Friday 7 June 2013

Saint Colman of Dromore, June 7

June 7 is the feast of a County Down saint, Colman of Dromore. In his account below, Canon O'Hanlon is clearly struggling to disentangle this particular saint from the many others who bear the same name. Modern scholars are open to the theory that the myriad Saints Colman who feature in the Irish calendars are in many cases localised cults of the most famous Colman of them all - Saint Colum Cille of Iona. In his recent Dictionary of Irish Saints, Professor Ó Riain sees it as significant that the feastday of Colman of Dromore falls just two days before that of Colum Cille and points out that the list of saints commemorated on June 7 contains three other homonyms of the Iona saint. Dear old Canon O'Hanlon, however, ties himself up into all sorts of knots trying to reconcile the evidence from the Life of Saint Colman of Dromore preserved in the Codex Salmanticensis with the chronology of other Irish saints and the efforts of earlier hagiologists which seemed to have muddied the waters even further. He does, however, bring us accounts of some of the miracles attributed to Saint Colman, including one where, fresh from a visit to Rome, he just happens to be visiting a British royal household on the night of the birth of Saint David of Wales. The Welsh patron is stillborn, but thanks to the relics of the Holy Apostles which he had obtained in Rome, Saint Colman restores life to the child and takes him under his wing. Professor Ó Riain reckons this is probably an attempt by the later medieval hagiographer to impress the Cambro-Normans in Ireland by linking the Welsh patron with the patron of Dromore:


So uncertain are all references made to this holy man, that with the exception of prevailing traditions, and the honour so long paid his memory, we can affirm few personal traits, relating to him, and of a perfectly reliable nature. However, popular traditions—and especially these coming down to us from a remote age and in reference to a venerated bishop—have a force and trustworthiness of peculiar importance, even where the incidents of his biography are obscured, in the memory of his mere personality. The virtues of every saint stand out in Christian reverence, with a peculiar and surpassing beauty. As years advance, these only serve to brighten the glory of saintliness, and to intensify that affection, with which beatific memories are cherished in millions of households. Throughout the Christian world, there is need of no words, to tell how much and how deeply each holy one has endeared himself to the members of Christ's Church.

Among many Irish saints, bearing the name of Colman, and numbering at least one hundred and twenty, much difficulty arises, in assigning to the patron of Dromore diocese distinctive acts, which bear a sole reference to him. However, there are Manuscript Lives of him still preserved. Some of these are kept, in the Bodleian Library, at Oxford. Among the Burgundian Library Manuscripts, at Bruxelles, there is a Latin Vita S. Colmani, E. Drum. On this day, Colgan intended to have published Acts of this saint. A Manuscript Life of this holy bishop was in possession of the Bollandists, towards the close of the seventeenth century. This has been edited, in the volume of their great serial work, which was published, A.D. 1698. According to the editor, Father Francis Baert, this Manuscript had been written three hundred years before the date of its publication. He justly considers it, as abounding in many unreliable accounts, which could not fail to displease any judicious reader. However, as in the case of certain Acts of the Irish saints, finding none others extant or more reliable; and, in the present instance, if he did not use those materials prepared—hitherto inedited and perhaps likely to remain so—Baert proposed to set them before the curious reader, although many might suppose it better, to withdraw such Acts from their great collection. Another reason he assigns, that as Irish historians were accustomed to refer to Lives of their Saints as historic authorities, he considered it just as well to produce such accounts, even when silly and fabulous. In reference to the present holy man, it is to be suspected, that accounts relating to him have confounded our Colman with other saints bearing a similar name. There are notices of this holy bishop, at the 7th of June, in Rev. Alban Butler. The Rev. Dr. Lanigan and the Petits Bollandistes have his commemoration, at this same date. Also, in the "Circle of the Seasons," in the works of Bishop Forbes and of Rev. S. Baring-Gould, is he noted.

Before his birth, predictions announced Colman's advent to the Irish. On a certain occasion, whilst our great Apostle journeyed from Armagh towards the monastery of Saul, he was hospitably entertained by a bishop, who presented himself and his establishment to the venerable guest, at his departure. We are informed, however, that St. Patrick refused to accept of that bishop's offer, but he predicted :" Thou art not assigned to me, but, after sixty years, one must be born, who shall found his monastery in an adjoining valley. There, a little while ago, whilst engaged in singing Mass, I saw through the church window a great multitude of angels assembled." St. Patrick is said, also, to have repealed the foregoing prophecy to another bishop, ordained by himself in those parts, and who wished to become a subject himself, with all his possessions, of the Irish Apostle. This prediction has been referred, however, to Colmanelo, of Muckmore. Still, it cannot be ascertained, that there had been any Colman, or Colmanellus, a Legate of all Ireland.

We are further assured, that in lapse of time, all these predictions regarding place and person were fulfilled, as they had been declared from the lips of St. Patrick. Again, we are told, that whilst the holy abbot St. Columkille was in the plain of Conall —a rural tract in southern Ulster —he spoke in prophetic spirit regarding our saint, to a certain nobleman named Mongan, who wished to dedicate himself and his posterity to Columba: "Trust me, I cannot receive you, because God has destined you for a certain holy man, who will build his monastery, on the northern bank of a river, called Locha. He shall be venerable, in the sight of God and man.'' Whatever credit may be given to an assertion, that St. Colman's birth had been predicted long before its occurrence, by St. Patrick, we cannot admit, that St. Columkille had also foretold an event, which must have happened, probably before his own birth. Neither is the latter prophecy contained in any of St. Columba's authentic Acts, as published by Colgan, nor in other ancient works; neither do we find the name of Mongan, as there introduced. However, unless we are to reject what is related of his education under Caylan and Ailbe, and of his connection with Macnisse, Colman was prior to Columkille by many years.

Our saint is usually invoked as Colman, in his offices. Yet, there are other forms of this name. He appears to have been denominated Colmoc, in the Aberdeen Breviary. Colmus, Mocolmoc, and Colmanelus, are names applied to this saint. A scholiast on the Aengussian Martyrology styles him Mocolmus. In former instances, a variation of name will find its illustration, in the case of other Irish saints, to whom diminutives and terms of endearment have been accorded, by the people inhabiting this island. It has been asserted, that St. Colman of Dromore was born at an earlier period, than has been generally supposed; for, it is evident, that St. Finian of Maghbile was first instructed by our saint, who was eminent in the early part of the sixth century. Colgan reckons Colman of Dromore, among the disciples of St. Patrick and, if we admit this statement, the birth of this Irish patriarch should be placed early, and in or about the middle of the fifth century. The birth of our saint is assigned by Sir James Ware and by his editor Walter Harris —quoting Ussher as authority—to 516. It is a very general opinion, also, that St. Colman flourished in the sixth century. However, it has been incorrectly stated, that when treating on the Writers of Ireland, Ware asserts that Colman of Dromore flourished to the seventh century; but, this accurate writer makes no such statement there, unless we are to apply his account respecting St. Colman, Bishop of Lindisfarne, to the saint of whom we are now treating. Because there is an account of St. Gregory the Great having consecrated a Colman, at Rome, it has been thought, he can have been no other than the first bishop and patron of Dromore, so named. But, the Rev. Dr. Lanigan tells us, that through a mistake of Ussher, Colman of Dromore has been confounded with a Colmanel of Muckmore. They are distinguished, however, by Father John Colgan, who, on the authority of Jocelyn," calls the latter an Apostolic Legate." Through a sort of negligence very usual with Colgan, he quotes, and without any observation, a passage, in which Colman of Dromore, is confounded with Colmanel. Harris has the same confusion at Bishops and Writers, but he distinguishes them at Monasteries. The Rev. Mervyn Archdall has jumbled them together, when treating about Muck-a-more. Yet, we have no certain data for these statements.

The Acts of this saint, as preserved, must have been falsified, at least in some particulars; for, various anachronisms are detected in them, if we accept the foregoing accounts. However, those Acts of his as taken from the Salamancan MS. assure us, that St. Colman, Bishop of Dromore, derived his descent from the Dalriads of Ards territory. This district is also called Dalaradia, meaning the people or offspring of Araidhe. A local tradition, however, connects his birth with Ferrard. The O'Clerys apply to St. Colman the patronymic Mac-Ua-Arta, and they state, that he belonged to the race of Conall Cearnach. Dalaradia is the Ultonian and eastern district, stretching from Newry towards Sliabh Mis, and lying northwards. Its name seems to have been derived from Fiach, surnamed Aradius, King of Ulster. Within his principality, it was situated.We are told, that St. Colman was baptized by a bishop, bearing his own name. This prelate is said to have been his uncle.

However, there are so many saints having this name, that neither the office nor cognomen will enable us to discover, who this baptist really was. According to our accounts, Almighty God caused a fountain to spring suddenly from the earth, in which Colman was baptized. During his youth, a remarkable but legendary miracle is attributed to him. After this, St. Colman's parents are said to have sent him to be instructed, by St. Caylan, abbot over Nendrum. Under this capable master, he not only received the rudiments of literature, but practical lessons for a devout life. Our saint made such progress in learning and sound morality, that one day, when his lessons had been perfectly committed to memory, he asked the father Abbot, what he should further do. His spiritual director told him, to remove a certain rock, which impeded the progress of the monks, when going to recite Matins. This act, Colman miraculously accomplished, after making over it a sign of the cross. It has been asserted, that St. Caylan was our saint's first master. According to Sir James Ware's testimony, having being at first abbot of Nendrum, he was afterwards made bishop of Down. An alternative has been submitted by Baert, that our saint might have been instructed by that bishop, who had formerly been abbot at Nendrum, and that therefore he retained the old title and office; yet, this he considers incongruous, for bishops have usually occupations, more nearly appertaining to the glory of God, than those which require the teaching of letters. Through God's assistance, having performed these and similar miracles, Colman obtained his master's benediction, and he then set out on his journey, to visit St. Aylbeus, Bishop of Emly. He was regarded as being a wise and holy man. Colman desired to receive from him the rule for a religious life. Under this latter saintly instructor—perhaps about A.D. 500 —our saint is stated to have remained some years. With great docility, he applied to study sacred Scripture, to fasting, to prayer, and to keep assiduous vigils. The Almighty gave him power to work many miracles.

Having obtained permission from St. Aylbeus, to revisit his native place, Colman returned to the holy fathers, his uncle Bishop Colman, and Caylan his master. With this latter he made some stay, and he exhorted the monks to a better rule of living. He was pointed to, as an examplar of all virtues. He often visited the holy and venerable bishop Maonyseus of Conor, who, having a prescience concerning his guest's arrival, ordered all things necessary for him to be prepared. On going to the bishop, he was received with a warm welcome, and he remained with that prelate for a few days. Then, he consulted that venerable senior, about the possibility of founding a religious house. Macnissius answered : "It is the will of God, that you erect a monastery, and within the bounds of Coba plain." Wherefore, according to the advice of this holy bishop, Colman sought the place indicated. Then, in a valley, and on a spot, formerly designated by St. Patrick, Colman established his dwelling. It was near a river, called Locha, now known as the Lagan. This place, which at present is called Dromore, was situated in the Dalaradian territory, of which St. Colman had been a native. The O'Clerys gave an alias name to Drum Mor, by calling it after our saint, Drum Mocholmdg, in Ui Eachach Uladh. It is now a very small town, about twenty-five miles eastwards from Armagh, and eighteen from Carrickfergus, towards the south. Its being selected as the seat of a bishop is placed so far back, as the fifth century. Here, at first, St. Colman seems to have established a monastery—it is thought before the year 514 —when St. Mac Nisse died. There he trained a number of fervent monks in the practices of a religious life. It is said, he wrote a Rule for his Monks, but this is a questionable statement. However, we find a different statement, that it was at Muckmore, in the county of Antrim, he became the first Abbot over a religious house, and that he was afterwards chosen to be first Bishop of Dromore. During his lifetime, it is said to have become an episcopal See; for, this St. Colman, whose feast occurs this day, is regarded as the patron of Dromore church and diocese. In a short time, the multitude of his disciples greatly increased. They observed a very strict rule of discipline. However, in all things, our saint set them a perfect example; for, abstinence, prayer, fervent piety, and vigils, altogether chastened his mortified body.

To illustrate the great merits and virtues of his biographical subject, and to show how he was favoured from Heaven, the old writer of St. Colman's Acts instanced many stupendous miracles wrought through him. One of these happened at a time, when Diermit, King of Ireland, pitched his camp near the monastery of our saint. Colman then induced this monarch to visit his religious house. Received with great welcome, the king and his retainers were hospitably entertained by this holy bishop. A miraculous event is recorded, in connection with this visit. Colman is said to have forgotten his Psalter, which he left in or near the lake; but, according to tradition, he afterwards found the book, without its having undergone any damage.

The saint is said, also, to have restored a female to life, after she had been decapitated by robbers. At one time, when our saint preached to a great multitude, in a certain wood, some importunate rhymers approached, and earnestly demanded a gift from him. The saint said to them: "At present, I have nothing to give you, but God's word." One of them impiously replied, “Keep the word of God for yourself, and give us something else." Colman said, "You foolishly reject the best and select the worst of gifts." Then they urged him to work miracles to gratify an idle and impious curiosity. The power of God was manifested against those incredulous bards, who most probably were pagans. The earth is said to have swallowed them up, as in the case of Dathan and Abiron. All who were present admired God's judgments in these wonders. Prostrate on their knees before St. Colman, they gave thanks to the Almighty, for those miracles the holy man had wrought. Diarmaid gave thanks to God, likewise, and to his holy servant, through whose power, those wonderful prodigies occurred.

Our saint is stated, to have thrice visited the Apostles' tomb, on the authority of those best qualified to offer a statement on the subject, who, however, are only the writers of his Acts. St. Gregory was Pope, while on one of those visits, and it is related, that our saint obtained the Episcopal dignity from that Sovereign Pontiff. He returned with some relics of the holy Apostles. On his way home, he visited the house of a king in Britain. It so happened, on the night of his arrival, that the queen gave birth to a dead son, who was no other than St. David of Wales. Through the power of God and the merits of the holy Apostles, whose relics he possessed, St. Colman brought the child to life. Afterwards, Colman fostered and taught him. This child, we are told, in course of time, became the renowned British bishop of Menevia.

Notwithstanding the statements here made, we are totally unacquainted with the date of Colman's accession to the episcopacy, or the place where he had been consecrated ; but, it seems most probable, that he was not obliged to leave his own country for that purpose. We have been unable to discover any bishop of Dromore, named in ancient records, after St. Colman, and before the arrival of the English in this island, with the exception of Maelbrighde, son of Cathasach, Bishop and Abbot of Druim-mor-Mocholmog, who departed this life, A.D. 972, or 974, as also another named Rigan, who is said to had died, about the year 1008 . A learned Irish writer observes, that in the book of Centius Camerarius, afterwards Pope Honorius III., there is no record enumerating Dromore See. Therefore, he supposes, in all likelihood, it wanted a distinct bishop for several centuries. Many also held, that Dromore had been united with the Archiepiscopal See of Armagh, during the whole of this dark historic period; and, as the bishopric itself had been of lesser consequence, as a matter of course, that few particulars had been set down in writing, which refer—if any there were —to its bishops.

Our saint's mother had sent a message, that she desired the privilege of speaking to him. But, the servant of Christ returned for answer: "Let her take choice of the alternative, either to see me only, or to speak without seeing me." On hearing this, she said: "I had rather he would speak to me, on matters pertaining to the welfare of my soul." Then, both met, but on opposite sides of a tree, and they began to converse with each other, without being mutually seen. Meantime, by Divine interposition, an opening was made through the tree, and which enabled both to behold each other, without the intervention of any obstacle. Again, we are told, that our saint once found a hind, which had strayed from its dam, and the saint called the animal to him. Then, he placed it with some heifers, from which a calf had been stolen. Soon, the heifers began to treat the hind, as if it had been one of their own species. At stated times, it herded with them, until at last, it returned to its own dam. At one time, the brothers of his monastery had nothing left to place on their table. For three days and nights, they were obliged to fast. This filled Colman with surprise, and obliged him to inquire into the cause of such privation. At length, by Divine revelation, he learned, that the keeper of the stores had been guilty of fraud. Immediately, he was deposed from that office, and a more faithful person was appointed in his stead. Thenceforward, the Almighty was pleased to provide for all the wants of Colman's religious community.

These incidents form only a summary of his life. It remains for us to speak regarding his decease. When about to leave this world, and to receive the reward of his labours from God, corporal infirmities grew upon him, until it was found necessary to administer Extreme Unction, and to strengthen his departure from life, by giving him the Holy Eucharist. Then, bidding farewell to his brethren, and with earnest prayer on his lips, his pure spirit fled to the bosom of his Creator.

The year of Colman's death has escaped the attention of our annalists. Conjectures have been offered by some writers, that he died about A.D. 600, or 610. However, these dates seem referable to other Colmans, who lived later, and therefore, they are quite nugatory. Even the confounding together various persons of that name is not a late error. However, St. Colman, first Bishop of Dromore died, probably before or towards the middle of the sixth century. He is said to have been buried in the city of Dromore—which is most probable—although the Breviary of Aberdeen gives the place of his sepulture as Inchmacome. The chief festival of our saint is kept, on the 7th of June. In the "Feilire" of St. Aengus, his name occurs, at this date, and there he is called the great descendant of Ua Artae. This saint is entered, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 7th of June, as Mocolmoc Dromma moir. In the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, his feast is set down, at the 7th of June, and by a commentator on it, his name is entered as Columbanus. However, this has the same meaning as Colman, and Mocholmdg. This latter is the Irish devotional name, compounded of mo-Colum-óg, i.e., "my little Colum," or " my beloved Colum;" while Colman, and Columban, are diminutives of Colum, and equivalent to Colum-óg. The name of Colmanus, rendered Colman, Bishop of Druim-Mor, according to his Latin Life, is identical with Columb, as he is styled in the " Feilire.” In the anonymous list of Irish Saints published by O'Sullevan Beare, the name of Colmanus occurs this day. Father Henry Fitzsimons has Colmanus, Epis. for his Calendar, at the 7th of June. The Martyrology of Donegal mentions likewise, the veneration paid to Mocholmog, Bishop. It is certain, that St. Colman had been venerated from an early period, not only in Ireland, but likewise in Scotland. In the Breviary of Aberdeen Cathedral Church, and which had been printed at Edinburgh, we find an office to a St. Colmoc, at the 6th of June. Again, in the Calendar of Drummond, at the 7th of June, we have recorded the Natalis of St. Mocholmoc in Ireland. At the vii. Idus Junii, the Martyrology of Aberdeen enters the festival of St. Colmoc, bishop and confessor; and, there can hardly be any doubt, but that reference is made here to the saint, who is venerated as Patron of Dromore. Assuming that the Colmoc thus venerated in Scotland was identical with our Colman, Baert enters upon an enquiry, about any Irish saint's name having been received with such honour in North Britain. He concludes, by observing, that the modern Scots too frequently appropriated as their own countrymen those Irish Saints, who were anciently designated Scoti by various writers. The same author remarks, that the name of St. Colman is noted down, in ancient Calendars, as having been venerated in Ireland. He then rightly conjectures, that this more ancient veneration, in our own western island, induced the British Scots to extend the observance of his festival, to their own country. In the " Memorial of Ancient British Piety," likewise, the festival of St. Colmoc, first Bishop of Dromore, is entered. His festival was enjoined to be celebrated with a solemn rite. The nine lessons of his office differ little in substance, from the Acts of St. Colman, as published by the Bollandists, at the 7th of June. According to some accounts, he had a festival at the 27th of September, on which day he was also commemorated; but, it is manifest, that the reference here is to St. Colman Elo or Eala.

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