Thursday 3 January 2013

Saint Fintan of Doone, January 3

January 3 is the commemoration of Saint Fintan of Doone. Below is an account of his life distilled from Canon O'Hanlon's article in Volume I of the Lives of the Irish Saints, which draws on the work of the work of the 17th-century hagiologist, Friar John Colgan. There are a number of Irish saints who bear the name of Fintan, the most famous of whom is probably Fintan of Clonenagh whose life we can look at on his feast day, February 17. Saint Fintan of Doone is clearly delineated in the sources by being identified as the brother of Saint Finlugh, whose life we can look at on this day next year.


The present St. Fintan was a different person from St. Fintan, Abbot of Clonenagh, whose acts are recorded at the 17th of February ; also from St. Fintan, surnamed Munna, whose feast occurs at the 21st of October; likewise from St. Fintan, Prince of Leinster, whose acts are given at the 15th of November; as from many other saints bearing this same name, and who are mentioned in the "Martyrology of Tallagh," and in the Commentaries on St. Oengus, at the 1st and 7th of January, the 21st of February, the 27th of March, the 11th of May, the 9th of October, and the 14th of December.

A very ancient biography—or rather a compendious life—of this saint has been published by Colgan. Its defects are very apparent, and the manuscript from which it was printed had been in part defaced by ink. This life was taken from a Salamancan MS. It contains, without doubt, some gross fables and many errors. From this record, however, we shall be obliged to extract whatever unobjectionable particulars it embraces, with some additional information, supplied from Colgan's notes.

Fintan was brother to St. Finlug, and son to Pipan, son of Tule, who lived at a place called Cliach, according to the life of this saint. But according to a commentator on Oengus, his father was named Diman, who descended from Mured Manderig, King of Ulster. The mother of our saint was named Alinna said to have been daughter to Artgail, or Lenine, and she was of noble birth, belonging to a family that lived in the county of Limerick, as Colgan supposes. The early career of this saint seems to have been involved in some obscurity, not dissipated by his old biographer. Hence, we are abruptly brought to narrate the following rather unconnected events.

In the time of St. Fintan, a certain incredulous and irreligious king lived in a district then known as Calathmagh.. To the king Fintan had resolved on preaching God's holy word, but the dynast was unwilling to receive our saint on the object of his mission. Hearing that Fintan, accompanied by a number of holy monks, was on the way, orders were despatched to certain mowers in a field to bar the further progress of God's servants on that highway by which these travelled. At the same time the king expressed himself in very opprobrious terms regarding his expected visitants, in calling them impostors or seducers. Having arrived at a place denominated Keall-ruis, where there was water, the mowers were stationed in a field to oppose their passage. In vain God's holy servants asked permission to proceed, but insult was added to the refusal. However a mighty tempest arose on the instant,and a great commotion of the elements ensued, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The very crops there matured began to blaze, while the mowers, unable to pass the hedges on fire, were nearly blinded with smoke. Then humbly asking pardon for their offences, St. Fintan blessed some water, which was applied to their eyes, when the faculty of vision was restored. Wherefore these men bound themselves to his perpetual service. Not only were certain temporal possessions bestowed, but even their children, grandchildren, and posterity, were dedicated to him, in the manner then understood by such engagements.

In the lives of our Irish saints we find several instances, similar to the foregoing, where individuals, families, and even whole clans, are said to have bound themselves and their posterity to the service of particular saints. The exact nature of these services is not definitely described; but it may be supposed, in most instances, such vows or dedications included a bond, expressed or implied, of giving tribute in money or in kind, for the building, repair, or maintenance of churches, monasteries, or other religious establishments, and for the support of clerics or monks attached to them.

In a succeeding chapter of our saint’s acts, we have only a portion of the first sentence preserved. From this we learn how Fintan was in St. Comgall's school, where his master imposed a certain command, the nature of which is unknown. The remainder of this chapter was illegible in that copy of St. Fintan's Biography, which Colgan used, it having been blotted with ink; but he infers from the imperfect sentence remaining, Fintan had been a disciple to St. Comgall, Abbot of Bangor, who there founded his celebrated school about the middle of the sixth century. From such account we may at least suppose that our saint was contemporaneous with St. Comgall—it is to be presumed—of Bangor, and that he must have flourished after A.D. 550.

In the fifth and sixth chapters of Fintan's life we have some rather doubtful incidents described, which appear as having reference to that time he spent with St. Comgall. From the names of places contained in this life, his future mission and miracles, for the most part, seem to have been confined to the southern parts of Ireland.

From the acts of our saint, it is stated, that sea-rovers were accustomed to haunt our shores even before the Danish invasions commenced. St. Fintan once asked St. Finian of Maghbile, to lend him a book of the Gospels for purposes of study; but he could not obtain that favour. His master, St. Comgall, heard of this refusal, and said to our saint: "If faithful, perhaps, next day you will be in possession of that book of the Gospels." On the succeeding night St. Fintan and his companions, fearing the approach of pirates, were on guard at the port. It had been rumoured that sea-rovers were about to despoil St. Comgall's religious establishment. In the beginning of this same night, however, their course had been directed to Maghbile, which was St. Finian's city, and, among other robberies there perpetrated, they took away the aforesaid book of Gospels. Then, by a circuitous route, those pirates reached that place where Fintan and his companions were on guard. They had resolved on attacking the city of Bangor. But, behold! a large tree, near which St. Fintan watched and prayed, was suddenly uprooted by a violent tempest and cast upon their ships, lying near the shore. Except one of these, all the other vessels were broken to pieces and submerged. The book of Gospels and other effects in possession of those pirates were then recovered.

In the schools of Bangor, Scriptural studies were not neglected. As St. Fintan, with his companions, had been engaged reading the Gospel during a spring season, a certain leper came to St. Comgall—so runs the legend—and he demanded bread, which should be made from corn lately ripened. At that season, it seemed impossible to procure what he required; nevertheless, St. Fintan desired this leper to follow the oxen and plant seed in a field they were ploughing. Seed having been cast into the first furrow turned, corn immediately grew up and ripened; so that bread was obtained for this leper in a miraculous manner, and it was taken from grain thus prematurely produced.

While Fintan was resting in a place called Kell Fintain, a certain very corpulent man, named Lothraid, then labouring under some loathsome bodily distemper, ruled over this part of the country. He is said to have died of this complaint after he had become a great burden to himself and to his servants. Afterwards people living in this part of the country desired the saint to take up his abode there, so that they might manifest the highest respect towards him. But Fintan went to a place named Tulach Bennain, where he intended to reside. Certain British strangers, notwithstanding, would not allow him to remain in this place. Departing from it our saint said: "Although you expel me hence you shall not be honored here, and your name shall be known only to very few ; but a certain woman, and a stranger, will dwell in it, while the same place will honor me." This prophecy was afterwards fulfilled. A holy virgin named Ernait, daughter to King Kiannacht, came from the northern part of Ireland, and dwelt in Tulach Bennain. Afterwards St. Fintan went to a certain hill, which was called Cabhair, at a time the writer of his acts lived. There Fintan intended to remain; but an angel appearing said to him: "It is not decreed that you will remain here; however, this place must honor you, and, as token of my promise, you shall see a bell coming hither through the air." Wherefore, looking towards heaven, they saw a bell," which was heard tolling as it descended. It rested on a rock, and full in their presence. This bell was of a black colour; hence it was called Dubh-labhar, which in Latin is interpreted, Nigra sonans, or in English, "the black toller." Like many similar objects among the Irish and Britons, it was formerly held in great veneration.

Much about the same time a religious man, named Cuan, sent one of his disciples to visit St. Fintan. Whilst this disciple moved on his way, it was thought a demon approached and took bodily possession of him… St. Fintan is related to have exorcised this demon. Immediately he departed from the monk and entered a neighbouring rock. By the power of God, we are told, he remained here in a state of perpetual imprisonment, not being able to inflict further injury on any human being.

After this occurrence, St. Fintain is said to have reached a place denominated Dunbleisque. This the Lord had destined for his habitation… It is identical with Doone, in the county of Limerick. In the "Leabhar Breac," the following quartain is given as a prophecy of St. Comgall that his alumnus should settle at Dun Bleisce, its more ancient name :—

"My dear alumnus Fintan shall erect
His sacred city at the fort we call
The dun of Blesc; and then he shall protect
The poor and weak, and pray for mankind all."

The site of St. Fintan's old monastery is not known at present in Doone, nor can the oldest inhabitant give any information as to where it stood, nor is its existence even remembered in any current popular tradition.

At Dunbleisque St. Fintan was received with much honour, and he was hospitably entertained by Columbanus, son to Kynchadha. The flesh of a cow and calf, with some milk, had been prepared at a banquet, where seven companions sat down with St. Fintan. One of these was his brother, named Finlogh, or Finloghait. Fintan predicted that his brother should pass over the sea and die an exile from his native country. At a time when the author of our saint's acts flourished, Finlog's memory was venerated in many places.

Columbanus, the entertainer of our saint, said to Fintan, "I assign this place to thee, and for thy honour. Show me, therefore, that spot to which I must remove." St. Fintan, his companions, and St. Columbanus, went south of the city, and near its principal street. There a mutual agreement was entered into between those saints. Columbanus asked how his baggage should be conveyed. Fintan then rang his bell. Immediately two deer issued from an adjoining wood, and tamely presented themselves before those devout men. Having placed St. Columbanus' effects on the horns of one, our saint said, " O Columbanus, follow this deer wheresoever he shall precede until you come to where foxes shall issue from their dens, and there shall you remain." Having placed the luggage of his brother, Finlogh, on the horns of the other deer, Fintan then said, ”Do you follow this animal in whatever direction he shall go." That course taken led towards the sea, where Finlogh found a vessel. On board of this he passed over into Albania. As had been ordained, in Scotland he lived and died. Afterwards he there awaited a future resurrection of the living and dead.

On a certain day, being afflicted with a grievous headache, an attendant, named Feradach, coming to St. Fintan, said, "To-day there appear to be signs of health and joy in your countenance." Fintan replied, "And justly should I rejoice; for on tomorrow our dearly-beloved friend, Columba, shall come to visit us. Therefore do you quickly prepare some corn for the mill". "That I would willingly do," said Feradach, "if there were water to turn it." However, through the intervention of St. Fintan the mill-stone began to move and to grind for three days and three nights without cessation. This was looked upon as a great miracle, because there had been no water or human assistance afforded during the process of grinding. During this visit which was made to our saint with whom Columba and a number of holy men remained for some time, abundance of bread was supplied for their use. Then St. Columba bestowed in perpetuity to St. Fintan a city, which was called Kell-maitoge, with all those services due by its inhabitants to the possessor.

While St. Fintan was stopping near a great river in the city of Tyr-da-glass, certain mimics and buffoons approached him. They asked Fintan to supply them with some fish to eat. He told them truly he had not what they sought. One of the mimics then said," The water is near thee, and if thou art that holy man thou art said to be, we shall easily obtain what we ask." Fintan replied, “It is not more difficult for the Almighty to procure a fish than to produce the water itself." Then calling his disciples, he sent them to a well which lay nearer to them than the river. In a vessel, together with some water, they brought a large fish. But when those mimics thought to remove this fish's bones, they found it impossible to separate them, even by the aid of an iron instrument. Whereupon they said,"Although our fish is a tough one, however, it shall not be left here by us." Taking their departure, they then carried it along with them; but an eagle, hovering over their party, suddenly descended, and snatching away the fish, bore it to a tree. This stood over the well already mentioned. The fish was dropped into the spring whence it had been taken. The author of our saint's acts informs us, that for the sake of brevity he omitted writing many other miracles that, through Fintan, the Almighty was pleased to effect. He adds, also, on account of the numerous miracles which Fintan wrought and continued to work in his biographer's time, it would be impossible for man to recount, or even to retain them in memory.

In his Acts, our saint is said to have attained the incredible age of 260 years, and to have been quite decrepit at the time of his death. The year when this occurred is not recorded. His ancient biographer asserts, that God, who can accomplish whatever He pleases on the earth, in heaven, on the sea, or under the abyss, was specially desirous of prolonging St. Fintan's life. When very old, this saint's cheeks were furrowed by wrinkles.

The author of St. Fintan's Acts gives us no particulars regarding the day and year of his death. Nor even does he mention that particular place where it occurred, nor the circumstances attending it. But from St. Aengus commentators, and from other sources, we learn that the day of St. Fintan's death fell on the 3rd of January. It is generally allowed, however, that he must have flourished in the sixth century. On the 3rd day of January the festival of St. Fintan had been celebrated formerly in the parish of Doone, and county of Limerick. It forms a portion of the archdiocese of Cashel, or diocese of Emly. At this date, the saint is commemorated in the "Feilire Aenguis" in the Martyrologies of Tallagh and of Donegal. According to the latter calendar, this saint belonged to the race of Fiatach Finn, monarch of Ireland, and he was a descendant of Heremon.

After the example of his Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, this saint ministered as a servant not only to his guests, but even to his brethren. He often unloosed the shoes from their feet, which he washed after their labours. In him no guile was found; he judged and condemned no person; to none did he return evil for evil. He was never found to be angry or disturbed in mind. He was never known to mock any person, nor to grieve at any calamity. Peace, compassion, and piety were throned in his heart. He always manifested the same equanimity of temper; he preserved such a heavenly serenity of countenance that he seemed to have abandoned even the imperfections of human nature. For these and such like virtues, he now reigns in supreme felicity, more brightly than the sun shines in the firmament, and more effulgent than its rays are spread over illuminated space.

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