Monday 1 June 2015

Irish Saints in June


Below is a paper by Magdalen Rock, a regular contributor to Irish Catholic periodicals in the early twentieth century, on some of the Irish saints commemorated in the month of June. She brings together some well-known saints like Columba and Kevin, lesser-known ones like Nennus and Psalmodius plus a number of female saints.

Irish Saints in June.


WHEN the Irish saints honoured by the Church in June are mentioned, most persons thoughts go back to Columba, the Columkille whose quaint sayings and prophetic utterances are household words in the Land he loved so well, and parted from in penance sore. The Saint was the great-great-grandson of the famous warrior, Niall of the Nine Hostages, and both his parents were of royal blood. He was born at Gartan, in Donegal, in the year 521, and baptised by a priest who was for some years his tutor. Once he had acquired some rudimentary knowledge, he entered the monastic school of Moville, which was quite near-by his native place. Under Saint Finnian he made rapid progress, and in due time received the diaconate. Even then God gave him the gift of miracles ; it is related by Adamnan that once when wine was required for the Holy Sacrifice, the miracle of Cana was repeated at his prayer.

From Moville Columba passed to the Monastery of Clonard, ruled by another Finnian, whose fame as a teacher had drawn many students to the monastery. About the year 546 he was advanced to the Priesthood, and he also studied under St. Mobhi, and is supposed to have visited the Arran Islands. He founded monasteries at Kells, Durrow, and Derry, and got the length of Tours in a proposed journey to Rome and Palestine; but for some reason: he returned to Ireland without seeing the scene of the Crucifixion or praying at the shrines of the Apostles. He brought with him a copy of the Gospels from the tomb of Saint Martin.

Readers of the next important event in Columba' s life must remember that he had not then the wisdom and sanctity of after years and that he possessed an ardent and impulsive temperament. In Clonard was a much-prized treasure, a splendid volume of the Scriptures, corrected by St. Jerome. Columba desired to make a copy of the book, but the Abbot refused him permission. It chanced that Finnian was obliged to leave the monastery for a short time, and in his absence Columba entered his cell and made a perfect copy of the treasured book. It was night when the Abbot came back, and he was surprised to see his cell brilliantly lighted. On entering, he beheld Columba finishing his task in the midst of a divine radiance. Finnian withdrew, and on the morrow Columba confessed his fault. Finnian, however, insisted on holding the copy; Columba insisted that the copy belonged to him ; finally the matter was referred to the King of Tara, who decided that as the calf went with the cow, so the copy should go with the Psalter. Columba complained to his kinsmen so effectively that the Clan O'Donnell raised their war-cry. At the Battle of Cooldrevny the northern clan was victorious, and the coveted book won. Soon Columba was filled with remorse. His confessor, Saint Molaise, judged him hardly, and his penance was exile from Ireland. In pagan lands souls equal to the lives lost on the battleground in Sligo might be won to God.

Writers of various nationalities, writers Catholic and Protestant, have since the days of Bede and Adamnan, told of Columba's marvellous work. When the frail curragh containing the Saint and his twelve companions found difficult anchorage at the little island of Iona, the King of Dalriada, who was, it is said, related to Columba, bestowed the rude islet on the exiles. Soon they had erected a wattled church, refectory and tiny cells, and begun their missionary labours in Dalriada. When three years had sped, Columba, accompanied by Saints Comgall and Canice, opened their campaign in the country of the Picts, and sought an interview with King Brude at his palace near Inverness. The king heard of their coming, and closed his gates against the strangers; but when Columba made the Sign of the Cross the barred gates flew open, and the astonished monarch listened to the speech of the missionaries, and was, with many of his chief men, baptised. Permission was given to Columba to begin his life-work among the inhabitants of the rude, northern land, and the king confirmed his title to Iona.

From that barren island, three miles long by one-and-a-half broad, missionaries went north and south. Columba was never idle. When not engaged in preaching and teaching, his artist fingers were busy copying and transcribing, or he was engaged in hard manual labour or in prayer. His austerities were severe, and were not mitigated as old age came on. He was at work copying when death came, but he managed to crawl to the midnight service, and, after receiving the Holy Viaticum, passed away before the altar. He was buried in the monks' cemetery, but later his remains were conveyed to Ireland and placed in the grave of Patrick and Brigid.

For long, long years after Columba's death the community of Iona continued his work. Northumbria, after having received the faith from Paulinus, relapsed into paganism on the departure of the Roman monk and the widowed Kentish queen to her girlhood home. In time St. Oswald, who had been sheltered in his exile by the Irish monks of Iona, succeeded to the throne of the kingdom, and called on his former friends to come and re-evangelise the rude, northern realm. Aidan set up his bishop's stool at Lindsfarne, other Irish bishops followed him, and once again the land of Northumbria was far more vigorously Christian.

Columba's feast is celebrated on the ninth of June. In the little isle forty-eight Scotch monarchs, two Irish kings, one French, and two Norwegian monarchs are interred, besides many ecclesiastics and chiefs and knights. The last Scotch king buried there was that Duncan with whom the tragedy of Macbeth has made us acquaint. He was, according to Macduff,

Carried to Colme's kill,
The sacred storehouse of his predecessors
And guardian of their bones.

The lonely grandeur and picturesque beauty of Glendalough, the numerous, wonderful remains of the churches and round towers of far-off times, and, perhaps, Tom Moore's silly melody, have made the name of Saint Kevin or Coemgen familiar to the people of many climes. This holy man was born in the year 498, and passed to his reward on the third of June, 618. His parents placed him under the care of Saint Petroc, a Briton drawn to Ireland by the fame of its schools and teachers. Kevin spent five profitable years with his instructor, and then passed a monastic school. Eventually he took up his abode at Glendalough, and founded its celebrated monastery round which a city subsequently rose, and flourished, and decayed.

His sanctity and learning brought a constant conflux of pupils, but the saint loved to retire to the rocky bed in a hollow of a rock which is still pointed out to tourists, and there pass nights and days in prayer and penance. His little house is yet standing in the valley. Alban Butler says that Saint Kevin was a bishop, but other authorities say he was never raised to episcopal dignity. The Seven Churches of Glendalough have for centuries been a place of pious pilgrimage.

Saint Moling was born in what is now County Waterford some time in the sixth century. He entered monastic life in the monastery of Glendalough, and his sanctity and prudence brought him the care of the monastery of Aghacainid, on the bank of the River Barrow. From this he was selected to be the second bishop of Ferns. During his episcopate he rendered great service to his native province by inducing King Finacta to remit the Boarian tribute of cattle which Leinstermen were obliged to pay annually from the time of the second century. This saint was the patron and friend of the famous architect and builder. Gobban Saer indeed legend says that whereas Gobban had been a mere ordinary workman, the touch of Saint Moling's hand on his head gave him miraculous architectural knowledge. Some time prior to his death he resigned his See in order that he might the better prepare for his end. He died in 697, and was buried in his own monastery of Teghmoling. His feast is kept on the seventeenth of the month. Giraldus Cambrensis calls Moling one of the four holy prophets of Ireland.

There are numerous Saint Colmans mentioned in the Irish annals. The saint whose memory is commemorated on the seventh of June founded the monastery of Muckamore in Antrim, and is known in Irish hagiology as Colman Elo. He was born in Tyrone about the year 555, and is said to have received some instruction from his relative, Saint Columba. Tradition says he possessed miraculous powers in converting sinners; and Jocelin tells that Saint Patrick foretold of the birth of this holy man and of his eminent virtues.

Of Saints Nennus and Psalmodius, honoured on the fourteenth of June, little is known. The former belonged to a noble family, and in 654 succeeded Saint Endeus as abbot in Aran. The second saint studied under Saint Brendan, and by his advice crossed to Gaul, and placed himself under the direction of the Bishop of Saintes. The last years of his life were spent in a cell in the forests of Limoges, where he practised great mortifications. He died towards the close of the seventh century, and his relics are yet kept in a silver shrine in the collegiate church of Saint Agapetus in Languedoc, where he is honoured on the sixth of August.

Saint Gobain also died in exile, and in dying won the martyr's crown. He had been ordained by Saint Fursey, and followed the saint to France, where for a time he lived in a cell near the River Oise. Later he built, on ground given by Clotaire III., a splendid church to the honour of the chief of the Apostles. There for many a year he fasted and prayed till a roving band of brigands put him to death on account of his profession. His remains were long preserved in St. Gobain, a town noted for its manufacture of a particular kind of glass. The Calvinists scattered them, but the head of the martyr was recovered and is still enshrined in the chief church. Saint Gobain's feast is on the twentieth day of June.

The holy virgins Burian, Breaca, and Nonnica are honoured on the fourth of the month. Of the first and second there is little told. Breaca was instructed by Saint Patrick and, in order to serve God in solitude, crossed over to Cornwall, in which county many legends of her survive. Burian also left Ireland and settled in Cornwall, where King Athelstan, Alfred's golden-haired grandson, raised a college in her memory. It possessed all the rights and privileges of sanctuary. Saint Nonnica, though born in Wales, may be reckoned an Irish saint. Her grandfather was Irish, and her father, Brecan, gave a name to a Welsh shire. Nonnica, the youngest of a numerous family, was very beautiful, and Welsh knights and Irish chieftains sought her hand in marriage. But the young girl had made her choice of a bridegroom. The chance of serving God in religion came soon. Germain of Auxerre had come to Britain to oppose heresy, and he, and probably Saint Patrick, became guests in her father's palace. One night a fine entertainment was given. There were gifts for the poor distributed, and various evil doers were pardoned their offences. Brecan bade all ask largesse from him. Then his favourite daughter asked to be permitted to go to a convent in France. The prince could not refuse his consent, and Nonnica accompanied Saint Germain to Gaul. Near the present watering-place of Port St. Herbert, Nonnica was enabled, through the kindness of the lord of the soil, to found her convent, to which many of her girlhood friends repaired. She renowned for her sanctity and miracles, and her fame survived in the scene of her labours, which is known still as Lan-nenoke. She died in 469.

One of Saint Fursey's sisters bore the name of Syra. The example of her brother induced Syra to desire the religions life. She joined Fursey in France; and Saint Faro, Bishop of Meaux, and Fursey committed the maid to the care of the bishop's sister, who ruled a convent in Brie. The Irish maiden was remarkable for her charity and humility during life. She passed to rest on the eighth of June, though she is honoured in Meaux in October.

The patroness of the Counties Fermanagh and Cavan is Saint Damhnade, whose feast occurs on the thirteenth of the month. Two Saint Tochumras are honoured on the eleventh of June. One is venerated in Killfenora, the other is the special patron of women in labour.

Irish Rosary, Volume 25 (1921), 416-420

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