Friday 17 July 2015

Saint Fredigand of Deuren, July 17

Three days ago we commemorated the memory of a Belgian saint said to have been an Irishman, or at least to have spent time in this country, Saint Maelceadar (Vincent Maldegarius) of Hainault. It strikes me that he has much in common with the Belgian saint commemorated on July 17, Fredigand of Deuren. Both have poorly-substantiated claims of Irish origin and both are associated with the European mission of Saint Fursey and his companions, with Saint Fredigand being linked to Saint Foillan in particular. Once again Canon O'Hanlon has no problem with including this Belgian saint among those featured in Volume 7 of his Lives of the Irish Saints, although he does admit that the evidence is less than satisfactory:



AMONG the virtues of our primitive saints, their love for prayer was always very remarkable. Besides the morning and evening, they had other stated times, also, at which they assembled to pray. Many even rose in the night, to occupy themselves in this holy exercise. They were taught, moreover, to profit of the intervals from sleep, by reciting the Lord's prayer, or some verses of the Psalms. Every morning, they repeated the Apostles' Creed, which they were careful to use on all occasions of danger, as the symbol and shield, which so well guarded their faith. Thus were their minds constantly elevated towards God, and their affections centered in him.

Like many accounts regarding the early saints, those relating to St. Fredegandus are unsatisfactory, for want of consistency and agreement on particulars related. He is said to have flourished in the eighth century although other inferences may be drawn from the Acts which remain. It may be necessary therefore to observe, that the array of testimony which follows, must serve to furnish the only statements that can be offered ; if these are not conclusive, we can only regret, none others exist or are accessible to us, in the endeavour to evolve the true facts of his history and period.

On the 17th of July, according to Miraeus,  is commemorated in some parts of the Low Countries St. Fredegand. In the "Natales Sanctorum Belgii" by Molanus, we find St. Fredegand mentioned at the same date, with some biographical notices, drawn probably from traditions or written records. Colgan had prepared notices of St. Fredigand for the 17th day of July, but he did not live to publish them. At the 17th of July, the Bollandists have some notices regarding this pious missionary, and which serve to throw a coloured light on his period and career. Those memoranda are Acts by some anonymous writer, and an account of miracles, wrought through his intercession, also the work of some unknown compiler. There is a Previous Commentary prefixed to both by Father Guilielmus Cuper. There are intrinsic evidences to show, that the short Manuscript Life contained in the Register of the Cathedral at Antwerp cannot be regarded as a very ancient one ; neither is it historically reliable, since in the narrative we detect anachronisms of statement, that cannot readily be reconciled. There is an office of this saint celebrated in the church at Duerne, and in it under a Double Rite there are proper Lessons for the Second Nocturn, in which it is stated, that he came from Ireland into Gaul with other holy men, to preach the Gospel in the country about Antwerp. Notices of this saint are to be found in Bishop Challoner's work, as also in that of Rev. Alban Butler, at the 17th of July. The latter, however, incorrectly calls him Turninus— taking the denomination of his place for the name of the saint.  In Les Petits Bollandistes, there are notices of this holy missionary, at the present date. So many uncertain accounts of him are given, however, that it is difficult to pronounce with any great degree of certainty on these varying statements.

Although, by the anonymous author of his Acts, St. Fredegand—also called Frego and Fredegad—is said to have been born within the Liberties of Antwerp, and at a place called Turninum,  afterwards Turne or Deurne, on the banks of a river called Schinda, which flows into the Scheld yet, by other Belgian writers, this statement has been questioned. By the French he has been called Fregaud.

This saint was an Irishman by birth, according to his ancient office recited at Deuren, as also in the opinion of Molanus,  Mirseus, and Malbranq. He appears to have embraced the monastic state of  life, and if it be true, that he was a native of Ireland, it seems most likely his profession was made in our country. According to all accounts, he was remarkable for his many virtues, even in early youth. He became a priest, when he had attained the requisite qualifications through age and study. He became a companion of St. Fursey, St. Foillan,  and St. Ultan, when they left Ireland, to spread the Faith in the north-western Continental countries.

However, nothing definite seems to be known regarding this connexion. St. Fredegand is said to have been a companion of St. Foillan, where his mission in the Low Countries took place, and to have been like him an apostolical preacher. The district of Ryland appears to have been that selected by Fredegand for his special harvest of souls. According to the published Acts of our saint, the illustrious Willibrord  had there built a small monastery about the year 700, and into this Fredigand entered as a monk; while his piety and diligence, in this state, caused him to be elected as Abbot over the community. He laboured with unwearied zeal to bring the people to a perfect practice of Christian virtue. At this period, also, Pepin of Herstal had obtained great victories over the Frisons, and through the ministry of St. Willibrord, many of these were brought over to embrace the Catholic faith. One of his captains was named Gommar, and it is stated, that St. Fredegand had many conversations on religious matters with him, so that in fine he became a great saint. It is likewise related, that St. Rumold  was a companion and confidant of both. The country about Antwerp was the chief scene of St. Fredigand's labours. It seems to have been assumed, that he belonged to the Benedictine Order; but this is more than doubtful, if he came in company with St. Fursey and other missionaries into France. The results of his preaching were very remarkable. Abundant fruits were gleaned, while personally he contended against the obstacles to sanctity, so that his eternal reward might be obtained. This holy man was greatly distinguished for his success in spreading the Gospel through those parts. St. Amand founded a monastery at Querquelodora at Duerne, and the Bollandists suppose, that St. Fredegand was set over it, but whether as Abbot, before Firminus or after his time, cannot well be determined. According to another account, in 726, a pious and wealthy man named Rohingus and his wife Bebelina bestowed the site on St. Willibrord, who there built a church in honour of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. The monastery at Dome, near Antwerp, is thought by some to have been the foundation of St. Fredegand; and, there he is said to have become a monk, while other writers state, that he presided over it as the first Abbot. Before the Norman Invasion, Turninum was a fortified town, and it seems to have been approachable by ships. The site of this religious establishment was in a marshy place; yet vessels seem to have had access to it from the sea, before the present mounds or embankments had been erected on the Scheld. This place is said to have been more ancient than the stately city of Antwerp, which afterwards had been built near it, and where at present a truly magnificent Gothic cathedral, with a steeple 441 feet in height, dominates proudly over the streets and houses. The interior has five aisles, and the elevation of 360 feet presents a wonderfully fine perspective. Noble churches and religious institutes still manifest the permanent character of that impression made on a free people, yet preserving the traditions of their fathers in the Faith, and observing well the precepts learned from their first teachers.

St. Fredigand died in the Netherlands, about the close of the seventh century, as has been generally believed. His relics formerly reposed in his monastery at Dorne, where they had been deposited. However, in the ninth century, the Normans made an irruption into this part of the country, and, in 836, they burned Turninum, and utterly destroyed that religious establishment. They also tore down the walls and towers of the city, killing numbers of the people, and bringing others away as slaves. Only a solitude remained. To guard the precious relics of our saint from sacrilege, in the time of the Norman devastations, they were translated to the collegiate church of St. Peter, at Monstier. This was built near the River Sambre, and it was situated about two leagues from Namur. Again, it has been stated, regarding the relics, that Adalard, superior of Sithieu, with Folquinus the Bishop, received St. Fredegand's remains, about A.D. 845 or 846.  His relics were thus translated to the territory of Liege; but, after the Norman incursions, it may be inferred from accounts left us, that some relics of St. Fredigand still remained at Deurne, At Monstier, the chief remains were honourably enshrined in the monastery. St. Fredigand has been venerated as the special patron of Deurne. At St. Omer, in the diocese of Arras, St. Frdgaud, confessor—as he is so called in French—had special honours also paid to his memory.

A long period had, elapsed, after the translation of St. Fredegand's remains and the destruction of Deurne, until the reign of the Emperor Maximilian I., who reigned from 1493 until 1519. During that time, about the Festival of St. John the Baptist in summer, a great pestilence broke out at Deurne. The parish priest exhorted his people to have devotion towards their holy patron, and a new statue of St. Fredigand was ordered from a sculptor to be erected in their church. From the moment of its erection, the plague suddenly ceased. In gratitude for this favour, and mindful of their powerful intercessor before the throne of God, leave was obtained from the venerable bishop of Cambray, Jaques de Croy, to have a solemn annual procession with the Blessed Sacrament and the statue of St. Fredegand, on each recurring 1st of May. Soon the fame of miracles wrought through their patron's intercession caused numbers of persons to visit St. Fredegand's chapel, where they were cured of various diseases. In token of gratitude, white wands were left there, while different cases of curative miracles wrought were placed upon record, and these are apparently well authenticated.

In the Martyrologies, the feast of St. Fredigandus is set down at the present date. In the Florarius Manuscript additions to Usuard, as also in Greven's additions, and in those of Molanus, he is commemorated. By some he is said to have been of Argenton. He is noticed by Saussay, by Wion, by Menard, by Dorgan, by Bucelin, and by Ferrarius. In Father Henry Fitzsimon's list, Fridegandus, Confessor, is mentioned for the 17th of July. The same name occurs, likewise, in the anonymous Calendar of Irish Saints, published by O'Sullevan Beare. The Office and Mass of St. Fredigand are to be found in Breviaries and Missals, belonging to the churches of Liege, Namur, and Duerne. By Molanus and Father Stephen White,  he is called a blessed preacher. In his Menologium Scoticum, Dempster has entered a feast for St. Fridigand, Confessor, at this date. In Butler's Lives of the Saints and in the Circle of the Seasons at the 17th of July, we find recorded St. Turninus, but this is evidently a mistake for St. Fredigandus. In the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Antwerp, there was- formerly a chapel dedicated to him. The 4th of December, according to the Carthusian Martyrology, was the date for his feast.

We have to admire in St. Fredigand the united characteristics of a holy monk and also of a zealous priest, whose thoughts and actions were ever engaged on the work God had destined him to fulfil. The duty of self-sanctification he achieved without self-esteem. He was also distinguished as an apostolic man, and a great preacher of God's word. If some of this seed fall among the brambles and in the rocky places, a part is sure to find its roots in good soil, and to bring forth an abundant increase.

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