Saturday, 21 May 2022

Saint Colmán Lobhar of Moynoe, May 21

On May 21 we find the feast of Saint Colmán, one of a number of Irish saints to be described as lobhar, a 'leper'. The name Colmán is derived from Colum and along with a bewildering number of other variants is one of the most commonly found names on the Irish calendars of the saints. Our foremost modern hagiologist, Pádraig Ó Riain, has argued that many of these saints represent local manifestations of the cult of the most famous Colum of them all - Saint Colum Cille (Columba). Saint Colmán Lobhar of Moynoe, County Clare, might fit this theory. Canon O'Hanlon in Volume V of his Lives of the Irish Saints lists the evidence from the calendars and offers some observations on the nature of the 'leprosy' associated with our saint:

Article VII. St. Colman, Lobhar, or the Leper, of Magh-n-ec- or Moyne, County of Clare
In the"Feilire"of St.Aengus, the festival of "zealous Colman, a leper," is mentioned at this date;' and, therefore we may infer, that he flourished, at an early period, in the Irish church. His office is not known. The Martyrology of Tallagh registers this name, at the 21st of May. His place is called Maighe Eo. The Bollandists have a festival for Colmanus leprosus de Magh-eo, on the same authority; but, as they allege, little more can they find regarding him, except that Colgan refers Colmanus Lobhar and his feast to this date. Muighe-Eo—which was in Dal-Cais—must be distinguished from Mayo, in Connaught. Its fuller denomination was Maigh-neo-Norbhraighe, now known as Moynoe, or Mayno, an old church, which gives name to a parish, on the margin of Lough Derg, in the barony of Upper Tulla, and county of Clare. A church at this place had been burned by the Conmaicni, in 1084. This church is mentioned, also, in the Caithreim Toirdheal-bhaigh, or "Wars of Thomond," at the year 1318, as the hereditary termon of the Ui-Bloid. This day veneration was paid to Colman, Lobhar, or the Leper, of Magh-n-eo, in Dal-glais, as we find entered,in the Martyrology of Donegal. It  seems not improbable, that some of our saints, called Lepers, had not been afflicted with the same form of disease, known as leprosy, in certain countries at the present time; and, it is likely enough, that their malady was some form of erysipelas, or of a skin distemper, corresponding with the bodily infirmity to which allusion has been made.


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Tuesday, 17 May 2022

The Monk of Devenish

May 17 is the feast of Saint Siollan of Devenish, County Fermanagh, an account of whose life can be read at the blog here. Below is a short story called The Monk of Devenish published just over one hundred years ago in the Dominican periodical, The Irish Rosary, which is set in his island home. The popular religious press of this time regularly featured short stories or novels published in instalments which were intended to provide a more edifying alternative to the 'penny dreadfuls' of the secular world.  This short story features a female narrator who describes a visit to the ruins of Devenish where, despite her insistence that she is of a practical disposition and not given to 'imaginative experiences', finds herself gripped by gripped by a vision of the monastic community which once flourished there. The Monk of Devenish incorporates many of the familiar images of the preceding Victorian era's understanding of the 'Celtic Church' where the winds whistling through the lonely ruins of once vibrant monasteries act as a metaphor for a lost golden age.  The wistful, melancholy reaction of the boatman to the lady's experiences provides an appropriate response. This story, however, by its reference to  'Crummle' (Cromwell) also recalls the destruction of the monasteries at a later period of Irish history:

The Monk of Devenish.


IT was a lovely sunny day in September when I went down the long, narrow lane, with its whitewashed walls on either side, from Enniskillen's pretty town towards the stony shore of Lough Erne, where my boatman was awaiting me. Anything less eerie or suggestive of spirit influences I could hardly imagine than this brilliant and buoyant forenoon so reminiscent of the jubilant hours of young Spring. Nor was my quiet boatman in the least to be described as ghost-like in his conversation, and certainly not as regards his appearance, which was decidedly everyday, plain, and a little melancholy. My own disposition is generally regarded by my friends as belonging to the obviously practical and matter-of-fact category, and imaginative experiences have never been considered either by myself or by anyone else to be my forte. Thus equipped, I set out upon my reasonable entertainment of sailing a little among the islands of wide and lovely Lough Erne and of seeing a few of the greater, notably famed Devenish.
The sun sparkled upon the bluish silver waters of the lake with its thousand currents, both of air and of water, the soft green hills and the many green islets seemed to bask placidly in an atmosphere of peace, brightness and utter contentment. And my boatman, after gentle conversation regarding the town and any objects of interest about us, including a mild description of the blasting operations which hollowed out a deeper stone basin for this mighty lake and prevented its annual overflooding into the lower rooms of the houses of Enniskillen's island town, commenced at my request a legend or story concerning a castle's ruins, suggested by an ancient stronghold we had passed.

The boat glided onwards, never did my boatman's eye stray from his delicate task of piloting our little skiff among the many cross currents, while his soft voice poured out the history of the lords of the castle and some tale of heroism and terror of "Crummle's" days. And whether it were the magic of the brilliant sunlight which was too strong here among the thousand islands, where, in spite of the breezes crossing and re-crossing, one seemed to be shut in, whether it were the soft monotone of his voice, certainly my thoughts seemed to become as it were freed from the bounds of time and space and, by some enchantment, to roam in another world of deeper, more inward silences than even those of the sunlight, the waters and the green islets.
What, it seemed, was the use of speaking of the old monks who were gone they were not gone at all, their presence was like an atmosphere in this place of outward and inward silence. It was true one could not see them, the wattled huts, the stone churches and cells no longer peopled, the empty green isles, the very flowers hardly grew there any longer. But the monks were only round some bend, only hidden by a curve, they were there.

I came to suddenly; my thoughts had drowned me in a deep place of their own. The boatman was still speaking, the story was going on, but he looked at me curiously once or twice. 

"Now we have arrived, Madam," he said, navigating his boat with greater care than I had seen him use yet, "at the island of Devenish. As ye see, there are ruins there, and if you will just wait a few moments I will make the boat safe and then ye can go ashore and look at the ould church up there."

So it was done, and amid the tall rushes our boat was pulled up until she lay safely, and we went up the bank. There was little to see, as my guide did not fail to point out, upon the Holy Isle, but we looked at the ruined church, walked silently down its grassgrown length and looked into the peaceful enclosed space without, lying within its low grey walls of stones piled together by holy hands in the long ago. It had been, it seemed, the burying ground of Saints.

The winding stone stairway in the square tower attracted me, and I was told that I should find the upper chamber there closed by an iron railing and filled with pieces of masonry, stone head and remains. I said I would go up, and my boatman slipped out of the ancient building, informing me as he did so that he would wait on the green shores, but that he was within hailing distance. I assured him that I should be back again in a moment or two, and, obviously thinking me rather unwise, he left me.

He went, and I stood for a moment looking adown the nave of the small, ruined, but still holy fane. My boatman's feet made no sound on the green sward. I was alone, quite alone on this heaven-enchanted isle. After a moment I commenced the small ascent slowly, looking at the tower all the way as I went up. A strange cool wind blew through the ruined windows at the summit, and, having arrived there on the small square landing I stood looking at the great, grotesque, calm stone faces lying collected and enclosed up there before me. They were mighty pieces of simple, old-world masonry, said my everyday sense as I looked.

They were faces from a thousand years ago looking at me, said this strange new self which had wakened here amid the hills and silences. I looked at them until I began to fancy I should presently imagine a human face of flesh and blood, or the semblance at least of one, to be looking steadily at me from out that medley of cut and carved stones and grey, uncouth blocks. Turning, I looked out of the broken window at my back. Down there, quite by the lake where our boat waited, I saw the boatman stand, his back towards me, foolishly perched in my tower among rather ghastly stone heads, as I knew was his unspoken thought. Well, I must be going, or else the wind and those calm, terribly calm, stone faces, so huge and mesmeric, at my back, would cause me to fancy I hardly knew what. A large dark cloud, too, with one of those changes which make the climate in some parts of Ireland so moody and which yet have a witchery all their own, was looming every moment greater in the sky. Perhaps a squall was imminent. Was it all the effect of the change of light? As I turned to descend I cast another glance, half of interest, half of a strange feeling that was neither fear nor repulsion yet had elements of both at the railed chamber opposite. It seemed a room now cold, uncivilised as regards creature comforts, rough stone blocks served as bench and prie-dieu before an equally rough and rather large stone rood and roughly hewed figure of the Great Mother. There must have been a roof, after all, or perhaps it was all the darkness caused by the great cloud. At the same moment an eerie rustle of wind swept through the tower and chamber, and it seemed to my fancy like the movement of a habited figure. Was it shadow, was it fancy? a greyish pale figure seemed to stir in that windy chamber.

I did not stay to look, a kind of panic held my reasoning powers and I fled down the stone stairs. Yet the presence that I felt following, following was altogether kind, friendly, very far from hostile. After all I was a Catholic, and my interest had not been that of the antiquarian alone. But the presence was too remote, too holy, too austere for a soul of smaller stature. I remembered, all at once, a strange dream once told me by a cousin since dead.

He knew this Holy Isle, and he dreamed that he had come hither by night, taking the boat at the command of a tall man dressed in some long dark flowing garb who had come to his door at midnight, carrying a shaded lantern whose light was like a star. They went down to the dark, lapping water in silence, and the boat went gliding, rowed with powerful, smooth strokes by the monastic-looking figure and finding its way swiftly under the stars, among the black shapeless masses of the islands, to the wind-swept Holy Isle. His stern, silent guide took his hand in a cold grasp and drew him ashore. Above them on the island the ecclesiastical mass of the ancient church rose massive and powerful, outlined against the stars, and as he looked the light of tapers seemed to shine through the windows,  whether still ruined or perfect, he hardly knew, and the sound of a dirge, chanted in low voices, rose and fell, like sighing, upon the gusty night-wind. 

He listened as together they went towards the dimly lit, shadowy church, and he could distinguish the Latin words it was a lament over the ruined house of God, for Jerusalem wherein not a stone has been left upon a stone. And as he stood, his hand still held in that cold, powerful grasp, a voice, like a presence, seemed to come yearningly towards him from out that assembly of mourning, black-clad figures, and he understood the strange Call of the Holy Isle to him that he should give up all, be, as it were, a victim, for the glory of the House of God laid low and for the kindling of a great light of faith and of continual prayer there on that spot again in the future. A cold terror seized him as he hearkened what did all these sad ghosts want to do with him? And wrenching his hand free, from the chill hold in which it lay he fled, swift as an arrow, to the waiting boat and sailed fast for home. Three times the dream had recurred to him, at long intervals, and each time his resistance had seemed to grow less. And the idea had grown in him of possibly doing something, in some way, to get some tiny, contemplative community to take up residence as near as might be to Devenish some day. And then one evening, years later, and my cousin one of a party yachting on the Lough, the stars shining wonderfully and all who were aboard the yacht with him admiring the beauty of the scene in the clear darkness of the hour, a strange wind had blown from off the Holy Isle and the yacht had dipped before it, and another tragedy had been added to the Lake's list of conquests over man. My cousin had been drowned the rest were rescued.

The weird little story recurred to me as I ran swiftly down the steps. Yet to prove to myself that my nerves were completely under control I paused at the foot of the steps and looked upward and then into the ruined church. Everything was very dark, and the first splashing drops of a late summer thunderstorm were falling with a strange effectiveness of sound, and so possibly my eyes deceived me, for the church, for a brief instant, seemed a real, though small monastic church, with two rows of grey-clad figures standing in it. At that moment the wind entered the building with a wild swirl, a great bell from one of the churches over at Enniskillen pealed the hour, and a mighty roll of thunder following instantaneously upon a vivid blue flash of lightning (which showed me an altar with lights and cross and lamp and hanging dove of gold in the church) filled my ears as with a world of sound coming simultaneously. At that instant also the boatman ran towards me seeking the shelter of the tower. It was as if to my startled senses a burst of organ music and men's singing had suddenly broken forth. 

"O," I said, when I had regained my breath, "I will never come here again !"

"Ah ! sure," he said, but very gravely, and I could see that only for the dangers without he would not have remained another moment in the ancient church, "they were all holy men that lived here long ago. And the storm won't last long."

It lasted for a wild ten minutes, but the whistling of the wind, the crashing of the thunder, and the sharp beating of the rain were all we heard. Then with a sudden, long-drawn, sobbing sigh, as it seemed, the disturbance subsided as suddenly as it had arisen, and the sun began to peep fitfully from among the flying clouds.

We lost no time in picking our way through the soaking grass down to the muddy shore, and there we embarked again. As we put out into mid-stream I looked back again at the lonely tower rising from the green banks of the Holy Isle where the presence of the saintly men of old is as distinct as the shining of the sun, or the blowing of the wind among the hardly-trodden grass. Was it again my fancy? a face seemed to glimmer from the upper window of the tower, and then was gone.

"Sure, the shadows and the sun do make wonderful play there, Madam, on the ould church," said the boatman. But his voice and his eyes were grave and almost sad.

Irish Rosary, Volume 25 (1921), 694-698.

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Sunday, 15 May 2022

Saint Dymphna: 'Lode-star of the Lost Ones'

Saint Dympna - or Davnet of Ireland may belong to legend or mythology; Saint Dympna of Gheel to a holy tradition: Saint-Dympna-of-Today belongs to us all. She is part, as it were, of our national innocence...

...While the secret of Creation remains hidden from the wise and the prudent, it does seem to be revealed from time to time through this little saint whose century and nationality is quite obscure.
Rejected from the acta of saints, she is paradoxically become the lode-star of the lost ones and has quietly but firmly established herself as their advocate.
"Saint Dympna!" They cried long ago - AND THEY STILL DO - 
"Saint Dympna - pray for us". 

Angela Verne, Fugitive Saint (Farnworth, 1961), 201-202.

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Saturday, 14 May 2022

The Miracles and Monastic Life of Saint Carthage

The Story of St Carthage (1937)

May 14 is the feast of Saint Carthage (Mochuda) of Lismore, subject of a previous post here. Canon O'Hanlon's account of this saint includes many of the miracles attributed to Saint Carthage by his hagiographers, which also give a glimpse into the saint's life as a monastic. In the selection below the text is O'Hanlon's, the headings are mine. We begin with a prophecy of the saint's future greatness delivered by other important Irish holy men, a common trope in Lives of the saints:

Saints Comgall and Brendan Prophesy the Future Greatness of Saint Carthage and of Lismore:

The approaching birth of our saint was announced to St. Comgall, by an Angel, in the following words : "O holy old man, a child shall be born in the western part of Ireland. He must receive the name of Carthage, at the baptismal font, because he shall be loved by God and man, both in Heaven and upon earth. After a while, he shall come to you, on his way to Rome, and it is the Lord's mandate, that you forsake him not, but that he remain with you an entire year." St. Brendan of Clonfert had an angelic warning, also, regarding the birth of our saint. Brendan heard these words: "A wonder-working brother must shortly come to thee, who shall aid thy people here and hereafter. Men shall thus divide the region of Kiarraigh. His name shall be Carthage amongst you, and many shall rejoice in his commemoration; for, he will collect a great congregation of many people to the Lord, on the day of judgment. His first city shall be called Rathen, situated in Meath territory, in the midst of Ireland, among the people called Feara-Keel and this city shall be renowned. But, the second city shall be greater and more illustrious; for, Carthage shall possess a great principality called Lismore."

The Prophecy of Saint Comgall Fulfilled:

He then undertook a pilgrimage alone, towards the northern part of Ireland. In the meantime, an Angel had appeared to his cotemporary, St. Comgall of Bangor, and told him, that a young and holy Priest should come to him, wishing to cross the sea, for Christ's sake; that this was the person, regarding whom Comgall had formerly prophesied, before his birth; and that, according to God's mandate, he should detain the pilgrim with him, for the remainder of the year. St. Comgall wished to know, how Carthage might be identified. Then the Angel said: "He shall be that person, who retires to the hospice, from the church, and with his face towards it." Now, it was a custom of Moccuda, as it appears, never to turn his back towards any church, if he could possibly avoid it. That vision, and the token whereby our saint might be recognised, were communicated by the Abbot Comgall to his disciples. Afterwards, St. Carthage came to Bangor, and the Abbot discovered him, by practising the usual habit, while honouring the church as the house of God. Comgall was greatly rejoiced at our saint's arrival, and communicated to him the Angel's words, as also the Lord's mandate. In obedience thereto, Carthage remained in Bangor, to the end of that year. On its expiration, by advice of St. Comgall, Carthage returned to his native province. There, he erected many buildings, to the honour of God. There, likewise, he wrought many miracles, and many disciples flocked to him, from all parts. A large extent of country was subject to his spiritual jurisdiction.

Saint Hyaran Prophecies the Future Path of Saint Carthage

Leaving his religious establishments, in Kerry, to the care of faithful guardians and religious men, St. Carthage afterwards went with a few companions, to the southern part of Munster. He visited the son of Fintan, St. Hyaran, a Bishop, who had founded a monastery at Roffigillain. From this saint, the pilgrim enquired, where his largest church should be built, in these parts; as the Angel of the Lord had declared to St. Comgall, that it must be founded in the southern part of Ireland. Accordingly, St. Hyaran, who was gifted with the spirit of prophecy, answered: "My dear fellow-servant in Christ, you shall first go to Niall's posterity, and there shall you build a renowned house to our Lord. There shalt thou remain for forty years, and afterwards thou shalt be expelled therefrom, and return to Munster. Then only shalt thou build thy larger church." St. Carthage said to him: "Holy father, I shall always regard thee as my patron." But Hyaran said: " My brother, it must not be so, but I offer myself and my monks to you for ever." He declared, likewise, that Furudran, his disciple, should succeed him in his episcopal seat. Accordingly, such was the case, Furudran occupying the See for twenty years.

Saint Columba Leaves the Building of Raithin to Saint Carthage

While Carthage was on his journey, two monks met him on the way, and asked him whither he was going. He replied, to St. Colman-Elo. These brethren besought him to receive them as disciples, for they declared, that God's grace appeared to shine in his countenance. He complied with their request, and, on coming to St.Colman, then declared his desire of remaining with him. However, Colman said: "It must not be so; but, you shall go to a certain place, near to me, and called Rathen, which has been promised you by the Lord. There shalt thou remain, and many monks shall serve the Lord under thee; while the place itself, from thee, shall assume for its name, Carthach Raithin. It is said, St. Columkille had formerly proposed the building of a cell, in this place. But, finding that the Almighty had destined such work for our saint, he left three bundles of twigs for Carthage, who constructed his home with these materials.

Saint Carthage has to temper the strictness of his Rule:

For a long time, St. Mochuda would not receive cows, oxen, or horses, to cultivate his land. This work was performed, by his monks with hoes, and they carried all burdens on their shoulders. But, St. Fintan, a relative of St. Carthage, on his return from Rome, visited him, and that guest said : "Why, O Carthage, dost thou impose upon rational beings the work of irrational animals? Your men are made like to beasts of burden, and I shall not eat in this place, unless you liberate your monks, who are the servants of Christ, from such degrading occupation." Afterwards, through regard to St. Fintan, Carthage allowed oxen and horses to his monks, engaged in prosecuting their labours. St. Lanchean, or Lachean, Abbot, taking compassion on St. Carthage and his monks, set out towards Rathin, bringing thirty cows and a bull, with two herdsmen, and some vessels. When near the place, Lanchean concealed what he had brought; and, going into the monastery, he asked for milk, pretending to be sick. This request the servant conveyed to Mochuda. The saint ordered a vessel to be filled with water. Then, bestowing a blessing, it appeared to be changed into new milk. In this state, it was brought to St. Lanchean. Knowing what had occurred, he changed the contents of the vessel into water once more, saying : " I asked for milk, and not for water." St. Lanchean then said before all : "Our father Carthage is a good monk, but, his successors shall not create milk out of water." He then addressed the guest-master, " Tell St. Mochuda, that I shall not eat in this place, unless he receive gifts I have brought, to his brethren." Carthage promised to accept them, and he said : "I was unwilling to receive herds from any person, in this place, but, through respect and reverence for thee, I have accepted them." Lanchean then said: "Henceforth, abundance of temporal things shall be with you, and a multitude of religious men must inhabit thy city, in which thou shalt depart to Christ; since from this place, shalt thou be driven." A mutual friendship, between these saints, was thenceforward established.

The Obedient Colmans

Another day, while our saint's monks were abroad and near a river, one of them who was in authority told a monk, named Colman, to enter the water, on some emergency. At once, twelve monks bearing a similar name rushed clothed into the water, not stopping to enquire about the particular one, who had been designated. This gave much edification to the other brethren, because at the sound of a superior's voice, they showed perfect examples of obedience.

Saint Carthage Reconciles The Monk with The Miller

Another day, about the ninth hour, Carthage said to his brethren : "We shall not eat today, until each one of you makes his confession to me; for one among you bears hatred towards another." Having confessed Colman, son of Iona, one of these monks said : "Father, I love not our miller, nay, I have hated him. For, when I go to the mill, he will not remove loads with me, from the horses, nor fill measures of meal. Yea, even, he will not load the horses; he does injury to me, in every way, and he is always disagreeable and insulting. The Lord knoweth, but I do not, why he acts in this way; and even now have I thought, when I came to him again, and that he should do in like manner, I would strike him to the earth." St. Mochuda answered: "Brother, hear what the prophet saith, ' Turn away from evil and do good; ' therefore, according to my advice, be kind towards him; and he shall be moved by thy goodness. Then, you shall be friends, as long as you desire it." The monk followed his superior's advice, and for three days, he endeavoured to please the miller. But, the latter remained, in his former surly mood, and the brother's hatred still continued. On the third day, St. Mochuda heard the confession of the monk, who said: "This is my confession, I do not love the miller." Our saint then said, that on the same night, his heart should be changed, and that he should not take refreshment, until he would go to his adversary and eat with him. Our saint also declared, that during the refection, a friendship should arise between them, and this too must prove perpetual. That monk was filled with the spirit of God; and, as all things had happened, according to the prediction of Carthage, his brethren admired a Divine inspiration, which influenced their holy senior.

The Heavenly Harvesters

During the time of harvest, his steward said to Carthage: "Father, we cannot procure reapers enough, although the corn is over ripe." Mochuda replied: "Go, my dear, in peace, the Lord will give you good reapers." Accordingly, the Angels of God appeared, and reaped the greater part of the corn, collecting it into one heap. The monks, on seeing the progress of this work, gave thanks to God, and admired the sanctity of their venerable superior.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Saint Connachtach of Iona, May 10

May 10 is the feast of Saint Connachtach, an 8th/9th century abbot of Iona. This successor to Saint Colum Cille enjoyed a particular reputation as a scriba selectissimus, a scribe most choice, but the evidence from the Annals suggests that his tenure as abbot was of short duration and set against a backdrop of Viking attacks. Cowley Father, the Rev. Edward Craig Trenholme, gave a summary of the careers of the abbots of Iona in his 1909 guide to the historic monastery. He begins his listing of those in the ninth century with our saint:  


18. Connachtach (801-802), "a scribe most choice and abbot of Ia", had a short and troubled term of office. It must have been in quieter times and a lower station that he attained to fame as a "scriba selectissimus." Some marvellous manuscripts of the Irish monastic scribes survive to show what Connachtach's title implies. But alas! for such peaceful arts and Iona's stores of precious writings in the calamitous ninth century. The Danish attack on the monastery in 795 proved the preliminary of a long period of terror, blood, and fire, in which Iona won the glory of "red martyrdom," but lost well-nigh all else. In Connachtach's first year the monastery was burned by the "Gentiles," and the Abbot died next year. The ravagers returned again and again, as we shall see, but after each successive attack the love and veneration of the monks of Iona for their home forced them to re-establish themselves there at all perils.

Rev. E. C. Trenholme, The Story of Iona, (Edinburgh, 1909), 67.

Canon O'Hanlon in his account of Abbot Connachtach gives him the alternative name of Cormac and suggests that he may have met his death at the hands of the Viking raiders:

Article III. Cormac or Connachtach, Abbot of Iona.
[Eighth and Ninth Centuries.]  
On the authority of the Martyrology of Tallagh, which enters Cormac at the 10th of May, Colgan assigns to this day, the festival of the present holy man. This authority is followed, likewise, by the Bollandists, who remark on the number of Irish Saints so called, as enumerated by Colgan, when treating about several bearing that name. Connachtach—a name substituted for Cormac—is said to have been a select scribe, and he became Abbot of Iona, most probably, after the demise of Bersal Mac Seghine, which is given, at the year 801, having been incumbent for thirty-one years. Connachtach followed his predecessor to the tomb, after a very short term of rule. He died according to some accounts, in 797—but recte 802—assuming the corrected chronology found, in Dr. O'Donovan's Annals of the Four Masters. The cause assigned for Connachtach's death, is not recorded; but as Hy-Columcille was burned by the Gentiles, A.D. 802, it is probable enough, that our Abbot met with a violent death, at their hands, having perished during the calamity inflicted on his religious community.

 Some modern writers have suggested that Abbot Connachtach's reputation as an eminent scribe makes him a possible candidate for involvement in the creation of the Book of Kells, traditionally believed to have been produced at Iona. In a lecture of 2011 Arne Kruse argued:

The organisation of what was tremendous artistic activity on Iona sometime in the second half of the eighth century would have been an economic and logistical challenge. The effort must have been conducted by an inspired leader with extraordinary managerial and artistic skills. The one in charge would have been the scribnidh or scribe of the community, an office which carried equal importance to that of the abbot. The scribe behind the tribute in copper, stone and vellum is anonymous. However, if it is correct that the intense artistic activity may have taken place toward the end of the eighth century, there is a chance that the mastermind could have been Connachtach, ‘an eminent scribe and abbot of Ia’, who, according to the Annals of Ulster, died in 802, possibly during the Viking raid that very year. It is rare to hear of scribes in the annals, and the mention of Connachtach could be because he was murdered, although the murder itself is not mentioned. On the other hand, it can also be that Connachtach was such an extraordinarily brilliant scholar, artist and coordinator that his death merited a note. 

Arne Kruse, 'Columba and Jonah - a motif in the dispersed art of Iona', Northern Studies, vol. 45, (2013), 18.

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Monday, 9 May 2022

Saint Banbán the Wise, May 9

May 9 is the feast of Saint Banbán, whom the calendars dub 'the Wise' (Latin, sapiens). He is one of a number of saints who share this ancient name, as the online version of the nineteenth-century Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature edited by John McClintock and James Strong helpfully lists:

In Irish hagiology there are several Banbans given. 
(1.) Two of these are probably the same person, Banban the Wise, attached to separate days, May 1 and 9. Colgan (Tr. Thaum. p. 176) is of the opinion that the Banbanum to whom St. Patrick committed the Domnach Mor, or large basilica in Magh-Sleacht, was Banban the Wise. He also supposes him to have been a son of Richella, sister of St. Patrick. In Tr. Thaum he is called presbyter, but at May 1 the Mart. Tallaght calls him bishop.  

(2.) Bishop of Leithglinn, commemorated Nov. 26; the abbot of Claenadh (Clane, County Kildare), who died A.D. 777.
(3.) Another bishop, put by Mart. Doneg., etc., on Dec. 3. 
Canon O'Hanlon rather adds to the confusion in the entry for Saint Banbán in the May volume of his Lives of the Irish Saints. For he seeks to equate him with a scribe of Kildare and insists that he is also known as Colmán:
Article III. St. Colman, Banban, the Wise, Supposed to have been Scribe of Kildare. 
[Seventh and Eighth Centuries.] 
By Colgan, the holy Colman is identified with a Banban, or a Banan, venerated at the 1st of this month. There, his pedigree has been given, and as has been stated, he belonged to the Nan-Decies race. However, this does not seem to be very certain. Referring to the Martyrology of Tallagh, and to other Irish Martyrologies, the Bollandists commemorate Banbhanus or Banuanus Sapiens, at this day. He is thought, by Colgan, to have been a relation of St. Patrick, and to have been that faithful prophet alluded to in the Acts of the great Irish Apostle. In the Martyrologies of Tallagh and of Donegal, his name is simply entered as Banban, "the sage," or "the wise." It is probable, this was the name by which he was best distinguished; but, he appears to have been known as Colman, likewise, and as there were many saints so denominated in our calendars, his skill as a scribe may have determined the additional appellative. He died, on the 9th of May, A.D. 720 if, as seems probable, he was the St. Colman Banban, scribe of Cill-dara. The Annals of Ulster and Archdall place his death at 724.
 So, as we can see, there are differing traditions surrounding the figure of Saint Banbán, the Wise. Pádraig Ó Riain in his authoritative 2011 Dictionary of Irish Saints feels that it is telling that today's May 9 feast is the octave day of May 1 and that both days commemorate the same individual. He also feels that the Saint Banbán, Bishop of Leighlin, commemorated on November 26, is a further feast of the same holy man.  

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Monday, 28 March 2022

The Saints and Animals

The theme of 'saints and beasts' is a common one in hagiography where the interaction between holy men and women and the animal creation form some of the best-known and well-loved episodes in the Lives of the saints. Although stories of Irish saints and animals form a staple of anthologies of 'Celtic Christianity', this tradition is not exclusive to Ireland. It origins are found in eastern Christianity among the Desert Fathers where a raven brings food to Saint Anthony and Saint Paul of Thebes and where the Great Martyrs such as Saint George and Saint Margaret of Antioch battle dragons and other fierce beasts. The tradition translated very readily to western Europe and below is an extract from a paper on 'The Saints and Animals' published in 1909 in the Paulist periodical The Catholic World by Irish writer Katharine Tynan (1859-1931). In her essay she combines some of the most famous Irish stories, such as that of Saint Kevin and the blackbird, with lesser-known stories of Saint Adamnan and Saint Beanus:

A very distinguished Irishwoman, now dead, said to me many years ago that the old Irish saints were always preaching by their example the love of animals, and that fact proved to her mind that the preaching was no less needed in their day than in ours. But I am inclined to believe that the Irish saints, like the saints of other countries, loved animals just because they were the elect souls of the world. In those days gentleness betook itself to hermitages and cloisters, leaving the rough and the violent to carry on the world. In their hermitages these simple and saintly souls made companions of the animals, and came to love them, simplicity leaning to simplicity. Indeed one imagines that in our own days there may be many such instances in monastic life of friendship between men and animals as are recorded in the Acta Sanctorum. One who knows anything of monasteries will know how the cloistered monk keeps a heart like a child...
...The lives of the saints contain the most delicious innocencies of the friendship and affection between them and the animals. Every one knows St. Francis of Assisi and his little brothers and sisters. Not so many know St. Jerome and his lion, St. Anthony the hermit and his hog, St. Benedict and his raven, St. Macarius and his hyena, St. Kieran and his badger, St. Rose of Lima and her gnats. Indeed the Acta Sanctorum contain records of friendship between the saints and the most unlikely creatures, even to snakes and vipers.

In the Irish hagiology we find our father, St. Patrick, carrying a fawn in his breast after he had saved the little creature and its mother from death.
While St. Kevin prayed in his cell that looks upon the dark waters of Glendalough, he stretched his hand through the window-space, and a blackbird immediately laid an egg in his hand and sat upon it. The saint forbore to disturb the sitting mother till the little bird was hatched, keeping his hand so stretched forth till that was accomplished.

Another Irish saint, St. Kieran of Upper Ossory, worked his first miracle as a child when he saw a hawk swoop on and carry off a little bird. St. Kieran at this time did not know the true God, being the child of pagans, but he was moved to cry out to Him, and the hawk came back and laid the dead bird at his feet. Then Kieran said: "Arise and be made whole;" and so it was done, and the bird lived and gave praise to God.
The life of St. Kieran, in the Gaelic, says with delicious naivete :
"When first Ciaran came to that place (i.e. the wood where he built his monastery) he sat down in the shade of a tree. A fierce wild hog sprang up at the other side of the tree and as it eyed Ciaran it fled, but returned again as a gentle servant to Ciaran. That hog was the first disciple and first monk Ciaran had in that place. It used to go to the wood to cut rods for thatch, and bring them between its teeth to assist (the building of) the cell. At the time, then, there was no one at all along with Ciaran, for he came alone from his disciples to that hermitage. There came after that to Ciaran irrational brutes from every part of the wilds in which they were located, such as the fox, the badger, the wolf, and the doe, and they were submissive to Ciaran; and they humbled themselves to his teaching as monks, and used do all he bade them.
"On a day that the fox came, which was very ravenous, crafty, and malicious, to Ciaran's brogues, he stole them, and, shunning the community, went direct to his own den, and therein coveted to eat the brogues. When this was manifested to Ciaran he despatched another monk of his family, to wit, the badger, to head the fox and bring him to the same spot. The badger came to the fox's den and found him eating the shoes (or brogues), for he had eaten the ears and thongs off; and the badger coerced him to come with him to the monastery. They came about eventide to Ciaran, and the brogues with them. Ciaran said to the fox ' O brother, why hast thou done that thievery which was not becoming a monk to do? And you had no occasion to do that; for we have water that is non-noxious in common, and food in like manner, and if thy nature constrained that thou shouldst prefer to use flesh, God would make it of the bark of the trees round thee.' Then the fox asked Ciaran for remission of his sins, and to lay upon him the obligations of the Penance Sentence; and it was so done, and the fox did not eat food without leave from Ciaran, and thenceforward he was righteous like the others."

Here is a story of a less well-known Irish saint, St. Gobnet the little patroness of Ballyvourney, after whom so many County Cork girls are called, and which is Englished "Abby." She was the daughter of a sea-king, who was a shrine robber. She had no sisters, and used to keep to the ship with her father and his men. Once she was ashore in a wood and God sent his angel to her to tell her to fly from her father and give her life to Him. She was willing to do that, but she knew no place of security. The angel came again, and told her to go on and give no rest to her soles until she would find nine white deer asleep. She went on and she came to a place and found three. She fondled them a while and went on to Kilgobnet, where she found six. Here she stayed a long time until they were all good friends. Then she left her heart with them and went on to Ballyvourney. There, as God willed it, she found the nine, and she made her dwelling with them, and they became her sisters, and she died in their midst and is there buried.

We read of St. Bridget that the ducks from the lake came at her voice and flew into her arms, and that the saint gently caressed them against her breast. And again when she was a child, and in much terror of a very fierce stepmother, she was left to tend a dish of meat that was cooking for her father and his friends. But a dog which had just become the mother of puppies came and begged to be fed; and Bridget's heart was so compassionate that she could not refrain from feeding the dog with the meat her stepmother had given her in charge, although she anticipated nothing but a savage punishment. But when the time came to set the dish on the table, lo! and behold, the meat had increased instead of diminishing, and was of a most excellent flavor. So did God reward her charity to the hungry dog.

Here is a delightful story of St. Adamnan, Bishop of Iona: 
"A Brother, by name Molua, grandson of Brennus, came to the Saint while he was writing, and said to him: 'Please bless this weapon in my hand.' So he raised his holy hand a little and blessed it, making the sign of the cross with his pen, his face meanwhile being turned towards the book upon which he was writing. As the aforesaid Brother was on the point of departing with the weapon which had been blessed, the Saint inquired: What kind of a weapon have I blessed for the Brother? Diarmid, his faithful servant, replied: ''A dagger for cutting the throats of oxen and bulls.' But the Saint said in response: 'I trust in my God that the weapon which I blessed will injure neither man nor beast.' And the Saint's words proved true that very hour. For after the same Brother had left the monastery enclosure and wanted to kill an ox, he made the attempt with three strong blows and a vigorous thrust, but could not pierce its skin. And when the monks became acquainted with it, they melted the metal of the same dagger by the heat of the fire and anointed with it all the iron weapons of the monastery ; and they were thereafter unable to inflict a wound on any flesh, in consequence of the abiding power of the Saint's blessing."
I need not refer here to the better known stories, such as the story of St. Columba and the gull and the same saint and the horse. But an extract from Giraldus Cambrensis shows how a nineteenth century thought for animals in England was anticipated by the Ulstermen of his day. 

"In a remote district of Ulster are certain hills, on which cranes and other birds build their nests freely during the proper season. The inhabitants of that place allow not only men but even cattle and birds to be quiet and undisturbed, out of reverence for the holy Beanus, whose Church makes the spot famous. That renowned Saint, in a wonderful and strange manner, used to take care not only of birds but of their eggs.

"In the south of Momonia, between the hill of Brendan and the open sea which washes the coast of Spain and Ireland, is a large district which is shut in on one side by a river full of fish, and on the other by a small stream. And, out of reverence for the holy Brendan and other Saints of that locality, this affords a wonderful place of refuge, not only for men and cattle, but also for wild beasts, whether these are strangers or those which inhabit the district. Consequently stags, wild boars, hares, and other wild beasts, when they perceive that they can by no means escape from the dogs pursuing them, make their way as quickly as they can from remote parts to that spot. And when they have crossed the stream, they are at once safe from all danger; for the dogs in hunting are there brought to a standstill and unable to follow any further."

So much for the Irish saints. But their brethren of other lands were not behind them; and it may be said that there was no creature exempt from their pity and protection....

Katharine Tynan, The Saints and Animals, The Catholic World, Vol. LXXXVII (September, 1908), 803-816.

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