Saturday 15 June 2013

Saint Beoc of Wexford, June 15

Below is a paper by the nineteenth-century scholar, Margaret Stokes, on an Irish saint, Beoc, who is linked to both Wexford and Brittany. His name, however, does not appear in any of the ancient Irish calendars. Modern scholar, Gwenael le Duc, has written a paper on 'Irish saints in Brittany: Myth or Reality?' in which he subjects the idea that Brittany was awash with Irish saints to critical examination. His conclusion is that the numbers have, for all sorts of reasons, been highly exaggerated and that Brittany was not a favoured European destination for the Irish at all. He believes that St Beoc (also known as Veoc and Vouagy) is a conflation of a Breton saint, Bee'heu and Vouga, an Irishman celebrated on June 15. As Stokes' paper below shows, however, whatever the truth of his origins, the saint had a flourishing cult:



By the beginning of the fifth century there dwelt two brothers in the county of Wexford, Bishop Cairpre, [1] and Beoc, [2] now called Veoc. He is said to have been first a priest, and then a bishop, in Armagh. [3] But, seeking a desert place where he could devote his life to contemplation, he left that country and journeyed southwards till he reached the south-eastern point of Ireland, where he remained for some time studying the word of God with prayer and working miracles in healing. He enclosed a small tract of land upon the sandy shore near Carnsore point, and there he built a little cell and oratory, consecrating a holy well close by, whose waters are still held to be possessed of healing virtues.

The wide sands near Beoc's cashel are strewn with huge dark boulders rounded by the Atlantic waves. Standing on one of these, Beoc longed to reach the continent that he knew lay beyond the far horizon, but he could see no boat to bear him thither. Then, as he prayed, the stone on which he stood began to move, and gliding down the shore, floated with him out to sea. In a night and a day it bore him to the shore of Brittany and leaving the saint at a place to the south of the bay of Douarnenez, called Lan Veoc, the stone returned whence it came. One fragment, however, that bearing the impress of the saint's head, was broken off and left behind in Brittany. Albert le Grand thus continues this legend : At the port of Comouaille, the name of which was Penmarch, many who at that time were walking on the shore, and sailors of ships which were standing at anchor in the harbour, when they saw this huge mass floating to them from afar, thought that some great ship was being driven to land by the force of the waves, the storm having broken over it and having destroyed its mast. But when it entered the harbour, they all stood terrified, because that huge rock, like a ship, was carrying towards them a man seated on its summit. The saint descended to land, and immediately the rock turned back to sea, and all the crowd who were present looking on it directed its course towards Ireland whence it came.

That miracle being noised abroad among the surrounding villages, called up a great multitude of men desirous of seeing the saint. The Penmarchian citizens, also moved by so great a miracle, offered thanks to God, because he had sent to them so holy a man, and receiving him with great hospitality, they assigned him a house wherein to dwell. There he often preached the word of God and miraculously healed the sick, winning many souls to Jesus Christ.

Subsequently the saint erected a hermitage half a-mile from the city, into which he betook himself to live quietly to God ; but when the people flocked to him daily in great crowds he resolved to change his abode.

On a certain day, the saint going forth from his hut met a woman upon his way who, inspired by an evil spirit, sang insulting songs before him. The saint gently reproved her, but when nothing availed, leaving her, he silently went his way ; yet she, unhappy woman, soon felt the divine condemnation of her wickedness, for, seized with great internal pain, she fell dead on the earth. Beholding her punishment, St. Veoc ordered the corpse to be carried into the church, and unmindful of the injuries he received from her, he knelt upon the ground, and with tears besought the Lord that he would permit the soul of that wretched woman to return to her body, lest, dying impenitent, she should at the same time forfeit eternal life. The saint had scarcely finished his prayers when she flung herself at his feet, beseeching forgiveness. This being granted, she went home praising God, who had shown himself wonderful in his servant St. Veoc.

Immediately the fame of so great a miracle spread abroad through all Cornouaille, and called forth very many from all the places around to his hermitage. But he, fearing lest so great a crowd of men should disturb the quiet of his devotion, determined to carry out the scheme he had long proposed to himself. He therefore went across an arm of the sea from LAN VEOC, and came to Brest, where he was unwilling to stay ; but crossing over through the district of Lesneven, he buried himself in a very dense wood, where, having erected an oratory with a little hut beside it, he was joined by some religious men, with whom he spent his time in holy works until it pleased God to call him away to the reward of his pious labours. He died on the 15th of June, about the year 585. His disciples buried him under the altar of his chapel, in which place God afterwards wrought so many miracles through his intercession that, the wood being cut down, a chapel was built in the same place, and dedicated to his name, which St. Tenenan, Bishop of Leon, subsequently raised to the rank of a parochial church. The revered relics of St. Beoc were honourably preserved here until the arrival of the Northmen in Brittany, at which time this country was desolated, and his remains were transferred elsewhere. However, his missal is religiously preserved in his sacred church, by touching which fever patients think themselves relieved. Many of his relics are also preserved in the chapel called after his name, erected on the shore of the great ocean, one mile from Penmarch, in the parish of Treguenec, in the diocese of Cornouuille, which chapel is constantly visited by persons suffering from fever, who gradually regain their health there.

Some part also of the rock remained which had brought him over, and it stands to this day in the parish of Treguenec, a mile from Penmarch, in a cemetery of a chapel called from the Saint, and on it is seen, even now, the impress of the saint's head. Wherefore pilgrims who visit the chapel for the sake of religion, in order that they may be relieved from fevers, are wont to recline their head upon the rock, and to carry away with them water blessed by contact with the sacred relics, which is drunk by those suffering from fever, or is sprinkled on their forehead.

The vestiges of St. Beoc which still remain in the County of "Wexford are to be found on the seashore, in the parish of Cam. They consist of a ruined church, and cashel, enclosing an ancient cemetery, a holy well, and a huge boulder-stone just above tide-mark, on which a cross is incised.

[Please refer to the original volume for details and illustrations of this church]

The holy well of St. Beoc is in the field between the church and shore. Here steps may be seen leading down to a natural spring of clear water about two feet in depth. A semicircular enclosure of strong masonry confines three sides of the well, which is open in front, and shadowed by briars and creepers, a tangle of quick and bryony and wild rose-bush threatening to hide the steps from view by which the pilgrims still descend to the healing waters, said by the poor in the neighbourhood to be an unfailing cure for toothache. The stone of St. Beoc, on which he is said to have sailed from Carnsore point to Brittany, and which returned after depositing its burthen on a foreign shore, is still shown upon the seashore. It is a huge boulder, well rounded by the action of the waves. At the sides are two deep cuttings, apparently meant for iron stanchions, by means of which the stone appears to have once been fixed, so as to stand upright. A rude cross is deeply incised on the front of the stone, which, having fallen on its face, only reveals its back to view. However, by kneeling down and peering under the stone a portion of this cross may be discerned. It is possible that at one time it may have been fixed up on end and marked to commemorate the departure of some remarkable person from the shore.

"The county of Wexford, being the gate of the Kingdom of Ireland" as Colonel Richards, writing in 1656, has termed it, is probably a rich field for the explorer or pilgrim in search of vestiges of the first missionaries to and from the continent in the early Christian period ; yet it will be difficult to find any of greater interest than the view we have here described. As seen from the summit of the casbel or enclosing wall which surrounds its cemetery, it would form a good subject for a landscape painter. To the north-east lies the bright village of Churchtown, its low headland stretching far into the sea, the sandy reaches of the shore to the south scattered with huge dark boulders of granite, whose grey tones, broken by the rich bronze and umber of the sea weed, form a solemn contrast to the dancing wavelets and blue distant sea. Such is the fresh and charming background to the pathetic little ruin, the Irish home of our Breton saint, now overgrown with ivy and brambles, sea-pink, blue scabious, and other sea-side plants.


[1] Cairpre, patron of Cill Carbrey in Wexford, near the meeting of the rivers Boro and Slaney.

[2] Beoc. The name of this saint has gone through many changes and corruptions, and is now printed Vaugh on the Ordnance Survey Map. He is sometimes styled Mobioc or Dabioc Vake, Vogues, Vauk, Vouga.

[3] Father Shearman traces his origin to Tennon Dabeog, at Loch Derg in Ulster "Loca Patriciana," p. 158.

[Authorities "Boll. AA. SS.," June 15, p. 1061, par. 4. " De S. Vouga seu Veo, episc. in Britannia Annorica . . . ab Alberto le Grand." Lobineau, "Les Vies des SS. de Bretagne," ed. M. L'Abbe Tresvaux, Paris, 1836, vol. i. Shearman, " Loca Patriciana," p. 157. O'Hanlon, " Lives of Irish SS.," vol. vi., p. 668.]

Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1893, 380-385.

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