Sunday 14 April 2013

Saint Tassach of Raholp, April 14

On April 14 we commemorate a saint with a role in Patrician hagiography, Tassach of Raholp, County Down.  For tradition says that it was Saint Tassach who administered the Holy Communion to Saint Patrick on his deathbed. He is associated with the site of a small church at Raholp, and an online report on recent excavations at the site can be read here. Below is Canon O'Hanlon's account of the saint which draws on the various traditions surrounding him, chief of which was that Tassach was a skilled craftsman whose name is linked to the most famous relic of Saint Patrick, the Bachall Íosa, or Staff of Jesus.


FROM his peculiar connexion with the great Irish Apostle, St. Patrick, the present holy personage deservedly fills a niche, among our earliest Christian celebrities. The name of Tassach, Bishop, occurs, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at this date. While the Bollandists enter his name, S. Tassagus, from the same authority, they state, that nothing had come under their reading regarding him, or the other Irish Saints it notices, on the 14th of April. Our national hagiologist. Father John Colgan, appears to have prepared some acts of this saint, for publication, at this day; and, he promised a further dissertation, regarding the present holy man, at the 14th of April. In one passage of the Tripartite Life, our Saint's name seems to have been rather erroneously written Tassa. The name of this holy bishop is to be found, likewise, in Fitzsimon's Catalogue of our national Saints.

It may be reasonably conjectured, that St. Tassach was born some time, in the earlier part of the fifth century ; but where or when, we are not able to ascertain. His parents were pagans, we may presume, and it seems not unlikely they were connected with the northern parts of Ulster, which are associated, likewise, with the ministry of this holy bishop. Being classed, as a disciple of St. Patrick, St. Tassach was baptized, most probably, among the earliest converts made, when that part of Ultonia, where the Irish Apostle first landed, had been visited. Either he was brought up to some skilled workmanship in metals, or he had a natural taste for mechanics and art, in such a direction. But, we are at a loss to discover, when the Irish Apostle formed the acquaintance of Tassach, and learned to appreciate his sincere piety and artistic ingenuity...

It seems probable, that St. Tassach had been prepared for the priesthood, by St. Patrick himself; but, by whom he was ordained, we do not discover. Again, Tassach had the gift of prophecy, for the Apostle of Ireland, he had predicted, should receive the Holy Viaticum, at his hands. We are informed, that St. Tassach was appointed as bishop over the Church, at Raholp; but, our early annals do not record any successors in this See. The townland lies, in the west angle of Ballyculter Parish. In a sub denomination, called Banagher, or Benagh, about 100 yards to the right of that road, leading from Downpatrick to Ballyculter, are the ruins, called Churchmoyley. Tradition ascribes the foundation of the Church of St. Patrick, to whom the present saint was artificer, and bishop, as stated in an old gloss, to the Martyroiogy of St. Aengus. Here, St. Tassach most probably lived, and in close relationship, with his venerated Master, especially during the declining period of St. Patrick's life. The church ruins and cemetery there occupy about half a rood of ground. From its elevation above the surrounding field, the latter appears to have been formerly a rath.

We are furnished with very few details, which might enable us to form a proper estimate of St. Tassach's missionary career. He was one of Patrick's most favourite companions, and an artificer, who manufactured for him croziers, crosses, shrines, and bells, according to received accounts. Even, by St. Fiach, we are told, that Tassach was a worker in metals, for St. Patrick; and, it is stated, that he first covered the staff of Jesus, with elegant workmanship, in his art. One of the most remarkable events of his life is the recorded fact, that he was the Tassach, who gave the body of Christ to St Patrick and at the request of the Apostle, in the monastery of Sabhall, or Saul, as the Life of Patrick states. Besides, various Acts of our Apostle allude to him, as having administered the Holy Communion to St. Patrick, when he had been admonished by the Angel of his approaching end, and during the holy man's last illness. At Kill-Chlopta,near Down, his Natalis was celebrated; but, we have no account of when he died, only that we may safely infer, St. Tassach survived his illustrious master, in the government of his particular See. From an early date, this holy Bishop seems to have been venerated in the Irish Church; and, we find him commemorated by St. Aengus, in his Feilire, at the 14th of April. At the same date, he is noticed, in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman. Likewise, on this day, we find mentioned in the Martyrology of Donegal, the name of Tassach, Bishop, of Rath Colptha, or Raholp, in Ulster, i.e., in Leth-Cathail, now known as Lecale. Under the local heading, Duald Mac Firbis enters, Bishop Tassach—in Rath-Colpa—Patrick's artist—it was he that gave the communion to Patrick, before his death; at April the 4th is the date for his feast. In Scotland, St. Tassagh was commemorated, likewise, on this day, as we find it, in the Kalendar of Drummond. This commemoration was due, doubtless, to the circumstance of his close connection during life with St. Patrick, whose glorious and holy departure he helped to sooth and lighten, by the body and blood of our Divine Lord.

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