Tuesday 9 June 2015

The Monastic Life and Miracles of Saint Baithen

On June 9 both the monastic founder of Iona, Saint Colum Cille and his immediate successor and kinsman Saint Baithen are commemorated. Canon O'Hanlon has provided details of the miracles of Saint Baithen (Baoithen, Latin Baitheneus) recorded in his various Vitae. As ever, they give us a glimpse into the monastic life and the virtues of a life of prayer, fasting, humility and obedience:

The Spirit of Saint Columba Comforts Baithen and the Brethern

At Iona, Baoithen appears to have been appointed the dispensator, or economus, or steward, of that foundation, and he superintended the labours of the monks in the field. On such an occasion, the monks once noticed a most fragrant odour, as if flowers, at a spot on the Island called Cuuleilne, and they asked the cause from Baoithen, who declared it was the spirit of their Abbot, who thus desired to refresh and comfort them, although he was not bodily present.

The Sea Voyages of Saint Baithen and Columbanus the Priest

When St. Columba had established a religious foundation in Tiree, he appointed Baoithen superior of the dependent Monastery there at Magh-Lunge. His journeyings thither by sea are recorded in St. Columba's Acts, and on occasion of setting out, he was accustomed to invoke the great Abbot's blessing. He also defended that Island from an invasion of evil spirits. Thence, too, he occasionally visited Hy. It is related, that on a particular occasion, Baithenus and Columbanus, son of Beognus, came to St. Columkille, and entreated him to obtain next day from God a prosperous wind for them, as they intended to set out on the sea, yet in contrary directions. The saint answered:'Baitheneus sailing from the port of Iona in the morning shall have a prosperous wind, until he arrives at the haven of Lungefield." This God granted him, according to the saint's words ; for, Baitheneus crossed over the sea to the land of Ethica, and with flowing sails, on that day. Then, at nine o'clock, St. Columba sent for Columbanus the Priest, and bade him make ready; as he told this voyager, that the south wind which favoured Baitheneus should turn to the north, and this was accordingly effected. So Columbanus embarked for Ireland, in the afternoon, and he made the voyage with full sails and favourable winds. This miracle was wrought by virtue of St. Columba's prayers, because it is written: 'All things are possible to him that believeth.' After Columbanus' departure on that day, St. Columba pronounced this prophecy regarding him: "The holy man Columbanus, whom I have blessed on departing, shall never more see me in this life. So indeed it fell out, for St. Columba departed to our Lord that very same year.

The Spear Blessed by Saint Baithen

While living in Iona, Baithen blessed a spear, over which he marked a sign of the cross. Thenceforth, it could hurt no person, and it could not even pierce the skin of any animal. Wherefore, its iron was taken to a smith, and mixed with other iron.

The Staff of Saint Baithen Protects A Monk

At one time, Lugbeus his monk happened to hold the staff of Baithen in his hand, when it was slightly gnawed by a dog. Having the same staff with him, while travelling among the Picts, he came to one of their houses, when a furious dog rushed out barking at him. That animal seized the staff of Baithen with his teeth, but immediately fell dead, and thus the monk escaped his meditated violence.

The Cure of the Monk Trenanus

Many sick persons were cured by St. Baithen, and among these was one of his monks, named Trenanus, who had been dropsical. But, he was commanded not to reveal this cure to any person, so long as Baithen lived. Our saint also prophesied, that a few days before his death, the patient should undergo a similar cure, and this was fulfilled a very long time afterwards.

The Judgement on Beoanus the Sinner

A story is told of one Beoanus—living beyond the Island Strait—who was an impious persecutor of the Church and a scoffer of the monks, and who had sent a messenger in derision to ask for the remains of their dinner. Then Baithen ordered the milk, which each of the brothers had left, to be poured into one vessel, and to be given to the messenger of Beoanus. No sooner had this unhappy man tasted it, than he felt a grievous internal complaint, and he found that death had already seized on him. However, he recognised in this intolerable anguish, that a just judgment had fallen upon him; and he had the grace of becoming contrite, while he died after being reconciled to God.

Saint Baithen Casts Out Demons

St. Baoithen also had the gift of casting out devils. Just at the time when he had succeeded the founder St. Columba, and while seated at table, he observed a foul demon looking in through a window. Raising his hand to make a sign of the cross over his monks, that evil spirit instantly vanished. The community afterwards inquired from him, for what reason he had signed in token of benediction, when he replied :" My brethren, the devil had looked in through the window at this very hour for dinner, to find if he could discover any of you negligent, either in making the sign of the cross, or in offering thanks to the Almighty. Understanding his craft, however, and having made that sign of the cross, he was overcome and he vanished as smoke." At one time, a monk of his order had been possessed, and so violent did he become, that manacles were applied, to prevent the maniac from tearing himself and others. Baithen was appealed to, that he might effect a cure, but through humility he distrusted any good result from his own merits. However, he selected some of his monks to take their maniac brother to Ireland, and there to seek the prayers of holy men, at its various churches. The result still continued to be unfavourable. At length, taking courage and offering up the Holy Sacrifice for that object, Baithen ordered the afflicted person into the church. There, in the presence of all the religious, the sufferer was restored to a sound state. Another monk, who dwelt in the monastery of Meagh Lunga, which St. Columba had founded in Heth, had been in like manner possessed. St. Baithen appeared, and pronounced these words in his presence: "You know, O demon, that between you and me, no compact has existed or can exist and therefore, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, depart immediately from this possessed man." Wherefore the demon vanished, and that brother was restored to health.

Even his garments were effective for similar purposes. On a certain occasion, one Fedgenus—perhaps Fechinus should be read—who was brother to the Abbot Virgnous, desired to visit his kindred in Britain, and he brought with him a habit belonging to Baithen, believing that it should protect him from every danger and extricate him from every difficulty he might experience along the way. When he visited that province, he entered a house, in which he found a man possessed. The pilgrim at once placed the habit of Baithen over him, and instantly the demon disappeared, the man being restored to perfect health.

The Vision of the Three Grand Chairs

To Baoethin, it was permitted to see the three grand chairs in heaven empty, and awaiting some of the saints of Erin, viz., the chair of gold, and a chair of silver, and a chair of glass. He told Colum Cille, at Ia or Iona, the vision which was shown to him. Then Colum Cille gave the interpretation to him of what he had seen, for he was a famous prophet. St. Columba said: " The chair of gold, which thou hast seen, is the chair of Ciaran, son of the carpenter, the reward for his sanctity, and hospitality, and charity. The chair of silver, which thou hast seen, is thine own chair, for the brightness and effulgence of thy piety. The chair of glass is my own chair, for although pure and bright, I am brittle and fragile, in consequence of the battles, which were fought on my account." After this event, St. Colum Cille is said to have resolved upon the celebrated abstinence, i.e., to take nettle pottage as food for the future, without drippings or any fat whatever.

The Asceticism of Saint Baithen

Among the legends, relating to St. Baoithin, is the following story. In consequence of his abstemiousness, the impression of his ribs through his woollen tunic was seen in the sandy beach, which is by the side of Iona, where he used to lie on it at night. This saint was a most perfect pattern of all virtues, especially of devotion and humility; he was favoured, also, with the gift of prophecy, and of miracles.

Saint Baithen Fasts Under the Oak

At one time, St. Columba sent him to excommunicate a certain family, that lived in a place called Druym-Cuill.That night he remained fasting under an oak tree. To those sitting around Baoithen said: I feel unwilling this time to excommunicate that family, until I learn whether or not they shall become penitent. Therefore, let the weight of our judgment to be visited on them fall rather on this tree before the year closes." After a few days, lightning came from Heaven, and struck that tree, completely stripping off its bark; while, at the same time, a mighty wind laid its trunk prostrate on the earth, where it finally withered.

Fintan the Wise Testifies to the Learning and Humility of Saint Baithen

It is related, moreover, that no other person on this side of the Alps was comparable to Baoithen in scriptural and scientific knowledge. Such was the opinion expressed by one Fintin, the wise, son of Luppan, and when some who were near him asked, if Baoithen were wiser than his master St. Columba, Fintin answered :" Know you not that I did not compare his alumnus to St. Columkille, full of the gifts of wisdom, but to other men ? For the latter is only to be compared with the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles of God, in whom the Holy Ghost, the fountain and source of wisdom and Divine prophecy, truly reigns ; who according to the Apostolic sentence, becomes like—although there be dissimilar degrees —for through the choice of Heaven, he is made to bring salvation upon all. Yet, he is wise among the wise, a king among kings, an anchorite among anchorites, a monk among monks, and although popular among seculars he needlessly lowered himself; he was poor of heart among the poor after the manner of the Apostles, owing to the wealth of charity which glowed within his breast, rejoicing with the glad souls and weeping with those who lamented. But among all these gifts of Divine bounty, the true humility of Christ strongly reigns in him, as if it had been naturally implanted." When that pious man had borne testimony to the wisdom of both the master and the disciple, all who heard him were quite ready to adopt his opinion as incontrovertible.

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