go forth, therefore, courageously to battle, and we will all be there in spirit to aid thee with our prayers in the combat ;" and the life adds, that throughout all that night, St Aidan continued at his church in prayer, imploring, with arms stretched out, the blessing of God on Brandubh. The decisive battle was fought in 498, at Dunbolg (i.e. Fort of the sacks), which is described as situated south of Hollywood, and not far from the Church of Kil-belat (now Kilbaylet), near Donard, in the county Wicklow. The victory of Brandubh was complete, and the monarch Aedh himself, with many of his chieftains, was slain. The ancient tract called the Borumlia-Laighean, tells us that when the northern army had advanced as far as Baltinglass, St. Aidan, who was half-brother of the monarch Aedh, went forward in the name of Brandubh to solicit an armistice that, in the mean time, the terms of peace might be arranged ; he however was treated with insult by Aedh, wherefore departing from the hostile camp, he prophesied the ruin and death which should soon be the lot of the ill-fated monarch. The same tale also relates that it was our saint who planned the stratagem to which Brandubh was indebted for his victory. Three thousand six hundred oxen, carrying provision hampers in which armed men were concealed, were conducted towards the place where the troops of Aedh were encamped ; they were at once seized and driven within the camp, when the armed men, at a given signal, threw off their disguise, and gained an easy victory over their astonished enemy. All this time Aidan was in the church absorbed in prayer, and more to his intercession than to the valour of the troops, Brandubh ascribed his brilliant success. A poem was composed on this occasion by St. Aidan, of which the first strophe is preserved in the Annals of the Four Masters:
" I implore the powerful Lord : near Cill-Rannairech
It was he that took revenge of Comasach,
and slew Aedh Mac Ainmirech."
It was on this occasion that the king bestowed upon St. Aidan the royal seat of Ferns, its banqueting halls and champions' apartments, its woods and hunting grounds and other lands, all to be devoted to the service of God. A council of the bishops and chieftains of Leinster was also convened, by whom it was unanimously resolved that the archiepiscopate of Leinster should thenceforth be held by Aidan and his successors.
Such an election by the bishops of Leinster was quite in accordance with the disciplinary code that prevailed at this early period in the Irish Church. As yet, none of our metropolitan sees had been definitively fixed by Rome, but it was deemed expedient, not to say necessary, for the maintenance of discipline, and for the observance of the canonical decrees, that in each province there should be at least one bishop enjoying pre-eminence, and invested with quasi-metropolitical jurisdiction. The MS. "Liber Canonum" drawn up as an ecclesiastical code of laws for Ireland before the year 700, expressly sanctions such an election of a metropolitan by the decree of his brother bishops, and it cannot surprise us if, as in the case of St. Aidan, the bishops of the province should be desirous to have their decree sanctioned and confirmed by the temporal authority.
On one occasion, when returning with an immense booty from the northern districts of Ireland, Brandubh was met by a poor leper who asked an alms for the love of God. The king at once bestowed on him a good milch cow, and recommended himself to the prayers of the poor man. Soon after, being encamped on the banks of the Slaney, he was seized with a grievous malady, and seemed, in a vision, to be carried down to the very gates of hell. All the demons were assembled there awaiting their prey, and one fiery dragon rushed forth to devour him. At that moment a comely and joyous priest cast between the dragon and the king the cow which had been bestowed on the poor leper; and, when a second time the dragon rushed on towards the king, the same priest smote the dragon with his staff and put him to flight. The king narrated this vision to his attendants, and recovering somewhat, proceeded to a place called Inver-Graimchin, where again his illness increased. There he was reminded by his attendants of the many miracles performed by Aidan, and how water blessed by him restored many that were sick to perfect health. Wherefore, Brandubh set out to visit the saint, and meeting him near the monastery, cried out, this is the holy priest whom I saw in my vision saving me from the dragon that would devour me ; and prostrating himself before Aidan, he confessed his evil deeds and prayed him to impose a salutary penance for the blessing of his soul. At the prayers of the saint his bodily health was also restored to him, and then the king gave to Aidan many presents for the poor, and decreed that himself and his race should be interred in the monastery of Aidan. The ancient writer adds: " to this day Brandubh and his descendants arc interred in Ferns."
One of the tributary chiefs of Leinster, named Saran, jealous of the power of Brandubh, and availing himself of the free access to his presence permitted by that monarch, assassinated him in his royal residence. Thus, adds the chronicler, was the pious king cut off without confession, and without the divine viaticum. St. Aidan hearing this, was filled with grief, and, weeping, foretold that the hand would wither which had thus murdered " the defender of the churches of the kingdom, and the protector of the widow and the poor." The prophecy was fulfilled : and St. Aidan coming to the place where the deceased king lay, offered fervent prayers, and by the power of God restored him to life. But the king said : " I pray thee, father, do not detain me on earth, if through thy prayers the gates of heaven may be now open to me." The saint was rejoiced at these pious dispositions of Brandubh, and the holy viaticum being administered, and prayers being said, the king once more closed his eyes in peace, and his remains were interred in the cemetery at the monastery of Aidan. As for the murderer, seeing what had happened, he was moved with sorrow for his wicked deeds, and coming to the sepulchre of Brandubh, led there a most penitential life in fasting and assiduous watching, till at length he heard a voice from the tomb saying: O, Saran ! thou hast obtained mercy from God. He passed the remainder of his life in holiness, but the prophecy of Aidan was verified, that his right arm should be lifeless and withered till his death.
When St. Aidan proposed to build his chief monastery at Ferns, many of his disciples complained that there was no spring of water there to serve for their drink. But the saint directed them to cut down a tree which overshadowed the spot on which they stood, assuring them that they would find there an abundant supply of water. They did so, and a clear fountain gushed forth, which retains to this day the name of Tubber-Mogue, i.e., the fountain of St. Aidan. It was whilst engaged in building this monastery of Ferns, that another miracle was performed by our saint, which continued long to exercise a salutary influence on the ecclesiastical architecture of the nation. A church was to be erected, thus writes the ancient chronicler, but no builder could be found to guide the religious brethren in this work wherefore, full of confidence in God, St. Aidan blessed the hands of an untutored man named Gobban; from that moment he became most skilled in all the intricacies of the art, and was able, in a most perfect manner, to complete the church of the monastery. His skill was subsequently shown in the erection of many other famous churches and monasteries, and he is known in the ancient historic tales and legendary poems of our island, as Goban Saer, i.e., " Goban the builder." What was of still more importance, he combined sanctity with his architectural skill: his name is entered in our calendars among the saints of our early church, and it is, probably, from him that Cill-Gobban, now Kilgobbin, near Dundrum, in the county of Dublin, derives its name.
THE Latin Life of St. Aidan merely records the fact, that our Saint, anxious to perfect himself in wisdom and holiness of life, set out on a pilgrimage, accompanied by twelve chosen companions. From other ancient documents, however, we are able to glean some details connected with this pilgrimage. Among the companions of St. Aidan, were two other great Saints of our early Church, St. Eulogius and St. Finbar. The Monastery of Menevia was the first stage of their holy pilgrimage ; and, having passed some time there to receive the lessons of spiritual perfection from St. David, they pursued their course to Rome, there to offer, at the shrines of the Apostles, the pious tributes of their devotion and love.
More than once, however, St. Aidan made the journey to Wales to visit St. David, and the closest spiritual friendship seems to have united together these holy founders of Ferns and Menevia. On such occasions Aidan took part with the other brethren of the Monastery of Menevia in their task of manual work ; and a wood, situated in the Valley of Saleunach, about two miles from the Monastery, is pointed out as the place appointed for St. Aidan's labour. Sometimes, too, he was engaged in transcribing the Sacred Scriptures a duty specially dear to all the early and mediaeval monasteries. It is recorded that, on one occasion, when engaged in copying the Gospel of St. John, he was summoned away to some other religious exercise, and, on returning, as a reward for the promptness of his obedience, he found the unfinished column completed by an angel, in letters of gold. This precious MS. was long preserved at Menevia, encased in silver and gold. Giraldus Cambrensis states, that even in his own time it was regarded as something sacred, so much so, that none would dare to open its pages, or unloose its clasps. Elsewhere this same writer commemorates St. Aidan amongst the holy men who, by their sanctity and miracles, adorned the Monastery of Menevia ; and he ranks him as companion of the great saints Teliau and Ismael, and foremost among the most faithful disciples of David. He adds, that on the return of St. Aidan to Ireland, no sooner had he completed his great Monastery of Ferns (called Fernas, by Giraldus, and Guerwin, by Ricemarch), than he laid down for his religious the same rule and observance which he had learned at St. David's, and which he had found by experience to produce such abundant fruits of virtue and sanctity at Menevia.
Companion of Aidan at Menevia was St. Modomnoc, who seems to have accompanied our holy Bishop on his return to Ireland. St. Modomnoc, whilst in the monastery, had its many hives of bees for his special charge, and now, that he entered the boat to sail for Ireland, swarm after swarm of St David's bees came to settle in the boat with him. Three times this was repeated, when so often Modomnoc returned on shore unwilling to deprive Menevia of its honied treasure ; but the bees would not be separated from their kind patron, and, at length, with the blessing of St. David, he set sail, bearing with him his long cherished charge. From that time, say our chroniclers, the hum of St. David's bees has not ceased in Ireland. St. Modomnoc "of the bees," is honoured on the 13th of February in Tybroughney, on the banks of the Suir, near Piltown, county Kilkenny. There was also a monastery in olden times at Lann-beachaire (i.e., " the church of the bee- hive"), now Lambeecher, in Fingal, county Dublin. Its name was probably derived from some fact connected with this journey of St. Aidan and Modomnoc.
A little before St. David's death, that aged founder of Menevia bade farewell to St. Aidan, and, imparting his blessing, said : " May an unbroken fraternity, in heaven and on earth, ever subsist between me and thee, and between our spiritual children." This spiritual relationship seems to have subsisted indeed for centuries, and during the several years that St. Aidan survived St. David, the religious of Menevia venerated St. Aidan, and showed all honour to him, as one who had merited the special love and friendship of their great founder. In the glosses on the Felire of St. Oengus, in the Leabhar Breac, we meet with a few facts which serve to illustrate this connexion between the great Monasteries of Ferns and Menevia. Thus, in the gloss, on 31st January, we read that " fifty Bishops of the Britons of Cill-Muine (i.e., Menevia) visited Moedhoc of Ferns : on this pilgrimage they came, because Moedhoc was the disciple of David of Cill- Muine." The following curious story is added regarding these pilgrim Bishops : " The pilgrims coming to Moedhoc, were conducted to the guest's house, and it was the Lent-time of spring. Fifty cakes and leeks, with watery whey, were set before them for dinner. 'Why have these things been brought us?" said the Bishops; 'we shall not partake of them, but let beef or pork be brought to us.' Moedhoc permitted the oeconome to comply with their request ; but the next day, coming to the strangers, he said to them 'you must be reprimanded for eating meat, and refusing the bread, in this time of Lent.'
The Bishops replied: 'it was not your learning, O Maedhog, that inspired you with such a sentiment; for it is with the milk of their mothers that the swine and cow are nourished, and they eat nought but the grass of the field : but three hundred and sixty-five ingredients are in the cake that was set before us, and therefore it is that we did not use it.'"
Another remark which is added, would seem to imply that the Monastery of Menevia was subject to Ferns; and that the successor of St. Aidan ruled "over both Monasteries. " From the time of David (thus runs the gloss) no flesh meat was brought into the refectory of Cille-Muine, until it was brought thither by the comharb of Moedhoc, of Ferns. It is contrary to rule, however, that he who did so, should have joint-seat with David, or continue in the Abbacy of Cill- Muine, or that his feet should touch the floor of its refectory as long as he lives."
Perhaps we have here a clue to the statement made by some Irish writers, towards the close of the twelfth century, regarding the close connexion which, in early times, had subsisted between Ferns and Menevia. These writers, however, manifestly reversed the order of facts, when, as a consequence, they asserted the See of Ferns to be a suffragan See of Menevia. That Menevia was suffragan to Ferns, would assuredly be far more consonant with the facts above stated ; for these manifestly imply that, after the death of St. David, special reverence was shown by his monastery to his loved disciple, St. Aidan, and that also the successors of our Saint in the See of Ferns received particular honour in Menevia, being reputed the heirs or comharbs of its holy founder, St. David.
We have already seen how St. Aidan, from early youth, was the bosom friend of St. Molaise of Devenish. He, in later years, enjoyed the friendship of several of the other great saints, who, in the sixth and seventh centuries, adorned our island by their learning and the sanctity of their lives. Thus, St. Molua, who is honoured as Patron at Clonfert-Molua, as also at Sliabh-Bladhma, and at Druimsneachta, in Fermanagh, was chosen by him for spiritual father and confessor. St. Cuimin, of Connor, commemorating the characteristic virtues of our Irish saints, writes of St. Molua :
" Molua, the fully miraculous, loves
Humility, noble, pure,
The will of his tutor, the will of his parents,
The will of all, and weeping for his sins."
It is recorded that when St. Aidan first visited Molua, there was no food in the monastery, except some flesh meat, from which St. Aidan always abstained; nevertheless, on this occasion, he partook of it through charity and reverence for St. Molua. On another occasion, Molua expressed an eager desire to visit the shrines of the Apostles in Rome ; he even declared that he would die unless he visited Rome : cito moriar si non videro Romam. But the prayers of Aidan, who was unwilling to be deprived of his Confessor, obtained for him, whilst staying in the monastery of Ferns, the grace of contemplating in vision that holy city ; and, the chronicler adds, that ever after St. Molua was as fully and intimately acquainted with the sanctuaries and other wondrous monuments of Rome, as though he had lived there for many years.
At the time when Aidan visited the territory of the Hy-Conail (now the barony of Connello, in the county Limerick), the Superioress of St. Ita's great monastery of Killeedy, which was not far distant, sent to him to say that one of her holy nuns, a loved disciple of St. Ita, had just then expired. At the same time, he heard the bells of the monastery which announced her death ; accordingly he gave his staff to one of his companions, and told him to touch with it the body of the deceased nun ; and he added, ' I pray God, that through the sanctity of most blessed Ita, he may deign to restore this religious to life.' " No sooner was the cold body touched by St. Aidan's staff than the deceased nun arose, full of life and vigour, and gave glory to God."
A somewhat different favour was, on another occasion, granted through his prayers to the religious of St. Fintan, at Taghmon. He was received at that monastery with great honour, and several of the religious who were then ill, were, at the prayers of St. Aidan, restored to perfect health. When, however, on the third day, he was taking his leave, the holy abbot of the monastery said to him : "I pray thee not to leave till thou restorest to us again the illness of which we have been deprived, through your prayers, for virtue is perfected in infirmity," and Aidan, full of wonder at this faith, gave to the religious his parting blessing, and all were affected as before with their various diseases.
We find him also visiting the holy virgins, daughters of Aidus, King of Leinster. Lanigan states that the names of these virgin saints, as given by some writers, are Ethnea, Sodelbia, and Cumania; whilst others mention the two first only, and identify them with the saints who are styled in our calendars, the spiritual daughters of Baithe, and whose memory was honoured on the 29th of March, in a church, near Swords, named from them the cell of the daughters of Baithe. By whatever name, however, the daughters of Aidus may have been known, it is certain that they were distinguished by their piety and lived in a religious community. St. Aidan brought to them, as a gift, a plough and a pair of oxen. Nor should this surprise us: for his high ecclesiastical dignity did not prevent him from joining his monks in their agricultural labours, and his life, on one occasion, introduces him to us as superintending one hundred and fifty of the religious brethren whilst gathering in the harvest.
Some of the facts incidentally related in St. Aidan's Life reveal to us the high perfection of holiness to which he had attained. On one Easter festival we find him spending the whole night in the church in prayer. It was on that occasion that our Saint learned by a Divine manifestation that an attempt would be made to cut off, by poison, his holy friend St. David of Menevia. Aidan, accordingly, immediately made known the danger to his friend, who, having blessed the poisoned food, divided it into three portions, and then, without hesitation, partook of one of the fragments that was untainted by the poison.
At the time of St. Columba's death St. Aidan was standing beside a Cross, in company of a youth for whom he was transcribing one of the Psalms. The youth saw the holy man on a sudden rapt in ecstacy, and his countenance became all luminous with dazzling rays. When subsequently interrogated, he made known to the youth that he had at that moment contemplated in vision the reception given by the heavenly choirs to the soul of his friend, St. Columba. It is also recorded that, at another time, hearing the sweet harmony of the heavenly choirs, he prayed to God that if it was His holy will, he might be freed from the flesh, and admitted to the enjoyment of Christ ; but he heard a voice, which said to him : " It is the Divine will that you should labour yet awhile for the welfare of others;" and he at once replied "So long as thou decreest so, O God, may such labour be given to me."
For forty days, in imitation of the Redeemer, St. Aidan observed a rigorous fast in his monastery at Ferns. At its close four special favours, for which he prayed, were granted to him by God. The first petition was, that any person of the Royal line of Leinster, and especially of the descendants of Brandubh, sitting in his See, and holding it till death, should never receive the heavenly reward: "so anxious was the Saint to guarantee the spiritual rights of his See, and to secure its freedom from usurpation of the secular power. The other petitions for which the Saint prayed, were " that a similar penalty should await any of his religious who might fail in observance, and abandon the religious life : that Heaven would be open to all those who should merit to be interred among the saints of the cemetery of Ferns, and that, through his prayers, one soul might each day be freed from the pains of Purgatory."
Several miracles are narrated in the Life of our Saint. I will only mention two of them, which commend his spirit of charity and compassion for the poor. Seeing a poor man who, labouring in the field, bewailed the dire servitude to which he was subjected by his master, St Aidan brought to him half a measure of barley. The poor man, smiling, said, "What can this avail me?" but looking again, he saw that the barley had been changed into gold. The Saint told him to apply a portion of this to purchase his ransom ; but when the master heard of this wondrous miracle, he not only restored the poor man to liberty, but refused to accept any price of ransom. The poor man, rejoicing, brought back the gold to St. Aidan, insisting that he should accept of it as an offering for the monastery : but the Saint, despising the riches of this world, again prayed to God, and the gold was once more changed into barley as before.
Another time Aidan met some soldiers who were carrying off to their chieftain a poor captive bound in chains. The Saint prayed them to set him free for the love of Christ, but they scornfully refused to do so. They had proceeded, however, only a few paces when they saw a number of hostile troops surrounding them on all sides, so that they betook themselves to flight to provide for their own safety, and the captive, remained alone with Aidan. The Saint then said to him : " I asked these men to set you free, and they refused: I asked it from God, and he has shown you mercy." The chieftain, hearing of the fact, ratified the sentence of St. Aidan.
Colgan assures us that, according to an ancient life-of our Saint, preserved in Salamanca, he founded no fewer than thirty churches in the territory of the Hy-Kinnselagh alone, a district which included the present county of Wexford, together with the barony of Shillelagh, in the county of Wicklow. Of these the names of only four can now be identified with any certainty, viz : Ferns, from which his diocese derived its name : Ard-Ladhrann, now Ardamine, situated on the sea-coast, in the barony of Ballagh-keen : Cluainmore, also called Cluainmore-Dicholla-Gairbh, now Clonmore, a parish in the barony of Bantry, in the centre of the county of Wexford ; and Seanbotha, now the parish of Templeshanbo, in the same county, at the foot of Mount Leinster, and not far from Ferns. Colgan also mentions the church of Disert, in Leinster, founded by our Saint. There was another monastery called Clonmore, in the county Carlow, which some have supposed to have had St. Aidan for its founder. ..
This monastery of Seanbotha was, probably, the first foundation made by St. Aidan in Hy-Kinnselagh, and hence, in the List of the Saints of Ireland compiled by Selbhach at the time of St. Cormac mac Cullenan, our Saint receives for his distinctive epithet, " St. Aidan of Seanbotha."
" Nathi, grandson of eloquent Suanach,
Cummin, gentle for petitioning,
With a gentle, noble throng, of just voices,
Noble Aedan in Seanbotha."
That this monastery had already attained considerable importance before the death of St. Aidan, results from two facts connected with it: first, the chieftain Saran Soebdherc, who murdered King Brandubh, was erenach, or custodian of its lands ; and, secondly, St. Colman, who attained great fame for sanctity, was abbot of this monastery during the life-time of our Saint.
In Munster, St. Aidan founded the church of Disert Nairbre, now Dysart in the parish of Ardmore, in the south-east of the county of Waterford ; and the monastery of Cluain Claidheach, now Cloncagh, in the barony of Connello Upper, in the county of Limerick.
It was in Ulster, however, that his religious foundations were most numerous. Thus, we meet his churches at Rossinver, in the extreme north of the county Leitrim, where he is still venerated as patron ; at Caille-bega, now Killybeg, in the parish of Inishmacsaint, in the county Fermanagh, where the miraculous stone called " leac moedoc" was kept; and at Team-pull-an-phuirt, now Templeport, which gives name to a parish in the north-west of the county Cavan. It was in this parish that the Saint was born, and a little to the south of his birthplace is Templeport lake, where a small island still bears the name " St. Mogue's island," and presents the ruins of his ancient church. The most important of the Ulster churches founded by St. Aidan was that of Druim-Leathain, now Drumlane, a parish in the north of the county Cavan, which still venerates St. Moedoc as its patron, and where the shrine Breac Moedoc, which we described above, was formerly preserved. The ruins of the monastery, round tower, and church stand on the shore of Lough Oughter, near the village of Milltown, about three miles south-west from Belturbet…
Colgan, having mentioned these churches in which the saint is honoured, adds: " It is not merely, however, in the above churches that this most holy man is invoked as patron, but, moreover, the diocese of Menevia in Britain, the whole territory of the Hy-Kinselagh in Leinster, and the two Breffnies [in Ulster] celebrate his festival as a solemn feast, and venerate him as their tutelar patron."
The memory of St. Aidan, indeed, is still vividly preserved in Menevia. John of Teignmouth, and his copyist, Capgrave, conclude their notice of St. Aidan with the words : " This holy man is named Aidanus in the Life of St. David, but in his own Life, Aidus : and at Menevia, in the Church of St. David, he is called Moedok, which is an Irish name ; and his festival is observed with great veneration at that place."
In Pembrokeshire St. Aidan is also honoured as the founder of Llanhuadain or Llawhaden ; and the churches of Nolton and West Haroldston are also ascribed to him under the name of Madog. His feast is marked as in Ireland on the 31st of January.
As regards Scotland, Dr. Reeves gives from the Statistical Accounts and other ancient records the following list of the churches which are there dedicated to him: " First, Kilmadock, a large parish in Menteith, in the south of Perthshire, north-west of Stirling : the name is believed to signify the chapel of St. Madock, Madocus, or Modocns, one of the Culdees (thus the New Statistical Account of Scotland, vol x., page 1224). Second, St. Madoes, a very small parish in the Carse of Gowrie, south-east of Perth. The name is written in early records St. Madois, and is commonly called Semmiedores in the district where are ' The stannin' stanes o' Semmiedores.' There is an ancient monument here, called the St. Madoes Stone, of which a drawing is given in the ' Sculptured Stones of Scotland.' The writer in the New Statistical Account rightly conjectures that the parish is called from the patron saint of Kilmadock, but errs greatly in styling him a ' Gallic missionary.' Third, Balmadies, an estate in the south-east end of the parish of Rescobie, in Forfarshire : the cemetery is at Chapeltown."
There seems to me, however, to be some room for doubting whether all these Scottish foundations are to be referred to the holy Patron of Ferns. In the Felire of Aengus, another Irish saint, called Moedoc, is commemorated on the 23rd of March, who, as his characteristic epithet, receives the title of the " crown of Scotland":
" The assemblative daughter (i.e., St. Ciannait), with the immense host
Of Feradach, the admirable :
From Christ received his dignity,
Momoedoc the crown of Alba."
This St. Moedoc, in the Martyrology of Tallaght, is said to be from Fedh-duin, in the south of Ossory; and it is quite possible that some of the above-mentioned Scottish churches may have derived their name from him.
The death of St. Aidan is generally placed by our antiquaries, as Ussher, Colgan, Lanigan, &c., in the year 632. Ware adopts the same opinion : " Edan (he thus writes), exercised his pastoral functions about 50 years, and having founded many churches and wrought great miracles, was removed by a happy death unto Christ, on the 3ist of January, 632, which day is kept sacred to his memory, and was buried in his own church of Ferns." However, the Annals of the Four Masters expressly record his death in the year 624, ., 625 of our modern computation : " St. Maedhog, Bishop of Ferns, died on the 3ist of January." The Martyrology of Donegal gives the same date : " A.D. 624, was the date when he resigned his spirit to heaven." The Chronicon Scotorum also, at 625, gives the entry : "Maedhog of Ferna quievit," but by a singular mistake repeats the same entry under the year 656.
In the ancient "Catalogue of the Order of the Saints of Ireland," St. Aidan is reckoned in the third class, among those who '" loved to dwell in desert places, lived on herbs and water, and the alms of the faithful, despised all earthly things, and wholly abstained from all murmuring and detraction."
The name of St. Aidan appears in several of the Continental martyrologies. Thus, in the Carthusian Martyrology of Cologne, at the 3ist January, "on this day, the Feast of St. Aidan, Bishop and Confessor:" and Ferrarius, on the same day, " in Scotia, the Festival of St. Medoth, Bishop and Cele-De." Adam King, in his Scottish Calendar, whilst ante-dating our Saint by three hundred years, in accordance with the prejudices of the antiquated Scottish historians, commemorates his festival on the 3ist of January : " St. Modoche Bishop in Scotland, under Crathlinthus, King, A.D. 328."
Dempster follows in the same track, but calls our Saint by the name of Medoth. Camerarius, and the Martryology of Aberdeen, also notice our Saint, on the 3 1st of January, as honoured at Kilmadok, in Scotland. The Breviary of Aberdeen, on the same day, mentions, " St. Modoc, a renowned Bishop and Confessor, venerated at Kilmodok," and gives the following short collect for his festival: " Vouchsafe, O Almighty God, to quicken Thy people with the light of Thy glory, and through the gracious intercession of Thy Confessor and Bishop, Modoc, for Thy people, grant them, with glory, to behold Thy true and neverfailing light in the eternal habitations: through Christ our Lord." In the Roman and British Martyrology, we also read on the 31st January: "St. Aidan, Abbot and Bishop of Ferns, in Leinster ; a child of prayer, and trained from youth by St. David, in Menevia, in monastic discipline and Christian perfection. He founded several churches and monasteries in Ireland, and imparted to countless souls the lessons he had learned from so excellent a master."
All the Irish Martyrologies commemorate St. Aidan on the 31st of January. I have already more than once referred to the entry in the Martyrology of Donegal. The Martyrology of Christ's Church, edited by Dr. Todd, has, on the same day, "Eodem die, Sancti Edani Epjscopi." Fitzsimon, in his Catalogue of the Chief Saints in Ireland, gives " S. Medogus, qui etiam Edanus dicitur." Marianus O'Gorman, in his MS. Metrical Calendar, at the 31st of January, writes:
" The end of the month to Maedhoc,
To my fair Mochumma a co-share
O all ye saints of January,
Come to the sustaining of our souls."
In the Felire of St. Oengus we read on the same day :
" Name Aedh the powerful, of Ferna,
Maelanfaid, a name before us ;
They give with very great Brigh,
A bright summit to the host of January."
And in the Leabhar Breac the following gloss is added : " Aedh, i.e., Moaedhog, i.e., Mo-aedh-og, i.e., my young Aedh : he was of the men of Lurg, of Loch Erne, i.e., Moaedhoc, son of Setna, son of Ere, son of Feradach, son of Fiachra, son of Amhalgaid, son of Muiredhach, son of Carthaind, son of Colla- Uais."
The Martyrology of Donegal ends its notice of St. Aidan with the remark that : " A very old vellum book, in which are found the Martyrology of Tallaght and many other matters which relate to the Saints of Ireland, states that Maedhog of Ferns, in habits and life, was like unto Cornelius the Pope."
…We have already described the Breac Moedoc, or Shrine of St. Aidan, which was guarded with religious love in the church of Drumlane. It, however, is not the only memorial of St. Aidan that popular veneration has carefully preserved through centuries of peril and persecution to our own times. The Clog Mogue, or Bell of St. Moedog, with fragments of its ancient shrine, was purchased some years ago by the late Protestant Primate from an old man named Kelleher, and in 1863, was exhibited at the Royal Irish Academy. The Magoverans had long been the erenachs at Templeport, and the faithful hereditary keepers of this bell. The daughter of the last of that branch of the family was married to Kelleher, who, when the times became bad, overcome by poverty, sold it for a trifle. Even within the memory of the present generation, an oath taken on it was regarded as most sacred, so deep was the veneration of our people for every memorial of our early saints. The hereditary keepers of this bell lived among the Slieve-an-Eirin mountains in the county Cavan, between Templeport and Fenagh. It was, probably, the mere neighbourhood of these two towns that gave rise to the popular tradition, that the bell thus venerated was a gift of St. Kilian (or Caillin, as he is sometimes called), the founder of Fenagh, to St. Aidan, the founder of Templeport. To judge from the ancient life of our Saint, we should rather suppose it to be the bell received by our Saint from St. David in Menevia, the same, perhaps, to which Dymma owed his conversion at the time when St. Aidan first approached the coast of Wexford. This venerable relic is of iron, but its case is of copper, ornamented with silver-plated bands, and on its front were two small figures, also plated with silver, one of which still remains: it represents an ecclesiastic, who clasps a book to his breast, and was probably intended to designate St. Aidan. The whole is now so decayed and mutilated that but little remains to show forth the richness and ornamentation of the original shrine.
Though the Danes more than once plundered the monastery and church of Ferns, still the relics of St. Aidan seem to have remained undisturbed. When the church was last repaired, in 1817, his tomb was enclosed in a recess of the wall, and the following inscription was placed on it:
" Under this monument
are interred the remains of
commonly called St. Mogue,
the founder of this Cathedral,
and first Bishop of Ferns.
He discharged the duties of the Pastoral Office
with piety and Xtian. zeal
for the space of fifty years,
and died in an advanced age,
January 31st, A.D. 632."'
Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol 7 (1871), 312; 361, 393.