Thursday 13 June 2024

Saint Kevin of Glendalough, June 3

Míl Críst i crích nÉrenn,
ard na-ainm tar tuind tretan,
Cóemgen cáid cáin cathair,
i nGlinn dá lind lethan.
A soldier of Christ into the border of Erin,
a high name over the sea’s wave:
Coemgen the chaste, fair warrior,
in the Glen of two broad loughs. 
Thus does the Martyrology of Oengus record the feast of Saint Coemgen (Coemghen, Caoimhghin, Kevin) of Glendalough on June 3rd. Whilst Saint Oengus has devoted his entire quatrain for the day to Saint Kevin, the prose Martyrology of Tallaght simply records Caemgin ab Glinne da Locha, Kevin,  abbot of Glendalough. Saint Marianus O'Gorman starts his entries for the day with just the saint's name Caemgen, but the entry in the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal incorporates many of the traditions which had grown up around Saint Kevin in the intervening centuries. It also references the saint's genealogy which places Saint Kevin among the people of the Dál Messin Corb, who controlled the Leinster kingship in the fifth century.
Despite being one of the most well-known and well-loved of Irish saints, remarkably little historical information has survived about Saint Kevin. In his classic study of the sources for early Irish Christianity, J.F. Kenny wrote: 


Glenn-dá-locho,"Valley of two lakes" (Glendalough), a lonely and picturesque valley in the midst of the mountains of Wicklow, contains some of the most noteworthy monuments of pre-Norman ecclesiastical architecture in Ireland. These, and the many references in the annals and elsewhere indicate that Glendalough was an important centre of Irish religious life from the sixth to the twelfth century.
The reputed founder of the monastery of Glendalough was Coemgen, or Coemghen (anglice Kevin), who was, we are told, of the royal race of Leinster. He retired to the glen to lead a hermit's life, and the disciples who gathered around him formed the monastery. The death of Coemgen is entered in the Annals of Ulster under 618 and 622, but the record is doubtful. He is given an age of one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty years, which may be a misunderstood chronological datum.
There are five versions of the Life of Coemgen. The first, in Latin, is quite extensive. The second is much shorter, being an abbreviated text prepared at a late date for lectionary or homiletic use in some monastery. The Irish texts are late, and are not closely related to the Latin. 

Plummer's conclusions regarding these documents may be summarised as follows: Version iii is an incomplete and somewhat careless summary of an earlier Life; Version iv is a composite production, based in part on material similar to that used by iii; Version v is derived mainly, but not entirely, from iv. The date of the first version seems to be the tenth or eleventh century.
J F Kenny, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical (1929), 403-4.
The three Irish Lives of Coemgen translated by the Rev. Charles Plummer in his Bethada Náem Nérenn collection are available to read through the Internet Archive here. His edition of the Latin text of the Vita Sancti Coemgeni can also be found there. All of the surviving Lives portray Saint Kevin as a strict ascetic in the tradition of the Desert Fathers who relishes solitude, subsists on herbs and follows a strict programme of ascetical practices, praying whilst up to his waist in the waters of the lough, praying crois-fhigill, 'cross-vigil', where the arms are outspread in imitation of Christ's position on the cross and sleeping in a cave. Scholar A.P. Smyth also notes:
The hagiographical lore relating to Kevin living in the tree-tops and praying in the trees owes something to the motif of the wild man in early Irish literature, as well as to the stylite movement among ascetics in Syria  and elsewhere in the Near East. 

A.P. Smyth, 'Kings, Saints and Sagas' in K. Hannigan and W. Nolan eds., Wicklow - History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 1994), 52.
Given these connections to the traditions of the Desert Fathers, it is perhaps no surprise to see that on the twelfth-century List of Parallel Saints, which equates Irish saints with those of the Universal Church, Saint Kevin is given as the equivalent of Saint Paul the Hermit. This third-century Egyptian saint, hailed as the first hermit, actually made his way onto the Irish calendars at January 25 as well as having a cameo role in the Navigatio of Saint Brendan. I have previously written about this here.  Saint Kevin's ascetical reputation is also reflected in the hymn of Saint Cuimin of Connor on the characteristic virtues of the Irish saints. In telling us what Saint Kevin loved he wrote: 
Caoimhghin loved a narrow cell,
It was a work of mortification and religion,
In which perpetually to stand,
It was a great shelter against demons.
The temptation of a hermit by a demon in female form is also a topos found in the traditions of the Desert Fathers. The Latin Life depicts Saint Kevin as repelling the unwanted advances of his temptress by arming himself with the sign of the cross and then striking her with bundles of nettles, after which, in true hagiographical fashion, she sees the error of her ways and commits to a life of sanctity.
In time however, the solitary ascetic of the Upper Lake attracted a community around him and moved to the Lower Valley to found his monastic civitas. As is usual in hagiography, the establishment of any new monastic site requires some supernatural intervention. Canon O'Hanlon, in Volume V of his Lives of the Irish Saints, narrates the story of how Saint Kevin was persuaded to make this move, according to the Latin Life:
An Angel of the Lord came to St. Kevin and said: "O saint of God, the Lord hath sent me with a message, that you may be induced to go to a place he hath appointed for you, eastwards from the lesser Lake. There you shall be among your brethren, and it shall be the place of your resurrection."
Saint Kevin, however, is initially reluctant to move saying:
"If it would not displease the Lord,  I should wish to remain to the day of my death in this place, where I have toiled for Christ." 
So the angel adds a further inducement:
The Angel answered: "If  you, with your  monks, go to that place  indicated,  many sons of light shall  be always in it and after your time, the monks shall have a sufficiency of earthly possessions, and many thousands of happy souls shall arise with you, from that place, to the kingdom of Heaven."

 After further reassurance about the future fame and prosperity that Glendalough will enjoy and with his objections to the stoniness of the new proposed site dealt with by the angel, Saint Kevin and his heavenly advisor 'walked upon the waters of the Lake, towards a locality indicated'. Then:

Not long afterwards, the same Angel appeared to St. Kevin. He said: "In the name of our Lord Jesus  Christ, arise with thy monks, and go to that place, which the Lord  hath ordained for thy resurrection." After pronouncing these words, the Angel departed.

The move to the Lower Lough does not signify any lessening of Saint Kevin's commitment to the ascetical life, as this verse from the Metrical Irish Life, the second in Plummer's list, confirms:

Coemgen was among stones
On the border of the lake on a bare bed,
With his slender side on a stone,
In his glen without a booth over him. 
He may no longer have been sleeping in the original 'Kevin's Bed' cave site on the Upper Lough, but the new site still saw the saint committed to a hard and stony resting place and still at the mercy of the elements. None of the Lives date to the lifetime of the saint but instead reflect the realities of succeeding centuries when Glendalough had expanded to become an important site of both pilgrimage and burial. The moving away from the original sites on the Upper Lough associated with Saint Kevin is dealt with in this later hagiography by having the saint persuaded by an angel that this relocation is God's will. It may well be though that in the discussions between Saint Kevin and the angel we can discern an echo of the actual discussions that would have taken place within the community at Glendalough about the expansion of their monastic 'city'. When exactly the move from the Upper Lough to the Lower took place is not known, but Smyth suggests that it may have been in the eighth century.
Saint Kevin died in 622 and his ultimate resting place is still debated. In between the original site at the Upper Lough and that of the monastic city on the Lower lies the church of Reefert, Ríg Ferta, 'the Cemetery of the Kings'. Saint Oengus the Martyrologist in the Prologue to his calendar of the saints declares 'the cemetery of the west of the world is multitudinous Glendalough'. Reefert is one possible location for Saint Kevin's tomb, although his remains may well have been translated from their original burial place and enshrined with great ceremony in the monastic church at a later period. The Annals of Ulster record at the year 790 the comotatio of the relics of Saint Kevin. This term refers to the taking of relics on circuit, most likely to other churches associated with Glendalough and would support the likelihood that the founder's relics were housed in a richly-decorated shrine for public veneration. 
In the centuries following Saint Kevin's death Glendalough became an important centre of pilgrimage, his Latin Life claiming that it was one of the four main pilgrimage sites in Ireland. His monastery found a place in a Litany of Irish saints preserved in the twelfth-century Book of Leinster and published in the 1925 collection Irish Litanies also translated by the Rev. Charles Plummer. Litany I invokes 'Forty saints in Glen da Loch with Coemgen, noble priest'. In our own times Saint Kevin has become something of a poster boy for the 'Celtic Christianity' movement which attributes to our native holy men and women a special relationship with nature and the animal creation. Whilst I do not share this movement's interpretation of our native saints, nevertheless the animal stories associated with Saint Kevin are perhaps specially appropriate, since they too owe their origins to the Desert Fathers. I have looked at a couple of the legends involving birds and the founder of Glendalough here.  Finally, since there is no translation of the Vita Sancti Coemgeni available, I have posted some selections from Canon O'Hanlon's reading of it here.  This is how he describes the ending of Saint Kevin's Life:
When St. Kevin had consoled his monks and imparted his benediction, his thoughts were solely devoted to preparation for his departure from that place, so endeared to him by religious associations; and, he now turned his mind, on the abiding home he sought for in Heaven. He then received Christ's most Sacred Body and Blood, from the hands of St. Mocherog. His monks stood around, in tears and lamentations, when their venerable superior breathed his last. Having lived, in this world, according to common report, for the extraordinary and lengthened period of one hundred and twenty years, he departed to join choirs of Angels and Archangels, in the Heavenly Jerusalem. The Third of June Nones is the date assigned for his death; and on the 3rd of June, accordingly, his festival is celebrated.
Rev J. O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Vol. VI (Dublin, 1875),  p.71.

Note: This post, first published in 2024, replaces the former blog entry on Saint Kevin from 2014.

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Wednesday 15 May 2024

Saint Colman of Oughaval, May 15

May 15 is the feast of Saint Colmán of Oughaval in County Laois.  I have previously published a short account of this holy man by diocesan historian Bishop Michal Comerford here, but below is the entry from Volume 5 of Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints. Canon O'Hanlon was born in Stradbally,  County Laois, the same parish in which Oughaval is situated and of which Saint Colmán is the patron. In his account of the local saintly hero Canon O'Hanlon makes a couple of basic points to bear in mind: First, that our knowledge of this saint is derived from his appearance in the Lives of two other Irish saints - Colum Cille and Fintan of Clonenagh; secondly, that his name Colmán also appears in some sources as Columbanus, which is not surprising since both are derived from the name Colum.  He also discusses the various ways in which the place name Oughaval is rendered and shows his customary irritation at the attempts of the later Scottish martyrologist, David Camerarius, to ignore the reality that in early medieval Europe Scotia was the name applied to Ireland and that 'Scottish' saints were actually Irishmen. One of the most interesting sections of Canon O'Hanlon's account is when he quotes Adomnán's Vita Columbae concerning the death of Colmán of Oughaval and the addition of a prayer composed on the spot by Saint Colum Cille to the existing commemoration of Saint Martin of Tours in the liturgy.  Canon O'Hanlon concludes by noting that Saint Colmán died on May 15, that would be the date of his own death in the year 1905. I am very grateful to blog reader Seán for sending me the photograph above of the commemorative plaque at Stradbally in honour of Canon O'Hanlon's many achievements:

Article IV. — St. Colman, or St. Columban, Mac Ua Laoighse, of Oughaval, Queen's County. [Sixth Century.]
His relations with the great Abbot of Iona, St. Columkille, and with St. Fintan, Abbot of Clonenagh, have given special celebrity to the present holy man. In the Martyrology of Tallagh, the name of Colman Mac h Laighsi, is simply inserted, at the 15th of May, or at the Ides of this same month. From the foregoing record, the Bollandists have given insertion to his feast, at the same date, in their collection, calling him Colmanus, filius Hua-Laigsi, seu Mac-ua-Laigse. He belonged to the race of Laoighsigh Ceannmoir, son of Conall Cearnach, a celebrated Ultonian hero, living in the first century. His pedigree occurs, in the Genealogies of Irish Saints; and, it serves to show, how Colman derived the tribe-name Mac Ua Loighse. According to this authority, he was son to Lugna, son of Eugene, son to Guaire, the son of Ere, son to Bracan, son of Lugad Eaighsech, son to Laigisius Cenn-mor, son of Conall Kearnach, who belonged to the noble Roderician family. This pedigree is evidently defective, however, in several generations as nine degrees are quite insufficient to fill five centuries. His kinsman, Oennu Ua Laighse, who died about the same time, is thirteen generations removed from Conall Cearnach. Besides the name of Colman, he is known by that of Columbanus — an exchange of names often occurring in the Lives of our Irish Saints, and applying to the same individual. Thus, we find Colman-Eala - called Colmanellus Colman, or Columbanus; again, the Colman Mor of Irish history, is also called Columbanus; while, the Colman of Bede is called Columbanus, in the Annals of Ulster, at A.D. 667, 675, and in those of Tighernach, at A.D. 676. In the Life of St. Fintan, Abbot of Clonenagh, whose Acts have been already published, at the 17th of February, we are told, that this religious youth, who is there called Columbanus, was a native of Leix, in the Leinster province. For the sake of making a pilgrimage, and of engaging in prayer, this Columbanus directed his course to the island of Iona, in order to visit St. Columba. Here, he remained for some time, and he lived with this latter holy Abbot. When Colman wished to return again to his own country, he asked Columba, how he should live there, not being able to confess his sins to the holy Abbot. St. Columba said, "Go to that pious man, whom I see standing among the Angels and before the tribunal of Christ, on each Sunday night." The holy youth asked, who and what sort of man he was. St. Columba answered, "There is a certain saintly and handsome man, in your part of the country, whose complexion is florid, whose eyes are brightly sparkling, and whose white locks of hair are thinly scattered on his head." The young man then said, "I know of no man answering to this description, in my country, except St. Fintan." Then St. Columba joyfully said to him: "He it is, my son, whom I see before the tribunal of Christ, as I have already told you. Go to him, for he is a good shepherd of Christ's flock, and he shall bring many souls with him to the kingdom of God.” St. Colman or Columbanus — as he is here called — having received permission to revisit Ireland, and having the benediction of St. Columba, afterwards set out for his own country. Coming to St. Fintan, Columban told him all that the saintly Abbot of Iona had said. The holy old man, Fintan, hearing these words, blushed deeply, so that his face seemed as if on fire. He told the young man to be careful and not to relate these circumstances to any other person, at least, during his own lifetime. This condition imposed a great restraint on Colman; for, St. Fintan, shortly after their interview, departed this life.
From the foregoing account, we may infer, that St. Colman, after his return from Iona, was still a young man, who had probably learned the rudiments of monastic discipline, under that great master of a spiritual life, St. Columkille. The date regarding St. Fintan's death is questioned. Colgan says, he died long before the close of the sixth century, and allows him to have flourished in the year 560; while Dr. Lanigan maintains it as probable, that he reached the age of about seventy, thus departing towards the year 595, or two years before the death of St. Columkille, in 597. It seems evident, that St. Colman must have commenced the foundation of a religious establishment, at Oughaval, shortly before or after the death of St. Fintan; unless we admit Dr. Lanigan's other conjecture. This historian thinks it more probable, the bishop Columbanus, mentioned in St. Fintan's Life, was a different person from the Leinster bishop, Columbanus Mac-loigse. He admits, however, that the term juvenus may be applied to a person near thirty years of age, and that Colman or Columbanus might have became a bishop, soon after the death of St. Fintan. Again, he may have died not long afterwards; that is to say, before the death of St. Columkille, Abbot of Iona. Our saint is called a Leinster Bishop, by Cumineus, and by Adamnan; and not a Bishop of Lagena, in Lagenia, as Mabillon misapprehends. Nor must we confound him with another visitor of St. Columba, and who was named Columbanus, son of Beognai. The present holy man was surnamed Mocu-Loigse, owing to his having been descended from the family of a prince, named Laigis. From him was derived the name of Leix, a large district of Leinster. There, St. Columban was bishop, and at place, called Tulach-mac-Comguile. A certain Columbanus is mentioned, with others, who made Scotland famous, for their holy lives, good example, and solid learning. This was sufficient to cause David Camerarius, to enrol him a Saint and Bishop, in his Menology, as the Bollandists remark, when setting a Feast for him, at this day. It seems probable, he may have been confounded, with the present holy man; however, on this matter, we cannot presume to offer any safe opinion. Unwilling to admit an Irish name, Dempster perverts Lageniensis into Longinensis; while he states, that the place was unknown, and that the day for St. Columbanus adtus was uncertain, being known only to God. The Scottish writer in question has treated Columbanus' Acts and memory, in his familiar style of fiction and of imagination. Colgan takes him severely to task, for his misstatements, regarding that saint, and then he proceeds to examine and to produce reasons, for the information of his readers, that so they may be enabled to judge for themselves, concerning the amount of credit due to such falsehoods. No insuperable difficulty exists, in resolving that religious young man, named Columbanus from the province of Leinster, as mentioned in the Acts of St. Fintan, into Columbanus bishop in Leinster, as found in Adamnan's Life of St. Columba. The recollection, that Leix is given, as the common country, and Columkille, as a contemporary, with the person named in either record, prevents us doubting much the identity of one and the same Columbanus. He was yet a comparatively young man, not much — if at all — exceeding thirty years of age. Admitting the supposition, it is therefore probable, that soon after Columban or Colman returned from Iona, he selected Nuachcongbail, as a site for his church. Shortly afterwards, it is probable, he was constituted a chorepiscopus or a rural bishop. The exact site for this place of settlement was at Ougheval, a townland within the parish of Stradbally, in the eastern part of the Queen's County. That church was built, also, within the ancient territory of Leix, and in the province of Leinster. The old graveyard in which Colman's church once stood, is even yet, a favourite place for interment. Oughaval is universally pronounced Ochval — but written Oakvale — in the neighbourhood. It is quite possible, that some portions of St. Columban's old church remain there; but, if so, only the foundations can lay claim, to very remote antiquity. An extraordinary pile of rubble-stone building, intended to represent an old ruined church or a monastery, now occupies the site of a medieval structure, which served for parochial services, down to the seventeenth century. It was erected by Pole Cosby, Esq., about the beginning of the last century, to serve for a family place of interment. A crypt is beneath; and, it rests on a rock-foundation. The subsoil of this cemetery is naturally a dry mould, covering a fine limestone formation. The coffins of the dead are long preserved from total decay, while the decomposition of corpses proceeds rather slowly. On the west side of this churchyard, few corpses are interred, except those of unbaptized infants. A low wall, surmounting a deep and almost circular fosse, once surrounded the graveyard; but, this has been completely obliterated, within the past few years. The burial-ground itself was considerably elevated, above the level of adjoining fields. It is possible, St. Colman combined the episcopal with the abbatial functions, at Oughaval; but, regarding this matter, we have no certain record. 

It is most probable, that he did not attain an advanced age, as he died before St. Columkille, and previous to the close of the sixth century. In Adamnan's Life of the great Abbot of Iona, he gives an account, regarding that vision of blessed Angels, who had conducted the soul of the holy bishop Columban Mocu Loigse to Heaven. There, it is stated, that on the morning of a certain day, while the monks of Iona were putting on their shoes, to engage in various labours of the monastery, St. Columkille had resolved, that it should be observed as a holiday, and that preparations should be made, for offering up the "Clean Oblation." That holy Abbot likewise ordered some addition to their breakfast, as on a Sunday. "And, to-day," said he, "however unworthy I may be, it behoves me to celebrate the mysteries of the Holy Eucharist, through veneration for the spirit of Him, who hath ascended beyond the starry vault of Heaven into Paradise, during the past night, being borne thither among holy choirs of Angels. In obedience to orders received from the saint, his monks spent the day as one of rest; and, having prepared everything for a celebration of the Divine Mysteries, with white vestments, as if it were a solemn festival, they proceeded with their Abbot to the church. But, it happened, that while the usual prayer had been chaunted, during the  progress of the holy offices, and in a measured strain, St. Martin's name was commemorated. On a sudden the holy Abbot called to his choristers, and said: "To-day you should sing for the holy bishop Columbanus," when they had come to the aforesaid name of St. Martin. The nature of this commemoration we learn, from an ancient Liturgy, and from a form prescribed by St. Aurelianus;, for the church of Arles. According to the Rev. Dr. Reeves, St. Columba seems to have composed on the spot a proper Preface for the occasion and thus, in virtue of his abbatial authority, to have instituted a festival for the church of Hy, in commemoration of the bishop's death. St. Martin was held in special veneration, by the Irish; and, therefore, we are not surprised at finding his name on the Missal, then used at Iona. And, after a short interval, certain persons that came from Leinster province to Iona brought an account, how the bishop had died on that very same night, when his departure had been revealed to the holy Abbot. The foregoing account is amplified, from the ancient Life of St. Columkille, attributed to Cummian. He also calls our saint, Episcopus Lagenensis. Then all the monks understood, that Columbanus, a bishop in Leinster and a dear friend of St. Columkille, had departed to the Lord. We think it probable, the present St. Colman or Columban died, early on the morning of the 15th of May. There can be no doubt, that in former times, this holy man was greatly venerated. The festival of Colman Mac Ua Laigse, or Columbanus Mcocu Laigse, is placed at the 15th of May, by Marianus O'Gorman, and by Charles Maguire. In the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same day, he is commemorated, as Colman, son of Ua Laoighse, of Tulach-mic-Comghaill, in Druimne Togha, i.e., Nua Congbail, in Laoighis of Leinster. There he led a holy life, and passed away to taste the waters of eternal life.

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Friday 10 May 2024

Feast of the Translation of the Relics of Saint Laurence O'Toole, May 10

On May 10 Canon O'Hanlon concludes his entries for the day with this short notice: 

 Article XIV. Translation of the Relics of St. Laurence O'Toole, Archbishop of Dublin. 

The anniversary for the translation of St. Laurence O'Toole's relics is observed, with great solemnity, at Eu, in Normandy. The translation itself, which took place, on the 10th of May, A.D. 1226, will be found treated at much greater length, in the Life of St. Laurence O'Toole, at the 14th of November. The present feast was celebrated, with an office of Nine Lessons.

Sadly, the November volume of Lives of the Irish Saints remained unpublished at the time of O'Hanlon's death on May 15, 1905, but fortunately his Life of St. Laurence O'Toole had been issued as a separate publication in 1877. We can therefore enjoy Canon O'Hanlon's detailed account of the translation of the relics of Dublin's archbishop  on May 10, 1226. Saint Laurence died in Normandy on November 14, 1180 whilst on his final diplomatic mission and so it was in continental Europe, where so many Irish saints of the earlier medieval period had laboured, that he was laid to rest. Hagiographers record that the deaths of saints are accompanied by signs and wonders, and in the case of Saint Laurence:

On the night of the departure of our saint, it is related, that many persons observed a wonderful brightness surrounding the abbey of Eu, and to so great a degree of brilliancy, they were at first of opinion that either the monastery or some other house in its vicinity was in flames. And at the same time, a citizen of Dublin, named Innocent, whilst in the cathedral church of the Holy Trinity, saw in a vision during sleep, a most wonderful portent. For, on a sudden, the high altar seemed to fall down and immediately disappear. On the following day,  he related this vision in public to the citizens of Dublin, solemnly asserting, that their holy archbishop must have departed from amongst the living; an event which was exactly verified, on the arrival of the messengers who brought the account of his death.*

*Surius De Probatis Sanctorum Vitis, p. 339; Messingham's Florilegium Insulæ Sanctorum, p. 387; Vita S.Laurentii, cap. xxxiv.

Canon O'Hanlon takes up the story of the translation of the relics of Saint Laurence, using a manuscript source preserved in Marsh's Library in Dublin:

The body of the holy man having remained deposited for the space of five years and five months,* in the place where it had been committed to the earth, some persons who were afflicted with fever having prayed over the tomb, felt confident that they should be restored to health through the intercession of the saint, who had wrought so many miracles and who had effected so many cures during his life. About the same time, the old church in which the body of the saint lay, having become quite ruinous, it had been resolved to remove the walls, so that the grave of the saint would thenceforth be disturbed by the ravages of the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. A heavenly-inspired design was then conceived, of removing the body of the saint under these circumstances

*Then it was discovered, that the body was preserved in the coffin, not only free from corruption, but that it even emitted an agreeable odour. The flesh and hair were found to have been preserved, and the joints of the thighs, legs, and arms were flexible, as if moved by a person in the full enjoyment of life. It is even said, that blood was found in the veins of the inanimate body, MS. Etat des Reliques de St. Laurent d'Eu. p. 3.

It was exhumed, and placed before the altar of St. Leodagarius, on the xv. of the kalends of May (April 17th), and on the feria quinta, or Thursday, of the year 1186. The abbot, monks, and numbers of other persons were in attendance at the time. Thenceforward the Omnipotent was pleased to work so many and such great miracles through his holy servant, that, as the MS. expresses it, the fame of his sanctity diffused itself throughout the entire country, like a broken alabaster vase of precious ointment. Many infirm persons, who came from villages and places remote, obtained favours through the intercession of the saint. Through his prayers the blind were restored to the use of vision, the deaf to the faculty of hearing, and the dumb to the exercise of speech. Lepers were cleansed, the weak recovered strength, paralytics and demoniacs were restored to the use of reason, and safety was accorded to those in danger. Health was imparted to the infirm, and even life to those whose souls had departed from their bodies. A partial account of these miracles was committed to writing, with a view to procure his canonization.

Whilst the memory of our saint was rendered illustrious by the performance of so many and such great miracles, the faithful were led to believe that by obtaining a decree for his canonization, the glory and triumphs of the Church of God would be more diffused, as a light placed upon a candelabrum would the more widely extend its rays. Wherefore, the Church of Eu sent messengers to the sovereign pontiffs, Popes Celestine III. and Innocent III. of happy memory, to whom they brought many letters, bearing testimony to the sanctity and virtues of the holy confessor. In these it was prayed that the decree of his canonization might be pronounced by the authority of the apostolic see. The examination consequent on the number of letters received, caused some procrastination, during which many despaired of the early enrolment of Laurence amongst the number of the beatified. But, the various miracles and virtues manifested by God through his servant, and the increasing devotion of the people towards his memory, would not admit of an indefinite postponement. Whence it happened, that in the ninth year of the pontificate of Honorius III., the venerable Abbot Guido, [ the seventh Abbot of Eu] as the representative of the people of Eu, resolved to remove the difficulties, labours, and expenses of the investigation, so long undecided, and the happy issue of which was earnestly expected by the faithful. He exerted all his energies, and laboured with the most anxious solicitude, to effect the object of his mission. It would be impossible to relate all the varied particulars of the labours endured and the journeys made by the venerable abbot, or the solicitude he felt throughout the whole proceedings. However, he succeeded in obtaining the decree for our saint's canonization…

....This happy event being accomplished, the Abbot Guido, bearing with him the letters and bulls, which were enclosed in a silk covering, arrived at Eu, on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, and was joyfully and publicly received by the citizens of the place. The whole city was in a delirium of joy, and gave thanks and praises to God; for the inhabitants expected the continued manifestation of those miracles which had already distinguished their holy patron, from the additional circumstance of his having been enrolled amongst the company of the blessed in heaven. All the people began frequently and devoutly to invoke his intercession, that they might obtain the favourable issue of their several petitions, and be relieved under their various necessities. The Lord was pleased to work many signs and miracles through his servant, some of which are subjoined by the author of our saint's life, and which are here substantially reproduced. The venerable Archbishop Theobald, who then ruled over the metropolitan see of Rouen, having arrived at Eu, to the great joy of its inhabitants, a day within the octave of the former translation of the holy confessor's remains was fixed for the renewed and solemn transference of his relics. With great honour and solemnity, it had been resolved to remove the body to a more conspicuous and elevated position in the church. Wherefore, the time appointed being arrived, the tomb was approached with lights borne by the attendants, and it was intended to remove the remains with as little disturbance as possible. The Abbot Guido and his community of monks at Eu were present, as also the prior of the canons of St. Victor of Paris, and his attendant canon, with two canons who were sent by Theobald, archbishop of Rouen. In a private manner, the remains were removed from the earth to a shrine prepared for them, and being reposed in a covering of silk, they were placed in a leather case. The right arm, the head of the holy confessor, and a few other particles of his sacred remains, were reserved from this inclosure. In the year of our Lord 1226, on the vi. of the ides, or 10th day of May, at the dawn of a Sunday morning, a great number of ecclesiastics and secular persons were in attendance. Amongst others, Theobald, archbishop of Rouen, and Galfrid, bishop of Amiens, were present. The remains were removed with great honour and reverence, at an early hour in the morning.* About the third hour of the day of this festival, an immense multitude of persons of every rank, sex, and age, attended from all parts of the surrounding country. The church and streets were literally blocked up to such a degree, during the time of the public procession, that even with the aid of barons and soldiers who preceded the sacred relics, it was found a matter of great difficulty to gain access to the church. A suitable discourse having been pronounced, the shrine in which the sacred body was placed, with the shrines containing the head and arm of the saint, were borne in a public manner through the streets, the devout faithful pressing from all sides to witness these imposing ceremonies, and to manifest their devotion towards their holy patron. Then the sacred relics were brought to the church, and placed within the sanctuary; and from this time forward many and great miracles were constantly wrought through the intercession of St. Laurence. The author of our saint's life, in the MS. preserved in Marsh's Library, says that he would satisfy the curiosity of his readers by recounting only a few of the many miracles wrought for the edification of the faithful. These relations, he says, were drawn from the written records of the inquisitions taken on the authority of sworn witnesses, and are given by him, if not in the precise words, at least in that order in which they were presented for the audience of the Sovereign Pontiff and the College of Cardinals.

*I find additional particulars regarding this translation, in the following account, taken from another source. In the year 1226, the body of St. Laurence was exhumed by the abbot Guy, in the presence of all the religious, the abbot of St. Victor of Paris, then at Eu, two nobles and two canons of Rouen, who had been sent by the archbishop and chapter of the latter city. The body, however, was not found in the same perfect state of preservation, as it had appeared to those who opened the coffin, forty years before, but the remains exhaled an agreeable odour, which gave the greatest possible delight and satisfaction to all those who were present. The head which was yet covered with hair, and the right arm were then removed and placed in separate reliquaries. The other remains were deposited in their resting place, after having been enveloped in fine linen, until the day appointed for the public and solemn translation of the relics. The 10th day of May, 1226, having arrived, Thibaut, archbishop of Rouen, Godfrey, bishop of Amiens, the abbot Guy, the prior of St. Victor and other ecclesiastics entered the vault where the remains of the saint reposed. Matins were then sung, before the remains were removed. The coffin or old shrine bearing the relics was then solemnly borne in procession to the church, on an ornamented bier. On the opening of the shrine, the remains were exposed for the veneration of the people, and afterwards deposited in a new shrine that had been prepared for their reception. The head and right arm of the saint were also exposed. In fine, the shrine having been closed and sealed, it was carried processionally through the city. All the inhabitants wept tears of joy on witnessing these ceremonies, and in reflecting that their city had been enriched by such a treasure. On the return of the processionists, the shrine was placed on a large table covered with rich tapestry, and it rested within the choir, before the great altar of the church. A white canopy covered the shrine. The people were enabled to satisfy their devotion during the Mass which was then sung, and towards its close, the archiepiscopal blessing was imparted to them. The annual celebration of this festival of the translation of our saint's relics continues to the present time in the city of Eu, and a numerous concourse of the citizens and people of the surrounding districts always assist at the solemnity.-MS, Etat des Reliques de St. Laurent d'Eu, pp. 4, 5.

After the solemn translation of our saint's relics in 1226, they were placed within the choir of the church of Notre-Dame at Eu, and were preserved as the richest treasures of the church and city, until the end of the last century, when the French Revolution took place. The sacred remains, in detatched portions, were enclosed within four different reliquaries. The first case contained the cranium or upper part of the head, which was affixed to an artificial bust, but placed in its natural position. The head was crowned with a mitre, and seemed to incline in the attitude of salutation and benediction, when carried in solemn procession. There is a picture in the chapel of St. Laurence O'Toole at Eu, which is placed under the organ, and which represents the ancient bust, which was encased in a shrine of massive silver, given by the canons regular of St. Laurence, towards the year 1650. In the latter shrine it was placed by Monsignore François de Harley, archbishop of Rouen, it having been contained before that time within a round reliquary of wood, ornamented with silver and gilding, and which rested on four pedestals. The second case enclosed the right arm of the saint, and was shaped in conformation with the relic it contained. It is not known with certainty, that this relic is preserved; but it is said, that amongst the old furniture of the church there is an arm contained in wood, which is gilt and hollowed within; this covering, it is supposed, most probably contained the precious remains of our saint. The third case enclosed another bone of St. Laurence, which probably formed the upper part of the right arm already mentioned. This relic was placed in a chrystal vase, and was enclosed in a box of silver, which is also richly gilt. Finally, the fourth case or shrine contained the whole body of the saint, with the exception of the parts already mentioned, and some small portions which were given to several religious houses, and among others, to the abbey of St. Victor of Paris. The Jesuit fathers, Briard and Edmond Massé, when setting out on their American mission, carried with them some of the bones of St. Laurence O'Toole, and a portion of his garments; and they are said to have performed miracles, the dead being even raised to life when touched by these relics. The last named reliquary is of wood, richly covered with plates of gold and silver, and studded with precious stones.
In course of time, the feast of the translation of the holy confessor's relics became a great solemnity at the abbey of Eu, which, by degrees, took the name of the venerable guest that had formerly visited it. However, the abbey reverted to its original title of Notre-Dame, whilst the parish in which it stands is named, La paroisse de Saint Laurent, in honour of the saint, who is the special patron of Eu. At the present day, the people of this city celebrate the festivals of St. Laurence O'Toole and of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin with equal solemnity. The body of the holy confessor, reposing in its rich shrine, was placed upon four columns of red marble. The ravages of the Huguenots of Dieppe, in 1562, most probably destroyed these sacred objects of art; for, at the period of the French revolution, they no longer existed. In the archives of the department, and in an inventory of the abbey made by the Prior Campanon, in 1790, it is said, that the shrine of St. Laurence was placed behind the high altar, and protected by a balcony of iron. The head of the saint was kept in a shrine of wood of a dark colour, and the two arms were in wood, covered with some plates of silver.

For a long time, a relic of St. Laurence, was preserved in the abbey of Eu: this was the chalice with which the blessed archbishop had been accustomed to celebrate the divine mysteries. For some centuries after his death, those afflicted patients who made a pilgrimage to his tomb, were in the habit of drinking from it. In 1408, this relic was stolen, but shortly afterwards recovered. A second time, however, it was taken away by the Huguenots of Dieppe, in the month of July, 1562, and afterwards was not restored.

Rev. John O’Hanlon, The Life of St. Laurence O'Toole, Archbishop of Dublin and Delegate Apostolic of the Holy See, for the Kingdom of Ireland, (Dublin, 1877).

Finally, I might add that Canon O'Hanlon dedicated his Life of St. Laurence O'Toole to the then Archbishop of Dublin, Paul Cullen, D.D. An anonymous reviewer of a novena to Saint Laurence described how the Irish prelate was left in no doubt about the strength of the devotion to Saint Laurence in Normandy:

Cardinal Cullen, who filled the double office which the patron-saint of Dublin filled in his day -Archbishop of Dublin and Apostolic Delegate -  made a pilgrimage once to his predecessor's shrine at Eu, in Normandy. The Archbishop of Rouen expressed his willingness to transfer the relics of St. Laurence to Dublin; but he added, "when your Grace comes to translate them from Eu, you will require at least two regiments of infantry, a few squadrons of cavalry, and a small park of artillery; for my good people have such a veneration for your saint, who is the protector of their city, that they will only yield up his relics to superior force."

The Irish Monthly, Volume 8, No. 89 (November 1880), p. 628.

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Wednesday 8 May 2024

Saint Comgall of Bangor, May 10


May 10 is the feast of Saint Comgall of Bangor, founder of the great monastic school at Bangor, County Down. An account of Saint Comgall and his monastic school by Archbishop John Healy is also available at the blog here, but below is a reminder of his career from a post first published at my previous blog in 2009:

Into the other world's realm of peace,
wherein is every temple's noise,
may the hostful one convey us,
Comgall the gifted, of Bangor.

 Thus does the Martyrology of Oengus record the feast of Saint Comgall, in its entry for May 10. The later Martyrology of Donegal also pays this master of the ascetic life a handsome tribute:


COMHGALL, Abbot of Bennchor-Uladh. He is of the race of Irial, son of Conall Cearnach. A man full of the grace of God and of His love was this man. A man who fostered and educated very many other saints, as he kindled and lighted up an unquenchable fire of the love of God in their hearts, and in their minds, as is evident in the old books of Erin. Cuimin, of Condoire, says that it was every Sunday only that Comhgall used to eat food. Thus, he says, in the poem which begins “Patrick of the fort of Macha loves, & etc:

“Comhgall, head of Uladh, loves,
Noble is every name that he named,
A blessing on the body of the sage,
Every Sunday he used to eat.”

The Life of Ciaran, of Cluain, states, that the order of Comhgall was one of the eight orders that were in Erin.

A very old vellum book, which is already referred to at Brighit (1st of February), states, that Comhgall, of Bennchor, had a similarity in habits and life to James the Apostle, &c.

He sat ten days and three months and fifty years in the abbacy. His whole age was ninety years, A.D. 600.

Canon O'Hanlon records that there are a number of surviving Vitae of the saint in manuscripts in Irish, English and Belgian libraries. He summarized a variety of sources in his lengthy account of Saint Comgall in Volume V of his Lives of the Irish Saints, from which the following has been distilled:

Although of humble parentage, yet, it seems that St. Comgall descended from the race of Irial, son to Conall Cearnach. His father Sethna was a soldier attached to the Prince of Dailnariade. He was a descendant from Aradius, the founder of that renowned family. Following the family pedigree, he was ninth in descent from Fiacha Araidhe. According to some accounts, St. Comgall was born, A.D. 506, 510, or 511; others have A.D. 513 ; while some writers place his birth, at A.D. 516, or 517. His birth occurred, in a northern part of the province of Ulster in a region known as Dailnaraidhe, or Dalaradia.. in the territory of Magheramorne in the eastern part of Antrim County. At a time, when his father was advanced in years, this birth is stated to have occurred. Being an only son, Comgall was much loved by his parents, from the very moment of his birth. The boy's parents dedicated him to God's service, thus imitating the action of Anna, with regard to Samuel, and from the very moment of his birth, he seemed to grow in grace and wisdom. One day, while our saint reposed near a heap of stones, and in a field where he laboured, a deep slumber ensued. Then his mother, who came to the place, saw a pillar of fire, resting on the boy, and extending towards Heaven. She was alarmed at this portent, and knew not what she should do; she feared to approach, and yet she felt very unwilling to leave her son. While waiting to learn the result, her child awoke, his face emitting an extraordinary brilliancy. Then, Comgall said to his anxious guardian, " Fear not, mother, for I am in no manner injured, by this celestial fire. Yet, take care, you do not relate this vision to any person, during these days". This command his mother observed, for a time; but, she related what she had seen, at a subsequent period. Another time, Comgall is related, to have said to his father, while they were walking, through a field, "Father, we should leave this land with its cares." His father, not agreeing in such opinion, the boy said, " Do you, dear father, cultivate this little farm, but I will go and seek from the Lord another portion of land, larger and more productive." It is said, that St. Comgall was required as a substitute for his father, who was already old, in a war, which the Dailnaraidian prince was about to wage against his enemies. Although, unwilling to engage in warfare, our saint took up arms, to satisfy the desire of his parents ; but, willing to save his servant's hands and eyes from participating in scenes of bloodshed, so distasteful to the young conscript, the Almighty effected peace between both parties, thus preserving the soul and body of his chosen one from every danger.

When St. Comgall resolved on abandoning the secular habit, and on assuming that of an ecclesiastic, he received the rudiments of learning from a cleric, who lived in a country house. However, the life of this tutor did not tend to edification. The pupil undertook to correct the irregularities of his master, in the following symbolical manner. While the professor spent one of his nights in the commission of sin, Comgall betook himself to prayer, and practised other pious exercises he then met his teacher, on the following day, with a garment purposely soiled. On being reproved for this want of cleanliness, he returned the following reply: "Is it more dangerous, master, to have our garment soiled, than our soul? That defilement of soul and body, in which you spent last night, is worse than the condition of this habit." Although it silenced, this reproof, however, did not correct the vices of his master ; and, hence, our saint resolved on leaving him, and those scenes of his early youth. Comgall wished to place himself under the direction of a most holy instructor. Having directed his course toward Leix territory, in a northern part of the southern Leinster province, he there found an asylum, in the celebrated monastery of Clonenagh... There, St. Fintan ruled over that monastery, at the foot of the Slebh Bloom Mountain range. Having placed himself under direction of St. Fintan, Comgall entered upon a course of penance and labour. But, the devil tempted him strongly, to regret the choice he had made, in embracing this course of life, and in leaving his own part of the country. However, he related this temptation to St. Fintan, and the latter prayed for his disciple, who at that time stood near a cross, on the western side of Clonenagh monastery. Tears fell down his cheeks, and while intent on prayer, suddenly a light from Heaven surrounded him. Comgall's heart was filled with spiritual joy, and from that time forward, he felt no recurrence of his former temptation.

He spent a considerable time in Clonenagh. At length, St. Fintan required our saint to revisit his own part of the country, that he might found religious cells, or houses, and preside over their inmates. St. Comgall remained without sacred orders for many years, he being unwilling through humility to receive them. Having obtained St. Fintan's benediction and prayers, with some companions, he set out on a visit to St. Kieran of Clonmacnoise. With him, it is said, Comgall remained for some time, and while there, he was greatly distinguished for his sanctity. Afterwards, St. Comgall directed his course homewards, where he was ordained a deacon, with the advice of numerous clerics, by St. Lugid, whose identity has not been discovered. After some interval, our saint, having been advanced to the sacerdotal grade, went around his own part of the country. Everywhere he preached the Gospel among the people. Wishing to lead a life of greater perfection, St. Comgall became the inhabitant of an Island, in Lough Erne, where he led a most austere life. Placing themselves under his direction, certain monks endeavoured to emulate his austerities. But, in this effort, seven of them died, through the effects of cold and hunger. Hearing of such circumstance, other religious men entreated our saint, to relax his excessive rigours, towards himself and those monks under his charge. Yet, while he permitted his monks to live, after the manner of other religious, Comgall refused to indulge personally in like relaxations, thus continuing his usual austerities. After remaining for some time in this place, the holy Abbot felt a desire to pass over into Britain, with the intention of remaining there ; but, the earnest entreaties of St. Lugidus, from whom he had received ordination, with those recommendations, given by other holy saints, induced him to abandon this design. Thus he remained in Ireland, to continue that great work of monastic propagandism, on which his thoughts had been earnestly engaged.

Those pious persons brought St. Comgall forth, from the place of his retreat, that he might commence a work, for which he seemed specially destined. The pious servant of God began to found cells and monasteries, in different parts of the country. Especially did he regard that beautiful site, where the Inver-Beg, or the "Little River Beg," falls into Belfast Lough, at its opening towards the sea. On its banks did St. Comgall resolve to found his great establishment, which in after times became so renowned as the monastery of Bennchor. This was the place, now known as the town of Bangor, situated at the indentation of a bay, bearing the same name. In a short time, so great a number of monks flocked to his establishment, that they could not find accommodation in this monastery. Our saint thereupon was obliged to build other houses, not only in the northern province, but, even in other provinces of Ireland. Many thousand monks are said to have lived, under his rule and discipline. Of all these houses, however, Bangor monastery was the most celebrated, and the largest ; and here, in course of time, a city grew around this hive of religious wisdom and sanctity.According to some accounts, St. Comgall commenced the foundation of a monastic institute and church, at this place, in the year 551 or 552; others have it, at 554, 559, and 561. Here, for fifty years, the holy superior ruled over his large community, with great sanctity, and keeping a most perfect monastic discipline. He wrought many miracles, and some of these are given, in different Acts, as published by the Bollandists...

As the time of our saint's death approached, he was afflicted with much suffering. He specially laboured under a total deafness. He also endured much pain, from retention of urine. In such a state of suffering he continued, from the commencement of winter to the time of Pentecost, in the year following. Some were of opinion, that God thus afflicted him, on account of the intolerable and austere rule, he had imposed on his monks. Others said, that these pains were unwillingly endured by him now, owing to the excessive and insensate rigour he had formerly imposed on himself, by choice; and again, other conjectures of a different kind were hazarded. In the meantime, St. Meldan, an Abbot, who was descended from the Scots' nation, was sent from Heaven, to a certain holy monk, named Colman. Meldan spoke to him as follows, and while he was asleep: "Not for the reasons men assign are so many pains inflicted on St Comgall, however real their causes, but for his love of Christ has he suffered, that he may receive an increase of merit. For, as he innocently suffers pain with men, so in the sight of Angels shall he rejoice, being crowned with many unfading joys and rewards. As the last days of our saint were evidently fast approaching, the monks frequently requested him, to receive Holy Eucharist, and other necessary sacraments. Comgall replied to these requests: " I shall receive the Holy Sacrament from the hands of no person, until St. Fiachra's arrival. He is an Abbot of the Leinster province, who is sent to me, by God." At this time, the Angel of the Lord visited St. Fiachra, whose monastery was situated on the banks of the River Barrow, and this holy Abbot was sent to our saint, then suffering great pain, to administer to him the Body and Blood of Christ. According to other accounts, our saint received the Holy Viaticum from St. Fiachra, Abbot of Clonard. Having arrived at Bangor, he immediately administered Holy Communion to the venerable Abbot, who had now attained the eightieth—or according to some accounts the ninetieth—year of his age. According to other accounts, he was then in the eighty-fifth year. Then, Fiachra asked St. Comgall for some relics. This request the holy Abbot's disciples promised should be complied with; when, in the presence of many venerable men, St. Comgall yielded up his spirit to the great Creator. His demise occurred, on the sixth of the May Ides, about the year 600 or 601. The Rev. Dr. Reeves places his death, at A.D. 602. Yet, do we find a different account in the "Chronicum Scotorum," under A.D. 602 ; in which year, it is stated, that he rested on the 6th of the Ides of May, in the fiftieth year, third month, and tenth day, of his government, as also, in the ninety-first year of his age. In the first of St. Comgall's Lives, as published by the Bollandists, he is said to have died, in the eightieth year of his age.

With much honour, he was interred in his own renowned monastery at Bangor. Sometime having elapsed, after St. Comgall's death,the St. Fiachra, already named, came to the monastery of Bangor. The remains of Comgall having been disentombed with much reverence, Fiachra removed an arm of our saint, which he brought with him, proceeding on towards the province of Leinster. While pursuing his journey through this province, he stopped at the castle of a chief, who was named Aedus. He requested the saint, to baptize one of his children. Fiachra opened his wallet, to remove a book containing the Baptismal rite. Immediately, the arm of St. Comgall was raised towards Heaven. After Fiachra's fasting and prayer, offered on bended knees, it then descended, and disappeared beneath the earth. For three days, the soil was searched, by digging over this spot; but, the relic could not be discovered. On seeing this, the chieftain Aedus gave in perpetuity a donation of his castle and lands; and here, St. Fiachra built a large monastery, in honour of St. Comgall, and of the Most Holy Trinity. On the plundering of Bangor, by the Danes, in the year of our Lord 822, the oratory there was broken, and the relics of St. Comgall were shaken from the shrine, in which they had been preserved. They were afterwards removed to Antrim.

The ancient office for St. Comgall's feast was one of Nine Lessons, as we find entered, in the Antiphonary of the Culdees, belonging to the Armagh Metropolitan Church, where the calendar list occurs, at the vi. Of the May Ides. There is an office, with Proper Lessons, and set down as a Duplex Majus, in Bishop De Burgo's "Officia Propria Sanctorum Hiberniae."

In all our ancient calendars, we find notices of St. Comgall set down for the 10th of May... In Scotland, the Abbot St. Comgall was held in great veneration, on the 10th of May, as we find recorded, in the Martyrology of Aberdeen, and his merits have been extolled with high eulogy. This was the case, especially at the monastery of Drumcongal, which doubtless derived its denomination from him. The churches of Dercongal, or Holywood, and of Durris, were dedicated to this saint. His feast is also entered in the Kalendars of Drummond, de Nova Farina, of Aberdeen, and of Dempster.


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Tuesday 7 May 2024

Irish Monasteries in Germany: Honau


Below is a paper by Father J.F. Hogan on the Irish monastery at Honau, one of a series on Irish Monasteries in Germany published by the Irish Ecclesiastical Record in the late nineteenth century.  The contribution made by the medieval Irish to continental European culture and Christian civilization was rediscovered during the Irish  cultural revival of the nineteenth century.  County Clare native Father John Francis Hogan (1858–1918), who had studied at the University of Freiburg, was well placed to bring the particular legacy of the Schottenklöster to the attention of an Irish audience. Honau is perhaps one of the lesser-known Irish monasteries in Germany which seems to have ended up a few centuries later under the Canons Regular of Old St. Peter's in Strasburg, where Father Hogan tells us its Irish abbots were venerated as saints. I note that the Irish abbot Beatus of Honau had become entangled with the 'Apostle of Switzerland' of the same name. We Irish can of course claim the honour of that title for Saint Gall, disciple of Saint Columbanus:



HONAU or Hohenaugia is an island in the Rhine, not far from Strasburg in which a monastery was established  in the year 724. The site of the monastery was granted  by the Ethicos, Dukes of Alsace. Adalbert, who is sometimes, though incorrectly, mentioned as its founder,  richly endowed it. It was further enriched by grants and  privileges from the sons of Adalbert, Luitfrid and Eberhard. The importance of the establishment can be judged from the  charters granted to it at various times which are happily preserved by Mabillon. One of these charters, drawn up by the Abbot Beatus, is signed by eight Irish bishops. It makes over and bequeaths to the monastery and to the  'pauperes et peregrinos gentis Scottorum' not only the  buildings, lands, chattels, and appurtenances of Honau itself, but also the right and title to eight churches that had been  erected in different parts of the German Empire by the zeal  of those 'Pilgrim fathers.' 

The first abbot of the monastery was Benedict, also  called Tubanus. He dedicated his establishment to St.  Michael the Archangel. Unfortunately, we know nothing  about his personal history beyond the fact that he was a  Scot, and the first abbot of this 'Schottenklöster.' He  was succeeded as abbot by Dubanus, Dubanus by Thomas, Thomas by Stephen, Stephen by Beatus. Beatus was the most remarkable of the Abbots of Honau. According to  the learned German historian, Friederich, he is the same who evangelized a good part of Switzerland, founded the monastery of Beromünster, near Lucerne, of Yberg in the  Canton of Schweitz, and built up several other establishments in Unterwalden and over the Brünig in the Bernese Oberland, where his name is still commemorated in the famous Beatenhohle, and in the town of St. Beatenberg, over the Lake of Thun.

Most valuable privileges were granted to Honau by various princes; but the most remarkable of them was the charter of Charlemagne, which confirmed to the monastery all donations previously made 'by kings or queens or other servants of God’ and exempted it from tolls and several other imposts then in force amongst the people. It furthermore declares that these pilgrim monks are not to be molested or interfered with in any way, and that all these lands and possessions are to belong to them and to their countrymen, to the exclusion of all others: 'an interesting record' as Dr. Todd remarks, 'of the high esteem and favour in which  the Irish of the Continent were held at that time by the greatest monarch of the west.

But the most important document that has come down to us in connection with the history of this institution, is the charter, or, rather, the will of the Abbot Beatus. This document, besides the intrinsic value of its contents, is attested and authenticated by the signatures of the abbot (in the first place), and of eight bishops whose names, as Zeuss has shown clearly indicate their nationality. The signatures are: —

Signum Beati Abbatis, qui hanc chartam fieri rogavit.

Signum Comgani Episcopi. 

Signum Echoch Episcopi.

Signum Suathar Episcopi.

Signum Mancunigib Episcopi.

Signum Caincomrihc Episcopi.

 Signum Doilgusso Episcopi.

 Signum Erdomnach Episcopi.

 Signum Hemeni Episcopi. 

Dr. Todd endeavoured to make capital out of these signatures, in favour of his contention that there was no such thing as diocesan jurisdiction in Ireland before the twelfth century, and no canonical restriction whatever to the consecration of bishops. According to him the abbot who was not a bishop at all, simply consecrated whomsoever he pleased; and the bishops thus consecrated looked up to the abbot, as the head of a sept, according to the Brehon code, looked up to a chieftain. This theory was developed and formally put forward by Dr. Todd in his Life of St. Patrick. No doubt the early organization of the Celtic Church outside the monasteries is involved in great obscurity. This arises evidently from the fact that the records have perished. Those of the monasteries alone have come down to us, and they deal naturally with the organization of monastic rather than of secular life. The great, and indeed, predominating, part which the monasteries played in the religious life of Ireland may be readily conceded; yet Mgr. Gargan, now happily ruling as President of Maynooth College, had little difficulty in showing that the bishops who lived and laboured in the monasteries, under the rule of the abbot, were merely 'Chorepiscoi ' subject to the external jurisdiction of the  ordinaries who ruled and governed then as they do now. There is no proof worth the least consideration that such bishops were consecrated by one who was merely an abbot, but not a bishop. The case mentioned by Wasserschleben of Gregory of Utrecht, is by no means clearly established.

This learned German shows, moreover, in his own work, that the privilege of having resident bishops in the monasteries, ready at any moment to administer the Sacraments of Confirmation and Orders, was derived directly from the Holy See, and was much availed of in countries far distant from the seat of authority, at a time when direct communication with Rome was difficult and uncertain. As an instance he quotes the privilege granted by Pope Adrian I. to the monastery of St. Denis in France, in the year 771.

The fact that eight different churches are mentioned as having been erected by the monks in different localities in Germany would, on this principle, readily account for the eight bishops who signed the charter. One of these churches was in the city of Mayence, one at Hawenback, one at Bubenheim, one at Bodesheim, one at Bochenn, one at Lognau, one at Hurmusa, and one at what is called Sylvia in Marchlichio.

Grandidier, and after him Rettberg, mention a monastery of Luttenbach to which Abbot Beatus sent eighteen Irish monks, and which subsequently became a flourishing establishment. In some of the Codices of the Charter of Beatus, Luttenbach is mentioned as merely another name for ‘Silvia in Marchlichio’.  All these churches founded from Honau were situated according to some in the Palatinate of the Rhine. Others identify Beronia with Beromünster, in the diocese of Constance and find traces of a monastery of Lautenbach in the ancient diocese of Basle. This has led them to the conclusion that Abbot Beatus of Hohenau is the same who is venerated as the Apostle of Switzerland. The dates, however, will scarcely admit such an inference. The question is discussed at great length by Lutolf, the Swiss historian, who regards the Swiss Beatus as an Irishman, no doubt, but advances solid evidence to show that he could not have been the same as Beatus of Honau.

The successor of Beatus as abbot was Egidanus. He was probably the last of the abbots of Honau; in the reign of Charles the Gross the whole establishment was transferred to Rheinau, and afterwards to the Canons Regular of Old St. Peter's in Strasburg, where the Irish abbots of Honau were venerated as saints. It was a canon of this establishment, named Jean le Labourer,  who communicated to Mabillon the important documents relating to the history of Honau, which have been preserved in the Annals of the Benedictine Order.


The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume IV, (1898), 265-269.

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Thursday 21 March 2024

A Week on the Isles of Arran

March  21 is the feast  of Saint Enda of Aran, one of the founding fathers of Irish monasticism.  His island home became more accessible during the Victorian era with the provision of a bi-weekly steamer service from Galway.  Last year I posted the moving account of episcopal visitor Bishop George Conroy of Ardagh, published after his sudden death in 1877. It is available on the blog here. Twenty years later a female traveller, Laura Grey, boarded the 'well-appointed steamer' at Galway and arrived three hours later on Aran of the Saints. I first encountered Laura Grey in connection with my blog on the Irish martyrs, as The Irish Rosary periodical had published one of her papers on Dominican martyr of Cashel, Father Richard Barry. That paper can be read here. I am very keen to find out more about this lady, she clearly had a link to the Dominican order (was she perhaps a tertiary?) and I wondered if 'Laura Grey' was a pseudonym. She would seem to have been a lady of some means too as four years before her excursion to Aran she had published an account of her visit to the Dominican Abbey of Our Lady of Thanks at Youghal, which is available to read at my other site here. She begins her article on Aran with a description of the island and its inhabitants. It's interesting from a social history point of view in that first she describes how the modern world is encroaching on Aran and secondly she testifies to the developing tourist industry, describing how 'the visitor can engage neat apartments in one or two cottages on the large island. The tariff is most moderate and the food excellent'. Fascinating though this is, I have chosen to omit the first part of the paper in order to concentrate on what Laura Grey has to tell us about Saint Enda and  his saintly students. The volume is available, however,  from the Internet Archive where the paper may be read in full:


Laura Grey.

Midway, where the Atlantic Ocean lashes on one side the coast of Clare, and on the other the rocky headlands of Connemara, the Isles of Arran lie. Arranmore, or the great island; Innismaan, or the middle island, and Innishere, or the eastern or southern island. Although all three islands bristle with Christian and pagan antiquities, the tourist will naturally turn towards Arranmore, the largest of the group, and ask its past history...

But the writer must hasten on to contemplate these islands in the fifth century, when St. Enda first landed and steered his currach into Killeaney Bay, where he lived, labored, and died, leaving behind him a school of anchorites that earned for Arran the Celtic epithet, “Arran-na-Naomh,” Arran of the Saints. 


St. Enda (pronounced Enna), the patron of Arran, came of royal Irish blood, being the son of Conall Derg, king of Oriel. His father’s territory extended from Lough Erne in Fermanagh, to the sea at Dundalk. Conall Derg beame a convert to the Christian faith preached by St. Patrick, and during the saint’s lifetime renounced his kingdom and became a recluse.

His son, Enda, succeeded to the crown, and like most youths of the time, indulged in the rough pastimes of his father’s court. He went hawking and hunting, and making warlike raids on the neighboring chieftains who invaded his domains.

He had two sisters, one named Darenia, married to AEngus, king of Munster, whom St. Patrick baptized, and another named Fanchea, who at an early age left her home to join a religious Community near the present town of Enniskillen, in the County Fermanagh.

On one occasion, Enda set forth with his clansmen to chastise a refractory chief, and passed by his sister’s oratory en route. Looking over the low stone wall which bordered the enclosure, he beheld Fanchea and her novices at prayer. One of them was a most beautiful maiden, and Enda secretly longed to carry her off to be his wife. He bided his opportunity, and when the heat of the battle was over, he retraced his steps towards his sister’s retreat, and demanded the maiden in marriage.

Fanchea forbade him to approach near her, saying his hands were stained with human blood, and he was unworthy to enter the sacred enclosure. Enda in defence, urged that it was his duty to defend himself against the inroads of his enemies, and concluded in these words:

“I have not killed any man with my own hands, nor yet have I sinned with women.”

Fanchea, perceiving it became useless to bandy words with her warrior-brother, called the maiden aside, and addressed her thus:

"My sister, a choice is given you to-day. Wilt thou love the Spouse whom I love, or rather a carnal spouse?”

“ I will always love thy Spouse,” replied the maiden.

Fanchea told her to lie down on her couch, and cast a veil over her face. Then calling Enda into the cell, she removed the veil, and brother and sister saw the girl was dead.

Enda burst into lamentations, whilst Fanchea stood by and spoke to him of the shortness of life and the certainty of death. Her words bore fruit. The prince rose from his knees, swept aside his tears, and vowed he would renounce his kingdom, and become a recluse.

Before embracing his new vocation he built a high rampart of earth round his sister’s cloister, to prevent outsiders from invading her privacy, and then he set forth to save his own soul, and those of others. The remains of this rampart may still be traced.

After divers rambles through his native land, Britain, and even Rome, Enda returned to Ireland, and sought for some remote spot where he might live and die.

His brother-in-law, Aengus, hearing of his desire, offered him the Isles of Arran, over which he ruled as king. Enda gladly accepted, and in the year 484 crossed over from Garomna island on the Galway coast, and cast his lot on the rugged shores which were to be the scene of his many triumphs and labors. Into Killeaney Bay, since called after him ( Kill, a church, Enny of Enda), he steered his currach.

By the wild waves he takes his last rest under a leac, or flag, which is usually covered by the shifting sand. One hundred and twenty-seven saints sleep around him in the same churchyard, guarding the oratory of their spiritual father, who dwelt “in his prison of hard, narrow stone ” for more than sixty years. Tradition points to a curious rock on the sea-shore, and tells us that St. Enda’s currach was turned into stone on his landing. The miracle foreshadowed to the saint that his boat had taken her last voyage, and that he was destined never to quit the isles of Arran.

And so it came to pass, for although the islands were frequently visited by Irish saints, the founder of Arran remained true to his home in the ocean. Early in St. Enda’s history, we find St. Brendan, the navigator, visiting Arran previous to his departure on the Western Main to discover America.

St. Finian of Clonard, next passed the way, and paused to take counsel from the saintly hermit whose fame for sanctity was rapidly lighting up the West.

Even the great Columbcill “ of the fiery soul,” heard of Enda, and hastened to join the ranks of his disciples.

He ground the corn and herded the sheep, unconscious of the bloody field of Cuil-Dreimhe which was to be expiated by him in after years by a lifetime of penance on Iona.

At St. Enda’s command he left Arran, lamenting over his departure in the words which Aubrey de Vere has translated from Irish Odes

"Farewell to Arran Isle; 
farewell  I steer for Hy— my heart is sore; 
The breakers burst, the billows swell, 
Twixt Arran Isle and Alba’s shore.”

During St. Columbcille’s sojourn in Arran, St. Ciaran, “ the carpenter’s son,” visited the islands. For three years he lived amongst the anchorites, built his church, blessed the sparkling well which bears his name, and finally set sail for Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon, where he was to found his monastery. Amongst its many ancient churches, Arran holds none quainter or more devotional than St. Ciaran’s.

Overhanging the bay, which still retains the saint’s name, the four roofless walls stand. The altar is there at which he celebrated Mass, and his narrow cell, which communicated with the church through a window overlooking the altar. Window, church, and cell are intact, and attract the devotion of the Catholic, and the curiosity of the tourist.

One morning our saint came to St. Enda, and related to him a dream which he had dreamt the night before. He beheld a gigantic oak tree which overshadowed a broad plain, and touched the ground with its numerous branches. Panting for a reply, the youthful Ciaran watched the tears gather in the eyes of the aged Enda, and a gloomy foreboding seized him that his hour of departure from Arran was nigh. After a moment of silent prayer, St. Enda read the dream. He told his companion that the oak symbolized himself (St. Ciaran), whose name would cover the plains by the Shannon with glory, like the overweighted oak-tree which was bowed to the ground with its load of foliage. “ Thou must leave Arran, my son,” pursued the patriarch.  Into yonder creek thou shalt steer thy currach, and God will direct thy footsteps into the interior of the country, where a winding river flows. There shalt thy name draw many souls into God’s vineyard, and the shadow of thy virtues will overcast the plains, like the oak thou hast seen in thy dream.”

Waving his hand towards the Connemara coast opposite Arran, St. Enda pointed out the bay now called Kilkerran, and Ciaran knew he should make ready to cross the strait which separated him from the mainland. St. Enda and his anchorites congregated on the shore to bid him farewell, and we are told that the Founder of Arran laid his hand on the bowed head of Ciaran, and blessed him and the monasteries he should build. It was to be the last meeting on earth of the two saints — the aged and the young.

St. Ciaran’s career was destined to be brief and glorious, and he was to precede St. Enda to the tomb by many years. He was aged twenty-seven at the time he left Arran, and six years ahead would find him dying of the pestilence at Clonmacnoise, with St. Kevin of Glendalough holding before his fading sight the Holy Viaticum.

St. Kevin and St. Ciaran had met at Arran, and cemented a friendship which never died out. A brother of the first-named saint, also named Keevin , is buried on the middle island of Arran. 

Most of the Irish saints visited the islands at some period of their lives. St. Carthagh of Lismore, St. Yarlath of Tuam, and a host of others could be named had we space to prolong our researches into the Christian past of Arran. The three islands bristle with remains of their saintly footsteps.

The church of the “four beautiful saints’ may be quoted, where four flat slabs marked the graves of four hermits, who lived a life of common prayer, officiated at the same adjacent little church, and were laid side by side when they died.

Kilronan, the chief village on Arran Mor, derives its name from St. Ronan, whose grave is still shown. He was a disciple of St. Enda’s, but nothing more is known of him.

About forty years ago the tomb of another saint was discovered, named Brecan. His little church formerly stood surrounded by six other churches, which earned for the group the title of the “ Seven Churches.” Only one of the seven remains, Tempull a Phuill, to tell where the others flourished.

We find another disciple of St. Enda’s, St. Colman McDuagh, utilizing an old fort of the Firbolgs, and converting the deserted stronghold into cells for his Community. Round about the pagan fort a cluster of other churches grew up, and the place is known under the name of Kilmurvey.

Close to the seashore, between the village of Kilronan and the church of the four beauties, tradition points to a cluster of ruins said to have been once the abode of religious women who lived under St. Enda’s direction. A female saint, whose name the writer forgets, is buried on the middle island.

St. Enda’s days, and those of his followers, were filled with prayer and manual labor. The hours fled by, diversified by prayer, tilling the ground, and the study of the Scriptures.

Each Community had its own church, where the brethren assembled for public devotions, and each Brother took his meals in the common refectory, and cooked them in the common kitchen. They lived like the first Christians, having all things equally divided. Thus their peaceful lives sped on, undisturbed by any noise from without, except the wild roar of the Atlantic Ocean.

St. Enda himself never tasted meat, though he allowed his disciples to kill a sheep on great festival days for themselves and their visitors. Each monk slept in bee-hive cell, or cloghaun, and wore the same garments during the hours of repose, as he had done in the daytime. The pallet was of straw, or the bare ground, and a rug was the covering by night.

The Community sowed the arid soil with wheat, rye, and oats, or fished round the coast to secure their frugal meals. In this manner they supported themselves by the sweat of their brows. When the crops had been gathered into the rude barns, they were ground by a quern, or kneaded into meal and baked for general consumption.

St. Enda divided the islands into ten portions, and placed a superior over each Community, who was bound in his turn to acknowledge the Saint of Arran as superior.

At stated times, St. Enda made a visitation of his insular territory, and saw that his rule of life was enforced in its primitive vigor.

He died at the advanced age of one hundred years, in the year 540. He was buried in his oratory close to the sea, called after his grave, Teglach Enda, meaning tomb of Enda. From his last resting-place the present village of Killeaney takes its name, being derived from the Irish words Kill Enda, Church of Enda.

Part II. of our sketch of the Arran isles has come to a close. Dr. Healy, the present Catholic Bishop of Clonfert, in his admirable work on “Ireland’s Ancient Schools and Scholars,’' pays a well-earned tribute to Arran, and the saints who dwelt there.

A perusal of his book induced the present writer to take ship from Galway in the August of 1896, and visit these far Western islands. She trusts others may follow her example, and if this sketch of Arran stimulates them to do so, she has had her reward.

THE ROSARY MAGAZINE, Volume 11, August, 1897, 147-155.


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Sunday 17 March 2024

Saint Patrick's Day

Research for this blog has led me to read a great deal of amateur poetry published in the popular religious press of the Victorian era. Whilst much of it is of no great literary merit, I am nevertheless interested in the sentiments expressed as they indicate attitudes towards the Irish saints held at the time. What struck me about the offering below, published in the American monthly The Pilgrim of Our Lady of Martyrs in 1899, was that although the poem is entitled Saint Patrick's Day, our national patron is curiously not the main protagonist. Instead the author, known only as M. L. M., starts off by praising the Irish saints collectively and the fame they have brought to the insula sanctorum. I am not sure where the number 500 for the saints has originated, since that can be multiplied by three, but I like how s/he then goes on to see the innumerable Irish  martyrs and confessors clustering around them.  The final verse reminds us this piece was written in the days of the national revival as the poet addresses Ireland itself as a 'brave motherland' and asks the Irish saints to hasten the dawning of freedom: 


HAIL, Saints of Ireland, peerless band!
A brighter crown than that which gleams
Upon St. Patrick's brow.
Five hundred names are flashing there
Of heroes, faith-renowned;
Thro’ them thy fame, O Isle of Saints,
Has circled earth around.

But who may count those other lights
That cluster round each star —
The Martyrs and Confessors brave
Through centuries of war?
Unknown to earth their humble names;
But well do angels know,
And chant them in the strains that blend
Their Church with ours below.

Mother of many nations! Thou
To God hast brought them forth;
No King, or Caesar's patronage,
Has helped that second birth.
The Irish priest worked in the strength
Born of St. Patrick's sod —
His title held from Rome, his wealth,
A boundless trust in God.

Like Mary in rude Bethlehem,
Thy glory is unseen;
Like Mary, too, on Calvary,
Thy tears have made thee Queen.
Brave Mother-land, full long thou'st borne
The Cross, with patient pain!
O Saints of Erin, speed from God
The dawn of Freedom's reign!

M. L. M.

The Pilgrim Of Our Lady Of Martyrs Vol. XV, 1899, 114

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