The August 9 feast of Saint Nathy, patron of the diocese of Achonry, is quickly followed by that of the diocesan patroness, Saint Attracta, commemorated on August 11. There are many legends associated with Saint Attracta, whose Life contains a number of elements common to saints' vitae. For example, she manifests a commitment to the monastic life early on and goes against her father's wishes for her to marry. Attracta, however, is received as a nun by Saint Patrick himself, and her veiling is accompanied by a miracle, one of several recorded concerning the two saints. Indeed, the distinctive Celtic cross was said to have been granted to Saint Attracta in one of these miracles. Some calendars assign a feast of Saint Attracta to the 9th of February, but her main feast has always been celebrated on August 11. The following account of her life has been distilled from Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume 8:
Saint Attracta, Virgin and Patroness of Killaraught, County of Sligo [Fifth or Sixth Century]
St. Attracta is said to have been the daughter of Talan, and to have had a brother called St. Coeman. These belonged to the race of Irius, and derive their origin from the Province of Ulster. However, other statements are found to differ from the foregoing account of her family and race. We know not whether her parents were Pagans or Christians; for, it is stated, that when St. Patrick preached in the wooded region about Moylurg, about A.D. 450, St. Attracta had led a very pious and austere life, at home.
In the ancient Life of this Saint, we are informed, that during her tender years, she was most fervent in prayer, that she bestowed frequent alms, and macerated her body by continual fasting. When this holy virgin arrived at the age of puberty, her father was desirous to engage her in the state of marriage. This did not accord, however, with her own desire. Being very beautiful, and sought in marriage by several suitors, she felt a Divine inspiration to embrace a religious life. Those writers who hold, that she belonged to the Ulster province, state her coming thence to Connaught to fulfil that object. St. Patrick—then engaged on his western Irish mission—was preaching in that part of the country. To avoid her parent's importunities, and taking with her a maid, called Mitain, and a servant-man called Mochain, she left her paternal home, and directed her course towards Gregraighe, in the territory of Lugnia, or Leney. When St. Attracta arrived in St. Patrick's presence, the pure virgin signified her intention to consecrate herself entirely to Almighty God. Her companion seems to have been from that part of the country, likewise, and both were united in desire and act. Our great Apostle accordingly prepared to receive their religious profession. The author of St. Patrick's Tripartite Life expressly names St. Attracta, in the account of this miraculous reception. She and her companion, accordingly, and at the hands of the great Irish Apostle, were professed, and in the following manner. Whilst in the act of consecrating those virgins, a veil fell from Heaven on St. Patrick's breast. He received it with great devotion, and presented it to the virgin, he had last consecrated. This was St. Attracta, according to some accounts. But, as we are told, the spouse of Christ, with unfeigned humility, said to the saint: "Since this good and perfect gift has descended from the Father of Light, I do not consider it intended for me, a sinner yet, in my opinion, you who have received should retain it, or present this veil to my companion, who is more holy than I am." Pleased with our saint's humility, the Apostle then placed the veil upon her head, and, he told her, she should wear it, until introduced to the bridal chamber of her heavenly spouse. The virgin at length yielded to his request, and wore that veil, until the day of her death.
Beside Lough Techet, now Lough Gara, St. Patrick established a convent, and at a place, which from our saint was afterwards known as the church of St. Attracta. Having founded a nunnery there, St. Patrick appointed St. Attracta to rule over it as Abbess, some other pious women becoming inmates of her house at the same time. He is said, likewise, to have left a teisc and a chalice with Attracta. Hence, in due course of time this locality took the designation of Kill Athracta, or Killaraght, on account of the establishment and name of its holy Abbess.
We learn little more regarding her, except from those acephalous Acts, furnished by Colgan. It must be our endeavour to extract from these, some few subsequent particulars, which are of much interest, could we only have a certainty they had been derived from authentic sources. After relating the flight of this Virgin from her friends, and her arrival in the province of Connaght; we are told, that Attracta not only vowed perpetual chastity, but resolved, moreover, on cultivating the virtue of hospitality, to a very great extent. For this purpose, she designed taking up her residence at a place, where seven roads should appear within view, or meet, that thus it might be likely, numbers of persons should pass the spot. Towards all of those wayfarers, she intended to minister the necessaries of life, by establishing there a common hospice or house of reception for strangers. The Acts of our saint state, that she designed establishing a "commune synochen," at this place. By this term, we are to understand, that it was to be a xenodochium, or a hospital, for poor travellers or strangers.
Her servant, named Mochain, who had accompanied Attracta from her own part of the country, and who already had been made aware of her intention, went out one day, at an early hour of the morning. When the sun had risen, Mochain betook himself to the deep recesses of an adjoining wood. There he discovered the meeting of seven roads, which appeared to have been formed, by frequent journeys made through that part of the country. Immediately he thought, that there God must have designed to satisfy the wishes of his mistress, and that He had designated such place as the site for her future habitation.
Soon the servant returned to his mistress, and, falling before her on his knees, he related what he had seen. Then, accompanying him to the spot, Attracta gave thanks to God, with outstretched hands, believing her desires were about to be accomplished, as to the choice of a location for her intended establishment. She is said to have bestowed a tract of land upon her servant, at that place; recommending the practice of the virtue of hospitality to him and to his successors, that thus they might obtain favours from God, on the great accounting day. She asked leave from the inhabitants of that district, to erect a habitation there, and this permission they eagerly accorded. The saint was much beloved and respected by the natives of that country. They admired her great virtue and prudence ; they consulted her upon all their important undertakings ; and they held her in as much esteem, as if she had been born there, and had constantly resided among them. Moreover, they erected a church in that place, which was dedicated in her name, as also in honour of the Most Holy Trinity, and of the Blessed Virgin...
This holy virgin was called to the joys of Heaven, after the performance of numerous miracles and the exercise of many virtues. We are ignorant regarding the year or even the day of St. Attracta's death, although few Irish saints have left after them such vivid traditions and so many lasting memorials. To this very day, her life and miracles form much of the folk-lore among the people of Coolavin. According to most probable accounts, she flourished in the fifth century, and about the year 470. In the foreign calendars, her name is written Tarachta or Tarahata. No saint so named is mentioned in any Irish document, and hence Colgan justly inferred, that she was no other than St. Athracta. One of the virgins veiled by St. Patrick at Cregi was St. Attracta, who is thus noted, but without her feast being assigned, in Father Henry Fitzsimon's "List of Irish Saints." Her name is written Etrachta, Virgo, in the published Martyrology of Tallaght, as also in that copy of it found in the Book of Leinster. The Martyrologies of Tallagh, of Marianus O'Gorman, of Maguire and of Donegal record her festival at the 11th of August. She is mentioned, in the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same date, as Athracht, Virgin, daughter of Tighernach, of Cill Saile, in Crich Conaill. She was venerated after her death, as patroness of the church of Kill-Athracta or Killaraght, and, in the townland so named, the modern church is built on the site of an old church, none of which now remains, but burials are still continued in the church-yard. In the same townland was the well of St. Athracta, at which the people of that neighbourhood were accustomed to perform stations, on the 11th of August, which seems to have been traditionally and locally regarded as the holy virgin's chief festival. It was situated on the south side of Killaraght townland, on the road from Boyle to Frenchpark, and very near the boundary between Killaraght and Kilnamansentagh parishes. The place of this holy virgin retained the name Kill Athracta, in Colgan's day, and it was situated in Achonry Diocese.
On this day, the feast of St. Attracta is celebrated as a Double of the Minor Rite, in the Diocese of Achonry, by permission of his late Holiness Pius IX., granted on the 28th of July, 1864, at the request of the former Bishop of the diocese then living. She is the special patroness of Killaraght parish, in the County of Sligo; and, it was then agreed, that when a church should have been erected to her honour, in that town, on regular application to the Holy See, her festival might be raised to the dignity of a greater Rite. An Office of Nine Lessons, with the Second Nocturn Proper, and a Mass, taken from the Common of Virgins, with a proper Prayer, were then allowed for the Diocese of Achonry. As a Double Festival, this commemoration of St. Attracta has been extended, on this day, the 11th of August, to the whole Church of Ireland. We learn, from the continuator of Usuard, who places her festival at this date, that St. Arata, virgin and nun, was invoked for the liberation of captives, and for the staying from men of pestilence. The cross of St. Athracta had long been preserved in her place, and the O'Mochains or Moghans were the hereditary keepers of that relic. But, it is not known to be in existence, at the present time.
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Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.